Oklahoma State lost a legend this month with the passing of Neill Armstrong, a two-time All-America football player who went on to become an NFL champion as a player and then head coach of the Chicago Bears.
He was 90 years old.
Known to his teammates as “Felix the Cat”, Armstrong helped guide OSU (then-known as Oklahoma A&M) during its glory days. He was a four-year letterman from 1943-46 for coach Jim Lookabaugh’s Aggies and earned All-America honors from the Associated Press in 1945 and from the Central Press Association in 1946.
A native of Tishomingo, Armstrong played on two of Oklahoma A&M’s greatest teams, as the Aggies won the Cotton Bowl in 1944 and the Sugar Bowl in 1945. He led the nation in receiving yards in both 1943 and 1946, and is linked in college football lore with legendary teammate Bob Fenimore.
Armstrong also lettered for the Aggie basketball team (1943-44) and track and field team and was president of Oklahoma A&M’s student government in 1946.
Armstrong was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1947, for whom he collected 76 career receptions for 961 yards and 11 touchdowns during his five-year NFL career. The Eagles were NFL champions with Armstrong on the roster in 1948 and 1949.
He went on to play for the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1951 and from 1953-54.
Armstrong returned to Stillwater for his first venture into coaching when he served as an assistant coach under Cliff Speegle from 1955-61. He helped coach his alma mater to a win over Florida State in the 1958 Bluegrass Bowl.
He got his first professional coaching job as an assistant with the Houston Oilers from 1962-63. He returned to Canada and got his first pro head coaching job with the Edmonton Eskimos from 1964-69 before returning to the NFL for good.
He was an assistant for the Minnesota Vikings from 1970-77, helping the Vikings to the most successful era in their history with Super Bowl appearances in 1970, 1974, 1975 and 1977. Minnesota won division titles in seven of Armstrong’s eight seasons on staff.
Following his time with the Vikings, Armstrong was head coach of the Chicago Bears from 1978-81 and compiled a 30-35-0 record. From 1982-89, he served as an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys.
When Jimmy Johnson took over as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he retained Armstrong as a consultant, and he served in that capacity through 1996, helping the Cowboys to Super Bowl titles in 1993, 1994 and 1996.
The Cowboys’ Super Bowl victory in 1996 marked Armstrong’s last game in football. He spent his retirement enjoying his family, golf and watching football.
Armstrong is survived by his wife of 70 years, Jane, who he met and married during his time at Oklahoma A&M, his sister, Marylou Black, his daughter Gail, sons Neill and Dave, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. One of his grandchildren, Cole Farden, was a punter and four-year letterman for the Oklahoma State football team from 2001-04.