Forgotten man should be remembered as the highest-drafted Florida Gator
Most people think Steve Spurrier was the highest draft pick from Florida. But an obscure Gator not only heads the list, he also won an NFL championship before getting drafted.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Paul Duhart with the No. 2 pick in the 1945 NFL draft.
- Green Bay won the 1944 NFL Championship thanks to a late interception by Duhart.
- Kyle Pitts came close this year to being the fifth Gator taken with the No. 3 pick.
When Atlanta took Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 pick Thursday night, he became the 355th Florida player drafted by the NFL since 1938.
Guess who went the highest of them all?
In this game of Gators Trivia, most fans might say Steve Spurrier. Good guess, but not quite right.
Spurrier was taken with the No. 3 overall pick in 1967. But Chuck Hunsinger (1950), Gerard Warren (2001) and Dante Fowler (2015) also were No. 3 picks.
So the correct answer to the trivia question is …
If you've never heard of the man, part of the reason may have been the man himself.
"He was a man of few words," said his son, Peter Duhart.
Pittsburgh took Duhart with the No. 2 pick in the 1945 draft, which brings up another trivia question.
Which player intercepted a pass in an NFL championship game and then four months later was drafted as a "rookie" by a different NFL team?
If you said, "Paul Duhart," you know more about Paul Duhart than just about anybody on Earth. He wasn't as rich or famous or flamboyant as the other UF draft luminaries, but this largely forgotten man deserves to be remembered.
"He grew up in abject poverty. He had a rough childhood is the best way to describe it," Peter Duhart said. "It molded and shaped his future and his personality."
If you like strong, silent types, Paul Duhart's your guy.
He was born in Montreal, but his family moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, when he was a boy. Like a lot of things about Duhart, precise details have faded with time.
Maybe UF head coach Tom Lieb had a recruiting connection to the Boston area. Whatever the lure, Duhart showed up, suitcase in hand, at Murphree Hall in 1941.
"I remember him telling me the Florida summers were brutal," said Peter Duhart, who lives in Palm Coast.
His dad played running back, defensive back and worked construction to help pay for school expenses. Florida Field seated 21,769 back then, though there wasn't much for fans to see.
World War II was starting to deplete Florida's roster. The crunch really hit in 1942 when the Gators lost their last six games, including a 75-0 wipeout to Georgia.
Florida didn't even field a team in 1943. By then, Duhart had joined the Army. It's not clear where he served, but he came home in 1944.
Duhart was lured back into football by the prospect of playing for the powerhouse Packers. He played both ways and his interception late in the title game preserved Green Bay's 14-17 win over New York.
So how did the Steelers get him four months later?
NFL rules prohibited the drafting of underclassmen. The league granted Duhart an exemption to play in 1944, but he would have graduated from UF in the spring of 1945 if he hadn't gone to war. Some team owners said Duhart should be subject to the draft.
"Hot Debate Staged Over Packer Ace," read the headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
On the morning of the 1945 draft, the NFL ruled Duhart could be drafted. The Chicago Cardinals took Georgia halfback Charley Trippi first. Then Pittsburgh pounced on the 6-foot, 180-pound Duhart.
"I think he got a $5,000 bonus for being the No. 2 draft pick," Peter Duhart said.
With inflation, that would be about $73,000 now. Not bad, until you consider "Big Money" Warren got an $8.9 million bonus from the Browns in 2001. The Jaguars ponied up a $15.3 million bonus for Fowler six years ago.
It was Duhart's last big payday. According to reports, he injured his knee or back, or maybe both. Whatever the case, Duhart played only two games for Pittsburgh before being sold to the Boston Yankees.
He finished the season, then retired. Duhart enrolled at Boston College, got an English degree, then became a teacher and coach. He guided Mary T. Wells High's basketball team to the Massachusetts state title, and his football program went 21-0-1 in his last three seasons.
By all accounts, he made the players work as hard as he did during those brutal Gainesville summers.
"He was tough, real tough," halfback Joe Marino told the Worcester Telegraph & Gazette in 2005. "When you practiced, you practiced a play, and you practiced it again and again until you got it right.”
Duhart packed up his wife and four kids and moved to Southern California in 1961. He coached and taught at Arcadia High, and the football team had a 30-game winning streak at one point.
It's probably safe to say those players were not coddled into becoming champions.
"My dad was a no BS kind of guy," Peter Duhart said. "He wasn't about fluff. He was pretty down to earth."
His father mellowed a bit as the years passed. Duhart coached girls tennis, and even wrote poetry. He never talked much about the war or playing for Curly Lambeau in Green Bay or Gainesville.
"I know he was thrilled he got a scholarship there," Peter Duhart said. "He had fond memories and a soft spot in his heart for the Gators."
His father died in 2006. He was 85.
Duhart's family and generations of high school players remember him as a determined, stoic and humble man. If UF fans remember him at all, it's only as the answer to a trivia question.
But imagine a reunion of every Gator who'd ever been drafted. The ball room would be buzzing with the likes of Jack Youngblood, Wilber Marshall, Emmitt Smith and Wes Chandler.
Standing in a corner, quietly observing it all would be Paul Duhart. Not only was he drafted higher than everybody in sight, he lived a life they should all envy.
There's nothing trivial about that.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley