Editor's Note; Chris Willis is head of the Research Library at NFL Films and is the author of the upcoming Red Grange: The Life and Legacy of the NFL's First Superstar.
He also authored 2014's The Man Who Built the National Football League: Joe F. Carr and 2012's Dutch Clark: The Life of an NFL Legend and the Birth of the Detroit Lions.
In 2017 he released Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe, and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL's Most Famous Traveling Team and a decade earlier he wrote The Columbus Panhandles: A Complete History of Pro Football's Toughest Team, 1900-1922
In 2005 he wrote Old Leather: An Oral History of Early Pro Football in Ohio, 1920-1935'
Pro Football Journal is pleased to present his picks of the best-ever Pre-WWII players—
Choosing the greatest of any position during the Pre-WWII period (circa 1920-1944) is always a daunting task, but resources used to put together this list was going through game footage; newspapers of the era; testimonies of players, coaches & executives, as well as sportswriters who wrote about the game; magazines and any individual honors, All-Pro teams, and greatest of all-time lists.
As for statistics, the NFL didn’t keep official stats until 1932, so that is taken into consideration when making these evaluations. Besides Total Football I and II, another great source used was The Football Encyclopedia, by David Neft, Richard Cohen and Rick Korch, who recreated stats for the NFL’s early years through play-by-plays and newspaper reports. It’s the closest thing we have to early numbers.
In 1920 the Rock Island Argus (sportswriter Bruce Copeland) choose the “first-ever” APFA-NFL All-Pro team (APFA in 1920)- he listed 3 teams. The Associated Press, UP and I.N.S., selected their All-Pro teams during this era. While newspapers such as Green Bay Press-Gazette (GBPG), Buffalo News and Courier, New York Daily News (NYDN), Boston Post, Detroit Free-Press, Milwaukee Sentinel, and Chicago Tribune would select All-Pro teams as well; while publications like Collyers’ Eye and Pro Football Illustrated magazines also listed All-Pro honors. NFL coaches, such as George Halas, Guy Chamberlin, Curly Lambeau, Leroy Andrews and Ray Flaherty also picked All-Pro teams during this era, as well as NFL players like Red Grange, Ernie Nevers and Lavvie Dilweg. NFL President, Joe F. Carr, selected an All-Pro team (two squads) in 1925 that was printed in Liberty Magazine.
Team success also contributed to the ranking, as well as combing through newspapers such as GBPG, Pottsville Republican, Canton Repository, Chicago Daily Journal, and more who would publish play-by-plays of early NFL games.
Other resources such as the Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL teams (especially the Packers and team historian Cliff Christl), Newspapers.com, Pro Football Reference, and more contributed mightily to the rankings.
Next up in our series of the Pre-WWII players is the Fullback position.
Packers Hall of Fame fullback Clarke Hinkle once talked to sportswriter Murray Olderman about playing both ways during his era:
“The offensive formation of our day spanned about 12 yards because we did not have flankers and split ends. In addition, our offensive linemen were not spaced as loose. Result, the defensive formations were tighter, so it was harder to find a hole.
In my time we went more for a touchdown inside our opponents’ 20-yard line. Field goals were a last resort from 25 yards out. We felt that a team which couldn’t score a touchdown inside the opponents’ 10-yard line was not a good team. Our game was more tiring because we stayed in there for sixty minutes. Our offense was only thirty minutes of the game. We also had to concentrate on defense. I backed up the line on defense, played fullback on offense, did the punting, kickoffs and long field goals, defended the pass, blocked for the pass and led the ball carrier when I wasn’t carrying the ball.”
Hinkle eloquently describes what your typical fullback did during this two-way era.
Here is the list of the Top 30 Pre-WWII fullbacks, which features the “Big Four” at the top:
1) Bronko Nagurski (1930-1937, 1943) The 6-2, 226-pound Nagurski played 9 years (97 games), all with the Chicago Bears. Career broken up after quitting pro football after the 1937 season, to make more money as a professional wrestler. Came back during the War in 1943 to play mostly as a tackle for the Bears…won 3 NFL championships with the Bears, 1932-1933, 1943…During his years with the Bears his teams’ won 70% of their games (79-21-12)…the era’s best power runner and lead blocker. “Bronko was a great blocker, as well as a powerful runner. He was one of the really great linebackers. He could have been an all-pro defensive star today as a linebacker, or a fullback if he played. I compare him to Dick Butkus as a linebacker and Larry Csonska as a fullback,” once said Red Grange about Nagurski…in 1934 was lead blocker for the NFL’s first ever 1,000-yard rusher (Beattie Feathers, 1,004)…only played in 5 games (injury) in 1935…big time performer in post-season games. Threw game winning TD pass to Grange to win the 1932 title (Indoor Game) to defeat the Portsmouth Spartans, 9-0. The following year in 1933, was even better, throwing 2 TD passes to help defeat the Giants, 23-21, including game winning pass late in 4th quarter that was lateral by Bill Hewitt to Bill Karr. In 1943 title game moved to fullback during game and scored on a TD run to help defeat the Redskins, 41-21. Also scored on TD run in 1934 championship game (Sneakers Game), but Bears lost Giants, 30-13…only scored 25 career TDs, but was asked to lead block more.
Finished career with 633 carries for 2,778 yards (4.4 average) and 25 TDs…Led NFL in rushing TDs in 1932 (4)…was very effective as a passer, had 7 career TDs and only 9 INTs, in an era where INTs were fairly common…Played in same era as Nevers and later Clarke Hinkle.
First Team All-Pros:
Collyers: 5 times (1932-1934, 1936-1937)
UP: 4 times (1932-1934, 1936)
Green Bay Press-Gazette: 3 times (1932-1934)
NFL: 3 times (1932-1934)
Charter Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963…NFL 1930’s All-Decade Team…NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team Fullback Runner Up, (1969, behind Jim Brown)…NFL 75th Anniversary Team (1994)…had Bears jersey no. 3 retired.
“There’s only one defense that can stop Bronko Nagurski, shoot him before he leaves the dressing room. He’s the only back I ever saw who runs his own interference.” – Steve Owen, Giants Hall of Fame coach.
“Bronko was one of the greatest all-around football players. He could do so many things well. He was much faster than people thought, and when he got into the clear, he could break away from the pack. He could play any position on the team. The defenses had to respect him so much that they would leave holes in the defense that other people took advantage of.”—Cal Hubbard, Packers Hall of Fame tackle.
“I always had the greatest respect for Nagurski. He was a wonderful person and the cleanest player you’d every play against. He was extremely strong and fast. I played safety on defense and he always got to me at least three or four times a game. I was always happy when those big guys up front got him down but sometimes he got to me…Bronko ran in sort of a bent-over slant and he would kill you if you tried to tackle him around the knees or body. The only way I could stop him was to just hit the ground right at his ankles.”—Dutch Clark, Lions Hall of Fame back.
“Bronko was the toughest guy to tackle I ever hit in my 15 years. What many people don’t realize is that Bronko had great speed in addition to his weight. At his prime, though, I think he weighed only about 225. He ran so low. As a linebacker, I would meet him head on, but he had the fine knack of using his shoulders perfectly. Then he had such great balance, too.”— Mel Hein, Giants Hall of Fame center-linebacker.
2) Clarke Hinkle (1932-1941) Not as huge as Bronko, but equally as powerful and tough, was the 5-11, 202-pound Hinkle. Played 10 years (113 games) with the Green Bay Packers…ran as hard as any fullback ever, super productive in running game and was probably a better defensive player (maybe slightly better than Nagurski on defense)…“The greatest all-around fullback to ever play in the National Football League was Clarke Hinkle. Hinkle runs the middle, runs wide, and blocks and tackles viciously. He punts and place-kicks with the best. He can do a good job as a pass receiver. And in defense against aerial attack. Hinkle has no superior in professional football,” said Curly Lambeau, Packers Hall of Fame coach…won 2 NFL Championships with Packers, 1936, 1939…Helped Green Bay win 67% of games (80-35-4)…Not a threat as a passer, had 0 TDs and 5 INTs…punting was good with a 40.8 average…great ground gainer, finished career with 1,171 carries for 3,860 yards (was NFL all-time record at time of retirement) and 35 TDs…capable receiver, had 49 catches for 537 yards and 9 TDs…44 total TDs…finished career with 379 points. Very productive kicker, Led NFL in FGs made in 1940-1941 and Led NFL in points in 1938 (58 points)…on defense was a sure and lethal tackler, never out of position…had 3 career INTs.
First-team All-Pro by NFL in 1936-1938, 1941; by Collyers in 1932, 1937-1938; by UP in 1935-1938; by NYDN in 1937-1938 and by I.N.S. in 1937-38, 1940…Second-team by NFL in 1932, 1940; by UP in 1932-1934 (behind Nagurski), 1939, and by GBPG in 1933-1934…Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1964…NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…Packers Hall of Fame, 1972.
“He was one of the greatest competitors I ever saw. He shut out everything else. And he was tough. He get such a kick out of hitting people, and getting hit, too,” said George Sauer, Sr., former Packers back and teammate.
“Hinkle was one of the three greatest players I ever faced in all my years in the league. His style of running made him vey difficult to bring down and when you did get him you knew it.”—Dan Fortmann, former Bears Hall of Fame guard.
Nagurski vs Hinkle
Nagurski vs Hinkle turned out to be closer than expected. As both players were the standard for their position. You couldn’t go wrong with either choice. “I learned a lot from watching Nagurski play. He taught me how to use my shoulders. He never played dirty, but if you had to play against Nagurski you had to use the same tactics he did,” once said Clarke Hinkle about Nagurski.
Both players made their respective teams’ running game go, although the Bears with Nagurski were clearly better in the running game. During these years the Bears consistently ran the ball more than the Packers, who in turn threw the ball more.
Bears Team Rushing Stats (Bronko Nagurski)
1930-1931: no official stats from NFL
1932: Rank # 1
1933: Rank # 2
1934: Rank # 1 (2,847 rushing yards)
1935: Rank # 1
1936: Rank # 2
1937: Rank # 3
1943: Rank # 2
Packers Team Rushing Stats (Clarke Hinkle)
1932: Rank # 2
1933: Rank # 5
1934: Rank # 6
1935: Rank # 3
1936: Rank # 4
1937: Rank # 2
1938: Rank # 3
1939: Rank # 3
1940: Rank # 2
1941: Rank # 3
“My greatest thrill in football was the day Bronko Nagurski announced his retirement,” said Clarke Hinkle in 1990 when Nagurski passed away. “There’s no question he was the most bruising fullback football has ever seen. I know because I’ve still got the bruises.”
3) Ernie Nevers (1926-1927, 1929-1931) The “Blond Blizzard.” The 6-0, 205-pound Nevers played just 5 NFL seasons with 2 teams- the Duluth Eskimos and Chicago Cardinals. Despite playing just 54 games Nevers was one of the best all-around players to have played during this era. His peers, like Nagurski, would put Nevers at the very top of their list of “best player to have played against”…just a slight notch below Nagurski and Hinkle…played on some bad teams, won only 39% of his games (23-29-6) which hurts him overall. Usually a one-man team…scored 38 career TDs in his 54 career games…his teams went 15-8 when he scored a TD. Tough luck loser. Perfect example, in 1927 playing with Duluth scored 3 TDs (with two in 4th quarter) against the Cleveland Bulldogs (Benny Freidman at QB), but team lost 21-20…excellent passer from fullback position, tossing 24 career TDs, much better than Hinkle…very good on defense, although a notch below Nagurski and Hinkle in this department…could kick, converted 52 extra points and 7 FGs, just not as good as Hinkle…Career game came in 1929 when he scored an NFL record 6 TDs and kicked 4 XPs to score 40 points, a single-game NFL record that still stands…finished 2nd in NFL in scoring in 1926 (71 points, behind P. Driscoll, 86) and in 1931 (66 points; behind Johnny Blood, 84); and Led NFL in scoring in 1929 with 85 points (although 59 of those points came in 2 games).
First-team All-Pro four times by GBPG, 1926-1927, 1929-1930 and by Collyers, 1926, 1929-1931. First-team by Chicago Tribune in 1926, 1929 and in 1931 by the NFL and UP…Charter Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963…NFL 1920s All-Decade Team…NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team Kicker Runner-up, 1969.
“Ernie Nevers was great in spite of the fact that he was always playing with lousy teams. He was able to lift them beyond their capacities.”—Jimmy Conzelman, Hall of Fame back and coach.
“I never saw anyone who epitomized the idea of a will to win more so than Ernie. He was a tremendous football player, tremendous leader, both on offense and defense. And you always knew you were in a battle when you played against one of his teams.”—Benny Friedman, Hall of Fame quarterback.
“(Nevers) Could do it all- run, block and kick. Then he’d turn around and stop you on defense…his tackle rattled the bones. He made you ache.”—Cal Hubbard, Packers Hall of Fame tackle.
4) Ken Strong (1929-1937, 1939, 1944-1947) Big and athletic, the 6-0, 206-pound Strong played 12 seasons (131 games) in the NFL for two teams, the Staten Island Stepletons and the New York Giants. Did also play 2 seasons in the rival AFL in 1936-1937 with the New York Yanks. Retired briefly (1940-43), came back to play until 1947…“(Strong) was not only a great power runner with speed, but he was an excellent defensive halfback…after Ken’s defensive days with the Giants ended, he became the Giants’ all-around kicker. He was recognized as the greatest kicker of his era,” said Mel Hein, former Giants Hall of Fame center and teammate…very versatile from the fullback position and was one of the era’s best kickers…Great athlete, strong runner, solid receiver, could return kicks and was a great defensive player (as DB). Just an average passer…member of 1934 Giants team that won NFL Championship. In the Championship Game, played a huge part in the Giants’ comeback to win the “Sneakers Game” against the undefeated Bears, 30-13. In game he rushed 9 times for 94-yards and 2 TDs; also had 2 catches for 17-yards, kicked 1 FG and 2 XPs- accounting for 17 of the Giants 30 points…in 2 other NFL Championship Games scored TDs (1933 vs Bears, lost, 23-21; and 1935 a 42-yd. TD catch vs Lions, lost 26-7)…scored 484 career points (his 324 points with the Giants was a team record, broke by Frank Gifford with 484)…scored 34 total TDs (24 rush.; 7 rec.; 2 punt ret.; 1 INT ret.)…One of the few fullbacks that would return kicks, had 2 career punt returns for TDs…Made 38 career FGs and was 111 of 166 on XPs kicks…Led NFL in points in 1933 (66) and in FGs made in 1931 (2) and in 1944 (6). Finished 3rd in scoring in 1930 (53 points; McBride- 56; V. Lewellen- 54); 4th in 1931 (behind Blood- 84, Nevers- 66; D. Clark- 60)…Five times finished in Top 5 in FGs made (1933-35, 1939, 1944)…later in career, mainly was a kicker for the Giants, retired after the 1947 season at the age of 41.
NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1967…NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team Kicker Runner-Up, 1969…Giants jersey no. 50 retired…First-team All-Pro by GBPG in 1930, 1933-1934; by Collyers in 1930-1931, 1933-1934; by Chicago Daily News in 1933-1934; and by UP in 1931…Second-team by GBPG in 1929; by Collyers in 1929; and by UP in 1934…Third-team by GBPG in 1935.
“He (Strong) was like a runaway deer but with the speed of a dear. He ran all over a big powerful team, smashed its line, ran its ends, kicked 50 and 55 yards, threw passes and tackled all over the lot. He was the best running back I’ve seen in years- and that includes Red Grange,”—wrote Grantland Rice.
“One of the greatest (Giants) of them all was Ken Strong. He was a fabulous all-around player, and he truly deserved to go into the Hall of Fame…Strong was a great blocker, great punter, great runner and could pass with the best of them until he broke his hand.”—Wellington Mara, Giants Hall of Fame owner.
The “Big Four” fullbacks were clearly ahead of the rest of the pack.
Hinkle vs Nagurski vs Nevers vs Strong (see chart below)
Fullbacks Comparison Page:
(***Official NFL Statistics didn’t start until 1932)
Seasons Played: Games Played:
Ken Strong- 12 Ken Strong- 131
Clarke Hinkle- 10 Clarke Hinkle- 113
Bronko Nagurski- 9 Bronko Nagurski- 97
Ernie Nevers- 5 Ernie Nevers- 54
Championships Won: Overall Team Record:
Bronko Nagurski: 3 Bronko Nagurski: 79-21-12 (112 games; 70%)
Clarke Hinkle: 2 Clarke Hinkle: 80-35-4 (119 games; 67 %)
Ken Strong: 1 Ken Strong: 71-52-15 (138 games; 51 %)
Ernie Nevers: 0 Ernie Nevers: 23-29-6 (58 games; 39 %)
Post-Season Record: Hall of Fame Enshrinement Year:
Post-Season Record: Bronko Nagurski- 1963 (Charter Member)
Bronko Nagurski: 3-2 Ernie Nevers: 1963 (Charter Member)
Clarke Hinkle: 2-2 Clarke Hinkle: 1964
Ken Strong: 1-5 Ken Strong: 1967
Ernie Nevers: 0-0
Total Touchdowns: Rushing Touchdowns: Points Scored:
Clarke Hinkle- 44 Ernie Nevers: 38 Ken Strong: 484
Ernie Nevers: 38 Clarke Hinkle: 35 Clarke Hinkle: 379
Ken Strong: 34 Bronko Nagurski: 25 Ernie Nevers: 301
Bronko Nagurski: 25 Ken Strong: 24 Bronko Nagurski: 154
Yards Per Rush: Passing Touchdowns/ Interceptions:
Ernie Nevers: 24 TDs/ n-a
Bronko Nagurski: 4.4 avg. Bronko Nagurski: 7 TDs/ 9 INTs
Clarke Hinkle: 3.3 avg. Ken Strong: 6 TDs/ 5 INTs
Ken Strong: 3.2 avg. Clarke Hinkle: 0 TDs/ 5 INTs
Ernie Nevers: n-a
5) Jack McBride (1925-1934) A notch below the “Big Four.” Very underrated, McBride played in the shadow of Nevers, then Nagurski at the fullback position during his playing career. The 5-11, 185-pound McBride did everything well, could run, block, tackle and was a better passer than Nagurski and a notch below Nevers…McBride played 10 seasons (106 games) with 3 teams, Providence, Brooklyn, but mostly with the New York Giants (7 years)….Member of 2 Giants teams that won NFL Championships, 1927 and 1934…scored 26 total TDs (all rushing), his teams went 18-2-2 when he scored…also kicked, making 5 FGs and 62 XPs (233 career points)…excellent as a passer, throwing 32 career TDs, his teams went 22-2 in those games… in 1927 when Giants won title, McBride had 6 TD runs and 7 TD passes and helped a defense that only allowed 20 points and had 10 shutouts. Could make case that McBride was the MVP of the NFL that season…Twice led the NFL in scoring, in 1927 (57 points) and in 1930 with Brooklyn (56 points)…in 1930 helped Brooklyn to a 7-4-1 record by scoring 8 TDs, the Dodgers were 6-0 when he scored, including McBride’s 4th quarter TD and his extra-point conversion to upset the Giants, 7-6, to keep the Giants out of first place (Nov. 30th)…Always behind Nevers or Nagurski with honors…First-team All-Pro in 1925 by GBPG and Ohio State Journal; and in his great year of 1927 by coach Leroy Andrews and Wilfrid Smith of the Chicago Tribune…Second-team in 1927 by GBPG…Third-team by Collyers in 1925-1926 and in 1930 by GBPG…Honorable mention in 1930 by Collyers.
“McBride, the former Syracuse star was a line crusher extraordinary yet speedy enough on this feet to make splendid interference for the other backs. McBride was there plenty when it came to backing up the line.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1925, naming McBride First-team All-Pro.
6) Ace Gutowsky (1932-1939) The 5-11, 201-pound Gutowsky, was the ideal backfield mate for a Lions loaded backfield that featured our number one halfback, Dutch Clark, as well as number ten- Glenn Presnell- and number eighteen- Ernie Caddel- halfbacks…Gutowsky played his 8 years with Portsmouth Spartans-Detroit Lions and one year with the Brooklyn Dodgers (86 games)…more known for his blocking and tough running than his passing; finished career with 3,279 yards rushing (3.6 average) and 20 TDs…workhorse ballcarrier, who would get you the tough yards. “Ace was our fullback. He was a hard line plunger. He could start like he was sprung out of a trap, he was so fast, so quick-starting. He was a very exceptional fullback, and a good blocker too.” said Glenn Presnell, former Spartans-Lions teammate…had 100 or more carries in 6 straight seasons (1933-1938) and Led the NFL once in rushing attempts in 1934 (146) and 2nd two other times (1936, 1938)…had best year in 1936 when he finished 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards (827)- just three yards behind leader Tuffy Leemans (830)- and rushing TDs (6, just one behind teammate Dutch Clark’s 7). His 827-yards rushing was a Lions single-season record until 1960 when Nick Pietrosante rushed for 872 (lasting 24 years)…helped the Lions win the 1935 NFL Championship. In title game against the Giants completed one pass for 25 yards and rushed 10 times for 34 and 1 TD in the 26-7 win…Only First-team All-Pro was in 1934 by the Boston Post (over Nagurski)…Second-team by the NFL in 1934; by Collyers in 1932, 1936-1937; by UP in 1936, 1938 and by I.N.S. in 1937…Honorable mention by NFL five times, 1932-1933, 1935-1937 and by the Football Writers in 1938…always voted behind Nagurski, Hinkle and Strong.
“Ace Gutowsky, you couldn’t hardly bring him down. He was their (Lions) fullback. And you’d have a hard time bringing him down. You had to get him down around the shoe-tops.”— George Musso, Bears Hall of Fame lineman.
7) Wallace “Doc” Elliott (1922-1926, 1931) Stocky at 5-10, 209-pounds, Elliott was a stud for 3 NFL Championship teams, 1922-1923 Canton Bulldogs and 1924 Cleveland Bulldogs. Nicknamed “Doc”, the former Lafayette star played 5 NFL seasons (39 games) for Canton and Cleveland…also played for the Cleveland Panthers and Philadelphia Quakers in the rival AFL in 1926 (5 total games)…was the key cog in a great Bulldogs backfield that also featured backs from our Pre-WWII lists, “Tex” Grigg, Harry Robb, and Wooky Roberts. “Doc was the best defensive fullback I ever saw,” said Harry Robb, Bulldogs teammate, in 1930…Canton-Cleveland dominated the NFL for those 3 seasons with a 28-1-3 overall record…Elliott was a bruising ball carrier, crushing blocker and deadly tackler, could do it all…17 career TDs- all rushing…great near goal line as most of his scores were from inside the five-yard line…when he scored a TD his team went 10-1 in those games…had a career day in 1924 (Nov. 27) when he scored 4 rushing TDs to help defeat the Milwaukee Badgers (were a 5-8 team that season), 53-10…would kick on occasion, in 1925 booted a 22-yard FG to help Cleveland defeat Columbus, 3-0…came back to play for Cleveland in 1931 at the age of 31, played only 3 games but scored his only TD to help defeat Brooklyn, 6-0 (Sept. 26)…First-team All-Pro by Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1923 and 1924 (over Tex Hamer and Hank Gillo)…highly thought of by his coach Guy Chamberlin who named him First-team in 1922 and 1923. Elliott would pay back his old teammate and coach when he spoke in 1965 as Chamberlin’s Hall of Fame presenter …did also play for several semi-pros team, like Millville (1927-1928).
“Doc Elliott of Cleveland got the choice for fullback. He was a first-rate line plunger and wonder on the defense. Elliott was the equal of any when it came to backing up the line.” Wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1924 when naming Elliott First-team All-Pro.
8) Hank Gillo (1920-1926) The 5-10, 195-pound Gillo played 7 seasons (45 games) with 3 different teams- Hammond, Milwaukee and mostly with Racine. Was player-coach with Hammond in 1920, went 2-5…Hard runner, effective near goal line; scored 10 career TDs…earned nickname Hank “Line Plunging” Gillo. “He was commonly known as ‘Line Plunging Hank’ because he was one of the few men in football, who had developed the twisting run and spiral jump”…was an exceptional kicker, converting 22 FGs and 18 XPs. Would also handle kickoff duties for Racine…helped Racine to a record of 14-11-6 from 1922-1924 (five of the 11 losses to Bears and Packers)…Led NFL in scoring in 1922 with 52 points (5 TDs; 6 FGs and 4XPs); finished 5th in scoring in 1923 and 4th in 1924…had best game in 1922 when he scored 3 rushing TDs to defeat the Columbus Panhandles, 34-0; also that year became first kicker in NFL history to kick 3 FGs in a single game, defeating Rochester, 9-0…the following year in 1923 Gillo kicked 3 FGs in a 9-7 win over the Akron Pros, that included a 50-yard FG (one of the first from that distance)….despite great year in 1922 did not receive any honors…First-team All-Pro in 1923 by Collyers (over Doc Elliott)…Third Team in 1924 by GBPG…Honorable mention in 1923 by Canton Daily News…
1922 NFL Scoring Leaders
Hank Gillo = 52 points
Jimmy Conzelman = 48 points
Guy Chamberlin = 42 points
Dutch Sternaman = 41 points
Paddy Driscoll = 40 points
"Gillo had it on (Herb) Joesting and (Jack) Manders. Nagurski was a different type. Hank drove in very low and went lower just before he hit. Then he would come up. Lots of times, his head would come up under a tacklers chin and just about knock the player out. He was one of the best, all right!” said Wallace “Shorty” Barr, former Racine quarterback and teammate.
“Gillo would stack up with the great fullbacks- Nagurski, Hinkle, Battles. What a line-plunger that fellow was! He’d bow that back of his and plow in and keep his knees churning. Hard to stop. And I speak from experience because I tried to tackle him more than once. And he was a terrific placekicker too.”—George Halas, said to the Milwaukee Journal about Gillo after his death in 1948.
“(Gillo) was the same type of player as Ernie Nevers. A hard runner and a great linebacker. No matter what you did, you couldn’t stop him short of two or three yards. He just bowled em over.”—Curly Lambeau, said to the Milwaukee Journal about Gillo in 1948.
9) Bill Osmanski (1939-1943, 1946-1947) The 5-11, 197-pound Osmanski, played 7 seasons in the NFL (46 games) all with the Chicago Bears. Was first-round pick of the Bears in the 1939 Draft (6th overall)…Strong runner, powerful legs, would break tackles on regular basis. Had speed to run around the end. George Halas claimed that Osmasnki was so strong “he could pick up a grand piano and run with it.”…Member of 3 NFL Championship teams with Bears, 1940-41, 1943 (four if you count 1946 later)…made 3 consecutive Pro Bowls, 1939-1941…NFL 1940s All-Decade Team…In 1939, as a rookie, Led NFL in rushing in 1939 (699 yards), and in 1941 led league in yards per carry with an average of 5.3…Scored first TD, 68-yards, in 73-0 blowout against the Redskins in the 1940 NFL Championship Game, also had one INT on defense; rather quiet in other 4 post-season games…scored 21 total TDs (20 rushing, 1 rec.). His 86-yard TD run against the Cardinals in 1939 is still the longest TD run in Bears history (regular season)…had 4 career interceptions on defense…had career interrupted by WWII, missing two full seasons (1944-45)…in 1939 named First-team All-Pro by NFL, UP, I.N.S., NYDN, Collyers, and Football Writers…First-team in 1941 by Collyers…Honorable mention by AP in 1940 and by NFL in 1941.
“Bill is the only Bear fullback with the speed and elusiveness for end sweeps from the T. (Other fullbacks) are essentially line plungers, who go several yards on power but lack the speed to go all the way.”—wrote the Chicago Tribune in 1946 on Osmanski.
10) Tony Latone (1925-1930) One of the few players who didn’t attend or play college football, the 5-11, 195-pound Latone played 6 seasons with 3 different teams- Boston, Providence and mostly with the Pottsville Maroons (65 games)…Tough, all-around player, just a notch below McBride and Elliott….key member of the Maroons team that almost won the 1925 NFL Championship…tough goal-line runner, had 26 career rushing TDs (27 total, had 1 INT return)…Led NFL in TD runs in 1925 with 7 and total TDs with 8…excellent on defense, backing up the line…First-team All-Pro in 1926 by Chicago Tribune…Second-team by GBPG in 1928…Honorable mention by GBPG in 1929 and by Collyers in 1930.
“When it came to line plunging, Tony LoTone of Pottsville didn’t have a peer in pro football.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1926, naming Latone First-team All-Pro.
“Tony was one hell broth of a rugged coal miner, and for my money, he was the most football player I have seen. I simply cannot imagine anyone who could equal that power-play fullback whose leg drive was so unbelievably potent he simply knocked the linemen kicking.” —Red Grange about Latone.
11) John “Bo” Molenda (1927-1935) Durable and tough, the 5-10, 210-pound Molenda, played 9 NFL seasons for 3 different teams- New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. Always ready to play, Molenda played in 111 career games and helped 2 franchises win championships. He won 3 titles with the Packers, 1929-1931, and one with the Giants, 1934. In 1934 NFL Championship Game with Giants (Sneakers Game) had 1 interception on defense to help upset the Bears, 30-13…could block with the best of them. Very athletic, played minor league baseball for several seasons, as well as professional basketball…could kick too, converting 24 career XPs…scored 14 career TDs (12 rush.; 1 rec.; 1 INT return). His teams’ went 11-1 when he scored a TD…had best offensive year in 1933 with the Giants, had career highs in carries (77) and rushing yards (240) while scoring 3 TDs; helping the Giants win the Eastern Division title (lost to Bears in NFL Champ. Game)…Honorable mention in 1929 by GBPG; in 1930 by Collyers and in 1933 by the Brooklyn Eagle…After playing career was over went into coaching, with Packers, Giants and Chicago Hornets (AAFC).
12) Clarence “Pug” Manders (1939-1947) Another great fullback nickname. “Pug” played 9 seasons (90 games) with Boston, Buffalo and the Yankees, but will focus on his years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who he played with from 1939-1944…Second-round pick (number 11 overall) by Dodgers in 1939…Solidly built at 6-0, 200-pounds, Manders gave the Dodgers backfield stability, while protecting Ace Parker for three productive seasons….made 3 straight Pro Bowls, 1939-1941…had best year in 1941 when he led the NFL in rushing with 486 yards (on 111 carries), averaging a career high 4.4 per carry and scored 5 rushing TDs- also had 4 INTs on defense with 1 TD. Named First-team All-Pro by AP, UP, NYDN, and Collyers…Dodgers finished second in Eastern Division in 1940-1941 (15-7 overall record)…rushed for 2,712 yards and 35 TDs. Great near the goal line, as 30 of his 35 rushing scores were from 5-yards or less…finished 2nd in rushing TDs for 3 straight years, 1940-1942…had 28 catches and 2 TDs in passing game…excellent in pass coverage with 11 career interceptions and 1 TD return…Second-team All-Pro by NFL in 1941 and by I.N.S. and NYDN in 1944…Honorable mention by Football Writers in 1939; the NFL in 1940, 1942 and by the AP in 1943…brother of former Bears back Jack Manders—who is number #14 on the halfback-wingback list.
“Pug looks good in a uniform, but you can’t see the best part of him as a player—his heart. Pug has the heart to play.” —Pete Cawthon, former coach of Brooklyn Dodgers-Tigers, in 1944.
13) Andy Farkas (1938-1945) Compact, the 5-10, 189-pound Farkas played 8 years (70 games) with Detroit, but mostly with the Washington Redskins. Nicknamed “Anvil Andy” Farkas, helped the Redskins win the 1942 NFL championship by scoring a TD in the 14-6 victory over the undefeated Chicago Bears…The following year stepped up big in the post-season. In a divisional game against the Giants, ran for 60 yards (22 carries) and scored 3 TDs, in a 28-0 win. Became first player in NFL history to score 3 TDs in a post-season game. Following week in the NFL Championship Game scored 2 more TDs, but lost to the Bears, 41-21… Had a knack for the endzone by scoring 37 career TDs- including 21 rushing and 13 receiving, 2 on kickoff returns, and 1 punt return…in 1939 caught a NFL record 99-yard TD (from Frank Filchock) to help defeat Pittsburgh, 44-14…Led Redskins in rushing 4 times (1938-39, 1942-43)…excellent on defense with 11 career interceptions…made 2 Pro Bowls, 1939, 1942…Led NFL in rushing TDs in 1938 (6)….Led NFL in total TDs in 1939 (10) and in points (68), while also leading the league in yards from scrimmage with 984 (beating out Don Hutson and Tuffy Leemans)…First-team All-Pro in 1939 by NFL, UP, Football Writers, NYDN and Collyers; and in 1942 by AP…Second-team by NFL in 1942 and by NYDN in 1942-1943…Honorable mention by NFL in 1938 and by UP in 1943…had 3,189 career yards from scrimmage…good on kick returns, averaged 12.4 on punt with 1 TD and 25.9 on KOR and 2 TDs.
“He was an exceptionally good ballplayer. He wasn’t the fastest guy on the team, but he was very shifty when he ran the ball.”—Clyde Shugart, former Redskins lineman.
14) Jim Musick (1932-1933, 1935-1936) The 5-11, 195-pound Musick played 4 seasons (33 games) for the Boston Redskins. Would share backfield with Hall of Fame back Cliff Battles. After a modest first year with 316 rushing yards on 88 carries, Musick had a career year in 1933 when he led the NFL in rushing with 809 yards and carries with 173- which was almost double the many of carries from the previous year (Hinkle was closest with 139)…followed that up by missing the 1934 season and then having just 66 carries for 188 yards in 1935-1936, as he took a back seat to Battles….poor passer, threw 14 INTs and 0 TDs in big year of 1933…he sat out the 1934 season while working for more money in the sheriff’s department in Orange County (CA), came back for two more seasons…Second-team All-Pro in 1933 by NFL, UP and GBPG…Honorable mention in 1932 by the NFL and in 1933 by Brooklyn Eagle.
15) Ben Jones (1923-1928) Very productive fullback who was in high demand for championship teams in the 1920s. The 5-11, 205-pound Jones played 6 years (58 games) for 4 different teams- winning NFL Championships with the 1923 Canton Bulldogs, 1924 Cleveland Bulldogs and 1926 Frankford Yellow Jackets…excellent short-yardage runner who was nearly unstoppable near the goal line, scoring 25 career TDs with 21 rushing, nearly all of them within the five-yard line…had career-high 9 TDs in 1926 with the NFL champs, Frankford; while finishing 5th in NFL in scoring behind Driscoll, Nevers, Wentz, and Oden…when he caught passes they would be big plays, during Frankford title year caught a 46-yard TD to help defeat the New York Giants, 6-0; also had 52-yard TD catch in 1925 against the Bears…First-team All-Pro in 1923 by his coach Guy Chamberlin, shocking no honors for his 1926 season.
16) Andrew “Rip” King (1920-1925) Thick and athletic, the 6-1, 205-pound King played 6 years (43 games) in the NFL with three different teams—Akron, Cardinals and Hammond…Excellent athlete also played some minor league baseball in 1921-1922 with Portland (PCL)…was key member for the APFA-NFL first ever championship team, 1920 Akron Pros, blocking for Hall of Fame halfback Fritz Pollard (unbeaten 8-0-3). That season threw a TD pass to Bob Nash for a big 7-0 victory over the Canton Bulldogs (Nov. 25), to keep team in first place…could do everything, pass, run and catch; also did some of the punting in 1920 for Akron…had 5 career TDs passes; 5 TD runs and 1 interception TD return…First-team All-Pro in 1920 by the Rock Island Argus; in 1921 by the Buffalo News, and in 1922 by George Halas….Second-team in 1921 by Buffalo Courier.
17) Huston Stockton (1925-1926, 1928-1929) Very durable, the 5-11, 193-pound Stockton, played 4 seasons in the NFL with 3 teams- Frankford, Providence and Boston. Played in 53 career games in those 4 seasons. Also played a few games with a few All-Stars teams on Red Grange’s 1925-1926 famous barnstorming tour…helped the 1926 Frankford Yellow Jackets win the NFL Championship. Came up with some big plays late in the season to win title. On Nov. 25th threw 38-yard TD pass to Henry “Two-Bits” Homan to comeback and defeat the Packers, 20-14; then on Dec., 4th with the NFL championship on the line, threw a 27-yard TD pass to Homan in the final minutes of the 4th quarter, with the extra point, won 7-6 over the Bears…had 7 career TDs…was excellent in passing game, throwing for 12 career TDs, including 7 of 30-or-more yards…Named Second-team All-Pro in 1926 by GBPG (behind Nevers).
18) Johnny Drake (1937-1941) The 6-1, 213-pound Drake played 5 seasons (55 games), all with the Cleveland Rams. Drafted in the first round of the 1937 Draft (10th overall), Drake was a mainstay in the Rams backfield. Tough runner, hard to tackle, especially near the goal line; had 22 of his 24 career rushing TDs from inside the 10-yard line…Made 3 straight Pro Bowls, 1938-40…Twice Led the NFL in rushing TDs, 1939-1940 with 9 each year. Both years he finished second in league in scoring…Mainly a Second-team All-Pro fullback; by NFL in 1939-1939; by UP in 1937, 1939; by NYDN in 1937, 1939; by Football Writers in 1938-1939; and by Collyers in 1938-39, 1941…broke through in 1940 making First-team All-Pro by NFL, UP, NYDN, AP, and Collyers. That season finished 2nd in NFL in carries (134) and rushing yards (480) and 1st in TDs with 9…Honorable Mention by NFL in 1937, 1941…finished career with 27 total TDs (24 rush.; 3 rec.) and 1,700 rushing yds- but just 3.2 yds. per carry.
19) Pete Calac (1920-1926) One of Jim Thorpe’s former teammates, the 5-10, 190-pound Calac played 7 seasons (69 games) for 5 different teams- Canton, Cleveland, Washington (1 game in 1921), Oorang Indians, and Buffalo. For 5 of those seasons played alongside Thorpe…some of his better years of pro ball were before the NFL was founded, on great pre-NFL Canton Bulldogs teams. Was 27-years old when APFA-NFL started in 1920…hard nose, tough football player that never backed down, could play other positions- with the 1922-1923 Oorang Indians played some end because of lack of talent on the line…excellent on defense…scored 8 career TDs (all rushing)…Named Third-team All-Pro in 1920 by Rock Island Argus…would be much higher if his best years were played in the NFL.
20) Glenn “Wally” Diehl (1928-1930) Big and burly, the 6-0, 205-pound Diehl played 3 NFL seasons (28 games) with the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Provided power in the Yellow Jackets running game helping Frankford go 21-7-2 in 1928-1929. Only played 6 games in 1930…described as a “bull-like ball carrier”…scored 11 career TDs (9 rush., 1 rec. 1 INT return)…in 1928 scored game winning TDs in the 4th quarter to help beat Dayton (Sept. 29), 6-0, and Providence (Oct. 7), 10-6 in back-to-back weeks…could throw, tossing 5 career TD passes…very steady on defense and did some of the punting for the Yellow Jackets…was called by opponents, “Dirty Diehl” mainly because of his name…First-team All-Pro in 1928 by Green Bay Press-Gazette (over Tony Latone) and Second-team by the Chicago Tribune…Second-team by GBPG in 1929…retried after 1930 season, went into coaching briefly…
“Diehl, of Frankford, a youngster playing his first year in pro football, is placed at fullback. Right from the opening game, Diehl began to shine and his star never set. The Yellowjackets found him steady as a clock and he always carried a punch when a yard or two was needed. Diehl was a good defender and he backed up the line like Jim Thorpe used to do.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette in naming Diehl First-team All-Pro in 1928.
21) John “Bull” Karcis (1932-1939, 1943) Had to be one fullback on the list with the nickname “Bull.” Built like a bowling ball, the squatty 5-9, 223-pound Karcis played 9 years (89 games) in the NFL for Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and the Giants….after playing his first 4 seasons with Brooklyn and 2+ years with Pittsburgh, Karcis found some success with the Giants, helping them win the 1938 NFL Championship…made 1 Pro Bowl, 1938…had 11 career rushing TDs (12 total, one by fumble rec.)…finished career with 557 carries for 1,799 yards (only 3.2 yds. per carry)…in 1938 finished second in NFL in rushing TDs (4, a career-high for Karcis)…during the War came back to play for Giants in 1943 at the age of 35…Second-team All-Pro in 1937 by NYDN…Honorable mention by the NFL in 1935 and 1937…in 1942 replaced Bill Edwards as Lions head coach, went winless (0-8).
22) Gary Famiglietti (1938-1946) Huge and powerful, the 6-0, 225-pound Famiglietti played 9 years (88 games) for the Bears and one year with Boston after WWII (1946)…mainly played as a super-sub for Halas…Member of the Bears that won 4 divisional titles and 3 world championships, 1940-1941, 1943…finished career with 528 carries for 1,981 yards and 24 rushing TDs (25 total TDs)…had best year in 1942 (with no George McAfee in backfield), when he led the Bears in rushing with 503-yards and led the NFL in rushing TDs with 8…in 1940 NFL Championship Game had 4 carries for 20-yards and 1 TD (73-0 beatdown of the Redskins); not much success in other post-season games (3 of them) had just 11 carries for 24-yards…First-team All-Pro in 1942 by the NFL and I.N.S.; was 2nd team by AP (picked Farkas) and NYDN…Second-team in 1940 by Collyers and UP…Honorable mention by NFL in 1940 and UP in 1944.
23) Marshall Goldberg (1939-1943, 1946-1948) The 5-11, 190-pound Goldberg played 8 seasons (77 games), all with the Chicago Cardinals. Had career interrupted by WWII, so will focus on the five seasons before he left to serve…only played 1 game in 1943…Outstanding 1941 season when he finished 2nd in NFL in yards from scrimmage (740 yards); while leading the NFL in kickoff returns (290 yards) and interceptions on defense with 7…also Led NFL in kickoff returns in 1942 (393 yards)…1 Pro Bowl, 1941…during his 5 seasons before leaving for the War had 376 carries for 1,279 yards and 8 TDs; also had 36 catches for 571 yards and 4 TDs…When he returned from War, helped guide the Cardinals to the 1947 NFL Championship (the franchise’s last title)…would be higher if you count his post-WWII years…Second-team All-Pro in 1941 by NFL, UP, and Collyers…Honorable mention by NFL in 1942…Hall of Fame Finalist in 1979 and Seniors Finalist in 2008.
24) Barney Wentz (1925-1928) Thick and athletic, the 5-11, 204-pound Wentz played 4 seasons (40 games), all with the Pottsville Maroons. Scoring machine sometimes, had 18 career TDs, all rushing (in just 40 career games), including a career-high 10 in 1926. That season finished 3rd in NFL in scoring with 60 points (behind Driscoll with 86, and Nevers with 71)…Pottsville was 11-1 when he scored a TD…bulldozer at the goal line, all of his TD runs were from inside the 5-yard line except one (24-yarder vs Bears in 1927)…scored 3 TDs runs in a 34-0 win against Akron in 1926…First-team All-Pro by Collyers in 1925 (ahead of Jack McBride) and Honorable mention by the Ohio State Journal, 1925.
25) Bill Paschal (1943-1948) Low on the list since he only played two years during the Pre-WWII era, 1943-1944…but was the best ground gainer in the league those 2 seasons. The 6-0, 200-pound Paschal played 6 seasons with Boston and mostly with the New York Giants (57 games). Was traded to Boston during the 1947 season….had an incredible first 2 years with Giants running out of Steve Owen’s “A”-Formation, leading the NFL in rushing both seasons. First player in NFL history to lead in rushing in consecutive years…Very productive on his favorite play, cut back run up middle. “That kid (Paschal) is one of the best running backs I’ve seen in years. Given a chance he will be one of the greatest running backs football ever knew,” said Steve Owen, Giants head coach, in 1944 to Walt Byers of the UP…1943 ran 147 times for 572 yards and 10 TDs; followed that up with 196 for 737 and 9 TDs- led NFL in all three categories both years…1 Pro Bowl, 1944….scored 21 total TDs in 19 games in 1943-1944…finished career with 677 carries for 2,430 yards and 28 TDs; had 8 rec. TDs (36 total TDs)…not much production in 2 post-season games (18 carries, 59-yards)…First-team All-Pro by Pro Football Illustrated in 1943-1944; also First-team in 1944 by AP, UP, NYDN, I.N.S. and the Detroit Free Press…Second-team in 1943 by UP…Honorable mention in 1943 by AP and Detroit Free Press.
26) Ted Fritsch (1942-1950) Nicknamed “the Bull”, the 6-1, 210-pound Fritsch played 9 years (99 games) with the Green Bay Packers. Very durable, didn’t miss many games for Lambeau’s Packers. Only played 3 years during the Pre-WWII window (42-44), so he barely makes the cut…member of the 1944 Packers team that won NFL Championship…tough runner, good near goal line, scored 31 career TDs with 8 rushing TDs during 1942-44… very good kicker, scored 380 career points (led NFL in scoring in 1946 with 100 points)…solid on defense, had 10 career INTs and returned 2 for scores…Packers Hall of Fame, 1973…Second-team in 1944 by Detroit Free Press and Honorable mention by UP…First-team in 1945 by UP and in 1946 by AP, UP, NYDN, and Pro Football Illustrated.
27) Bob Koehler (1920-1926) After playing one year with the Decatur Staleys, the 5-11, 185-pound Koehler played the next six seasons with the Chicago Cardinals (71 total games). Lead-blocker for All-Pro Paddy Driscoll (they were teammates at Northwestern), helping the Cardinals win the 1925 NFL Championship, when he had a career-high 4 TDs, including a 1-yard TD in a big 9-0 victory over the cross-town Bears (Oct. 25)…scored 9 career TDs- all rushing…coached high school football in Chicago-area after playing career was over…Second-team All-Pro in 1925 by Collyers…Honorable mention in 1922 by Guy Chamberlin.
28) Mike Mikulak (1934-1936) The 6-1, 210-pound Mikulak played 3 seasons (34 games) for the Chicago Cardinals. Bruiser type of runner…scored just 4 career TDs for an underachieving Cardinals team…1935 best year, named First-team All-Pro fullback by the NFL and GBPG while helping the Cardinals to a winning season, 6-4-2, their first one since 1931. Played well on defense, backing up the line, helping the Cards defense surrendered just 97 points, which was second in the NFL (Packers, Giants gave up 96)…Honorable mention by NFL in 1934…finished career with 166 carries for 446 yards and 4 TDs…retired after the 1936 season, returned to his alma mater, Oregon, to coach.
“The ex-Oregon star showed class galore on defense as he was a ready mixer at all times and seemed to like the rough stuff. His line plunging tactics netted the Cardinals a lot of yards.”— wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1935, naming Mikulak First-team All-Pro.
29) Joe Maniaci (1936-1941) Another of Halas’s bullish fullbacks to make the list. The 6-1, 212-pound Maniaci, played 6 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Bears (60 games). Contributor to 2 Bears championship teams, 1940-1941…nicknamed “The Maniac,” Maniaci played in loaded Bears backfield with McAfee, Luckman, Gallerneau, Nolting and Osmanski…made 2 Pro Bowls, 1940-41…had 14 career rushing TDs and finished in the Top 10 in rushing 4 times—best spot was 3rd in 1939 with Brooklyn…could kick, making 29 XPs and 5 FGs…in 1940 NFL Championship Game, Maniaci had 6 carries for 60-yards and 1 TD and chipped in 3 receptions for 39-yards (99-yards from scrimmage) in the 73-0 dismantling of the Redskins…after 1941 season went into the Navy…Honorable mention by NFL in 1938 and be the Football Writers in 1938-1939.
30) Erling “Dinger” Doane (1920-1927) The 5-10, 190-pound Doane played 8 NFL seasons (64 games) with 6 different teams- Cleveland, New York Brickley’s Giants (1 game), Milwaukee, Detroit, Providence and Pottsville (2 games). His best years were with Milwaukee (1922-1924, 29 games) and Detroit (1925-26, 23 games) playing for Hall of Famer Jimmy Conzelman…scored 15 career TDs (14 rush.; 1 fumble rec.)…had 5 TDs in 1925 with Detroit…Second-team All-Pro in 1923 by GBPG…Honorable mention in 1925 by Ohio State Journal.
Bonus Note: In 1947 the editors of Pro Football Illustrated selected 51 players for their “roster of all-time all-stars” (1921-1946 years). Among those players they selected 4 fullbacks:
Best of the Rest:
Guil Falcon (1920-1925)
Ken Huffine (1920-1925)
Don Irwin (1936-1939)
Herb Joesting (1929-1932)
Jim Laird (1920-1922, 1925-1928, 1931)
Cully Lidberg (1926, 1929-1930)
Dick Riffle (1938-1942)
Tomorrow: Blocking backs
Tomorrow: Blocking backs