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Columbia's Roberts Honored with the 2011 NFF Distinguished American Award

Archie Roberts started at quarterback and defensive back for the Lions for three seasons.
Archie Roberts started at quarterback and defensive back for the Lions for three seasons.

Courtesy of the National Football Foundation and Columbia Sports Information/Media Relations

DALLAS -- The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) announced today that Dr. Archie Roberts, a prominent heart surgeon who played football at Columbia in the 1960s, has been named the 2011 recipient of the organization's Distinguished American Award.

Roberts, a two-sport All-American at Columbia, was inducted to the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in February 2006.

"I can't say enough how proud we are that Archie Roberts is receiving one of the National Football Foundation's highest honors - the Distinguished American Award," said Dr. M. Dianne Murphy, Director, Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education. "It really means a great deal to the entire Columbia Athletics family to know that our football alumni are recognized among the most exceptional men, across the entire spectrum of professional endeavors."

A three-year starter at Columbia, Roberts played both ways as a quarterback and a defensive back. Breaking onto the scene as a sophomore, he completed an impressive 102 of 170 passes for 1,076 yards and six touchdowns. He also scored three touchdowns and two, 2-point conversions. As a junior, he led the nation in completion percentage (.616) by connecting on 101 of 164 attempts for 1,184 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding 341 rushing yards and nine scores. In his senior season, Roberts hit 56 percent of his passes, 110 for 196, to finish second in the nation. He passed for 1,444 yards and 12 touchdowns.

During his career, he was among the national leaders in completions, total offense and scoring. He became the first Lions quarterback to complete 300 career passes, and he currently ranks sixth in school history with 3,704 passing yards. He set 17 Columbia and 14 Ivy League records during his days with the Lions, becoming a three-time First Team All-Ivy League selection.

Roberts earned honors in 1964 as a Playboy All-American and as the ECAC Co-Eastern Football Player of the Year. Following his senior campaign, Roberts claimed a spot as one of three quarterbacks chosen for the 1964 Coaches All-America Football Game alongside future College Football Hall of Fame inductees Roger Staubach of Navy and John Huarte of Notre Dame, Heisman Trophy winners in 1963 and 1964, respectively. A standout in the classroom as well, Roberts claimed a prestigious NFF National Scholar-Athlete Award in 1964, and his classmates voted to present him the Rolker Prize for academic and athletic excellence.

Drafted by the NFL's Cleveland Browns, the AFL's New York Jets, and Major League Baseball's St. Louis Cardinals, Roberts signed with Cleveland, in part because the Browns and Art Modell offered to pay his way through medical school. During his medical training at Case Western Reserve, Roberts only participated in pre-season practice and as a taxi squad emergency backup. After two years with the Browns, he signed with the Miami Dolphins where he played for one season.

Following his NFL football career, he began his practice of medicine, becoming a nationally known cardiothoracic surgeon who performed more than 4,000 open-heart surgeries and trained dozens of young doctors in cardiothoracic surgery. A renowned teacher, Roberts has held positions as an assistant professor of surgery at Northwestern University; associate professor and Chief, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, at the University of Nevada; associate professor and director of adult cardiac surgery at the University of Florida; professor and chairman of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Boston University Medical Center; and clinical professor of surgery at Temple University. He headed the cardiac surgery departments at the Heart Institute of Northeast Pennsylvania and the Jersey Shore Medical Center. He has written more than 100 articles and four books on cardiac surgery.

"Dr. Roberts stands as a living testament to the NFF's mission of building leaders through football," said NFF president and CEO Steve Hatchell. "A standout student-athlete on and off the field at Columbia, he has continued to excel throughout his life, becoming one of our nation's leading heart surgeons and as a pioneer in the research and prevention of heart disease. He is truly a credit to the game of football."

First bestowed in 1966, the NFF Distinguished American Award is presented on special occasions when a truly deserving candidate emerges. Roberts will become the 40th recipient of the award, joining an impressive list of previous honorees that includes Vince Lombardi, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Pete Rozelle, Joe Paterno, Pat Tillman, T. Boone Pickens and last year's honoree Tom Brokaw.

Roberts is the third of the NFF's 2011 Major Awards winners to be announced this year, joining Penn State Athletics Director Tim Curley who will claim the John L. Toner Award, and Ted Ruta, who will claim the Outstanding Football Official Award. The Gold Medal, Outstanding Contributor to Amateur Football, and Chris Schenkel awards winners will be announced via national press releases in the coming weeks.

The NFF Major Award winners, along with the 2011 College Football Hall of Fame inductees and the NFF National Scholar-Athlete class, will be honored at the NFF 54th Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 6 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.