|Position:||Wide receiver / Tight end|
|Date of birth:||February 7, 1934|
|Place of birth:||Beloit, Wisconsin|
|Height:||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)|
|Weight:||215 lb (98 kg)|
|High school:||Beloit Memorial|
|NFL Draft:||1956 / Round: 5 / Pick: 61|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Player stats at PFR|
Franklin Clarke (born February 7, 1934) is a former American football wide receiver who played in the National Football League (NFL) for the Cleveland Browns and the Dallas Cowboys. He played college football for Colorado.
After attending Trinidad State Junior College for two years, where he had a successful career, he became the first African-American varsity football player at the University of Colorado at Boulder, joining the Buffaloes in September 1954. He had to sit out the season after transferring. He was joined by John Wooten the following year and because this was before the civil rights movement, the pair often had to endure open racism outside of Boulder.
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 Days festival, Colorado's equivalent of Homecoming King.
In 2008, he was inducted into the Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame.
Clarke was drafted in the fifth round of the 1956 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He played with the team for three seasons, from 1957 to 1959, even though he stood on the sidelines during the first two. He had a total of 10 catches during those three years and 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 nine 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 of seven consecutive games with at least a touchdown reception, which still stands as a Cowboys record shared with Bob Hayes (1965–1966), Terrell Owens (2007), and Dez Bryant (2012).
He 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 1,000 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 touchdown and 22.2 yards per reception.
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.
Clarke led the Cowboys in yards and touchdowns from 1961 to 1964, and catches in 1963 and 1964. 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 also had the team record for the most career receiving multi-touchdown games with 9, until it was broken by Dez Bryant in 2014.
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 passes for 5,214 yards and 51 touchdowns in 140 NFL games, which ranks sixth in receiving yards in Dallas Cowboys history.
Clarke became the first African American sports anchor in a Dallas television station and at CBS. On weekends, Clarke anchored sports reports for WFAA-TV (Channel 8) when not working NFL games for CBS. During the week, he threw himself into work at a bank and at a youth council.