Johnny “Red Ball” Sample was one of the all-time all-around athletes at Maryland State. Besides starring in football, he played basketball his freshman year and was an accomplished gymnast. 

He was part of the Hawks dynasty from 1946-60 that produced five undefeated teams and a won-loss record of 139-36-7.

Sample was one the greatest running backs in the nation at Maryland State College from 1954-58, and an All-CIAA baseball great in 1958. He led the Maryland State football squad as an offensive and defensive standout, a punt and kickoff returner and the Hawks’ punter and place kicker.

He was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the seventh round of the 1958 NFL draft. He became the first player from a historically black college selected to participate in the annual Chicago Charities College All Star Game which pitted the top college seniors against the National Football League champions.

Sample played for the Baltimore Colts from 1958-60, the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1961-62, and the Washington Redskins from 1963-65.

He joined the New York Jets in the newly formed American Football League in 1966 and until his retirement in 1968, he was one of the most feared defensive backs in pro football.

Sample perfected "The Bump and Run" coverage against wide receivers and became a “shutdown” player.

Sample is the only professional football player to have won all three: an NFL, AFL, and Super Bowl Championship:  

He won an NFL championship ring with the Colts in his rookie season, in their victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL title game, which became known as The Greatest Game Ever Played.

In 1969, he helped the Jets win the AFL Championship against the Oakland Raiders in his final season.

They went on to defeat the Baltimore Colts in the third AFL-NFL World Championship

(Super Bowl III). Sample had an interception for the New York Jets in their 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts in the third Super Bowl in 1969, a game which the Jets' quarterback Joe Namath "guaranteed" a victory.

The win cemented the merger of the AFL and NFL

Sample retired after 11 seasons with the Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and the Jets.

He had 41 interceptions for 460 yards and four touchdowns, recovered 13 fumbles, returning them for 61 yards.

On special teams he returned 68 punts for 559 yards and a touchdown, along with 60 kickoffs for 1,560 yards and a touchdown. Sample led the NFL in punt return yards in 1961.

He later taught himself the game of tennis and quickly excelled. He was the No. 1 player in the country in the United States Tennis (USTA), 45 and over category for many years. 

Sample became  1980s and 90s, Sample became a tennis official and officiated at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open.

He started a junior tennis tournament in his hometown of Philadelphia, which was one of the largest minority tennis tournaments in the country.

In his book from 1970, "Confessions Of A Dirty Ballplayer", Sample fought with players, coaches and owners while garnering the questionable reputation as one of the league's dirtiest player along the way.



John B. Sample, Jr.

June 15, 1937-April 26, 2005

Portsmouth, Virginia

Overbrook High School

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Maryland State College ‘58


Running Back/Defensive Back

Pittsburgh Courier Black College All-American

Pigskin Club of DC, Player of the Year

University of Maryland Eastern Shore Hall of Fame


CIAA Hall of Fame