Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Pudge Heffelfinger, the first "professional" football player, was born William W. Heffelfinger on this day in 1867 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The 6'-3", 200-pound Heffelfinger was a standout on both offense and defense with the Yale football team from 1888 to 1891, pioneering a variation of the single-wing formation and beating Princeton's famous "wedge" with his ferocious defensive line play -- so injurious that it inspired rules changes to protect the collegians. As the greatest player of his day, in November 1892 he was invited by the Allegheny Athletic Association to play against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, and he received $500 (equal to the annual salary of a 19th century schoolteacher) as a "game performance bonus for playing" a single game with the Alleghenies (and yes, they did win).

Heffelfinger spent much of the rest of his life coaching collegiate football, although he defended the rights of team captains to call their own shots on the field. His ferocity on the field did not mellow with age. In 1916, at the age of 49, he joined the scrubs in a Yale scrimmage before the big Harvard game, breaking the ribs of the varsity guard and injuring 4 more Yale players before being yanked from the practice by the irritated Yale coach.

Heffelfinger served as a commissioner of Hennepin County, Minnesota from 1924 to 1948, and lost a bid for Congress as a Republican in 1930. He died on April 2, 1954 on the family ranch near Blessing, Texas.



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