At 6-2, 230 pounds, International Falls resident Bronko Nagurski was the dominate football player of his time. His modest personality, awesome physical strength, and tremendous athletic skill helped shape Nagurski into a genuine American hero.
Farm work influenced his amazing stature as a youth, as he did chores from chopping wood to making fences. Gopher football coach Doc Spears unearthed the young talent while recruiting in northern Minnesota, the story goes, when Bronko was plowing a field without the aid of a horse.
His career at the University of Minnesota further developed this legendary status. Nagurski helped lead the Gophers to an impressive 18-4-2 record and a Big Ten title in 1927. He was the first collegiate player to ever be named a consensus All-American in the same year at two different positions. He continued this standard professionally with the Chicago Bears from 1930-37, helping the team win three NFL titles while running for over 4,000 yards. His football honors include All Big-Ten 1929, All-American 1929, charter member in the College Football Hall of Fame and charter member in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He retired from sports and returned to his hometown of International Falls to be with his family, work on the farm, and enjoy the great outdoors.
~Steven Penick, St. Cloud, MN
The International Falls native was named All American at two positions in the same year, helped make Gopher football a national power in the late '20s, and went on to NFL greatness with the Chicago Bears and the NFL Hall of Fame. His name is associated with college football's award for the best defensive player and the Gopher's practice facility is named after him.
Nagurski is synonymous with hard-nosed, Minnesota football.
~Howard Nevanen, Stoughton, WI
Bronco Nagurski is currently the only Minnesotan to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He went to the University of Minnesota and brought 4 national titles to the U of M.
~Ethan Knight, Mendota Heights, MN
One of the standout Minnesota football players.
~Elton Bud Jacobson, Minnetonka, MN
Big man on campus
The story goes like this: Doc Spears, football coach for the University of Minnesota Gophers, made a recruiting trip to northern Minnesota in 1926. On a farm outside International Falls, he spotted a brawny young man plowing a field-without a horse. Spears soon signed the dynamo, and an athletic legend was born.
The young man's name was Bronislaw (Bronko) Nagurski. He played four positions for the university in football and in 1929 was named All-American at two of them-fullback and tackle (the only University of Minnesota player to ever do so). In 1930, he signed with the Chicago Bears. The Bears won two pro championships, in 1932 and 1933, and advanced to two more title games in 1934 and 1937, all during his tenure. Nagurski retired from professional football in 1938.
During the Depression, Bronko supplemented his football income with stints as a professional wrestler. In 1937, when he became world wrestling champion, he rated a spot in "Ripley's Believe It or Not" as the king of two sports. Two more wrestling championships in 1939 and 1941 followed before Nagurski retired and returned to his Minnesota farm. He came out of retirement just once, playing a strong final season for the depleted Bears during World War II.
The mystique didn't end when Bronko retired. Never one to rest on his laurels, he refused most interviews, preferring to lead a quiet life on his farm and, after 1960, at the gas station he ran with his sons. The stories continued, of drivers pulling up at the pump and being greeted by a mountain of a man who screwed gas caps on so tightly you needed a wrench to remove them. In 1963, Bronko Nagurski was enshrined as a charter member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
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