inducted February 18, 2006
“Archie Roberts is as fine a quarterback as I have ever coached, and I believe he is in the same class as the finest forward passers I have ever seen, men like Sid Luckman, Sammy Baugh, Y.A. Tittle and Harry Agganis.”
—Famed Columbia football coach Buff Donelli
The only two-sport individual to be honored in the inaugural class of the Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame, Archie Roberts embodied the true essence of the student-athlete. One of a very few Columbia student-athletes to letter in three sports, Roberts excelled at football, basketball and baseball while at Columbia and went on to become one of the country’s leading heart surgeons.
Named the 1964 ECAC Co-Eastern Football Player of the Year, he set 17 Columbia and 14 Ivy League records, and still holds the Columbia records for completion percentage in a single game, season and career. Voted first team All-Ivy three times, he played full-time on both offense at quarterback and on defense as a defensive back. He also led the Lions in punting, as well as passing, in all three varsity years.
The Holyoke, Massachusetts native broke in as a sophomore, completing 102 of 170 passes, a cool 60 percent, for 1076 yards and six touchdowns. He also scored three touchdowns and two two-point conversions.
As a junior, Roberts improved his accuracy to .616, which was first in the nation among all Division I players. He completed 101 of 164 passes for 1184 yards and 11 touchdowns, while rushing for 341 yards and nine more scores. In 1965, his senior season, Roberts hit 56 percent of his passes, 110 for 196, to finish second in the nation. He passed for 1444 yards and 12 touchdowns, while allowing just six interceptions. He scored five more touchdowns. During his career, he was among the national leaders in completions, total offense and scoring, in addition to completion percentage.
Roberts became the first quarterback in Columbia history to complete more than 300 passes and the first to complete at least 100 in each of his varsity seasons. He ranks sixth on the school’s all-time list with 3,704 career passing yards. He was a member of the 1964 Playboy All-American Team. Following the season, he was selected for the prestigious Coaches All-America Football Game as one of three quarterbacks; the other two were Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach of Navy and John Huarte of Notre Dame.
No less effective in baseball, Roberts was a rifle-armed shortstop who attracted the attention of major league scouts throughout his four years. As a senior in 1965, he batted .386 and led the nation in runs batted in with 30 in just 21 games! His .371 career batting average set a Columbia record; although it has been passed, he still ranks fourth all-time.
The 1965 Met Player of the Year, he was first team All-Eastern League and All-East, and was named the first team All-American shortstop as a senior, a rare honor for a northern player (and one that would be duplicated by first team All-American third baseman Gene Larkin 19 years later).
He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, but chose pro football instead. A draft selection of the New York Jets in the AFL, he was signed by Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell to a unique contract. For four years, Roberts participated only in pre-season practice with the Browns; the rest of the time, he attended medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, funded by the team.
Upon graduation, he joined the Browns on a fill-time basis and later played for the Miami Dolphins. He then went into the 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 was 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 Medial Center. He has written more than 100 articles and four books on cardiac surgery.
At Columbia, in addition to athletics, Roberts majored in chemistry, was a member of several on-campus councils and societies, and Alpha Chi Rho fraternity. He woke every morning at 6:30 a.m. to deliver newspapers to the dormitories.
He was awarded the Rolker Prize for academic and athletic excellence (voted by his classmates), the Swede Nelson Award for sportsmanship, and the Morningside Brotherhood Award for his work in Morningside Park as a coach, instructor and supervisor.
In 1987, the Columbia College Alumni Association bestowed its most prestigious award on Roberts, presenting him with the John Jay Award for distinguished achievement.
Roberts and his wife, Nancy, live in New Jersey. They have six children and six grandchildren.