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Bronko Nagurski

Nagurski during his years at University of Minnesota
No. 3     
Personal information
Date of birth: November 3, 1908(1908-11-03)
Place of birth: Rainy River, Ontario
Date of death: January 7, 1990 (aged 81)
Place of death: International Falls, Minnesota
Height: 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) Weight: 226 lb (103 kg)
Career information
College: Minnesota
Debuted in 1930 for the Chicago Bears
Last played in 1943 for the Chicago Bears
Career history
 As player:
Career highlights and awards
Rushing Yards     2,778
Average     4.4
Touchdowns     25
Stats at
Pro Football Hall of Fame
College Football Hall of Fame

Bronislau "Bronko" Nagurski (November 3, 1908 – January 7, 1990) was a Canadian American football player of Polish-Ukrainian descent. He was also a successful professional wrestler, recognized as a multiple-time world heavyweight champion.


Youth and collegiate career

Nagurski was born in Rainy River, Ontario, Canada, and his family moved to International Falls, Minnesota, when he was still a boy. His parents, "Mike" and "Emelia" Nagurski, were immigrants, ethnic Ukrainians from Western Ukraine (Halychyna/Galicia). Nagurski became a standout at the University of Minnesota, where he played fullback on offense and tackle on defense and was named an All-American.

According to legend, Nagurski was discovered and signed by University of Minnesota Head Coach Clarence "Fats" Spears who had gotten lost and asked for directions to the nearest town. Nagurski (who had been plowing a field without a horse) lifted his plow and used it to point in the direction of town. He was signed on the spot for a full ride football scholarship.[1]

Nagurski played both tackle on defense and fullback on offense at Minnesota from 1927 to 1929. In 1929, he was a consensus All-American at tackle and also made some All-American teams at fullback. Some voters apparently listed him at two positions (this was before there were separate offensive and defensive teams—everyone went "both ways"). Perhaps his greatest collegiate game was against the Wisconsin in 1928. Wearing a corset to protect cracked vertebrae, he recovered a Badger fumble deep in their territory and 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. During his time with the Gophers, the team went 18-4-2 and won the Big Ten Conference championship in 1927.

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, 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 #17 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list.

Professional career

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

Nagurski has the largest recorded NFL Championship ring size at 19½.[2] He was probably the largest running back of his time, bigger than most linemen of the day, and a forerunner to large fullbacks like Marion Motley, John Henry Johnson, Jim Brown, Larry Csonka, and John Riggins, 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. Following an injury, instead of sitting on the bench, he would sometimes be put in as an offensive tackle, making him the only player in NFL history to be named All-Pro at three non-kicking positions. 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 20 or 25 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 halfback and crushing a safety, then bouncing off the goalposts and 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."[3]

During his football career, he built a second athletic career as a professional wrestler, becoming a three-time world heavyweight champion.

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.

After his retirement from wrestling, he returned home to International Falls and opened a service station. He retired from that in 1978, at the age of 70. He lived out a quiet life on the shores of Rainy Lake on the Canadian border.

He died in International Falls and is buried there in the 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.[4] In 1995, Nagurski was again honored when the Football Writers Association of America voted to have his name attached to college football's Defensive Player of the Year trophy.

A fictionalized eyewitness account of Nagurski's 1943 comeback is the subject of a dramatic monologue in the 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 1999, he was ranked #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 only behind Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.

His son, Bronko Nagurski Jr., would go on to play football at Notre Dame and become an all-star with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

In 2009, he was an honorary team captain, represented by his son, Bronko Nagurski Jr., at the opening game of TCF Bank Stadium.

Championships and accomplishments

National Wrestling Association
NWA Minneapolis Wrestling and Boxing Club
NWA San Francisco
  • NWA Pacific Coast Heavyweight Championship (San Francisco version) (2 times)
Other titles


  1. ^
  2. ^ 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."
  3. ^ Bronko Nagurski Is Dead at 81; Star Runner for Chicago BearsPaul Rodgers, The New |York Times, January 11, 1990
  4. ^

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