The First Patriot, Ron Burton

The Legacy of Ron Burton

When the Patriots selected Northwestern University all-purpose back Ron Burton as their first-ever draft choice on November 23, 1959, they welcomed a man who’d not only become one of the top players but would establish himself as one of New England’s most beloved citizens.

Burton hailed from Springfield, Ohio, where he’d raised himself as an orphan following the death of his mother and the departure of his father during his sophomore year of high school. Renowned as a talented athlete, Burton followed a spartan training regimen that included lights-out at 7:30 P.M. and rising at 4:00 A.M. for a 7.5 mile run before finishing his schoolwork.

Following a sensational senior season, Burton was considered the best high school in football-mad Ohio. Among his 47 college scholarship offers was a personal appeal from coach Woody Hayes to join his Ohio State Buckeyes. Not only did Burton reject Hayes’s attractive offer but also stunned many by choosing to attend perennial Big Ten doormat Northwestern University.

Guided by head coach Ara Parseghian, Burton helped lead the Wildcats from an 0-9 record as a sophomore to the top national ranking in his final two seasons, with victories against Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame. He remains one of only four consensus All-Americans in the history of Northwestern football.

Injuries, however, marked his Patriots career, which led coach Mike Holovak to observe in his book, Violence Every Sunday, “Burton would have been one of the all-time greats, but he was unlucky physically. Everything happened to him.”

Despite his many setbacks, Burton still managed a pro career rushing total, for an average of 3.6 yards per carry. He became the first Patriot to rush for more than 100 yards in a game against Denver on October 23, 1960, and he enjoyed a breakout season in 1962, gaining a total of 1,009 yards (rushing and receiving).

Following his playing career, Burton ascended the corporate ladder at John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company. But more important, he became a local legend after building the Ron Burton Training Village, a facility located on 300 acres in Hubbardston, MA., which teaches life skills to boys between the ages of 11 and 19. Burton died of cancer in 2003, and to date, several thousand young men have completed his life-changing program that endures as the lasting legacy of the first Patriot.

About the Curator’s Corner

Richard Johnson’s “Curator’s Corner” is  where you will find videos featuring Richard and Sports Museum Executive Director, Rusty Sullivan, discussing Boston sports history, as well as blog posts written by Richard himself.

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