For over 15 years, BYU’s quarterback factory churned out QBs with assembly-line efficiency. But before these players ever laced up their cleats and threw their first spirals, two other football greats graced BYU’s gridiron: Marion E. Probert, ’55, and J. Eldon Fortie, ’63.
After their stellar BYU careers, these players lived with the same passion they exhibited between the hash marks, giving back to the university and their communities.
During halftime of the BYU-Air Force game on Sept. 27, BYU gave something back to them, recognizing the two with a ceremony to retire their jerseys.
Fortie, an elusive runner nicknamed “the phantom,” was BYU’s first All-American. He holds BYU’s single-game rushing record of 272 yards, racking up 1,963 total yards his senior season—fifth most in NCAA history at that point. Probert, a star tight end and defensive player, shined off the field as well, twice being named an Academic All-American and going on to a career in medicine.
Friends, family, and fans watched as banners bearing Fortie’s No. 40 and Probert’s No. 81 were unveiled high on the press box—a nod to Fortie and Probert’s excellence on and off the field.
“Marion Probert was an All-American, Eldon Fortie was an All-American, but not only in football—in their lives and particularly as fathers and patriarchs,” says President Cecil O. Samuelson.
Although the two players’ jerseys had previously been retired, athletic-department officials felt it appropriate to have the jerseys formally hung alongside Steve Young’s recently retired jersey.
“We wanted them to take their rightful place up in the stadium like Steve Young,” explains associate athletic director Brian S. Santiago, ’01, who organized the event.
Fortie was joined by family, while Probert, who was killed in a tragic plane accident in 1965, was represented by his four children.
Standing on the 50-yard line, Fortie reminisced about his football days.
“There’s a lot of guys who went before me, that shed their blood—blue blood. They achieved, much like we are achieving now,” Fortie says. “Just remember, these guys left their legacies. It’s your turn to leave your legacies.”