Back in the day when NFL players prowled the gridiron with nicknames like Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane, ‘Concrete Charlie’ Bedarnik, or even ‘Fatso’ Artie Donovan, the LA Rams had a special player of their own with the moniker ‘Jaguar’ Jon Arnett. He passed away on Saturday, January 16, 2021, at the age of 85.
In 1957, the Rams plucked Arnett right out of their own backyard from the University of Southern California (where he was an All-American) as the second overall pick that year, and his impact on the league was immediate. Arnett earned Pro-Bowl honors in his first year with the team, and then followed that up with another four consecutive years on that distinctive list.
Arnett played for the Rams from 1957 to 1964 and was traded to the Chicago Bears in that year, where he finished his career.
To this day, he still holds the Rams record for the longest kickoff return, at 105 yards. In a 1958 game against the Bears, he once amassed 298 combined yards, yet incredibly, never crossed the goal line for a TD. (He also led the NFL in punt return yardage that same year.)
Known for his elusive, broken-field running style, he was a true multi-purpose tailback, kick returner, punt returner, and flanker (back in the day when ‘flanker’ was part of the NFL lexicon). He combined speed, agility, and incredible balance which often allowed him to run sideline to sideline. He mastered the art of evading defenders at the line of scrimmage and then shedding would-be tacklers along the way as hen sprinted downfield. He was a fan favorite at the Los Angeles Coliseum for his exciting runs, often punctuated with spins, pirouettes, and gymnastic-like moves.
Indeed, his runs were cat-like, as Arnett would vault over tacklers and always seemed to manage to land on his feet.
You’d think such moves were what gave rise to his nickname, but he actually picked up the tag in high school “because I could lay my head down in the car and go to sleep” he once said, in a now-grainy looking television interview.
In 2005 he founded the Retired Professional Athlete Association, together with his wife Jane, to support the causes of retired football players and their families. Besides his wife, he is survived by his son Matt, and daughters Kristen and Kimberly.