James Lofton’s blazing speed and impeccable knowledge of football set him apart from other wide receivers during his time in the National Football League.
Lofton was an eight-time Pro Bowler who led the NFL in yards-per-catch average in 1983 and 1984.
Bear in mind he’s also the first NFL player to record 14,000 receiving yards.
Despite Lofton’s tremendous pass-catching abilities, he spent most of his career with mediocre teams.
It wasn’t until he joined the Buffalo Bills in 1989 when he first played for a serious title contender.
Lofton validated his status as one of the game’s best all-time wide receivers in the summer of 2003.
That was the year he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Truly, James Lofton set the bar high for playing the wide receiver position in the National Football League.
James David Lofton was born in Fort Ord, CA on July 5, 1956.
He has a brother Michael and two sisters: Angelica and Sapphire.
Their single dad Mike Lofton raised them by himself. In James Lofton’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2003, he called his household “a reverse single-parent family.”
Lofton’s parents divorced when he was just seven years old.
Lofton considered his father, a retired army colonel who became a bank executive, his biggest fan. His dad always praised him and challenged him without becoming abusive.
Years later, Lofton inherited his fanaticism from his dad – he loved watching his own children compete in various sports during their formative years.
Mike Lofton recalled to SI.com’s Rick Telander in 1982 James was the most competitive among his four kids. He also said he loved eating hot dogs and drinking Kool-Aid as a boy.
Mr. Lofton remembered one of James’ sixth-grade teachers summoning him to school one Friday afternoon.
He was worried his son had gotten himself into trouble.
To his astonishment, the teacher told him James was an A student. She just wanted to meet his parents, per Telander.
On the other hand, Lofton’s older brother Michael helped refine his skills on the gridiron. For their part, Angelica and Sapphire Lofton acted as the motherly presence James needed.
James Lofton was twelve years old when he received his first Pop Warner football uniform. Michael, who had just graduated from high school, taught his younger brother how to get into the proper stance on their front yard.
Next thing James Lofton knew, he woke up on a sofa in the den – his older brother had knocked him out cold, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Michael Lofton warned him not to tell their father about what happened.
Regrettably, Michael passed away at the age of thirty-seven in 1986. He left behind a lasting legacy: he taught his brother James – a future Pro Football Hall of Famer – toughness.
It’s one trait James Lofton exemplified in every single down when he blossomed into a first-rate wide receiver.
James played every sport imaginable during his youth. However, football stood out the most for him.
When Lofton started playing Pop Warner football as a defensive tackle, he had a eureka moment:
“As I moved into Pop Warner football, I slowly realized that my path to the Hall of Fame was starting,” Lofton said in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2003.
Even as a youngster, Lofton knew he would become one of football’s all-time greats.
James Lofton attended George Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, CA.
Lofton played high school football for the George Washington Generals.
He admitted he was just a mediocre high school quarterback back in the day.
Fortunately, his coaches Ron Fowlkes, Ken Stumpf, Gene Thomas, and Gary Cordray never gave up on him.
Lofton gave those men credit for molding him into a resilient gridiron warrior.
James Lofton would evolve into a top-notch wide receiver with the Stanford Cardinal in the next few years.
College Days With The Stanford Cardinal
James Lofton attended Stanford University from 1974 to 1978.
Lofton was a two-sport star at Stanford: he played football and suited up for the track and field team.
Lofton’s best time in the 200-meter dash was 20.5 seconds. He relied on his speed to befuddle the NFL’s best defensive backs several years later.
“He’s got, like, this afterburner,” New England Patriots cornerback Ray Clayborn told Telander in 1982. “It seems the longer he goes, the faster he gets.”
While James Lofton had blazing speed, the springs in his legs were even more impressive.
Lofton excelled in the long jump: he won the 1974 CIF California State Meet as a true freshman with a jump of 24 feet, 3 1/2 inches.
Four years later, Lofton’s 26-foot, 11 3/4-inch jump propelled him to victory in the 1978 NCAA Track and Field Championships.
Some Stanford Track and Field and @StanfordFball Super Bowl Trivia 🏈 – James Lofton, who holds Stanford records in the outdoor 200 👟, and indoor and outdoor long jumps, played in three-straight Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills from 1991-1993. #GoStanford 🌲 pic.twitter.com/Lx5EJQc8MC
— StanfordXCTF (@StanfordXCTF) February 5, 2018
Lofton doesn’t just possess blazing speed and remarkable jumping abilities: he’s also strong. According to Telander, Lofton can bench press 350 pounds.
Lofton rode the bench in his first three years as a Cardinal football player. His head football coach back then was Jack Christiansen.
Stanford was an average football team from 1974 to 1976. The Cardinal won an average of six games and never received a bowl invite during that stretch.
Despite wallowing in mediocrity, Lofton never gave up hope. His saving grace was his track and field coach, Payton Jordan.
When football ended prior to the winter season, Jordan stepped in and instilled a champion mentality in Lofton:
“Coach Jordan, by word and deed, taught me to think like a champion, to perform as a champion,” Lofton said in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech.
Jordan’s profound influence came as no surprise: he was the coach of the U.S. track and field team that competed in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico.
A massive turning point in James Lofton’s college football career occurred in 1977: that was the year Bill Walsh became the Cardinal’s head football coach.
While Lofton didn’t light up the stat sheet in his first game as a senior (he had zero catches and zero receiving yards), one of his mentors intervened at the right time yet again.
Walsh sat down next to Lofton in his locker after the game. The man known as “The Genius” and inventor of the West Coast Offense assured his wide receiver he would catch twelve passes in a game someday.
Lofton thought Walsh was blowing smoke in his face.
Walsh’s prediction came true: Lofton had twelve receptions in a 45-21 blowout road win over the Washington Huskies on October 15, 1977.
Walsh also showed Lofton films of Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro wideout Isaac Curtis so he could refine his game, per SI.com.
The Cardinal head football coach instilled in Lofton a brand-new mindset.
“One simple philosophy,” Lofton told Telander in 1982. “You’ve got to believe you’re better than anybody else.”
That’s the genius of Bill Walsh at work in James Lofton’s football career.
— Steve (The Stanford/Padre Guy) (@swp031) February 2, 2022
With Walsh at the helm, Lofton had 931 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on 53 receptions as a senior in 1977.
Stanford won nine games and broke a five-year bowl drought that year.
The Cardinal beat the LSU Tigers in the 1977 Sun Bowl, 24-14.
During Lofton’s college years, his father Mike would write letters to him frequently. The latter couldn’t make phone calls because they were expensive.
James Lofton actually described his father as “pretty cheap” in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech.
Despite Mike Lofton’s frugality, he was a goal setter in every sense of the word: he always reminded his son how many months there were before he received his college diploma.
James Lofton eventually received his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering with a B+ average in 1978.
Mike Lofton passed away in 1990. His son James was thirty-four years old and played for the Buffalo Bills that year.
Even though Lofton didn’t play much in his first three years at Stanford, somebody was watching him from afar.
According to Telander, Green Bay Packers director of player personnel Dick Corrick scouted Lofton during his tenure at Stanford.
Lofton’s play on special teams and courage impressed Corrick. He knew it was only a matter of time when Lofton would improve by leaps and bounds.
After he played his last down with the Cardinal, the younger Lofton embarked on a memorable sixteen-year Hall-of-Fame career in the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The Green Bay Packers made James Lofton the sixth overall selection of the 1978 NFL Draft.
It all started when Packers director of player personnel Dick Corrick sized up Lofton during his college football career at Stanford.
Today in 1978: Packers select Stanford WR James Lofton with the sixth overall pick of the 1978 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/3f2Q2YMeTQ
— Packers History (@HistoricPackers) May 2, 2017
Throughout James Lofton’s pro football career, he gave credit to several players and coaches who made a profound difference in his life.
According to ProFootballHOF.com, Lofton credited his Packers head coach Bart Starr for teaching him about priorities.
Lofton claimed he stole the notion of faith, family, and football from the legendary Green Bay signal caller. The former said he has put those lessons to good use for the past three decades.
Lofton also singled out Starr’s teammate Forrest Gregg as another steadying influence in his NFL career.
Gregg was the Packers’ head coach from 1984 to 1987. While his head coaching record in Green Bay (25-37-1) wasn’t immaculate, he helped toughen up one of the game’s greatest wideouts.
“Forrest taught me the pride of the battle. He was (a) fiery, tough coach,” Lofton said in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2003.
Lofton remembered one Saturday when he and some of his teammates were joking about some of the game’s greatest pass rushers. They discussed legends such as Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Lamar Lundy.
All of a sudden, Gregg said (via ProFootballHOF.com), “But they never beat me!”
It didn’t matter Gregg was an offensive tackle and Lofton was a wide receiver. What mattered more was the pride Gregg instilled in Lofton on that day.
Lofton reiterated the importance of a great quarterback in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech. Without one, a wide receiver cannot flourish.
Fortunately for Lofton, he had two great quarterbacks: the Green Bay Packers’ Lynn Dickey and the Buffalo Bills’ Jim Kelly.
Lofton considered Dickey one of the toughest quarterbacks he ever played with.
Lynn Dickey: the original Packers gunslinger (and James Lofton was pretty good too) pic.twitter.com/eHUTNRjRuM
— Joe Kipp (rodgers is coming back) (@joepkipp) July 18, 2020
When Lofton first played for the Packers in 1978, Dickey had a shattered hip and broken legs. Lesser quarterbacks would’ve folded.
Not Lynn Dickey, though. He would come back stronger in 1980.
Dickey had a fond memory of the rookie wideout in 1978. Every time Packers wide receivers coach Lew Carpenter asked a question about coverages during training camp, only one player hollered out the correct answers.
It was James Lofton.
“He’d only been in camp two days and he already knew the whole system,” Dickey told SI.com. “I’ve never seen a rookie pick things up as fast as he did.”
Without Dickey, Lofton and the Packers offense relied mainly on backup quarterback David Whitehurst.
Lofton had 818 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 46 receptions in his rookie year in 1978.
Green Bay was a mediocre club that year. The Packers finished with an 8-7-1 record and bowed out of postseason contention for the sixth straight year.
Nonetheless, James Lofton earned Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team honors in 1978.
The Packers endured a miserable 1979 NFL campaign. Not only did they win just five games, but their young and up-and-coming wide receiver began losing his poise.
First, Lofton threw his pads into his locker in frustration after an early-season overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He was visibly upset after dropping several passes he should’ve caught.
Lofton also had a heated exchange of words with Packers head coach Bart Starr – the same man who taught him the importance of faith, family, and football.
Several weeks later, Green Bay fans booed Lofton after a fourth-quarter fumble in a loss to the New York Jets.
Lofton flipped his middle finger at the home fans at Lambeau Field, per Telander.
He wasn’t done.
Lofton then went on a profanity-laced post-game tirade directed at the fans. Television cameras recorded his every word.
Lofton’s outburst prompted a Packers public relations man to label him a prima donna.
He admitted he behaved that way because he was unaccustomed to losing.
“It was a bad time,” Lofton told Telander in 1982. “All I was doing, really, was rebelling against losing. I’d been a winner at so many things just before then.”
Lofton mellowed considerably after he met his future wife, the former Beverly Fanning, on New Year’s Eve 1979.
— James Lofton (@lofton80) December 25, 2021
Fanning was the second runner-up of the 1975 Miss Arkansas beauty pageant. She moved to Los Angeles to become a singer four years later.
She had no idea Lofton was an NFL football player when they met for the first time. She only realized the fact when she saw his trophies at his dad Mike’s house in Los Angeles.
James and Beverly got married in Hawaii a year after they first met. After they settled down, Lofton had a house in Green Bay, a condominium unit in Milwaukee, two houses in California, and another house in Arkansas, per Telander.
They eventually became investment properties at the height of his tenure in Green Bay.
Despite the injuries that forced him to miss two entire calendar years, Dickey returned as the starter for the 1980 NFL season.
With Dickey back in harness, James Lofton’s game reached unprecedented heights: he had 1,226 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 71 receptions that year.
That was the first of Lofton’s five 1,000-plus yard seasons in six years with the Packers.
Not including Lofton’s injury-riddled 1982 NFL campaign, he never had less than 1,153 receiving yards from 1980 to 1985.
He also earned the first of his three Second-Team All-Pro selections in 1980.
Lofton also earned the first of six consecutive Pro Bowl berths that season. He was also a First-Team All-Pro selection in 1981.
Lofton also led the NFL with 22.4 and 22-yard-per-catch averages in 1983 and 1984, respectively.
He was fast becoming an elite wide receiver in the pro football ranks.
Lofton’s dynamic pairing with Lynn Dickey – who went on to play until the 1985 NFL season – had a lot to do with Lofton’s dramatic rise in the National Football League.
During the pinnacle of Lofton’s ascension in the NFL’s wideout ranks, a reporter asked him who were the five best wide receivers in the NFL.
Without hesitation, Lofton told him he was the best.
The other four he named were John Jefferson, Wes Chandler, Jerry Butler, and Tony Hill, per SI.com.
Lofton played for the Packers until 1986. Green Bay was an average football team for almost the entirety of his nine-year tenure.
The only time the Packers made the postseason was during the strike-shortened 1982 NFL campaign.
The longest run from scrimmage in #Packers postseason history:
James Lofton's scintillating 71-yard end-around TD in the 1982 NFC Divisional against Dallas, 39 years ago today. pic.twitter.com/WKszgGEevf
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 17, 2022
Green Bay finished 5-3-1 and lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Round, 37-26.
James Lofton had played his final down in Packers Green and Gold.
Green Bay traded Lofton to the then-Los Angeles Raiders for two draft selections on April 14, 1987.
At the time of the trade, Lofton was earning $835,000 per season, per The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Heisler.
Prior to the deal, Lofton’s legacy in Green Bay was shrouded in controversy.
He had been awaiting trial for second-degree sexual assault. According to Heisler, Green Bay police arrested him in December 1986 for allegedly forcing a woman to perform oral sex on him.
A Milwaukee nightclub dancer accused Lofton of sexual assault two years earlier. Fortunately, he wasn’t slapped with any charges for the incident.
Lofton’s most recent brush with the law prompted the Packers to trade him to the Raiders.
Lofton had a combined 1,429 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 69 receptions in 28 games for Los Angeles from 1987 to 1988.
Lofton stumbled upon mediocrity yet again: the Raiders averaged just six wins in his two seasons in his hometown.
Los Angeles released Lofton after the 1988 NFL season. The Buffalo Bills, a team on the rise in the AFC, signed him several months later.
Lofton played in Buffalo for the next four years. He was part of the Bills squad that made it to three consecutive Super Bowls – all losses – from 1990 to 1992.
Lofton resurrected his NFL career with the great Jim Kelly under center.
Kelly ran the Bills’ famous no-huddle offense to perfection. Lofton lauded him for his game management and his throwing prowess in the elements.
“Nobody – nobody controlled a game better than Jim Kelly,” Lofton told The Buffalo News‘ Vic Carucci in 1993. “Sure, he had a great arm – nobody threw the ball in the elements better than Jim Kelly.”
Lofton rekindled the kind of chemistry he enjoyed with Packers quarterback Lynn Dickey during his first few years in the National Football League.
When Lofton joined forces with Kelly in Buffalo, the 35-year-old wide receiver defied Father Time in 1991: he earned his eighth Pro Bowl berth that year.
Lofton also tipped his hat to Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy for improving his vocabulary and building a winning atmosphere in Buffalo.
In Lofton’s second season with the Bills in 1990, he sat in the front row to listen to Levy’s famous “return to camp” speech.
Levy broke down several things the Bills needed to do so they could secure home field advantage in the postseason. He emphasized winning all of their conference games so they could achieve this goal.
Lofton peered over his left shoulder and expected some of his younger teammates to snicker. Instead, he saw them listening intently to the Bills mentor.
Buffalo averaged nearly twelve wins per year with Lofton on board from 1989 to 1992. Regrettably, they never had a Super Bowl trophy to show for their efforts.
Lofton split the 1993 NFL campaign with the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams. He hung up his cleats after that season.
James Lofton had 14,004 receiving yards and 75 touchdowns on 764 receptions in his 16-year NFL career.
Best deep threat in NFL history?
We can’t say who is the best ever, but we do know that there is only one wide receiver in NFL history that has led the league in Yards Per Reception in consecutive seasons and caught 75+ TDs in their career.
James Lofton. pic.twitter.com/sn0sWacdAn
— PackersHistory.com (@PackersHistory1) May 19, 2021
He was the first player in NFL history to record 14,000 receiving yards, He pulled off the gaudy feat in the Bills’ 1992 season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, per Carucci.
Lofton is also a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team
James Lofton and his wife Beverly have two sons: Daniel and David. They also have a daughter named Rachel.
The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame inducted Lofton in 1999.
Lofton embarked on a sports media career during retirement.
He was an NFL color analyst and sideline reporter for the radio network Westwood One Sports from 1999 to 2001.
Lofton served as the then-San Diego Chargers wide receivers coach from 2002 to 2008.
James Lofton officially became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2003.
His son David acted as his presenter. The younger Lofton said his dad damaged his knee cartilage when he competed in Master’s track and field several years earlier.
James Lofton had to undergo emergency surgery to repair his knee. He refused to use a wheelchair when he was discharged from the hospital. Instead, he walked on his own two feet to his car, per ProFootballHOF.com.
According to David Lofton, his dad woke him up to run track and lift weights every morning in the summer when he was in high school.
David resented it at first, but his father’s gesture taught him to never settle for mediocrity and always strive to achieve his goals.
James Lofton was a candidate for the then-Oakland Raiders head coaching job which eventually went to Lane Kiffin in 2007.
The Raiders hired Lofton to become their wide receivers coach for the 2008 NFL campaign.
After Lofton’s short coaching tenure with Oakland ended, he rejoined Westwood One Sports for its Sunday Night Football broadcasts beginning in 2009.
Lofton made the transition to television when he joined the NFL on CBS as a game analyst eight years later.
— James Lofton (@lofton80) September 19, 2021
He’s also a television analyst for Green Bay Packers preseason games.
James Lofton is a devout Christian. His favorite Bible verse (per ProFootballHOF.com) is Proverbs 16:9, which reads:
“You may make your plans, but God directs your actions.”