Former Arizona lineman Chris Schultz, who went on to play for the Dallas Cowboys and become a Canadian Football League star, passed away Thursday from a heart attack. He was 61.
Schultz became a television celebrity in his native Canada as a CFL analyst.
Schultz came to Arizona in 1978 from Aldershot High School in Burlington, Ontario, to join Tony Mason’s program although Mason or his staff did not recruit him in person.
After redshirting as a freshman, he became a starter as a defensive tackle in 1979. He played on defense until moving to offensive tackle as a fifth-year senior in 1982 because of a rash of injuries. He was 6-foot-8 and 277 pounds when the Cowboys drafted him in the seventh round in 1983.
“He was tall and long, quiet and competitive, and a good teammate,” said former Arizona defensive tackle/linebacker Julius Holt, who played at Arizona in 1981-82.
After suffering from knee injuries for most of his three years with the Cowboys, Schultz returned to Canada in 1986 to play for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL and his career flourished.
He played in 124 games for the Argos over his nine-year career and was named a CFL All-Star twice (1987 and 1988), appeared in the Grey Cup in 1987 and was a member of the 1991 Grey Cup championship team. In 2007, he was named to the Argonauts’ All-Time Team.
Schultz became a CFL football sportscaster on The Sports Network after he retired from the game in 1994. He co-hosted a weekly one-hour sports radio program in Toronto and was also the NFL insider for TSN.
His popularity in Canada after his obscure beginning at Arizona, where he mostly kept to himself as Holt stated, is intriguing.
Tucson Citizen sportswriter Dave Petruska wrote a story in 1979 about Schultz’s background entering Arizona’s program.
One of Mason’s coaching friends contacted Mason about taking a look at Schultz.
His high school team did not take film of his football games, but some of Schultz’s friends had action footage from their video cameras (which back then were not nearly as advanced as now). They also had footage of Schultz playing basketball.
“The football films were rather unique,” the late Tom Roggeman, Arizona’s defensive line coach then, told Petruska. “Whoever took the shots just followed Chris around the field, so we had no idea what was happening on the play.
“But it looked like he could run and that he wasn’t afraid to hit. When we saw the basketball films, we could see that he could run pretty well. He had muscular legs and a thin upper body but we thought with our weight program, we could build him up. He was so highly recommended, Coach Mason decided to take a chance and he’s done well.”
Schultz went on to be a significant part of some of Arizona’s biggest games in its history — playing in the 1979 Fiesta Bowl against Pitt and quarterback Dan Marino, upsetting No. 1 USC in Los Angeles in 1980 under new coach Larry Smith and toppling Notre Dame at South Bend, Ind., in 1982.
Schultz became known as a “Gentle Giant” in Canada.
“He had a big personality,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, a former teammate of Schultz, said in a statement. “He could make you think as easily as he could make you laugh.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.