American Football Legends
The Pro Football Hall of Fame exists to honour players and coaches who have made a special contribution to the sport. Each year, those who have been elected to the Hall of Fame by the selection committee gather in Canton, Ohio for an enshrinement ceremony. Canton has a special significance for the sport of American Football: it was here that delegates gathered in 1920 to establish the American Professional Football Association, which later became the NFL.
Every year, football fans go to Canton to learn more about players and coaches, past and present, considered worthy of the accolade of induction to the Hall of Fame. Admission costs $30.50 for adults, $10 for children (aged 9-14) and $13 for adults over the age of 62. The Hall can be contacted at:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
2121 George Halas Drive NW
Tel: +1 (330) 456-8207
Listed below are some of the most well respected players and coaches in the history of American Football:
Lance Alworth was the first AFL professional football player to be invited to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Armstrong began his football career at the University of Arkansas. After graduating in 1961, Armstrong became one of the stars of the San Diego Chargers, before moving on to play for the Dallas Cowboys for the final two years of his career. By the time Alworth retired from professional football in 1972, he had caught 542 passes and rushed for an impressive 10,266 yards.
As one of eleven children born into a poor family, Earl Campbell had an impoverished childhood. Through a combination of his intelligence and demonstrated skill on the football field, he was accepted into the University of Texas, where he became the best running back the college had ever seen. Whilst studying in Austin, Campbell was awarded the prestigious Heisman Memorial Trophy Award; an accolade bestowed annually on the best college football of that year. After graduating in 1977, Campbell was snapped up by the Houston Oilers in the 1978 NFL Draft, where he remained until he was traded to the New Orleans Saints in 1983. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991. More information about Campbell’s life and professional achievements can be found on The Official Earl Campbell website.
Bill Dudley entered the University of Virginia when he was only sixteen years old. Dudley quickly found his feet on the college team, acquiring the nick-name “the bullet” because he reportedly never failed to miss his target. Dudley became the university’s first all-American player and was invited to join the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1942, where he was named Rookie of the Year during his debut season. After the United States entered World War II, Dudley answered the call to serve in the armed forces, but returned unscathed in time to see out the 1945 season for the Steelers. The Official Site of Bill Dudley offers more information about Dudley’s career.
Every year, the finest two teams of the NFL’s National Football Conference compete for the honour of winning the George Halas Trophy in the NFC Championship Game. The winner goes on to compete against the AFC Champion in the annual Super Bowl. The trophy is named for a man whose multiple talents earned him the apt nickname “Mr Everything.” During the course of his life, Halas not only became a renowned American Football player, coach and manager, but also played minor league and semi-professional baseball.
Halas had a life-long affiliation with the Chicago Bears. In fact, it was Halas who represented the Bears at that historic meeting in Canton, Ohio in 1920. Halas coached the Bears to a number of historic victories, including the 1940 NFL Championship Game. As a coach, Halas created a number of innovative plays which were soon being copied throughout the NFL. These impressive coaching abilities, in addition to his own athletic prowess, made George Halas a true American Football Legend.
As the teams which comprise the NFC battle it out for the George Halas Memorial Trophy, their counterparts in the AFC compete for a trophy named after Lamar Hunt. Hunt is credited with establishing the American Football League (AFL), which emerged as a rival to the NFL in the 1960s. He was also instrumental in settling the antagonisms which plagued the sport during that decade, and was pivotal in the decision to merge the two leagues in time for the beginning of the 1970 season. Hunt was also a well regarded professional football coach. His contribution to the sport was recognised when he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972. Lamar Hunt passed away after a long fight against prostate cancer in 2006.
Vince Lombardi is one of the most famous coaches in American Football history. Lombardi’s first head coaching position was with the Green Bay Packers, where he quickly reversed the team’s fortunes. He retired as the team’s head coach in 1968 but retained a managerial position at the club. Lombardi’s impressive leadership abilities were acknowledged when he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
The high regard with which Lombardi was held by football professionals and fans alike is best expressed by the fact that the Super Bowl Trophy, the most prestigious prize in American Football, is named for him.
Anthony Muñoz is one of the most renowned offensive players in the history of the sport. He began his football career at the University of Southern California, and was drafted into the NFL in 1980. During his career he was invited to play in an impressive eleven consecutive Pro Bowls.
Walter Payton attended Jackson State University, where he once scored 46 points single handedly in one game. Payton’s obvious talent attracted the attention of important figures in professional football, and he was invited to play for the Chicago Bears during the first round of the 1975 draft. During the course of his thirteen year career, Payton missed only one game. Payton rushed for an astonishing total of 16,276 yards in his career, making him the most successful rusher in the history of the NFL.
Tragically, Payton was diagnosed with a rare liver disease in the 1990s, and died in 1999.
Knute Rockne is one of the most famous names in American Football history. He was born in Norway and attended the University of Notre Dame, where he was part of the first team from Notre Dame to defeat the Army. Rockne later transferred his attention from playing to coaching, and occupied the position of head coach of the Fighting Irish from 1918-30. For the twelve years he held the post, Rockne’s team conceded only thirteen games. He also managed to combine this record of success with his famous dedication to fair play and good sportsmanship. Rockne was killed in a plane crash in 1931. The Official Site of Knute Rockne offers more information about his life and achievements.
Orenthal James Jones was born in 1947. Simpson enjoyed a very successful college football career, and won the Heisman Trophy by the largest margin ever in 1968. He was the first player to be drafted into the NFL in 1969. Simpson easily adjusted to life in the NFL and became one of the most successful running backs in its history. He was named NFL Player of the Year in 1972, 1973, 1975 and 1976. During the 1973 season, Simpson rushed for over 2,000 yards.
After retiring from professional football, O.J. Simpson became a broadcaster and actor, appearing in a number of successful films including the Naked Gun films alongside Leslie Nielson. Simpson’s retirement was marred, however, by his dramatic trial, and eventual acquittal, for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.
Jim Thorpe was one of the first heroes of American Football. Thorpe remarkably competed in athletics, gridiron and baseball. He won two gold medals at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, where King Gustav pronounced him to be “the greatest athlete in the world.” These medals were later revoked on the basis of a technicality: Thorpe had played two semi-professional seasons of baseball before the Olympics, thus compromising his amateur status.
In 1920, Thorpe was elected the first President of the American Professional Football League, which became the National Football League in 1922. Even after his death, Thorpe continued to be held in high esteem by football professionals and fans. A small town in Pennsylvania even decided to rename their town Jim Thorpe. A monument with the epitaph: “Sir you are the greatest athlete in the world” was erected there, and an annual celebration is held in the town in his memory.
Bill Willis was one of the first African Americans to play in a professional football league. Willis was one of the Cleveland Browns’ best defensive linemen between 1946 and 1953, despite being the smallest linesman the team had ever enlisted. He helped the Browns towards a number of successes, including a near-perfect game record: only the New York Giants managed to defeat Willis’ team in the 1950 season.