Houston Antwine may have been forgotten by those who never saw him terrorize opposing offenses during an 11-year career spent mostly playing in the American Football League, but, if you ever actually experienced an afternoon in the powerful defensive tackle‘s grasp, you never did.
“I look the way I look today — bald — because of Houston Antwine,” Hall-of-Fame offensive guard Billy Shaw of the Buffalo Bills once recalled when asked if Antwine might be an AFL refugee who had fallen through the cracks of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I worried about him. He was one of the best pass rushers in the AFL. He was my nemesis.”
Antwine was a lot of offensive linemen’s nemesis upon his arrival in the AFL in 1961 after a standout college career in both football and wrestling at Southern Illinois. Many insist it was his mastery of the latter of those two sports that made him a six-time AFL All-Star and, eventually, a first-team selection on the AFL’s All-Time team selected after the two leagues merged following the 1969 season.
At only 6-feet-tall, Antwine’s incredible athleticism, quickness and speed became a factor in his ability to dominate the line of scrimmage because he could combine them with a mastery of leverage – a skill that was learned during his years as a NAIA collegiate wrestling champion for the Salukis. Later Curly Culp, himself an AFL alumni, would use the same wrestling training and command of leverage to become the first pure nose tackle ever elected to the Hall of Fame.
Such was Antwine’s dominance at defensive tackle during his 11 years with the then-Boston Patriots (before finishing his career in 1972 with the Eagles, where he started nine games in his final NFL season). When it came time to select the AFL’s all-time team, he joined the Bills’ Tom Sestak as first-team defensive tackles ahead of Hall-of-Famers Buck Buchanan and Culp … as well as second-team selection Tom Keating.
Antwine’s teammate throughout his career in New England, AFL all-time leading scorer Gino Cappelletti, says of Antwine, “He was quick as a cat. He was an every-down player who could rush the passer with his great speed and technique but was strong enough to stop the run.’’
Although sacks were not yet a statistic compiled by pro football in Antwine’s day, a review of game film credits him with 39 from his interior position, tying him with Richard Seymour for the club lead. Considering that the latter is thought of as the finest defensive lineman in Patriots’ history, it gives one an idea where Antwine fits.
Antwine was an AFL All-Star six consecutive years (1963-1968), but had the Houston Oilers understood he had that potential he might never have played a snap for the Patriots. Houston originally drafted Antwine in the eighth round in 1961 but quickly traded him to Boston for a 1962 fourth-round draft choice … and within a year he was starting at defensive tackle alongside another menacing figure, Jim Lee Hunt. That gave the Patriots an interior defense that became a wrecking crew and helped power the 1963 Patriots to the AFL championship game.
Antwine would lead the Patriots in sacks three consecutive seasons (1967-1969) and was at times so dominating it seemed he could not be blocked. Certainly that was the case for the Cincinnati Bengals on December 1, 1968, at Fenway Park. On that night, Antwine had 10 tackles in a 33-14 victory.
If you ever saw him slash through the line by beating a blocker off the snap or run a back down from behind with his lateral quickness and speed, Houston Antwine was the kind of football player you didn’t forget.
Sadly, he is also the type of player few remember today because he played long before the existence of highlight shows that would have made him a household name. If they had existed in the 1960s, ‘Twine would have been a staple of those films. He was Warren Sapp before there was a Warren Sapp, but without the need for volume control.