Born: May 30, 1949
Town: Salem, New Jersey
Lydell Douglas Mitchell was born in Salem on May 30, 1949. He attended Salem High School, where he was the star of the baseball, basketball and football teams, earning All-State recognition in all three sports. Penn State football coach Joe Paterno recruited heavily from South Jersey, so Lydell was on the Nittany Lions’ radar. They offered a football scholarship in 1968 and he accepted.
Lydell was a three-year varsity starter and during his time in College Station he broke almost every Penn State rushing record. He had some of the nation’s best blockers to help him, including fullback Franco Harris. As a sophomore in 1969, Lydell helped the team to an undefeated season. In 1971, he set NCAA records with 29 touchdowns and 174 points, while rushing for 1,567 yards—a Penn State record that lasted three decades. In his final college game, a victory in the Cotton Bowl, Lydell was named the MVP. He finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting that winter and was a first-team All-American.
In the 1972 NFL draft, the Colts took Lydell in the second round. After seeing limited action as a rookie, he blossomed into a star in his second season, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and catching 17 passes. It would be as a pass-catcher, however, where Lydell would ultimately make his mark. In 1974, the Colts handed young quarterback Bert Jones the starting job and he connected with Lydell for 72 passes—a figure that topped the AFC.
From 1975 to 1977, the Colts edged the powerhouse Miami Dolphins for the AFC East crown, largely on the strength of Lydell’s all-around play. He topped 1,000 yards as a running back all three seasons and led the AFC in receptions again in 1975 and 1977. He was a second-team All-Pro in 1976 and 1977.
Alas, the Colts did not have the horses to reach the Super Bowl in those glory years. They lost in the playoffs to Harris and the Steelers in 1975 and 1976, and to the Raiders in a wild overtime game in 1977.
The Colts dismantled their club after 1977. Lydell was traded to the San Diego Chargers, where he led the team in rushing yards and pass receptions in 1978. He helped usher in the Air Coryell Era in San Diego, but he wasn’t around to enjoy it. Years of wear and tear finally caught up with Lydell in 1979. He relinquished featured back status to Clarence Williams, and only caught 19 Dan Fouts passes out of the backfield. He caught 4 passes and had 8 carries in the Chargers’ playoff loss to the Oilers that December.
Lydell played one final season, with the Rams, in 1980 before retiring. He embarked on a successful business career, reuniting with Harris to run two Baltimore-area companies, Super Bakery and Parks Sausage. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.