The Alabama defenses of the 1970s were littered with future NFL stars, but as it turns out, Leroy Cook wasn’t one of them.
E.J. Junior played 13 seasons with five pro teams, twice earning Pro Bowl honors.
Barry Krauss played 10 years for the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, then another two with the Miami Dolphins, amassing more than 1,000 career tackles.
Bob Baumhower and Don McNeal both spent a decade with the Miami Dolphins, and were teammates on a pair of Super Bowl teams.
Woodrow Lowe and Marty Lyons each played 11 seasons with one NFL team — Lowe with the San Diego Chargers, Lyons with the New York Jets — and remain among the most-admired figures in each franchise’s history.
Cook was as good as any of them, but never got a chance at an NFL career, not a real one anyway. A right knee wrecked during a freak incident in his final Iron Bowl led to the untimely end of Cook’s football career and whispers of “what might have been” regarding one of the greatest players in Alabama football history.
“What happened to him was a crying shame because he’d have had a great career in the NFL,” said legendary Auburn coach Pat Dye, who recruited Cook to Alabama during his days as a Crimson Tide assistant. “He was 6-foot-4, and could run, athletic and mean. He was a tough guy. He had it all.”
Cook was a two-time All-America defensive end for Paul “Bear” Bryant’s outstanding Alabama teams of the mid-1970s, including a unanimous All-America honor as a senior in 1975. He started on a national championship team and three straight SEC title teams, and more than 40 years after his career ended remains among the school’s all-time leaders in forced fumbles (10) and blocked kicks (4).
In his final two seasons with the Crimson Tide, Cook totaled 166 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 15 sacks and six forced fumbles. He was named SEC Lineman of the Year by the Atlanta Touchdown Club as a junior in 1974, as well as SEC Player of the Year by The Birmingham News the following year.
“I knew that Leroy was not going to let anything get around his end,” said Lowe, a three-time All-America linebacker who played behind Cook for much of his Alabama career. “He was an outstanding player.
Coach Bryant, he said this, ‘you’ve got to play as one. There’s no individuals in the game of football.’ I just remember that the way Leroy played, I could count on him.”
Cook began life in Abbeville, Alabama, a small town of less than 3,000 people in Henry County, just north of Dothan and right on the Georgia line. By his own admission, his family was “very poor,” after his parents dropped out of school before reaching junior high.
A great athlete his entire life, Cook dominated his age group in all sports growing up. He later caught the eye of Abbeville native and former minor league baseball pitcher Lindy Money, who owned a lumber company.
The young Cook went to work for Money as a pulpwooder, cutting and stripping fresh timber for use in making paper and other products. Money, now in his late 80s and still living in Abbeville, said Cook was very nearly as good a pulpwooder as he was a football player.