Adrian Burk, who quarterbacked the Eagles through the...

Posted: July 29, 2003

Adrian Burk, who quarterbacked the Eagles through the first half of the 1950s before trading the gridiron for the courtroom, died yesterday in Henderson, Texas, of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 75.

Charting a career course as complicated as any play ever diagrammed on a blackboard, Mr. Burk was not only a football player but an oil-field worker, an assistant college coach, a trial lawyer, a front-office executive for the Houston Oilers, an NFL game official, and a Southern Baptist missionary.

Mr. Burk played in the Pro Bowl in 1955 and 1956, but the high point of his career with the Eagles may have been on Oct. 17, 1954, when he threw seven touchdown passes in a 49-21 rout of the Washington Redskins. Only four other NFL quarterbacks have thrown as many scoring passes in one game: Sid Luckman, George Blanda, Y.A. Tittle and Joe Kapp.

In 1953, Mr. Burk and Bobby Thomason, with whom he shared the quarterback position, combined to pass for a league-high 3,089 yards.

"He was a heck of an athlete," Mr. Burk's son, Robert, recalled. "He could stand flat-footed and throw 50 yards."

Mr. Burk was born in Mexia, Texas, and played football at Kilgore Junior College and Baylor University, where he became an all-American in 1949.

He was a first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Colts in 1950, but the franchise folded after his rookie season, not to be revived for several years. The Colts players were dispersed among other teams, and the Eagles got the rights to Mr. Burk.

After briefly serving as backfield coach for the University of Florida, he decided to go back to playing and joined the Eagles.

Mr. Burk attended Baylor Law School in the off-season while playing for the Eagles and retired after the 1956 season to practice law.

But football was never far away. Mr. Burk assisted Bud Adams in founding the Oilers, part of the new American Football League. In a major coup for the infant league, Mr. Burk signed Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon to a pro contract on the field immediately after the 1960 Sugar Bowl game.

Mr. Burk returned to the field as an official several years later and worked games through the mid-1970s. He was the back judge who gave the touchdown signal on one of the most controversial plays in NFL history: Franco Harris' "immaculate reception" in a 1972 playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.

In 1976, Mr. Burk left private law practice to join the Oilers as assistant to the president and general counsel. He returned to law practice in 1978.

In 1985, Mr. Burk and his wife, Neva, moved to Massachusetts as Southern Baptist missionaries, and Mr. Burk became an interim pastor for several congregations.

The couple returned to their hometown of Henderson in 1998.

Mr. Burk is survived by his wife and son. A private graveside service will be held Friday morning in Henderson, followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Henderson.

Contact staff writer Michael D. Schaffer at 215-854-2537 or mschaffer@phillynews.com.

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