North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.
A native of Windsor and a graduate of Elizabeth City State, Pugh was one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL as part of the Dallas Cowboys’ Doomsday Defense from 1965-78. Although sacks were not an official stat during the time he played, he averaged getting to opposing quarterbacks 12.5 times per season during his 14-year career. He was also known for his toughness and a team-first attitude, which was best illustrated in 1971 when he took shots penicillin to put off surgery for appendicitis until after the season was done.
Despite his consistent excellence, Pugh was often overshadowed by flashier teammates such as Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Harvey Martin and Randy White. That could explain how he was never voted to play in a Pro Bowl.
Pugh would just as soon have gone that unnoticed on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve in 1967. With the temperature dropping to 15 below at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and just 16 seconds remaining in an NFL title game that has become known as the “Ice Bowl,” the massive defensive tackle was on the receiving end of a block from the Packers’ Jerry Kramer that allowed quarterback Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown.
“I see the quarterback sneak in TV replays all the time, but it isn’t a strong memory,” Pugh told the Dallas Morning News before his death at the age of 70 in 2015. “Maybe I’ve blocked it out of my mind. I had a tough time with it for about a year. Something like that can create doubt in your mind. But I had a good season in ’68 and decided to look to the future.”
The Ice Bowl defeat marked the second straight year in which the Cowboys were denied a trip to the Super Bowl. Pugh and his teammates made up for disappointment by going on to win five NFC championships over the next decade, including two Super Bowl victories. The N.C. Sports Hall of Famer played in a then-record 23 playoff games and retired after helping Dallas to Super Bowl XIII in 1978.