Jake Scott, the free-spirited, hard-nosed free safety who was a cornerstone of the Miami Dolphins dynasty in the 1970s and the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl VII, which capped the league’s only undefeated season, died on Nov. 19. He was 75.
Scott fell down a flight of steps while visiting friends in Atlanta, had surgery to repair a spinal injury and died in the hospital 10 days later, according to his brother-in-law, Randy Fabal.
After two standout seasons at Georgia and a year with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League, where he went after a falling-out with his college coach, Vince Dooley, Scott was drafted by the Dolphins in the seventh round in 1970. Coach Don Shula, who had taken over the hapless Dolphins that year, made Scott a starter and was instantly rewarded.
Scott, a wily and fearless defender, had a team-record 35 interceptions in his six seasons in Miami, where he was also a punt returner with a reputation for never calling for a fair catch. He was selected to five Pro Bowls between 1971 and 1975 and with Dick Anderson formed one of the best duos of safeties in league history.
Scott’s two interceptions in Super Bowl VII — including one in the end zone that he returned to midfield — helped keep the Washington Redskins offense from scoring. (Washington’s only points came on a fumble return.)
“I think I’ll give Bill Kilmer an extra set of keys,” Scott said of the Redskins’ quarterback after Scott received a car for his M.V.P. performance.
In Super Bowl VIII against the Minnesota Vikings, which the Dolphins also won, Scott recovered two fumbles.
Scott was not a fan of authority figures, including the demanding Shula. On the Dolphins’ team bus ride to the stadium before Super Bowl VII, Shula, who had already lost two Super Bowls as a coach, told Scott to keep it down.
“What are you worried about, being the chokingest coach in the history of the Super Bowl?” Scott shot back, according to Jim Mandich, the Dolphins tight end.
Scott had taken a $5,000 pay cut to sign with the Dolphins, but made up for it when he floated the idea of leaving for the upstart World Football League, where teammates Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield ended up. Not wanting to lose a top defender, the Dolphins gave Scott a five-year contract worth $600,000.
But after several run-ins with Shula, including a dispute over whether Scott could play injured, Scott was traded before the 1976 season to Washington, where he finished his career in 1978 with 49 total interceptions. Scott and Shula did not speak for decades after the trade.
A lifelong bachelor, Scott shunned the spotlight, attended few alumni events and rarely spoke to the media. He invested his money in car dealerships, which he lost, but traveled widely, was an avid fisherman and split his time between homes in Colorado, Key West, Fla., and the island of Kauai, in Hawaii.
“He’s the only man I’ve known who lived life entirely on his own terms,” said Stan Stanfill, a longtime friend and the son of Scott’s teammate at Georgia and in Miami, Bill Stanfill.
Jacob Eugene Scott III was born on July 20, 1945, in Greenwood, S.C. to Jacob Eugene Scott, a pulp wood contractor, and Mary Hughie Scott, an educator. When he was young, Scott moved to Athens, Ga., where his mother earned a doctorate in education at the University of Georgia and young Jake idolized Fran Tarkenton, a local high school quarterback who went on to star at Georgia and in the N.F.L.
In 1962, Scott’s family moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where Scott played high school football and was a water boy for the Redskins. Tarkenton remembered Scott as a youth football player and helped recruit him to play at the University of Georgia, where he had taken a course taught by Scott’s mother.
Scott is survived by his sister, Rita Scott Fabal.
Scott sat out his freshman year with injuries, then led the team in interceptions in both 1967 and 1968 and was named in both seasons as a first-team All-S.E.C. defensive back. Several of his records still stand though he played just two seasons. Scott never forgave Coach Dooley for choosing to take the team to the Sugar Bowl instead of the more prestigious Orange Bowl, and left to play in Canada in what would have been his senior year.
Dooley, though, admired Scott’s talents and lobbied for him to join the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Scott, who was in Hawaii, did not show up to the induction ceremony. In 2006, he also turned down an invitation from the N.F.L. to attend Super Bowl XL, where former M.V.P.’s were being honored.
“I don’t need the money,” Scott told a reporter from The Sun-Sentinel that year. “I don’t need it for my ego.”
A decade later, he attended Super Bowl 50 and joined his old roommate, Bill Stanfill, at a Dolphins Honor Roll induction ceremony. Shula was on hand to congratulate them.