Remembering gentle giant Leo Sanford, one of the best Bulldogs

Mar 22, 2024 | Alumni, General News

Leo Sanford's portrait from the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame, 1985.

Leo Sanford’s portrait from the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame, 1985.

He was a gentle giant, a Louisiana Tech all-American who was as kind off the football field as he was ferocious on it, a servant leader who continually invested deeply in the University and in relationships he first formed on campus nearly 80 years ago.

A Bulldog’s bulldog, Leo Sanford modeled what it means to be a competitor, a friend, and a servant at the highest levels.

“Leo was a friend to all blessed to know him and a beloved member of the Louisiana Tech family,” Tech President Dr. Jim Henderson said. “As a legendary part of the storied Bulldog teams of the ’40s, he left an indelible mark on our University. It was the life he lived in the decades following that embodied the tenets we hold so dear, particularly loyalty. We mourn his loss but are forever grateful for his lifelong commitment to Tech and his example so worthy of emulation for all Bulldogs.”

Sanford and Henderson’s father Clem became in post-war 1947 charter members of the Louisiana Tech National Association for the Advancement of Grandstand Quarterbacks (NAAGQ), a group of men who played football at LA Tech during the 1940s and their spouses who maintained lifetime friendships.

Leo Sanford's endowed scholarship is established in 2018.

Leo Sanford’s endowed scholarship is established in 2018.

A two-time all-conference pick at both center and linebacker for Tech, an all-America selection in 1950, and a linebacker on the mythical all-Louisiana First 100 Years of Football team, Sanford stopped playing football after an 8-year NFL career but never stopped suiting up as a servant for Tech. In 2018, he established an endowed scholarship, the largest in Tech Athletics history, to be awarded annually to a deserving student-athlete.

“Leo has had an impact on so many people over the years,” said Dr. Les Guice, recently retired president of the University and was close friends with Leo and his wife of 68 years, Myrna, who passed away in the spring of 2018. “He loved Louisiana Tech and has been a great supporter and ambassador for our institution. He played a big role in elevating our reputation nationally.”

A member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions and the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame, Sanford was a star at both Shreveport’s Fair Park High School and Tech before becoming a Pro Bowl player in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals and winning the 1958 NFL championship alongside Johnny Unitas for the Baltimore Colts.

“What an honor that I got to know Leo, who lived out everything we hope for our Bulldog student-athletes,” said Tech head football coach Sonny Cumbie, who was in attendance when Sanford was honored by the local chapter of the National Football Foundation (NFF) last spring at its annual banquet in Shreveport. “He was a menace on the field but competed every play with sportsmanship. An ideal teammate, always a gentleman, a servant on the field and off. What a legacy he has left for us to follow.”

Leo Sanford, Chicago Cardinals

Leo Sanford, Chicago Cardinals

“Leo was what a legend should be, in every aspect of the word,” said Doug Ireland, chairman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, which Sanford entered in 1990. “One of Louisiana’s greatest football players; as fine a person as you can ever hope to know; a devoted, loving family man, and an intensely loyal alumnus of Fair Park High School, Louisiana Tech University, and a proud and engaged inductee in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He truly was beloved by all who knew him, and his influence on countless lives has been profound and inspiring. Knowing Leo Sanford made you a better, happier human.

“Nobody was any more charming or engaging, encouraging, or more willing to gently offer advice and wisdom if asked,” Ireland said. “Leo was a man of faith and principle, a doer and not a talker, a loyal friend and supporter to so many causes and organizations.”

In 1983, Sanford received the Distinguished America Award from the NFF and Hall of Fame at the Independence Bowl.

“Mr. Sanford represents all that was and is good about the game of football and how it transcends into a life of making a difference in a community,” Independence Bowl executive director Missy Setters said. “From his time at Fair Park, to LA Tech to the NFL and back into his home community, he had a tremendous impact on so many people throughout his lifetime, including his service to the Independence Bowl. He was of the generation that gave so much to this community.”

Leo Sanford, Bobby Aillet, and Jack Brittain, Sr.

Leo Sanford, Bobby Aillet, and Jack Brittain, Sr.

“This community, and so many others, are much better because of his love for the game of football and building leaders through football,” said Toni Goodin, secretary of the Shreveport chapter of the NFF that Sanford served as president for more than 40 years. “He helped mold me and so many others into the leaders we are. I could go on about Leo forever.”

“He always made me feel like I was ‘somebody’ because I was a Bulldog,” said fellow Tech Athletics Hall of Famer Mike McConathy. “If he did it for me, I know he’s had the same impact on countless others. ‘Loyalty’ and ‘True Blue’ best describe him to me.”

“Leo was an encourager,” said Terry Slack, multi-time Tech football letterman in the 1970s and the Louisiana director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, one of Sanford’s longtime loves. “When I would see him, he would always say encouraging words to me about God’s work in ministry. Mr. Leo would always speak about things going on at Tech, and I cannot remember any negative words at any point.

“Mr. Leo had a way to communicate that was special,” Slack said. “If he was speaking to me, all his attention was on me. I’m sure he was that with everyone. And he always had something to say that was important for me to listen too. Mr. Leo will be missed by all of us. He left a ‘footprint’ wherever he went.”