For Bobby Lackey, it seems, it is not the third time – but the first – that has always been the charm. Now in his 80s, the Weslaco native set the stage for a standout collegiate career in football at the University of Texas at Austin when, in 1957, in one of his first games as starting quarterback for the Longhorns, he kicked the game-winning field goal in a 9-7 win against Texas A&M University. But Lackey proved he was not a one-kick wonder: in 1958, he launched the Longhorns to No. 4 in the rankings and was a critical force in the team’s Southwest Conference Championship success (Coach Darrell Royal’s first) a year later, advancing the team to the national championships. They reached No. 2, their highest ranking since 1941, and ultimately finished the season No. 4 nationwide. He was also the university’s top scorer in 1958 and 1959.
In 1959, Lackey became the first Longhorn to land the cover of Sports Illustrated. The candid shot, of which fans to this day still send him copies requesting his autograph, depicts Lackey and his late wife, Judy, their arms encircled around each other’s waists, walking through the tunnel after the Cotton Bowl, just after another Longhorn win. In 1977, the athlete was inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor.
And while loyal Longhorn football fans still remember Lackey’s prowess on the field, it is his hometown of Weslaco, where he graduated in 1956, where he remains a legend to residents of all ages. “Here in Weslaco, you say [the name] Bobby Lackey, and they know exactly who you’re talking about,” said Carlos Robledo, director of instructional television for Weslaco Independent School District. “Our district is 99 years old, and he is the greatest athlete to come out of Weslaco in those 99 years.”
Weslaco High School has one of its two gyms and the school’s football stadium named in Lackey’s honor, tangible tributes to the strapping, tow-headed athlete who first made his mark on the football field as a freshman in 1952, when, in true Lackey first-time fashion, he made the extra point in a game-winning kick against the Panthers’ archrival Donna. The team went on to win district for the first time since 1948. As a Weslaco sophomore, Lackey added starting quarterback and punting roles to his résumé. His senior year, the Panthers enjoyed a streak of thirteen wins before losing in the state semifinals. In 2011, those achievements were recognized when he was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
As a Panther, Lackey also played basketball (and was the Rio Grande Valley’s leading scorer all four years of high school), golf, and baseball. “He was just a tremendous, tremendous athlete,” Robledo said. “We have an award called the Bobby Lackey Award, [for] the best all-around athlete, and it’s still given out today.”
Despite excelling at all sports, baseball was his first love, said his son, John L. Lackey. “When he was twelve, thirteen years old, he was at a semi-pro baseball game, and the catcher for one team didn’t show up, and [Lackey] was subbed in,” John said. “He played that whole summer as a twelve-year-old on a semi-pro baseball team . . . Playing with eighteen- and 20-year-olds, that was just a gift.”
Lackey was born at home in Weslaco, the youngest of ten children, on October 14, 1937. Lackey’s parents were poor and had little formal education, and his father did hard labor and odd jobs to keep food on the table. “He got his first pair of shoes from a neighbor when he went to school,” John said of his father. “There’s something to be said for growing up poor and hungry to becoming a big athlete. His ticket out of poverty was his athletic ability.”
Part of Lackey’s saving grace was his physicality. “He matured early and was big for his age early on,” John said.
“Bobby Lackey was [6 feet, 3 inches tall],” Robledo said. “And he would come to school in his overalls. He stood out like a sore thumb because he was the biggest kid. He didn’t come from a privileged background; his family didn’t have a lot of money. I think that blue-collar background made him a very tough individual and a very strong person, and I think that’s what he carried onto the football field and to UT, just a tough mentality. That’s what made him the athlete he was . . . appreciating what he did have, and appreciating what was given to him when he went to UT.”
Lackey’s natural athleticism made him a force with which to be reckoned. “I kind of got the picture . . . that he didn’t have to work so hard” to perform well in sports, John said of his father. “Back in those days, most of the football players didn’t lift weights. The school thought if you got all bulked up with weights it would slow you down. My dad, from what I could gather, it just all came so naturally. You hear stories about the work ethic of Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant, and he didn’t do that [rigorous training]. He just wanted to go play.”
Baseball talent agents scouted him in high school, but Lackey ultimately chose football – and the University of Texas. “I think the reason he chose football, honestly, was because football was king in Texas and still is really,” John said. “Football in high school was what brought him the notoriety.”
Lackey explained his attraction to UT in an interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald, saying, “I just kind of thought with the sports atmosphere there, why would you go anywhere else?”
Lackey met his future wife Judy McManus when both attended Weslaco High School. But the two came from different sides of the railroad tracks, John Lackey said of his parents. “Her father was a businessman, and when he came down [to Weslaco] it was the new frontier for tomato producing,” which proved to be a lucrative career for Judy’s family.
“My dad tells the story about how he would be walking to school, and [Judy] would drive by in a nice car,” John said. “About the time my dad was graduating, maybe that summer, he had taken notice [of her], and they had actually gone out on a date. Then her brother, who was seven years younger, fell out of a tree, and they thought he was going to die. My dad went to see him, and, being the town hero, it was a big deal to a twelve- or thirteen-year-old for Bobby Lackey to come see him in the hospital. I don’t know if that was premeditated or not, but that solidified him in my mom’s eye.”
After a whirlwind courtship, the two married in 1957, the summer between Lackey’s freshman and sophomore year at UT. Upon graduation, the National Football League quickly came calling. Lackey accepted a deal and trained with the team for a few weeks before backing out. “Bobby Lane was the quarterback at Pittsburgh, and he was notorious for his late-night extravaganzas; it was a wild bunch,” John said. “Back then the money wasn’t big. Dad often said he came along 30 years too soon because he missed the era of big money.”
There was yet another incentive to return home: Judy was pregnant with the couple’s first child, John. “They talked him into going back, so he did, and he was there for a week or two and decided this was not good,” John said. “Baltimore called and wanted to pick him up, and the [Pittsburgh] Steelers wouldn’t release him, so that was the end of that.”
Lackey traded would-be football stardom for family life (later welcoming two daughters with Judy) and working for his father-in-law in the agriculture business. “There were some changes going on in the industry, and they were looking for the next big crop,” John said. “A breeder came up with a cantaloupe variety, and he said, ‘That’s the next thing; let’s do that.’ That was his baby within the company, and it took off and did well, and eventually, they started growing cantaloupe in the Weslaco area and all over. By the late ‘60s, he was running [the company, even though] my grandfather was still involved until he died in 1991.”
Back to the Beginning
Though his children carried on their father’s legacy of athleticism at Weslaco High School, the pressure to continue the tradition did not come from Lackey.
“I remember in seventh grade they asked everybody what position they wanted to play, but they didn’t ask me; they just put me at quarterback. There were expectations growing up as Bobby Lackey’s son, but it didn’t come from him,” John said. “I was the opposite of my dad. I was little, tiny in junior high and
got beat to pieces by the mature players on the team [playing football]. Going into high school I told my dad I loved golf, and he said, ‘That’s great; that’s what you ought to do.’”
Lackey raised his family in Weslaco, where, in 1972 he was named Man of the Year, and eventually retired from the family produce business. He served on the Weslaco City Commission, the Weslaco School Board, and volunteered for various other service organizations before moving to the Houston area to be closer to his daughters and grandchildren.
On May 24, 2020, Judy, his wife of nearly 63 years, passed away, and, at the time of Texasliving‘s interview with his son, Lackey was planning to move back to Weslaco, where his star still shines as brightly as it did more than six decades ago. Despite his hometown notoriety, Lackey is not one to gloat.
“I never, ever heard him brag,” John said of his father’s humility. Growing up, “I wouldn’t have heard anything about his playing if I hadn’t heard other people talk about it. He was just humble, and I picked up on that pretty early on.”
Despite his quiet reserve when it comes to matters of his achievements, Lackey is not opposed to visiting his beloved Panthers, if for no reason other than to cheer them on. In 2018, when the Panthers were headed to the playoffs, the hometown hero did just that. “[Former Head] Coach Michael Salinas got the team together, and Bobby Lackey came in to talk to them, and as the boys walked in, he shook every single one of their hands. We’re talking 40, 50 kids,” Robledo said. “You could just see how excited he was to talk to them. He talked about being aggressive on the football field, playing with an attitude, and with a chip on your shoulder. He still has that fire for football, and you could see it.
“He did the honorary coin flip before the game. I took a picture of the star quarterback Jacob Cavazos, and in the background is Bobby Lackey. It’s like seeing the past and the present all in one photo. He was introduced to the crowd during halftime, and the entire student section went crazy, chanting, ‘Bob-by! Bob-by! Bob-by!’
“He’s still a legend.”