John W. Land, 73, former professional football player

November 28, 2017

tribune staff writer

John W. Land, a regional sales director for Xerox Corp. and former professional football player, died on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. He was 73.

He was born on Jan. 22, 1944, to the late J.B. and Emily Land in Chicago. He was raised in New York City. He graduated from Delaware State University in 1966, where he made the football team as a walk-on. Land was a running back and became team captain his senior year.

After he completed his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education, Land was drafted into the North American Football League and played with the Wilmington Clippers.

While at Delaware State University, he met his wife of 49 years, Adrienne Walls Land. They were married in 1967. He publicly credited Adrienne for being instrumental in making him successful.

Land ascended to the National Football League, where he played for the Baltimore Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles after playing in the Atlantic Coast Football League with the Pottstown Firebirds.

The Firebirds won two ACFL championships and were the focus of a documentary that launched NFL Films. “The Making of a Championship Season in a Small Pennsylvania Town” was broadcast the hour before the 1972 Super Bowl. In 2000, NFL Films released “Pottstown Revisited.” Land appeared in both documentaries about the Firebirds.

He ended his 10-year football career playing with the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League. In 1974, Land was the rushing leader for the Philadelphia Bell, was selected for the All-Star Team and was named the WFL Player of the Year. He was the first African American to rush for 1,000 yards in the city of Philadelphia.

During the 10 years Land played professional football, he was also an educator at the Ferris School for Boys in Wilmington and Delaware Technical Community College. After retiring from football, he worked for Xerox as a regional sales director.

Land became general manager of administrative services for Delmarva Power and Light Co., later Connectiv, in 1993, and was vice president of procurement and corporate services from 1998 until his retirement in 2005.

Active in volunteer activities, Land served on the boards of the Alliance for Children and Families, the Brandywine YMCA, the Charter School of Wilmington, the LPGA Urban Youth Golf Advisory Board, Junior Achievement and Delaware State University.

In 2004, Children and Families First presented Land with the J. Thompson Brown Award to recognize his accomplishments as a community volunteer.

In 2005, he was presented with honorary doctorates of humane letters from Delaware State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

An alumnus of Delaware State College (1966), now Delaware State University, Land was a board-appointed trustee member from 1992 to 2011 and then was named trustee emeritus. He served as board vice president from 2004 to 2008 and as chair of the Student Affairs Committee and the Buildings and Grounds Committee.

Land chaired the Delmarva Scholarship Golf Classic for more than a decade. He also served on the Finance and Audit Committees and as acting board chair from 2008 to 2010.

Land was inducted into the Delaware State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1988, the Minor League Football Hall of Fame in 1993, the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Delaware Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

He enjoyed playing a variety of sports in addition to football, especially racquetball and golf, and was a member at the Brandywine Country Club.

He loved the company of his family and friends. He was affectionately known to his five grandchildren as “Big Daddy” and was his grandchildren’s biggest fan.

He was preceded in death by his parents.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by: his daughters, Denise (David) Woods of Wilmington and Anita (Jason) Cross of Hockessin, Del.; grandchildren, Kayla, Kimmi and Krissa Woods and Jackson and Riley Cross; sister, Dorothy Brower; brother, Mitchell Land; and other relatives and friends.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, 815 Justison St., Wilmington, Del. Friends may call at 9 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made in his memory to Children and Families First at www.cffde.org.