Awesome Men Throughout History: Bronko Nagurski
We’ve seen some great athletes, and some really weird ones, profiled at Awesome Men Throughout History, but they’ve generally been one-sport athletes. Guys who excel in more than one professional sport are pretty rare; off the top of my head, I can only think of two. One of them is Bo Jackson, who we’ll talk about another time, and the other is this week’s subject, football player and pro wrestler Bronko Nagurski.
First off, Bronko may have the most butch name in the history of professional sports. Anyone who comes into this world with a name like that (Bronko was short for Bronislau, his actual birth name) is probably more than capable of crushing people with his bare hands.
That was certainly true of Nagurski, who was born to Ukrainian immigrants and had every stereotypical rural job all at once – he worked at a farm, a sawmill, and on timbering operations, so he was stronger than French coffee by the time University of Minnesota head coach Clarence Spears discovered him.
Nagurski had a lot of explosive power on the field, as well as all the speed and toughness you could ask for. Anyone who tried to block or tackle him got smeared into the turf, as Bronko wasn’t the kind of guy who dodged people. “If somebody got in my way, I ran through them,” was his take on things.
For example, when the Bears were playing for an overflow crowd being controlled by mounted police, Nagurski smashed through the end zone and accidentally tackled a horse off its feet, knocking it and the cop riding it to the ground. He was basically Mongo from Blazing Saddles.
At 6’2” and 235 lbs., Bronko was also one of the larger football players of his era, with a recorded size 19½ championship ring and a size 8 helmet, which is basically an upside-down salad bowl with a mouth guard on it.
His size and raw athleticism served him well in pro wrestling, too. Bronko crossed over to pro wrestling because, if you can imagine, the average NFL player’s salary was $5000 a year and he wanted to make more money. He developed into a solid box office attraction, even defeating Lou Thesz for the World Heavyweight Title (back when there was only one of those) in 1939.
Granted, pro wrestling is fixed, but keep in mind that Thesz was a legitimate wrestler and probably one of the toughest men on Earth, and if he didn’t think an opponent could actually wrestle (meaning, if he was just a performer), he would make it a point to stretch the guy like a bungee cord and make him look terrible. That he behaved himself in the ring with Nagurski is a testament to ol’ Bronko’s athleticism.
I’ll leave you with this edited wrestling match featuring Bronko Nagurski, since I couldn’t find any footage of him destroying people on the football field.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.