Bronko Nagurski

Bronislau "Bronko" Nagurski (November 3, 1908 – January 7, 1990) was a Canadian-born American football player in the National Football League (NFL), renowned for his strength and size. Nagurski was also a successful professional wrestler,[1] recognized as a multiple-time World Heavyweight Champion.

Nagurski became a standout playing both tackle on defense and fullback on offense at the University of Minnesota from 1927 to 1929, selected a consensus All-American in 1929 and inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1951. His professional career with the Chicago Bears also made him an inaugural inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.

Bronko Nagurski
refer to caption
No. 3
Personal information
Born:November 3, 1908
Rainy River, Ontario
Died:January 7, 1990 (aged 81)
International Falls, Minnesota
Height:6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Weight:226 lb (103 kg)
Career information
High school:Bemidji
(Bemidji, Minnesota)
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards:2,778
Yards per carry:4.4
Rushing touchdowns:25
Player stats at

Youth and collegiate career

Nagurski was born in Rainy River, Ontario, Canada, of Ukrainian and Polish descent, and his family moved to International Falls, Minnesota, when he was age five. His parents, "Mike" and Michelina Nagurski, were immigrants, from Western Ukraine region called kresy where many ethnicities lived together (Halychyna/Galicia). Young Bronislau grew up working on his parents' farm and sawmill, delivering groceries for his father's grocery store and in his teens laboring at nearby timbering operations, growing into a powerfully muscular six-footer.

Nagurski was discovered and signed by University of Minnesota head coach Clarence Spears, who drove to International Falls to meet another player. On the outside of town, he watched Nagurski out plowing a field without assistance. According to legend, Spears asked directions and Bronko lifted his plow and used it to point.[1] He was signed on the spot to play for the Golden Gophers. Spears admitted he concocted the story on his long drive back to the university in Minneapolis.

Legends aside, on his first day of practice Spears decided to test Nagurski in the "Nutcracker" drill, where a defensive player had to take on two blockers and try to tackle a following ball carrier. On the first drill two All-Big Ten linemen and Herb Joesting charged at Bronko, who promptly split the blockers and drove the big fullback into a blocking dummy. Spears sent in three more players, blew his whistle and watched Bronko produce the same explosive results and after a third try with the same conclusion realized what a super player he had recruited.

Nagurski became a standout playing both tackle on defense and fullback on offense at Minnesota from 1927 to 1929. In 1929, after posting 737 rushing yards, he was a consensus All-American at fullback, and despite playing fewer games at the position also made some All-American teams at tackle. The pre-eminent sportswriter of the day, Grantland Rice, listed him at the two positions in picking his 1929 All-America team. Rice later wrote, "Who would you pick to win a football game - 11 Jim Thorpes - 11 Glen Davises - 11 Red Granges - or 11 Bronko Nagurskis? The 11 Nagurskis would be a mop-up. It would be something close to murder and massacre. For the Bronk could star at any position on the field, with 216 pounds (98 kg) of authority to back him up."

His greatest collegiate game was against Wisconsin in the season finale in 1928. Wearing a corset to protect cracked vertebrae, he recovered a Badger fumble deep in their territory, then ran the ball six straight times to score the go-ahead touchdown. Later in the same game, he intercepted a pass to seal the victory.[2]

During his three varsity seasons at Minnesota, the Gophers went 18–4–2 (.792) and won the Big Ten Conference championship in 1927. Nagurski was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

Professional career


Nagurski turned professional to play for the Chicago Bears from 1930 to 1937. At 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) and 235 pounds (107 kg), he was a formidable presence, and in his day he was a dominant force, helping the Bears win several division titles and two NFL championships.

Nagurski has the largest recorded NFL Championship ring size at ​19 12 and wore a size-8 helmet.[3] He was probably the largest running back of his time, bigger than most linemen of the day,[n 1] often dragging multiple tacklers with him. In a time when players were expected to play on both sides of the ball, he was a standout defensive lineman as well playing a ranging tackle or "The Monster." After an injury, instead of sitting on the bench, he would sometimes be put in as an offensive tackle. In a 1984 interview with Sports Illustrated writer Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman, when asked what position he would play if he were coming up in the present day, he said, "I would probably be a linebacker today. I wouldn't be carrying the ball 30 or 35 times a game."

A time-honored and perhaps apocryphal story about Nagurski is a scoring gallop that he made against the Washington Redskins, knocking two linebackers in opposite directions, stomping a defensive back and crushing a safety, then bouncing off the goalposts and cracking Wrigley Field's brick wall. On returning to the huddle for the extra point try, he reportedly said: "That last guy hit me awfully hard."[4]

Once in a game against the Packers, the Bears prepared to punt, and Green Bay's Cal Hubbard went to Red Grange and said: "I promise not to try to block the kick, Red, but get out of the way so I can get a shot at that Polack." Grange, glad not to try to block Hubbard for once, obliged. Cal tore through the line, slammed into Nagurski and bounced off. Rising slowly, he turned to Grange and said: "Hey, Red, don't do me any more favors."[5]

At the end of the 1932 season, the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans were tied with the best regular-season records. To determine the champion, the league voted to hold its first playoff game. Because of cold weather, the game was held indoors at Chicago Stadium, which forced some temporary rule changes. Chicago won, 9–0. In the fourth quarter of the 1932 game, the Bears scored on a controversial touchdown: Carl Brumbaugh handed the ball off to fullback Nagurski, who pulled up and threw to Red Grange in the end zone for the score.[6] The Spartans argued that Nagurski did not drop back five yards before passing to Grange, but the touchdown stood. The playoff proved so popular that the league reorganized into two divisions for the 1933 season, with the winners advancing to a scheduled championship game. A number of new rule changes were also instituted: the goal posts were moved forward to the goal line, every play started from between the hash marks, and forward passes could originate from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage (instead of the previous five yards behind).[7][8][9]

During World War II, professional football teams were short of players and in 1943 Bronko Nagurski returned to the Bears for one season. He scored a touchdown in the Bears' championship victory against the Washington Redskins, served one season as backfield coach for UCLA in 1944 and finally returned to wrestling until his retirement in 1960.


During his football career, he built a second athletic career as a professional wrestler and became a major box-office attraction. Tony Stecher, brother of former world champion Joe Stecher, introduced Nagurski to wrestling in 1933 and became his manager. Nagurski defeated Tag Tagerson in his ring debut. Hitting his peak in the late 1930s, Nagurski won a limited version of the world championship by defeating Dean Detton on June 29, 1937. But he finally achieved full recognition with his first National Wrestling Association world title by defeating Lou Thesz on June 23, 1939. Losing the title to Ray Steele on March 7, 1940, he regained it from Steele one year later on March 11, 1941, but lost it three months later to Sandor Szabo on June 5, 1941.[10]

Wrestling accomplishments

Personal life

Nagurski married his childhood sweetheart Eileen Kane on December 28, 1936. The couple had a child Christmas Day 1937, whom they named after his father. Nagurski's son, Bronko Nagurski Jr., played football at the University of Notre Dame and become an all-star with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

Later life and legacy

Later life

After his retirement from wrestling, he returned home to International Falls and opened a service station.[1] A local legend claims that Nagurski had the best repeat business in town because he would screw customers' gas caps down so tight after filling their tanks that no one else in town could unscrew them.[15] He retired from that in 1978, at the age of seventy, and lived out a quiet life on the shores of Rainy Lake on the Canada–U.S. border. In January 1984, Nagurski performed the coin toss at Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa, Florida, with Washington Redskins quarterback and co-captain Joe Theismann calling the toss on behalf of his team's co-captains and the captains of the opposing Los Angeles Raiders.

In 1990, he died in International Falls and is buried at its Saint Thomas Cemetery.


Nagurski was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a charter member on September 7, 1963. At the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities house of his fraternity, Sigma Chi, Nagurski's jersey and Significant Sig recognition certificate are on display. After his death, the town of International Falls honored him by opening the Bronko Nagurski Museum in Smokey Bear Park.[16]

Sports Illustrated named Nagurski one of the four greatest athletes in Minnesota state history; the other three were Dave Winfield, Kevin McHale, and Joe Mauer. In 1993, the Football Writers Association of America created the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded annually to the best defensive player in college football. Notable winners include Warren Sapp, Charles Woodson, Terrell Suggs, Champ Bailey and Derrick Johnson. In 1999 Nagurski was selected by Sports Illustrated as a starting defensive tackle for their "NCAA Football All-Century Team". The other starting defensive tackle on that list was Rich Glover. In 2007, Nagurski was ranked No. 17 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list.

In 1999, he was ranked No. 35 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, the highest-ranking foreign-born player. In 2000, he was voted the second-greatest Minnesotan sportsman of the 20th century by the sportswriters of the Star Tribune, coming in behind only Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.

A fictionalized eyewitness account of Nagurski's 1943 comeback is the subject of a dramatic monologue in the 2001 film version of Hearts in Atlantis. The film's screenwriter, William Goldman, repeated much of this rendition from his earlier account of the same story in his novel Magic.

In 2009, Nagurski was an honorary team captain, represented by his son, Bronko Nagurski Jr., at the opening game of TCF Bank Stadium. His home town International Falls high school nickname is the Broncos in his honor.

A legendary tale of Nagurski's physical toughness says that he charged through a group of defenders and ended up hitting the wall at Wrigley Field. On returning to the bench, he told Coach Halas, "That last guy gave me quite a lick!"[17]


  1. ^ A forerunner to large fullbacks like Marion Motley, John Henry Johnson and Jim Brown


  1. ^ a b c Wolf, Bob (February 2, 1984). "A tank! Bronko Nagurski hit like one, ran like one". Milwaukee Journal. p. 3, part 3.
  2. ^ Downer, George F. (November 25, 1928). "Gophers crush Badger hopes, 6 to 0". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1, part 3.
  3. ^ Dr. Z's Top 10 Big Backs - Bronkosaurus - Bronko Nagurski was, literally, a monster of the Midway. Sports Illustrated. Paul Zimmerman (Dr. Z). November 24, 1997 [Q]uarterback Sid Luckman, about Nagurski. "A monster," Luckman said. "The neck, the hands. They measured him for a championship ring in 1943, when he made his comeback, and his ring size was 19 1/2."
  4. ^ Bronko Nagurski Is Dead at 81; Star Runner for Chicago Bears Paul Rodgers, The New York Times, January 11, 1990
  5. ^ Bob Broeg (October 23, 1977). "Cal Hubbard: 'Big Umpire' Was A Man For All Sports". p. 16. Retrieved May 21, 2016 – via open access
  6. ^ "Chicago Bears pro champions". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Chicago Tribune). December 19, 1932. p. 14.
  7. ^ "History 1931–1940". NFL Enterprises LLC. 2007. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved October 12, 2007.
  8. ^ Hickok, Ralph (2004). "The 1932 NFL Championship Game". Archived from the original on June 3, 2007. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  9. ^ Bennett (1976), pp 32–33
  10. ^ OnLine World of Wrestling <>.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Johnson, Mike (June 30, 2009). "Ricky Steamboat, Nick Bockinkel Among 2009 Class Honored By Wrestling Museum & Institute". PWInsider. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Lawler, McMahon, Road Warriors among PWHF Class of 2011". Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. November 26, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  15. ^ Czuba, Ashley (January 29, 2010). "Taking a Look in the Bears History Book: Bronko Nagurski". Windy City Gridiron.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 31, 2009. Retrieved January 19, 2009.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^

Further reading

  • Sullivan, George (1972). The Great Running Backs. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 41–46. ISBN 0-399-11026-7.

External links

1929 Big Ten Conference football season

The 1929 Big Ten Conference football season was the 34th season of college football played by the member schools of the Big Ten Conference (also known as the Western Conference) and was a part of the 1929 college football season.

The 1929 Purdue Boilermakers football team, under head coach Jimmy Phelan, compiled an 8–0 record, won the Big Ten championship, led the conference in scoring offense (23.4 points per game), and was ranked No. 2 in the Dickinson System rankings. Fullback Ralph Welch and tackle Elmer Sleight were consensus first-team All-Americans.

The 1929 Illinois Fighting Illini football team, under head coach Robert Zuppke, compiled a 6–1–1 record, finished in second place in the Big Ten, led the conference in scoring defense (3.4 points allowed per games), and was ranked No. 5 in the Dickinson System rankings.

The 1929 Minnesota Golden Gophers football team, under head coach Clarence Spears, compiled a 6–2 and finished in third place in the Big Ten. Tackle Bronko Nagurski was selected as the team's most valuable player and a consensus first-team All-American.

Iowa halfback Willis Glassgow won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the most valuable player in the Big Ten. He was also selected as a first-team All-American by Collier's Weekly, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and the New York Sun.

1929 Minnesota Golden Gophers football team

The 1929 Minnesota Golden Gophers football team represented the University of Minnesota in the 1929 college football season. In their fourth year under head coach Clarence Spears, the Golden Gophers compiled a 6–2 record and outscored their opponents by a combined score of 179 to 55.Bronko Nagurski was named an All-American at fullback and tackle by the Associated Press and Look. Nagurski and end Robert Tanner were named All-Big Ten first team.Total attendance for the season was 204,083, which averaged to 34,014. The season high for attendance was against Michigan.

1932 All-Pro Team

The 1932 All-Pro Team consisted of American football players chosen by various selectors for the All-Pro team of the National Football League (NFL) for the 1932 NFL season. Teams were selected by, among others, seven of the eight NFL coaches for the Associated Press (AP), the United Press, and Collyer's Eye (CE).Five players were selected for the first team by all three selectors: Portsmouth Spartans quarterback Dutch Clark; Chicago Bears fullback Bronko Nagurski; New York Giants end Ray Flaherty; Green Bay Packers tackle Cal Hubbard; and Chicago Bears guard Zuck Carlson.

1934 All-Pro Team

The 1934 All-Pro Team consisted of American football players chosen by various selectors for the All-Pro team of the National Football League (NFL) for the 1934 NFL season. Teams were selected by, among others, the Associated Press (AP), the United Press (UP), the Green Bay Press-Gazette (GB) based on the composite view of the coaches of 10 NFL teams and a half dozen NFL officials, Collyer's Eye (CE), and the Chicago Daily News (CDN).Players displayed in bold were consensus first-team selections. Five players were selected as first-team All-Pro players by all five selectors: Detroit Lions quarterback Dutch Clark; Chicago Bears halfback Beattie Feathers; Chicago Bears fullback Bronko Nagurski; Chicago Bears end Bill Hewitt; and New York Giants center Mel Hein.

1936 All-Pro Team

The 1936 All-Pro Team consisted of American football players chosen by various selectors for the All-Pro team of the National Football League (NFL) for the 1936 NFL season. Teams were selected by, among others, the NFL coaches (NFL), the United Press (UP), Collyer's Eye (CE), and the Chicago Daily News (CDN).Four players were selected for the first team by all four selectors: Detroit Lions quarterback Dutch Clark; Boston Redskins halfback Cliff Battles; Chicago Bears end Bill Hewitt; and Green Bay Packers guard Lon Evans. Three others were selected for the first team by three selectors: Chicago Bears fullback Bronko Nagurski; Boston Redskins tackle Turk Edwards; and New York Giants center Mel Hein.

1940 Chicago Bears season

The 1940 Chicago Bears season was their 21st regular season and 5th postseason completed in the National Football League. The club posted an 8–3 record under head coach George Halas. Behind NFL greats Sid Luckman and Bronko Nagurski, the club gained a berth in the NFL Championship. There the club stormed the Washington Redskins under the brand new formation known as the T formation to claim their fourth league title.

1943 Chicago Bears season

The 1943 Chicago Bears season was their 24th regular season and 8th postseason in the National Football League. The club posted an 8–1–1 record under temporary co-coaches Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos. On the way to winning the Western Division, the Bears were, yet again, denied a chance at an undefeated season by the defending champion Redskins in Washington. The Bears had their revenge in the NFL title game and defeated the Redskins at Wrigley Field to claim their sixth league title. It was their third championship in four years, establishing themselves as the pro football dynasty of the early 1940s.

Bradley Chubb

Bradley Austin Chubb (born June 24, 1996) is an American football outside linebacker for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at North Carolina State University.

Bronko Nagurski Jr.

Bronko Nagurski Jr. (December 25, 1937 – March 7, 2011) was an American offensive tackle in the Canadian Football League. He was son of the famed National Football League player Bronko Nagurski.

Bronko Nagurski Trophy

The Bronko Nagurski Trophy has been awarded annually since 1993 to the collegiate American football player adjudged by the membership of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) to be the best defensively in the National Collegiate Athletic Association; the award is presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and the FWAA. The award is named for Bronko Nagurski, who played football for the University of Minnesota and the Chicago Bears.

Bull Brown

John Neil "Bull" Brown was an American football and baseball player for the Vanderbilt Commodores of Vanderbilt University. He was said by coach Dan McGugin to be one of his six best players ever coached. He was selected All-Southern in 1928 and 1929, and All-American in 1929. One of his best games came tackling Minnesota running back Bronko Nagurski. He ran 85 yards for a touchdown on 1928 national champion Georgia Tech.

Corey Moore

Corey Moore (born March 20, 1979) is a former American college and professional football player who was a linebacker in the National Football League (NFL) during the early 2000s. He played college football for Virginia Tech, earned unanimous All-American honors, and was recognized as the outstanding college defensive player. A third-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, he played professionally for the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins of the NFL.

Football Writers Association of America

The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) is one of the organizations whose College Football All-America Team is recognized by the NCAA. The organization also selects the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, the Outland Trophy winner, the Grantland Rice Trophy winner, a freshman All-America team, and weekly defensive player of the week, as well as developing scholarship programs and surveys for better working conditions. Since 1954, the association has awarded the Grantland Rice Trophy to the college football team they choose to be the National Champion.

Josh Allen (linebacker)

Joshua Allen (born July 13, 1997) is an American football linebacker. He most recently played college football for the Kentucky Wildcats. In his senior year at Kentucky, he won the Chuck Bednarik Award, awarded to the top defensive player in college football, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the best defensive player in the NCAA, and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

List of Chicago Bears in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Chicago Bears are a professional American football team based in Chicago, Illinois. They are currently members of the North Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) in the National Football League (NFL), and are one of two remaining charter members of NFL. Founded in 1919 by the A.E. Staley Company as the Decatur Staleys and based in Chicago since 1922, the Bears organization has become one of the most successful professional football teams, having won a total of nine professional American football championships—eight NFL Championships and one Super Bowl—second most in the NFL, behind the Green Bay Packers. The franchise has recorded 18 NFL divisional titles, four NFL conference championships, and the most regular season victories of any NFL franchise. In 1963, the Pro Football Hall of Fame was created to honor the history of professional American football and the individuals who have greatly influenced it. Since the charter induction class of 1963, 32 individuals who have played, coached, or held an administrative position for the Bears have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Bears hold the record for the most individuals enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.Of the 35 inductees, 28 made their primary contribution to football with the Bears, while the other 7 contributed only a minor portion of their career with the Bears. Of the original 17 individuals inducted in 1963, three spent a majority of their careers with the Chicago Bears. This includes the founder, long time owner, and head coach George Halas, long time halfback and two-way player Bronko Nagurski, and the "Galloping Ghost" Red Grange. The first few years of the Hall of Fame's existence saw 14 Bear players enshrined. Jim Finks was enshrined due to his contributions to the team as a general manager, not a player. Mike Ditka was inducted into the Hall of Fame while serving as the team's head coach. The most recent Bear to be inducted was Brian Urlacher in 2018.

Peter Sauer

Peter Sauer (February 2, 1900 - September 11, 1949), was an American professional wrestler, better known by the ring name Ray Steele. He was born and raised in Norka, a German colony in Russia, in 1900 before immigrating to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1906.

Steele worked a catch wrestling style in his early career. 16 May 1934 he wrestled Orville Brown to a 30-minute draw. He gained some notoriety in 1936 when he faced heavyweight boxing contender Kingfish Levinsky in a mixed match, which Steele won in 35 seconds. Steele's biggest accomplishment in the sport was winning the National Wrestling Association's World Heavyweight Championship from Bronko Nagurski in St. Louis, Missouri on March 7, 1940. Steele would hold the belt for over a year before losing it back to Bronko Nagurski on March 11, 1941 in Houston, Texas.

Sauer served as a mentor to many young stars, including Lou Thesz before his death of a heart attack in September 1949.

Scooby Wright

Philip Anthony "Scooby" Wright III (born August 28, 1994) is an American football linebacker who is currently a player for the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football (AAF). He played college football at Arizona.

Sean Lumpkin

Sean Franklin Lumpkin (born January 4, 1970) is a former American football safety in the National Football League for the New Orleans Saints who drafted him out of the University of Minnesota. While at Minnesota Lumpkin played four years and accrued numerous awards:

1990: All Big Ten Second Team

1991: All Big-Ten First Team, Bronko Nagurski Award (Team MVP), Carl Eller Award (Outstanding Defensive Player), CaptainLumpkin was the 106th player selected in the 1992 NFL Draft and played 67 games for the Saints between 1992 and 1996. He was released by the Saints in June 1997.Lumpkin grew up in Golden Valley, Minnesota and graduated from Benilde-St. Margaret's School where he is one of a handful of notable alumni.

Tarvarus McFadden

Tarvarus McFadden (born January 28, 1997) is an American football cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Florida State and was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent.

Bronko Nagurski—championships, awards, and honors

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