Frank Gatski

Frank "Gunner" Gatski (March 18, 1921 – November 22, 2005) was an American football center who played for the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and the National Football League (NFL) in the 1940s and 1950s. Gatski was one of the most heralded centers of his era. Known for his strength and consistency, he helped protect quarterback Otto Graham and open up running lanes for fullback Marion Motley as the Browns won seven league championships between 1946 and 1955. Gatski won an eighth championship after he was traded to the Detroit Lions in 1957, his final season.

Gatski was born in West Virginia to a coal-mining family. He played for three years on his local high school team before attending Marshall University, where he continued to play football. He joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and went to fight in World War II. Upon his return in 1945, he finished his collegiate studies at Auburn University in Alabama. After graduating, he tried out and made the roster for the Browns, a team under formation in the new AAFC. He played as a linebacker and backup center for most of his first two years before earning a spot as the starting center. He retained that position as Cleveland continued to dominate after the AAFC dissolved and the Browns were absorbed by the NFL in 1950. He retired in 1958, never having missed a game or practice in his career.

After leaving football, Gatski worked briefly as a scout for the Boston Patriots. He then joined a reform school in West Virginia as athletic director and head football coach, staying there until the school closed in 1982. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Marshall retired Gatski's number 72 in 2005. He died that year in a nursing home in West Virginia. In 2006, the East End Bridge in Huntington, West Virginia was renamed the Frank Gatski Memorial Bridge in his honor.

Frank Gatski
No. 22, 52
Frank Gatski football card, 1955
Frank Gatski football card, 1955
Born:March 18, 1921
Farmington, West Virginia
Died:November 22, 2005 (aged 84)
Morgantown, West Virginia
Career information
Position(s)Center
Height6 ft 3 in (191 cm)
Weight233 lb (106 kg)
CollegeMarshall/Auburn
High schoolFarmington (WV)
Career history
As player
19461956Cleveland Browns
1957Detroit Lions
Career highlights and awards
Career stats
Military career
AllegianceUnited States United States
Service/branchUnited States Army seal U.S. Army
Years of service1942–1945
RankArmy-USA-OR-03.svg Private First Class
Battles/warsWorld War II

Early life

Gatski was born in 1921 and raised in Farmington, West Virginia.[1] His father and grandfather were immigrants from Poland, and most of the men in his family worked at the nearby Number Nine Coal Mine Camp.[1] Gatski started at center for three years on his Farmington High School football team, which played on a cow pasture with no scoreboard, bleachers or game clock.[2][3] He worked in the coal mines during the summers, and went to work in the mines full-time during his senior year in 1939.[1][4] Gatski was reserved and aloof, but he was also known as a graceful dancer. "I used to dance a lot in Farmington," he said in 1949. "But I like polkas better than jitterbugging."[2]

College and military career

In 1940, Marshall University coach Cam Henderson offered Gatski a chance to attend the West Virginia school on a football scholarship. Gatski accepted.[4] He joined the junior varsity team, where he was the starting center for a season before moving to Marshall's varsity football team in 1941.[4] He started 17 games at center and linebacker beginning in 1941, when Marshall posted a 7–1 record. The team faltered the following year, falling to 1–7–1 as its best players went to serve in the military.[4]

Gatski signed up for an Army reserve unit after the 1942 season as America's involvement in World War II intensified.[5] Marshall canceled its football program in 1943 as Gatski entered his senior year, but his unit was activated and he was sent with an infantry division to fight in the European theater of World War II.[2][5][6] He went to England and followed American troops as they landed in Normandy and marched further into Europe.[5] "I wasn't in any heavy fighting," he later said.[5] He was a Private First Class in the Army.[7] Gatski returned from duty in 1945, but Marshall had yet to resume its football program, so he enrolled at Auburn University in Alabama and finished out his studies, playing part of the season on the school's football team.[3][4][5] "Marshall hadn't started back up, and I hadn't played football for two years," he later explained. "I didn't want to sit around and do nothing, so I went to Auburn."[5]

Professional career

When Gatski graduated, Sam Clagg, a teammate at Marshall, helped get him a tryout with the Cleveland Browns after contacting John Brickels, an assistant coach with West Virginia ties.[3] The Browns were a new team in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and were set to begin play in 1946.[8] Gatski, who was working in the mines after graduating from Auburn, hitchhiked to Bowling Green, Ohio for the team's training camp.[9][10] He did not consider a football career a certainty, and returning to the coal mines where his father had died in an accident was a distinct possibility.[6] "I didn't know what was going to happen," he said later. "I just went up there to see what would happen."[6]

By the time Gatski arrived in Bowling Green, he had acquired the nickname "Gunner" for his strength and speed on the offensive line.[3] Growing up in the rough surroundings of a West Virginia mining town had toughened him up, and he did not mind Cleveland coach Paul Brown's overbearing perfectionism.[3] As a professional, he later said, "you're supposed to be able to take that crap."[3] Initially, Gatski's prospects of making the team looked dim. Brown had brought in veteran center Mo Scarry to be the starter.[10] But Gatski proved his value to the team with his reliability and work ethic.[6] He made the team and signed a $3,000 per year contract.[10]

Gatski played mostly as a backup to Scarry and as a linebacker in his first and part of his second season.[10][11] He became the full-time starter at center in the 1948 season.[1] The Browns, meanwhile, were an immediate success. The team won the AAFC championship every year from 1946 to 1949, when the league dissolved.[12] Gatski's role on the offensive line was to help protect quarterback Otto Graham from defenders when he went back to pass. He also helped push away defenders and create space for fullback Marion Motley to run in.[13]

The Browns merged into the more established National Football League (NFL) in 1950.[14] Aided by Gatski's blocking, the offense and the team continued to succeed. Cleveland won the 1950 NFL championship, and reached the championship game in each of the following five seasons, winning again in 1954 and 1955.[15] By the time the Browns entered the NFL, Gatski had developed a reputation for consistency, durability and toughness. Brown began keeping only one center on the roster – Gatski.[16] Centers today would complain about that, Walt Michaels, who played with Gatski in the early 1950s, said in later years. Gatski, however, did not mind. "He would take all the snaps," Michaels said.[17]

Gatski was a quiet man who liked to hunt. He practiced hitting targets with his bow and arrow at League Park in Cleveland, where the Browns trained during the season.[17] He was one of the Browns "Filthy Five" players who did not wash their practice uniforms during the season.[3] Brown called him one of the strongest men on the team's roster.[10] Graham thought of him as sure protection against opposing linemen.[10] Teammates called him an "iron man" and a "Rock of Gibraltar".[3][18] He was named to All-Pro lists in all but one year between 1951 and 1955.

The Browns struggled after Graham retired in 1956 and ended the regular season at 5–7, their first-ever losing record.[19] After the season, Brown traded the 35-year-old Gatski to the Detroit Lions for a draft pick after Gatski asked for a raise.[1][20] He only played in the 1957 season with the Lions. Detroit beat the Browns for the NFL championship that year.[1] By the time he retired after the 1957 season, Gatski had played on eight championship teams, a professional football record.[4] Gatski did not miss a practice or a game during his 12 seasons in football.[21]

Later life and death

After retiring from football, Gatski was a scout for the Boston Patriots for two years before becoming head football coach and athletic director at the West Virginia Industrial School for Boys, a correctional facility for young offenders in Pruntytown, West Virginia.[5] He worked there until the school shut down in 1982.[5] He hunted and fished in retirement, and was often difficult to reach. He lived on a mountain in West Virginia and did not have a telephone for many years.[1]

Gatski was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985 as part of a class that included Joe Namath, Pete Rozelle, O.J. Simpson, and Roger Staubach.[22] Gatski said he had not expected to make it into the hall. He had not played for 28 years when he was selected by an old-timers committee.[23] Two decades later, Marshall University retired Gatski's number 72 during a homecoming game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Gatski was the first and remains the only Marshall football player to be so honored.[24]

Gatski died on November 22, 2005, at a nursing home in Morgantown, West Virginia and was buried at the West Virginia National Cemetery in Grafton.[25][13] He was married and had seven children.[5] The following year, the East End Bridge in Huntington, West Virginia was renamed the Frank Gatski Memorial Bridge during halftime of a Marshall-UTEP football game.[26]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Keim 1999, p. 67.
  2. ^ a b c Sauerbrei, Harold (December 7, 1949). "Gatski's Duel With Grgich Looms as One of Highlights in Brown-49er Battle". Cleveland Plain Dealer. p. 30.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Keim 1999, p. 69.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Woodrum, Woody (July 15, 2010). "Herd Greats: Frank "Gunner" Gatski". Herd Insider. Archived from the original on January 24, 2013. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Barnett, Bob. "Frank Gatski" (PDF). Pro Football Researchers. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 6, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d Piascik 2007, p. 28.
  7. ^ Saturday Down South
  8. ^ Piascik 2007, pp. 11–30.
  9. ^ Piascik 2007, p. 29.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Heaton 2007, p. 188.
  11. ^ Sauerbrei, Harold (October 9, 1952). "Gatski Punches Hole in Grid Rival's Line on Motley Trap Play". Cleveland Plain Dealer. p. 15. He came to them as a linebacker in 1946 and the first two seasons did nothing but observe Mike Scarry as an offensive center.
  12. ^ Piascik 2007, p. 147.
  13. ^ a b Goldstein, Richard (November 26, 2005). "Frank Gatski, 84, Hall of Fame Lineman for Powerful Browns, Is Dead". New York Times. Archived from the original on October 6, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  14. ^ Piascik 2007, p. 141.
  15. ^ Piascik 2007, pp. 233, 253, 283, 325, 341.
  16. ^ Keim 1999, pp. 69–70.
  17. ^ a b Keim 1999, p. 70.
  18. ^ Piascik 2007, p. 24.
  19. ^ Piascik 2007, p. 366.
  20. ^ "Parker Goes On Another Swap Spree". The Windsor Daily Star. Associated Press. September 17, 1957. p. 21. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  21. ^ Heaton 2007, p. 189.
  22. ^ "New Hall of Famers reach emotional pinnacle". The Milwaukee Journal. August 4, 1985. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  23. ^ Heaton 2007, p. 187.
  24. ^ Withers, Tom (November 24, 2005). "Hall of Fame Center for Browns". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. p. B6. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  25. ^ Herald-Dispatch
  26. ^ "Bridge renaming to honor ex-Marshall standout". ESPN.com. November 17, 2006. Archived from the original on October 6, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2012.

Bibliography

  • Heaton, Chuck (2007). Browns Scrapbook: A Fond Look Back at Five Decades of Football, from a Legendary Cleveland Sportswriter. Cleveland: Gray & Company. ISBN 978-1-59851-043-0.
  • Keim, John (1999). Legends by the Lake: The Cleveland Browns at Municipal Stadium. Akron, OH: University of Akron Press. ISBN 978-1-884836-47-3.
  • Piascik, Andy (2007). The Best Show in Football: The 1946–1955 Cleveland Browns. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing. ISBN 978-1-58979-571-6.

External links

1946 Cleveland Browns season

The 1946 Cleveland Browns season was the team's first in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). The Browns, coached by Paul Brown, ended the year with a record of 12–2, winning the AAFC's Western Division. Led by quarterback Otto Graham, fullback Marion Motley and ends Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie, the team won the first AAFC championship game against the New York Yankees.

The Browns were founded by Arthur B. McBride, a Cleveland taxi-cab tycoon, as a charter franchise in the new AAFC. McBride in 1945 hired Brown, a successful coach at the high school and college levels. Brown, who was serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, began to assemble a roster as the team prepared to begin play in 1946. After beating the Brooklyn Dodgers in an exhibition game, Cleveland opened the regular season against the Miami Seahawks at Cleveland Stadium on September 6, winning 44–0. The Browns proceeded to win six more games before losing for the first time in October against the San Francisco 49ers at home by a score of 34–20. Cleveland lost a second game in a row against the Los Angeles Dons the following week, but rebounded to win the final five games of the season, including a 66–14 victory over the Dodgers. Cleveland finished with the league's best record and a spot in the championship game against the Yankees. The Browns won the game 14–9.

Lavelli led the AAFC in receiving with 843 yards and 8 touchdowns, while placekicker Lou Groza led the league in points scored, with 84. Graham had the league's best passing average, with 10.5 yards per attempt. His quarterback rating of 112.1 was the highest in professional football history until Joe Montana surpassed it in 1989. Cleveland played all of its home games in Cleveland Stadium. The 1946 Browns set a professional football record with 67 defensive takeaways; the record still stands as of 2019.

1951 All-Pro Team

The 1951 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 1951 NFL season. Teams were selected by, among others, the Associated Press (AP) (chosen in a national poll of AP football writers), the United Press (UP) (selected by UP sports writers), and the New York Daily News.The All-Pro selections were dominated by players from the Cleveland Browns (nine first-team honorees including Otto Graham and Lou Groza), New York Giants (seven honorees including Emlen Tunnell), Los Angeles Rams (six first-team honorees including Elroy Hirsch), and Detroit Lions (four first-team honorees including Doak Walker).

This was the first year that separate defensive and offensive teams were selected as up until this point most players had played both ways for much of the game (although this had decreased in the later 1940s), so a quarterback/tailback/ halfback on offense usually just became a defensive back similar to today's safety when playing defense while the fullback, usually a larger player, or a larger halfback (and before the T-formation, the quarterback, who was usually actually a blocking back on offence), would play a position similar to linebacker. Ends would also usually convert to defensive backs, similar to corner backs of today.

1951 Cleveland Browns season

The 1951 Cleveland Browns season was the team's second season with the National Football League. Dub Jones set an NFL record with six touchdowns in one game versus the Chicago Bears.

1952 All-Pro Team

The 1952 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 1952 NFL season. Teams were selected by, among others, the Associated Press (AP), the United Press (UP), and the New York Daily News.

1953 All-Pro Team

The 1953 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 1953 NFL season. Teams were selected by, among others, the Associated Press (AP) (based on voting among 48 member paper sports writers and AP staffers), the United Press (UP), and the New York Daily News.

1954 Cleveland Browns season

The 1954 Cleveland Browns season was the team's fifth season with the National Football League. The Browns' defense became the first defense in the history of the NFL to lead the league in fewest rushing yards allowed, fewest passing yards allowed and fewest total yards allowed. Assistant coach Weeb Ewbank left the club to coach the Baltimore Colts.

1954 NFL Championship Game

The 1954 National Football League championship game was the league's 22nd annual championship game, held on December 26 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Billed as the "1954 World Professional Football Championship Game," the turnover-plagued contest was won by quarterback Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns, who defeated Bobby Layne and the Detroit Lions by a score of 56 to 10.

1955 Cleveland Browns season

The 1955 Cleveland Browns season was the team's sixth season with the National Football League. The Browns' defense became the first defense in the history of the NFL to lead the league in fewest points allowed and fewest total yards allowed for two consecutive seasons.

1957 NFL Championship Game

The 1957 National Football League championship game was the 25th annual championship game, held on December 29 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Michigan.The Detroit Lions (8–4), winners of the Western Conference, hosted the Cleveland Browns (9–2–1), champions of the Eastern Conference. Detroit had won the regular season game 20–7 three weeks earlier on December 8, also at Briggs Stadium, but lost quarterback Bobby Layne with a broken right ankle late in the first half. Reserve quarterback Tobin Rote, a starter the previous year with Green Bay, filled in for Layne and won that game with Cleveland, the next week at Chicago, and the tiebreaker playoff game at San Francisco.

It was the fourth pairing of the two teams in the championship game; they met previously in 1952, 1953, and 1954. The Browns were favored by three points, but the home underdog Lions scored two touchdowns in each quarter and won in a rout, 59–14.Until 2006, this was the last time that major professional teams from Michigan and Ohio met in a postseason series or game. As of 2018, this was the last playoff game played in the city of Detroit other than Super Bowl XL in 2006. The Lions other two home playoff games since 1957 (1991 and 1993) were played at the Pontiac Silverdome in nearby Pontiac, Michigan.

East Huntington Bridge

The East Huntington Bridge (officially the Frank Gatski Memorial Bridge, also called the East End Bridge or the 31st Street Bridge) is a 900-foot (270 m) cable-stayed bridge crossing the Ohio River at Huntington, West Virginia. It carries WV 106 on the West Virginia approach and OH 775 on the Ohio approach.

Ed Ulinski

Edward Franklin Ulinski (December 7, 1919 – September 17, 2006) was a professional American football guard who played four seasons for the Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and went on to a career as an assistant coach for the Browns that lasted more than three decades.

Ulinski grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Marshall University in West Virginia, where he starred as a blocker and end. He then served for four years in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, playing for military football teams in 1944 and 1945. He signed with the Browns in 1946 and played as a guard as the team won four straight AAFC championships. He retired after the 1949 season to begin a coaching career, working first at Santa Clara University for three years before taking an assistant coaching job at Purdue University.

Paul Brown, the head coach of the Browns, hired Ulinski in 1954 to work with the team's linemen. Ulinski changed to the Browns' linebackers coach in 1963 after Brown was fired and Blanton Collier replaced him. He later served as an administrative coaching aide and the Browns' film coordinator before retiring in 1984. The Browns won three National Football League championships during Ulinski's coaching career, in 1954, 1955 and 1964. He was inducted into Marshall's athletics hall of fame in 1986. Ulinski died in 2006 after a bout with Alzheimer's disease.

Farmington, West Virginia

Farmington is a town in Marion County, West Virginia, United States. The population was 375 at the 2010 census. It is best known for being the site of the 1968 Farmington Mine disaster.

The community was named for the fact a large share of the first settlers were farmers.

John Brickels

John L. "Stub" Brickels (April 6, 1906 – March 17, 1964) was a high school, college and professional football coach who served as a backfield coach for the Cleveland Browns between 1946 and 1948. Brickels began his coaching career in 1930, after graduating from Wittenberg University in Ohio, where he was a standout as a halfback on the school's football team. He coached high school football and basketball teams in Ohio and West Virginia in the 1930s and early 1940s before becoming the head basketball coach at the West Virginia University in 1944. He held that post until 1945, when Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown hired him to recruit players for the Browns, a team under formation in the All-America Football Conference, while Brown served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

When the Browns began play in 1946, Brickels became the team's backfield coach, holding the post until he was named an assistant football coach at Miami University after the 1948 season. He was promoted to head basketball coach and athletic director the following year, and remained in that position until his death of a heart attack in 1964.

List of Auburn University people

This list of notable Auburn University people includes alumni, faculty, and former students of Auburn University.

Each of the following alumni, faculty, and former students of Auburn University is presumed to be notable, as he or she has received significant coverage in multiple published, secondary sources which are reliable, intellectually independent of each other, and independent of the subject. See: Notability on Wikipedia.

List of Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl selections

This is a list of Cleveland Browns players who were elected to the Pro Bowl.

The year indicates when the game was played, not the season that it followed.

List of Marshall University people

This is a list of notable people associated with Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, United States of America.

Marshall Thundering Herd football

The Marshall Thundering Herd football team is an intercollegiate varsity sports program of Marshall University. The team represents the university as a member of the Conference USA Eastern division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, playing at the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Marshall plays at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, which seats 38,227 and is expandable to 55,000. As of the end of the 2015 football season, Marshall has an impressive 148–26 overall record at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for a winning percentage of .851. The University of Alabama ranks second with an .825 winning percentage at Bryant–Denny Stadium. The stadium opened in 1991 as Marshall University Stadium with a crowd of 33,116 for a 24–23 win over New Hampshire. On September 10, 2010, the Thundering Herd played the in-state rival West Virginia Mountaineers in Huntington in front of a record crowd of 41,382. Joan C. Edwards Stadium is one of two Division I stadium named solely for a woman with South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium being the other. The playing field itself is named James F. Edwards Field after Mrs. Edwards husband, businessman and philanthropist James F. Edwards.

Mel Maceau

Melvin Anthony Maceau (December 25, 1921 – February 16, 1981) was an American football center in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) for the Cleveland Browns from 1946 to 1948.

Maceau grew up in Wisconsin and played football at the collegiate level at Marquette University. He served for two years in World War II between 1943 and 1944 before returning to Marquette at the end of the 1945 season. Maceau then signed with the Browns, where he played as a backup center for three years. Paul Brown, Cleveland's head coach, waived him before the 1949 season, and he retired from professional football. The Browns won the AAFC championship in each of the years Maceau played for the team.

West Virginia National Cemetery

West Virginia National Cemetery is a United States National Cemetery located Grafton, Taylor County, West Virginia. It encompasses 89.7 acres (36.3 ha). Along with Grafton National Cemetery, it is one of the two national cemeteries in the state of West Virginia, both of which are located in Grafton. After it was determined that the 3 acres (1.2 ha) Grafton cemetery had inadequate space for new burials, West Virginia groups began petitioning for a new national cemetery for the state. The federal government appropriated the site of the former West Virginia Industrial School for Boys for the new cemetery, which was dedicated and opened in 1987.

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