Born: March 23,1946
Died: December 31, 2008
Town: Plainfield, New Jersey
Victor Arnold Washington was born March 23, 1946 in Plainfield. His mother, Marion Washington, was 16. Vic never met his father. For most of his boyhood, he was raised by his grandmother, but when that was no longer an option he was placed in an orphanage for several years. Sports proved to be good escape for Vic. He became a very good baseball and football player, and also ran track.
Vic became the star of Abe Smith’s Plainfield High Cardinals as a running back, defensive back and return man. He was somewhat undersized at 5-11, but his explosive speed brought fans to their feet every time he touched the ball. For his part, Vic always said that he treated every play as his last.
Vic attracted several college recruiters, and he ended up accepting a scholarship from the University of Wyoming in 1965. By his junior year, he had become the nation’s top punt returner. In 1967, he and backfield partner (and fellow New Jerseyan) Jim Kiick led the Cowboys to a 10–0 regular season record, a #5 national ranking and a berth in the Sugar Bowl against LSU. After building a 13–0 halftime lead, Wyoming lost 20–13.
Vic’s college career ended abruptly later that spring when he punched out a referee during an intramural basketball game. The school expelled him. He signed a contract to play in the Canadian Football League with the Ottawa Rough Riders. He and Bo Scott gave the team a great 1–2 punch in the backfield. Vic averaged over 6 yards per carry and the fastest player in the league. He also returned a kick 104 yards for a touchdown (the following year he returned one 107 yards).
In the Gray Cup Final against Calgary Stampeders that November, Vic fumbled a pitchout with his team trailing 14–11, but picked up the bouncing ball and ran 80 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest run ever in a Gray Cup Final. Ottawa went on to win 24–21 and Vic was named the MVP.
Vic followed his All-Canada rookie season with another All-Canada campaign in 1969. Vic joined the B.C. Lions in 1970, where he was moved to receiver. He was unhappy with the position change and set his sights on the NFL.
Vic left the CFL after the 1970 season and signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. He gave fans a glimpse of things to come when he scored two touchdowns against the Chargers in an exhibition game. Vic won the starting halfback job and teamed with fullback Ken Willard behind quarterback John Brodie. He ran for 811 yards, caught 36 passes for 317 more, and scored 7 touchdowns. He also returned 33 kicks for 858 yards. Vic’s best game came in a 24–21 road win over the Jets. He ran for 125 yards and a touchdown, and score the deciding touchdown on a 22-yard pass from Brodie in the fourth quarter.
Vic performed well in a playoff victory over the Redskins, and held his own against the Dallas Doomsday Defense in a 14–3 loss in the NFC Championship Game. Despite a disappointing end to the season, Vic was rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl at the end of his “rookie” year.
In 1972, Brodie lost his job to Steve Spurrier. Vic worked well with the new quarterback, finishing the year with 43 receptions. He also led the club with 468 rushing yards, and averaged over 28 yards as a kick returner. He was a big reason the 49ers repeated as NFC West champs. San Francsico hosted the Cowboys in the opening round of the playoffs, and held a 28–13 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Vic opened the scoring with a 97-yard kick return. Unfortunately, Roger Staubach led three scoring drives in the final quarter to win 30–28.
Vic played the entire 1973 season with a broken kneecap. He took strong painkillers and cortisone shots to enable him to stay on the field. That was his final season as a starter. He managed to gain 772 yards from scrimmage on 151 carries and 33 receptions. San Francisco managed just 5 wins. Vic played for the Oilers in 1974 and finished his career with the Bills. He was out of football after playing just one game in 1976.
Vic did not adjust well to life outside of football. He dealt with anxiety and depression, and couldn’t watch football on TV. He had used cocaine as a player to get up for games, and he developed a drug habit that eventually contributed to the breakup of his marriage, bankruptcy and a brief period of homelessness. He lived in Arizona briefly before moving back to his hometown.
Vic filed for a disability check with the NFL in 1983, citing depression and degenerative joint disease. The league gave him only $750/month instead of the maximum $4,000. Vic moved back to New Jersey and lived for many years in Greenwich Township. In 2005, he was enshrined in the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame. Vic passed away at age 62 in 2008