Bill Wade's legacy as a Nashville sports legend remains firmly in focus

Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 10:26pm

For much of his 25 years of playing organized football, Bill Wade had the time of his life.

One of the greatest athletes Nashville ever has produced, Wade had a stellar career, notably as Vanderbilt college quarterback, as well as in the NFL Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears.

Wade, who is 81 and has been blind since 2002, had a Q&A session at the monthly David Lipscomb luncheon meeting Thursday at his Lakeshore/The Meadows assisted living home in Bellevue.

His speech is slow, but he remains mentally sharp.

Wade grew up as a star passer, starting at old Woodmont Elementary, followed by big-time success at Montgomery Bell Academy, then Vanderbilt. He received nationwide acclaim when he was pictured as the
No. 1 pick of the Rams in the 1952 draft with two pretty women on the cover a national magazine.

He remains the lone Vanderbilt player ever selected No. 1 in the draft.

"They had what they called a bonus (No. 1) pick back then. After the Rams selected me, I was pictured on the cover of Look Magazine. It was great exposure for me,” he said, smiling.

That followed a sparkling three-year career at Vanderbilt (1949-51) when he threw for 31 touchdowns and 3,397 yards, which, 60 years later, is still No. 9 in school history. His 85-yard pass to Bucky Curtis in a win over Alabama in 1950 is still the fourth longest TD pass play in Commodore history.

His junior year, 1950, Vanderbilt was nationally ranked for two weeks during the season. His senior year, he was named the SEC player of the year, a second team All-American and was the MVP of the East-West Shrine game.

After seven seasons with the Rams, Wade was traded to the Bears in 1961.

It was there he enjoyed the pinnacle for any player competing at the highest level — an NFL championship. The Bears beat the New York Giants 14-10 in late December 1963 in Chicago. Wade scored both Bears' touchdowns on short runs.

"That was really special,” he said. "I remember how much fun I had playing in Chicago, with all those great players. It was a good experience, all those guys were committed to winning.”

He finished his NFL career in 1966 with 18,530 passing yards and 124 touchdowns. He rushed for 24 more scores.

"George Halas was a super coach, I'm so thankful I had the chance to play for him,” Wade said. "Once early on, he walked up to me and told me, 'You're starting this week. Do you think you can play well,' and I said definitely. That was all he said. He is cemented in my memory.”

He also listed Howard Allen, who was his coach at MBA, as a great coach.

Because of the Nashville interest in Wade, each Chicago game was taped and rebroadcast on Channel 5, following the late news Sunday night.

After retirement, Wade returned to Nashville to work at the old Third National Bank for many years.

Wade also was an excellent basketball and baseball player — "and anything else that came around'' — then later a top-notch tennis player who competed successfully in the senior divisions of city tournaments.

Wade didn't offer any opinions on the NFL playoffs or the possible Super Bowl winner as his lack of eyesight and staying out of touch for so long has seen his interest dwindle.

"It's hard to keep up,” he said simply.

He remains one of Nashville's greatest sports legends.

6 Comments on this post:

By: Rasputin72 on 1/6/12 at 8:04

As a nine year old who used to hang out at Vanderbilt football practices since I only lived two blocks away Bill Wade is one of my best childhood memories.

By: pnance on 1/6/12 at 9:31

The luncheon was a really nice event. Mr. Wade is a commanding presence, and like Jimmy Gentry -- who spoke two months ago -- offered the guests the feeling we were witnessing a touch of valuable Nashville sports history.

By: pswindle on 1/6/12 at 2:32

Nashville should be proud of this great player and human being.

By: tomba1 on 1/7/12 at 11:26

I can remember many years ago when the Clinic Bowl was in its' original format at Vandy and Brentwood Academy was playing someone in the final game. As a volunteer, my job was to "guard" the steps leading from the stands to the field level. Mr. Wade appeared at the steps demanding to see BA coach Flatt. Wade, apparently having observed a weakness in the opponent's defensive secondary, had a play in mind that Flatt needed to be immediately informed of. I told him that he could not go down to the field and offered to bring a manager etc over to relay the message. That was totally unacceptable to Mr. Wade and a near rampage ensued as he became rather ballistic. I summoned a police officer who escorted Mr. Wade to somewhere else and the message was never delivered. Shortly afterward, BA scored anyway. I certainly hope Mr. Wade saw that play, and approved.

And THAT'S the Bill Wade I remember.

By: Rasputin72 on 1/8/12 at 5:35

TOMBA1.......I remember that incident through a friend of mine who witnessed your making quite a spectacle of yourself. My friend also recalled that the officer was just as interested in arresting you as he was escorting Bill Wade back to his seat. Bill Wade insisted to the officer that you were just doing your job and he did not mean to make an issue.

That is the incident as I was told.

By: kendiehl on 1/20/12 at 3:55

Huggins scores again with a fine article about one of Nashville's legendary sports icon. Bill Wade was and still is the most prominent football player's to ever come out of Nashville.