Jay Novacek

Jay Novacek
No. 84, 85
Position: Tight end
Personal information
Date of birth: (1962-10-24) October 24, 1962
Place of birth: Martin, South Dakota
Height: 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)
Weight: 234 lb (106 kg)
Career information
High school: Gothenburg (NE)
College: Wyoming
NFL Draft: 1985 / Round: 6 / Pick: 158
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games played: 158
Receptions: 422
Receiving yards: 4,630
Touchdowns: 30
Player stats at NFL.com
Player stats at PFR

Jay McKinley Novacek (born October 24, 1962) is a former American football tight end in the National Football League who played for the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals (1985–1989) and the Dallas Cowboys (1990–1995). Novacek was a five-time Pro Bowler, who was selected to play each year from 1991 through 1995. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

Early years

Born in Martin, South Dakota, Novacek attended Gothenburg High School in central Nebraska, where he was a two-year starter at quarterback and a three-sport athlete.

In 1980, he set the state record in the pole vault at 15 ft 1 in (4.60 m) and also won the state titles in that event and hurdles. He was an All-state football and basketball player. His jersey is the only one retired in school history.

Novacek was inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

College career

Novacek accepted a scholarship from the University of Wyoming in Laramie and started his college football career as a split end. The next year he was moved to tight end.

He had few opportunities to prove his true worth in head coach Al Kincaid's run-oriented wishbone offense, where the team usually threw around 18 passes per game.

In 1984, Novacek posted 33 receptions for 745 yards, 4 touchdowns and set an NCAA single-season record for average per reception (22.6 yards) by a tight end. He was selected to the honorable-mention All-American football team and to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) first team.[1] He finished his college career with 83 career receptions for 1,536 yards and 10 touchdowns.[2]

Novacek also competed in track and field for the Cowboys. He won the WAC decathlon championship and placed fourth in the NCAA championships, earning All-American honors in track. He set the school record for decathlon points (7,615) and in the pole vault jump (16 ft 4 in (4.98 m)).[3] He competed in the 1984 Olympic trials as a decathlete.[4]

In 2008, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1993, he was inducted into the inaugural class of the University of Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame. In 2014, he was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Professional career

St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals

Novacek was selected in the sixth round (158th overall) of the 1985 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. As a rookie he was a wide receiver and played mainly on special teams.[5]

In 1986, he was moved to tight end, but was placed on the injured reserve list on August 19.[6] He was activated on October 17,[7] but was placed again on the injured reserve list on December 10.

In 1987, he began the season as the starter at tight end, until suffering a broken elbow against the New York Giants on October 25. After rookie Rob Awalt had a break-out game against the Philadelphia Eagles,[8] Novacek was placed on the injured reserve list on November 2.[9] He finished the season with 20 receptions for 254 yards and 3 touchdowns, producing just 2 receptions in his first two seasons and only 22 after three years.

In 1988, the Cardinals franchise moved to Phoenix and even though Awalt remained the starter at tight end, Novacek still ranked third on the team with 569 receiving yards and 4 receiving touchdowns. The next year with Gary Hogeboom instead of Neil Lomax as the team's starting quarterback, his production fell to 23 receptions for 225 yards and one touchdown.

In 1990, Joe Bugel was hired as the new head coach, who looked for the tight end position to be either a blocker or perform H-back type functions. Novacek was not seen as a good fit for the new system and was left unprotected—eligible to sign with any team under Plan B free agency.

Dallas Cowboys

In 1990, the Dallas Cowboys signed Novacek as a Plan B free agent, arguably the best signing in the history of this program.[10] He was named the starter at tight end, even though the Cowboys also acquired Awalt to compete for the position. He would go on to have a break-out season, becoming one of the league's top receiving tight ends, while registering 59 receptions for 657 yards and 4 touchdowns.

He was a key contributor for the offense in the early nineties, especially on third downs where he could find the soft spot in the defense. Beginning in 1991, he played in five straight Pro Bowls, while helping the Cowboys make the playoffs each year and winning the Super Bowl three times in four seasons. Although blocking was not his strength, he did a solid job locking up opponents.

In 1992, he was named an All-Pro after leading all tight ends with 68 receptions for 630 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns.

In 1995, he posted his second-highest single-season total for receptions (62) and touchdowns (5), to go along with a career-high in receiving yards (705). He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to repair a partial tear of his medial meniscus before the last game of the season,[11] but still helped beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.

In 1996, although he missed the regular season because of a degenerative disc in his back, the Cowboys decided not to put him on injured reserve with the hope he could be ready for the playoffs. On January 3, 1997, he was placed on the injured reserve list.[12] On July 15, he officially retired from the NFL after his chronic lower-back problems cut short his career.

In his 11 seasons, Novacek recorded 422 receptions for 4,630 yards (ninth in team history) and 30 touchdowns, with most of his production coming from 1990 to 1995.[13] He also came up big in the post-season, ranking third in franchise playoff history in receptions (62), receiving yards (645) and touchdown receptions (6).

Personal life

Novacek served as a spokesperson for the Alltel Wireless "Yards 4 Youth Football" program in West Texas. He was involved for the National Dairy Council's NFL School Program Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign, and the Heritage Land Bank. He appeared as a coach on the Spike TV reality series 4th and Long, in 2009.

He conducted a youth football camp at the University of North Texas, in Denton, Texas, every summer for 20 years.


  1. "Honorable mention Offense". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  2. "UW Athletics Hall of Fame". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  3. "University of Wyoming: Notable Alumni". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  4. "Wyoming Great Jay Novacek To Be Inducted Into National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  5. "Big Red rookie receiver turning some heads". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  6. "Transactions". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  7. "Transactions". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  8. "Tight ends help revive Cardinals". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  9. "Novacek is placed on injured reserve list". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  10. "Haley and Novacek Retire". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  11. "Knee Surgery Shelves The Cowboys' Novacek". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  12. "Cowboys' Novacek out for season". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  13. "Cowboys' Haley, Novacek ride into the sunset". Retrieved January 8, 2016.
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