|Date of birth:||February 7, 1934|
|Place of birth:||Beloit, Wisconsin|
|NFL Draft:||1956 / Round: 5 / Pick: 61|
Career highlights and awards
|Playing stats at|
Clarke attended Beloit Memorial High School where he was an all-state football player. He later became the first African-American varsity football player at the University of Colorado at Boulder (also the first to letter), joining the Buffaloes in September 1954, after attending Trinidad State Junior College (Colo.) for two years, where he had a brilliant career (he had to sit out the 1954 season after transferring).
Clarke amassed 532 yards receiving, ending his career fifth at the time in receiving yards at Colorado. He was so well liked among his peers on campus, that he was chosen as King of the annual CU Days festival (CU's equivalent of Homecoming King).
In 2008, Clarke was inducted into the Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame.
The Browns kept him around for three seasons (1957-1959), even though he stood on the sidelines during the first two. He had a total of 10 catches during those three years, so he was left unprotected in the 1960 NFL Expansion Draft.
Clarke was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960 NFL Expansion Draft. His coaches at Colorado and Cleveland criticized his blocking, but the Cowboys were still intrigued by the 6-1, 215-pound player. Instead of picking at his deficiencies, Tom Landry chose to accentuate his strengths. The coach appreciated his speed, soft hands and his ability to run precise routes, so he was converted into a split end.
He did not make an immediate impression in Dallas either, catching only 9 passes in a backup role, during the 1960 season. However, he moved into the starting role in 1961, finishing with 919 yards, 41 receptions and 9 touchdowns. Additionally he started a streak (1961-1962) of seven consecutive games with at least a touchdown pass, which still stands as a Cowboys record shared with Bob Hayes (1965-1966), Terrell Owens (2007) and Dez Bryant (2012).
Clarke turned out to be the Cowboys' first bona fide long-ball threat—before "Bullet" Bob Hayes joined him. Hayes even credits Clarke for teaching him the proper way to catch "the bomb"—the long pass. He is also credited as the first African American star athlete, on a Cowboys that played in a then racially divided Dallas.
His opening day performance against the Washington Redskins in 1962 was one for the ages. His ten receptions for 241 yards, remains the best opening day performance in terms of most yards receiving, of any wide receiver in the history of the NFL. That year would be his best, becoming the first player in team history to gain more than 1000 yards in a season (ground or air) and recording 47 passes for career high numbers in yards (1043) and touchdowns (14). In addition to leading the NFL with 14 scores and 22.2 yards per catch.
On September 23, 1962, Clarke was part of an infamous play where, for the first time in an NFL game, points were awarded for a penalty. The Cowboys were holding in the end zone on a 99-yard touchdown pass from Eddie LeBaron to Clarke, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were awarded a safety, helping them win the game 30-28.
He moved to tight end towards the end of his career, but he remained productive and became a clutch third down receiver. In 1964, he caught 65 passes for 973 yards and was named All-Pro as a tight end.
Clarke led the Cowboys in yards and touchdowns from 1961 to 1964, and catches in 1963 and 1964 (third in the NFL with 65 receptions). He also held the franchise record for most touchdowns in a season by a receiver with 14 from his 1962 season, which stood for 45 years until 2007, when it was broken by Terrell Owens.
He retired after the 1967 NFL Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers, in what is now known as the “Ice Bowl”, won by the Packers, 21-17. Clarke caught 281 catches for 5,214 yards and 51 touchdowns in 140 NFL games, which ranks sixth in receiving yards in Dallas Cowboys history.
- Dallas Cowboys WR Frank Clarke
- Dallas Cowboys: The 50 Greatest Players in Silver Stars History
- Hall of Fame Profile: Frank Clarke