Saturday, November 3, 2018

On This Date in Minnesota History: November 3

*November 3, 1908 - Bronislau "Bronko" Nagurski, Minnesota Gophers’ football All-American and Hall of Fame Chicago Bears’ player, was born on this date in Rainy River, Ontario, Canada, of Ukrainian and Polish descent. He and his family moved to International Falls, Minn., when he was five-years-old.

There have been so many stories told about this man, including how he got his nickname, how he was drafted by the Gophers and his professional football career with the Chicago Bears, among so many others.

Born Bronislau, his nickname was given to him by a schoolteacher who could not pronounce his given name. Pronunciation of Bronislau:

The man who recognized Bronko Nagurski’s potential (other than Nagurski’s high school football coach) was Dr. Clarence W. Spears, head football coach at the University of Minn. from 1925-29. Spears was on his way to visit a potential player in International Falls when he drove past a farm where he saw a muscular boy plowing a field—without the assistance of a horse. When Spears asked for directions, the boy pointed—with his plow.

“What position do you play?” asked Spears.

“Everything,” the boy replied. “When the other team has the ball, they put me where I can make the most tackles. And when we have the ball, I carry it.”^ And a star was born.

In 1929 he became the only player ever selected All-American at two positions in the same year*, playing both tackle on defense and fullback on offense.^

Bronko Nagurski at the University of Minn., 1929*

After college, Bronko played professional football with the Chicago Bears. “Oldtimers tell of the time Nagurski crashed over center against the Redskins, knocking two linebackers in opposite directions. Next, he stomped over the defensive halfback and felled the safety. Then he caroomed off the goal posts and crashed to a halt against a brick wall. Finally, he staggered back onto the field.

‘That last guy hit me awfully hard,’ Bronko said.”^


After the owner of the Bears refused to give him a raise from $5,000 a year to $6,000 a year, Bronko went into professional wrestling, where he made quite a bit more money.


When he retired from wrestling, Bronko bought a gas station in International Falls. Local legend claimed that Nagurski had the best repeat business in town because he would screw customers' gas caps down so tight after filling their tanks that no one else in town could unscrew them.* He retired in 1978, at the age of seventy, and passed away Jan. 7, 1990, at age 81.

^The Minneapolis Star; “The Bronk. Nagurski lives so quietly many townspeople don’t know his legend.”; March 1, 1982; pp. 1C, 6C & 7C.


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