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Ex-Patriot Antwine dies; wife succumbs a day later

Houston Antwine, one of the AFL’s best defensive linemen, died at 72 of heart failure. Houston Antwine, one of the AFL’s best defensive linemen, died at 72 of heart failure. (Associated Press file)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 28, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - Former Patriots defensive tackle Houston Antwine, a member of the franchise’s 50th anniversary team, died Monday night of heart failure in Memphis.

He was 72.

Compounding the loss for the family: Antwine’s wife, Evelyn, died yesterday morning after a battle with lung cancer.

A standout football player and NAIA wrestling champion at Southern Illinois, Antwine was a third-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions and an eighth-round pick of the AFL’s Houston Oilers in 1961. He was traded by the Oilers to the Patriots before playing a game.

With the Patriots, the 6-foot, 270-pound tackle became a force. He was a six-time AFL All-Star (1963-68) and was named to the league’s All-Time Team after it merged with the NFL.

Antwine played for the Patriots through 1971 (his final season, 1972, was spent with Philadelphia), and his 39 sacks rank 10th on the franchise’s all-time list.

“For those of us who grew up watching the Boston Patriots, this is a really sad day,’’ Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “In the 1960s, the defensive tackle tandem of ‘Twine’ and Jim Lee Hunt were as good as any in the league and helped propel the Patriots to the franchise’s first division championship in 1963.

“Myra and I had the good fortune of hosting Houston and his wife, Evelyn, at my home just two years ago when we honored the Patriots 50th Anniversary Team. I loved hearing Houston’s stories about those early days in Boston. It was such a thrill for me, personally, to spend time with the players from that era.

“I am saddened to learn of the deaths of both Houston and Evelyn and want to express my deepest sympathies to the Antwines’ daughter, Regina, and all who mourn her losses. ’’

Antwine may be the most accomplished Patriot yet to be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. He was a three-time finalist, but in fan voting, he lost out to Jim Nance, Sam Cunningham, and Drew Bledsoe.

He likely will be the second player chosen for induction by the Senior Selection committee, following center Jon Morris, who was honored this year.

“He probably ranks in my top three favorite teammates of all time,’’ Morris said. “There was a period of time - probably ’63 through ’68 - when he was the best defensive tackle in the AFL. He couldn’t be blocked. Nobody could block him.

“And I speak from experience, because I practiced against him every day and I couldn’t block him.’’

Morris recalled that such was the respect Antwine earned from teammates that he was elected a defensive captain at least six times, and he also was selected as the team’s first representative to the NFL Players Association.

Morris last saw Antwine in 2009, when the Patriots honored the 50th Anniversary team. Even two years ago, Antwine was visibly affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Morris said, and also diabetes. Morris’s wife, Gail, kept in contact with Evelyn Antwine, and the last time they spoke, Evelyn said her cancer had returned but was “under control,’’ so her death came as more of a shock to Morris.

Asked why Antwine was so well-liked, Morris said, “His ability to play, that’s the first thing you notice. You’re talking about one of the best players in the league, but he didn’t act like that.

“He was approachable, well-informed on a variety of topics. I used to sit next to him on airplane flights and we would chat as we flew cross-country.

“He was a really charming, wonderful guy. Everyone that knew him loved him.’’

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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