Elmer Tarbox elected to Texas Tech Ring of Honor

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 11:07 AM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Elmer Tarbox, one of the first greats in Red Raider football history, has been selected for induction into the prestigious Texas Tech Ring of Honor, Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt announced Wednesday.

Tarbox will become the seventh member of the Ring of Honor when he is posthumously enshrined alongside fellow 2021 inductee Michael Crabtree prior to Texas Tech’s meeting against Florida International on Sept. 18. The duo represents two different eras of Red Raider Football with Tarbox starring in its early stages and Crabtree in more recent years.

“The legacy of Elmer Tarbox lives to this day, making him a perfect candidate to join the Ring of Honor,” Hocutt said. “He was truly the Texas Tech version of Jim Thorpe. On the field, he could do it all whether it be as a rusher, a pass catcher or as a defensive back where he most-highly regarded. We look forward to recognizing the Tarbox family this season and seeing his name permanently etched on Jones AT&T Stadium.”

When Tarbox arrived at what was then Texas Technological College in 1935, he had never played a single down of football and had only seen part of one game after growing up in the small Panhandle town of Higgins near the Oklahoma border.

That soon changed, however, as Pete Cawthon plunked the walk-on to join the Red Raiders, beginning a storied career that ended with Tarbox being named the most outstanding player at the 1939 Cotton Bowl, only the second postseason appearance in the school’s young history. Tarbox garnered the honor despite Texas Tech falling to St. Mary’s, 20-13, in what was his final game in scarlet and black.

Tarbox played three seasons for the Red Raiders from 1936-38, quickly developing into one of the most prominent two-way players in the country. Tarbox was an honorable mention All-America selection as a half back as a senior after leading the country in yards per catch while also finishing seventh in the nation in rushing yards and 10th for receiving yards.

For Tarbox, his legacy was felt on the defensive side of the ball. In 1938, Tarbox set the Texas Tech single-season record with 11 interceptions, a mark that has not seriously been approached by any Red Raider since then as the next-highest total is eight. He also ranked among the top-10 players in the nation that year for rushing and receiving, completing a final season that would have sent him straight to the Hall of Fame.

His 17 career interceptions, meanwhile, were the most in school history until four-time All-Southwest Conference defensive back Tracy Saul finally broke the mark nearly 50 years later. Even with today’s pass-happy offenses, Saul is still the only Red Raider to top Tarbox’s career record.

Following his collegiate career, Tarbox became only the second Red Raider at the time to hear his name called during the NFL Draft as the then Cleveland Rams selected him 18th overall in 1939. Tarbox never played a down in the NFL, though, as he elected to enlist to fight in World War II. No other Red Raider was selected higher than Tarbox until E.J. Holub, a fellow Ring of Honor member, was picked No. 16 overall in 1961.

After his time flying B-25 bombers over the China-Burma-India sector, Tarbox returned to West Texas where he became a business leader, working for Lubbock Auto Company for 11 years and later opening and operating the first drive-in movie theater in Lubbock. Tarbox was awarded for his courage overseas, earning an Air Medal, a Silver Star and a Purple Heart during his military career.

In 1966, Tarbox was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, a move that greatly benefited his alma mater as his work on the Appropriations Committee helped establish both the Texas Tech School of Law and what is now the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. Tarbox was also a past president of the Texas Tech Alumni Association.

His success in business and politics surprised few around him, especially following his playing career at Texas Tech. He went on to found the Tarbox Parkinson’s Disease Institute in 1972 at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in order to develop a treatment and hopefully a cure for the disease that eventually took his life in 1987.

Details regarding the induction ceremony will be announced later this summer. The names of both Crabtree and Tarbox will be unveiled on the West Stadium Building of Jones AT&T Stadium prior to kickoff against Florida International.

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