This past Tuesday night, Steve Meilinger (UK’s Mr. Anywhere), a two-year first-team All-American who excelled at several positions on offense and defense for the Kentucky Wildcats, was named to the College Football Hall of Fame by the National Football Foundation.
For those of you who don’t know, Meilinger played at Kentucky from 1951-53 under Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. He helped the Wildcats to a record of 20-10-3, including an 8-4 mark in 1951 that was capped by a Cotton Bowl win over Texas Christian. UK was ranked in the nation’s top 20 all three seasons in the final Associated Press and United Press International rankings. He was a freshman on the 1950 Kentucky squad that went 11-1 and is the national champion according to the Sagarin Computer Ratings. As a freshman, he wasn’t allowed to play due to college rules in those days.
He split time between end, halfback and quarterback on offense; on defense, he played end, linebacker and defensive back (basically, every position on the field except the interior offensive and defensive lines). On special teams, he was a two-year starting punter and also returned punts and returned kickoffs.
He set Kentucky’s career records for pass receptions, receiving yardage and touchdowns with 75 catches for 1,210 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also rushed 134 times for 714 yards and five TDs and passed for 127 yards and a TD. On defense, stats for tackles weren’t kept during that era but he had six interceptions.
He was a first-team All-American as a junior by the Newspaper Enterprise Association and the All-Players team. He was first-team All-America as a senior according to the NEA, American Football Coaches Association/Colliers Magazine and the All-America Board.
At the SEC level, he was named first-team All-Southeastern Conference all three of his varsity seasons, the first of only five Wildcats in school history to be a three-time first-team All-SEC selection.
Meilinger played under Bryant, a College Football Hall of Famer, and was teammates with two Hall of Famers in quarterback Vito “Babe” Parilli and tackle Bob Gain. He had a great four years as a Wildcat, he was a freshman on the Sugar Bowl champion team, a sophomore on the Cotton Bowl squad and earned first-team All-America honors as a junior and senior. Following his senior season, he played in four postseason games that included, the Coaches All-America Game, College All-Star Game, East-West Shrine Game and Hula Bowl.
Meilinger was selected in the first round (eighth overall pick) of the 1954 National Football League draft. However, he went into the United States Army and spent two years as a Tank Commander in the 100th Tank Battalion of the 1st Armored Division.
After missing two years of football because of military service, he returned to the gridiron in 1956 and spent six years in the NFL before injuries sidelined his career. 1956 and ’57 he was with Washington, 1958-60 the Green Bay Packers and 1961 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 1960, he played in the NFL Championship Game under Coach Vince Lombardi. His career stats include 60 catches for 863 yards and eight touchdowns.
After his football days were over, he became a United States Marshal. He was one of the original six marshals who founded the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program and eventually became Chief Deputy of the Eastern District of Kentucky. After retiring as a marshal, he became a Property Valuation Officer for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.