Bronko Nagurski

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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.

Contents

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, 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] However, a similar story (minus the football scholarship) is told of the Hungarian folk hero Toldi.[2]

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 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.

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