Summary

Birth:
11 Jun 1902 1
Willow River, Minnesota, 2
Death:
03 May 1976 2
May 1976 1
San Rafael, California, 2
More…

Related Pages

+

Pictures & Records (6)

Add
Ernie Nevers
Ernie Nevers
Ernie Nevers
Ernie Nevers
Class Of 1963
Class Of 1963
Class of 1963 - Front Row - Dutch Clark, Earl "Curly" Lambeau, Mel Hein, Johnny "Blood" McNally, Don Hutson. Back Row - Sammy Baugh, Cal Hubbard, Bronko Nagurski, George Halas, Red Grange, Ernie Nevers. Also inducted that year posthumously - Bert Bell, Pete Henry, Tim Mara, Jim Thorpe.
Ernie Nevers Duluth Eskimos
Ernie Nevers Duluth Eskimos
Nevers & Warner
Nevers & Warner
In this 1932 Associated Press file photo, Ernie Nevers, left, is shown with legendary football coach Glenn "Pop" Warner. (Associated Press, 1932)
Ernie Nevers
Ernie Nevers

Add a photo or record for Ernie Nevers

Add
Show More

Personal Details

Edit
Full Name:
Ernest Alonzo Nevers 2
Full Name:
Ernie Nevers 1
Birth:
11 Jun 1902 1
Willow River, Minnesota, 2
Death:
03 May 1976 2
May 1976 1
San Rafael, California, 2
Residence:
Last Residence: Belvedere Tiburon, CA 1
Edit
Social Security:
Card Issued: California 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-6554 1

Looking for more information about Ernie Nevers?

Search through millions of records to find out more.

Stories

The Best College Player Of All Time

Football paradise is, to put it tepidly, getting extremely crowded. Already there are 203 coaches, players, officials and camp followers who have made their way through the rapidly swinging gates of the Hall of Fame, and the queue is getting longer and longer. Perhaps the Hall of Fame should nail up one of those signs placed in restaurants by fire departments and rephrase it to read: OCCUPANCY BY RUN-OF-THE MILL PLAYERS IS DETRIMENTAL AND CONFUSING. Anyhow, to keep the business of football immortality in perspective, the time is ripe to thin out the ranks and select the very best college football player of all time.

It may seem unfair to a lot of dedicated and selfless linemen of the past, but it is nonetheless true that the most versatile and thus the ablest all-round football players were all backfield men, as will become clear shortly. Hence, to reduce the list of candidates to a manageable maximum, one has to start with the following: Jim Thorpe of Carlisle, Red Grange of Illinois, Ernie Nevers of Stanford, Bronko Nagurski of Minnesota, Jay Berwanger of Chicago, Byron White of Colorado, Kenny Washington of UCLA, Tom Harmon of Michigan, Nile Kinnick of Iowa, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis of Army, Dick Kazmaier of Princeton, Doak Walker and Kyle Rote of SMU, Frank Gifford of USC and Jimmy Brown of Syracuse.

Although this list is slightly weighted in favor of prewar athletes, the reason is not merely that distance lends enchantment. The quality of college football is, if anything, far higher today than it was 40 or even 20 years ago. High school and college coaching is superior, and just about any competent player in a given position would make the counterpart of his father's generation look ridiculous. But, as we all know, this is a specialist's age. The modern player has to confine his skills to his one or two specialties at the expense of versatility.

None of us has ever seen a better straight-ahead runner than Jimmy Brown, who lifted a fairly prosaic Syracuse team of the middle 1950s to the top rank and then went on to confirm his ability by becoming the best running back in pro football. Yet we haven't the faintest notion whether Brown knows how to pass or punt or tackle. Even if he can he didn't, and we can hardly call him the greatest player of all time, despite his performance against TCU in the 1957 Cotton Bowl when he was almost singly responsible for Syracuse's 27 points.

It is this same lack of versatility that forces us to eliminate linemen from consideration. There are always a lot of people who want to tell you that So-and-so, a guard, or Somebody Else, a tackle, was the best ever. Don Hutson, the superb Alabama end, is a case in point. Hutson was undeniably one of the supreme pass receivers of all the years, both as a collegian and later with the Green Bay Packers and, with all his lack of size (185 pounds), he was a strong defensive player. What he did to Stanford's Vow Boys in the 1935 Rose Bowl must be listed as cruel and inhuman punishment, catching six passes for 164 yards and two backbreaking touchdowns. But what other accomplishments did he have besides tackling, blocking and catching passes? Could he plunge through the line? Run the ends? Punt? Pass? We'll never know, but it is a safe assumption that if he could have done all these things he would have been used in the backfield, where such talents are most needed.

The same reasoning applies to the case of Don Coleman, a 175-pound Michigan State tackle during the 1949-51 period. Around Lansing they still claim that Coleman was the most impressive player ever to wear a Spartan uniform, which is saying plenty when you think of some of the block-busting Michigan State teams of the last 15 years. Not only Biggie Munn, Coleman's coach, but also most of his opponents rated him as good a lineman as they had ever seen, but had he been a complete all-round player Munn would certainly have used him in the backfield, where he could have done more than just block and tackle.

Keeping in mind how the era of specialization has limited our view of some wonderful football players, how can any postwar player be ranked as the finest of all time?

One thinks immediately of Doak Walker and Kyle Rote, whose careers overlapped at SMU from 1947 to 1950. During a period when SMU had little other football talent to speak of, they lifted their college to the peak of southwestern football and twice took it to the Cotton Bowl. Each could perform all the offensive chores and will be remembered for years by football-proud Texans, but the beginnings of two-platoon football deprived them of the chance to display much defensive form.

The example of Frank Gifford is almost the exact opposite. A strong case could be made that Gifford was the most ill-used college player of all. Jeff Cravath, who coached USC in Gifford's time, put Gifford on the defensive unit throughout most of his college career, although he was probably the best all-round offensive player on the squad. He was its best runner and passer, he punted and he place-kicked, and yet Cravath rarely gave him a chance to do these things. It wasn't until well into Gifford's pro career with the New York Giants that he was able to prove his full potential on offense. It might be argued that if Gifford had played before the free-substitution rule and under a coach who knew how to utilize the full measure of his ability, he would have to be named the finest player the West ever produced, the maybe the best anywhere.

Dick Kazmaier was a halfback of such enormous potential that it is sad to realize one will never know what he might have been. He was another who could do everything offensively, breaking virtually every Ivy League and eastern total offense record and leading his team to its first Lambert Trophy in his junior year. But he played for Princeton in the years 1949-51, and that era of Ivy League football was hardly the severest test of a man's mettle.

We now come to the 60-minute players, who were, after all, the only ones with a fair chance to show the full spectrum of their talent. Fortunately for the purposes of this consideration, they fall rather neatly into three groups.

The first would contain Jay Berwanger and Byron White, two athletes who were as conspicuous for their character as their performances, plus Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, the two outstanding headliners in Army's long pageant of football success. That Berwanger was the first winner of the Heisman Trophy—in 1935—shows how he was regarded by his contemporaries, although he played for a team that was not even a contender in its own conference, the Big Ten. Indeed, Berwanger was nearly the only real football player Chicago had at the time. He not only could do everything that had to be done on the field; he had to. One regrets never having seen him in the company of a truly first-class team.

When White was at Colorado, the Rocky Mountain area was to college football about what Florida is to ice hockey, yet White was able to lead his teammates to the Cotton Bowl, where they put up a surprisingly good showing against Rice until worn down by obviously overwhelming manpower. Like Kazmaier, White never had the opportunity to test his skills among his peers. True, he went on to become one of the very good running backs in pro football during the three years he played there, but after college Berwanger abandoned football entirely. As for Blanchard and Davis, their reputations were also limited by their environment, for they played during the closing chapters of World War II, when so many superb athletes of college age were in the services. Each won the Heisman Trophy and together they helped give Army a three-year record of superiority unmatched by any other college team in the country at the time, but the opposition was far from formidable. Among all these exceptional players, Berwanger, White, Blanchard and Davis left the largest question marks at the end of their careers.

The next group contains Red Grange, Tom Harmon and Nile Kinnick, the three most spectacular offensive players in football history. Of these, Kinnick was the most versatile in every department—running, passing, kicking and blocking. No one could do all these things any better. Grange and Harmon were the most dangerous and breathtaking runners—in their own time or ever. To be sure, they played on good teams under good coaches, and each had a superlative blocker to help clear the way—Grange's Earl Britton and Harmon's Forest Evashevski—but in the open there was nobody like them. Just consider Grange's performance against Michigan in his junior year. In the first 10 minutes of the game he made touchdown runs of 95, 66, 55 and 40 yards, even though he had his hands on the ball just six times. He left the game before the first quarter ended but returned in the second half to run 15 yards for his fifth touchdown and throw a pass for his team's sixth score. Playing only 41 minutes, he gained 402 yards in 21 attempts—an average of nearly 20 yards a carry—and completed six passes for another 64 yards. And this against a fine Michigan team that lost but one other game.

Harmon is the only other broken-field runner who can be spoken of in the same breath with Grange. Although both of them could pass and kick and play defense well, their primary skill was running. A backfield of four Granges or four Harmons would leave something to be desired.

You could, on the other hand, have an entire team made up of 11 Jim Thorpes or 11 Ernie Neverses or 11 Bronko Nagurskis or 11 Kenny Washingtons, and it would be pretty hard for anyone else to break into the lineup. These truly were men who could do everything required of a football player in any situation. How, then, would you choose among them?

You would have to eliminate Nagurski first on the ground that he never reached full football maturity in college, and his awesome reputation as a pro fullback with the Chicago Bears has tended to overcolor his performance as a collegian. A provincial farm boy, he did not play football until he reached Minnesota, where he served his first two varsity years as an end and tackle and, great as he was as a fullback in his senior year, he was still learning the trade.

Washington, too, matured rather late and only reached his full stature in his senior year, particularly in his final game, a 0-0 tie with USC. It was a performance that no one who saw it will ever forget, for it was against one of the last and best of Coach Howard Jones's Thundering Herds, the team that beat Tennessee in the Rose Bowl 14-0. Of course, Kenny had the speedy young Jackie Robinson at wingback to help spread the defense a bit, yet he himself was really the team—tackling, knocking down passes, blocking, punting, passing, running the ends or off tackle or carrying three or four USC tacklers with him through the center of the line. If Washington had not waited until his senior year to develop into such a player, it would be almost impossible to avoid ranking him above all others, but we can at least say there was never a more thrilling performance on a football field than he gave in his final collegiate appearance.

It boils down, then, to either Thorpe or Nevers, and some of the most eloquent barside oratory of the last 35 years has been spent on this subject. Pop Warner, who coached them both in their college days, finally picked Nevers. Warner claimed that Nevers could do everything that Thorpe could do and do it more often. Big Jim, he said, occasionally dogged it on the field, but Nevers refused to let up.

There is no question in my own mind where I stood—and stand. Nevers was to me the greatest college football player of all time, including those I had seen and those I had only read about. I saw Nevers in what I am sure was the most awesome and impressive one-man performance of all time—an opinion confirmed by Knute Rockne himself. That was when Nevers, as a junior, played against Rockne's Four Horsemen in the 1925 Rose Bowl. Although Nevers' 117 yards outgained the total of all four of the Horsemen on the ground; although he must have made at least half of his team's tackles against them; although he wore down two Notre Dame lines with his crunching, knee-high running, although he handled the ball on almost every play; still he didn't have quite what was needed to win the game for his team, for he was playing on two recently broken ankles, which Warner had bound tightly with inner tubing. The difference between victory and defeat was two flat passes thrown by Nevers (who tried to overrule the calls in the huddle) and intercepted by Elmer Layden for touchdown runbacks of 78 and 70 yards (which Nevers, an exceptionally fast man, would have cut off if his legs had been sound) and a touchdown plunge by Nevers that the referee ruled was short, but which everyone else knew was successful. So the score was Notre Dame 27, Stanford 10.

As captain of the Stanford team in his senior year, Nevers continued to play just as heroically, but his team lost a heartbreaker (and the Pacific Coast championship) to Washington after the Huskies belted Nevers early in the game and put him on the sidelines. Otherwise he would have taken Stanford to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year.

There are those, nevertheless, who would pick Thorpe over Nevers, and among them is Harry Stuhldreher, who quarterbacked the Four Horsemen and played against both Nevers (in the Rose Bowl) and Thorpe (as a pro). "Nevers was an alltime master," Stuhldreher said recently, "but I can't rate him as high as Thorpe. Thorpe was so fast he could run around the ends and so powerful he could drive through the center of the line dragging half a dozen tacklers with him. He was one of the best kickers there ever was both as a punter and a drop-kicker. On defense he was everywhere, tackling behind the line or knocking down passes in the secondary.

"I always told Warner it was his fault if Thorpe was lazy now and then. Pop used to pay off his Carlisle Indians by giving them swigs of whisky on their way home on the train after a game. If they played well they got an extra shot or two. If they didn't, they might not get a drink at all. So I blamed Pop for Thorpe's laziness, telling him he was shortchanging Jim on the whisky.

"Actually, I never saw Thorpe until many years after he left college. That was in 1926, when I was playing on the Brooklyn Horsemen and we met the Canton Bulldogs, Thorpe's team. Remember, this was almost 20 years after he first started wearing a Carlisle uniform. He had held up well through the years, and even then he was a bull through the line and would run right over you. In fact, he could still do just about everything when he wanted to.

"But I'll never forget the last time I saw Thorpe," Stuhldreher mused, looking off into the distance. "It was in the spring of 1931, and a lot of us former Notre Dame players were out in Hollywood making The Spirit of Notre Dame. That was when Rockne was killed, flying out for the picture. We were having a punting contest on the Universal lot and making bets on whether Elmer Layden, who kicked those tremendous long spirals, was a better punter than Frank Carideo, an exponent of the LeRoy Mills school of kicking for accuracy.

"The thud of the football must have attracted Thorpe, because he wandered over, all dressed up in an Indian costume. We tried to persuade Jim to kick, and for a while he said no, claiming he wasn't in condition, but eventually he began to limber up. He took off his big Indian headdress, and pretty soon he was punting the ball along with Layden and Carideo, and even though he was only wearing moccasins and must have been almost 45 years old he could still kick the ball as far as Layden and as accurately as Carideo. We were all so fascinated we never did find out which of the other two was better.

"I don't want to tear down Ernie," Stuhldreher concluded, "but Jim was a lot faster and a little better all around."

The only reply to such firsthand testimony is, respectfully, that Stuhldreher didn't have as good a seat as mine—up in the grandstand. The years have perhaps dimmed his recollections of Nevers, the blond giant of over 200 pounds, who threw his helmet to the sidelines and played bareheaded in a fury of determination when the going got tough; Nevers, who could run like a sprinter through a sliver of an opening or plow like a battleship through a mass of men; Nevers, whose punts always seemed on the verge of sailing out of the stadium (and often did out of the ball parks in which he played as a pro); Nevers, the shy and humble man who never admitted defeat. He was the greatest football player.

Who was Ernie Nevers?

Some of the best athletes in the region annually tread the flawless artificial turf and composite track at Santa Rosa Highs Ernie Nevers Field. And its no slap in the face to state that none of them has a chance of matching the sporting exploits of the man whose name graces the scoreboard.

Ernie Nevers lived in Santa Rosa less than a year, not long as legacies go. Then again, Nevers was not your typical Golden Age sports star. His exploits read like tall tales spun around campfires and cold beers.

Imagine a man who:

Outgained all Four Horsemen of Notre Dame while playing on two broken ankles.

Played 1,714 out of a possible 1,740 minutes of football with the NFLs barnstorming Duluth Eskimos in 1926.

Owns the oldest mark still standing in the NFL record book.

Surrendered two home runs to Babe Ruth the year the Babe hit 60.

Brought down a Japanese Zero during World War II by hitting the plane with a football.

That last one isnt real, or at least not verified. But thats the thing about Ernie Nevers. The more you learn about his life, the more you are willing to believe. In a different era, people were awestruck just to make his acquaintance.

I said to my brother, I met the nicest man last night. His name is Ernie Nevers, remembers Ernies widow, Margery. He said, Ernie Nevers?! I said, What, has he been in jail? Remember, I went to a boarding school (in Chicago). I never saw a football game. We were in school on Saturdays, too.

Margery, whose home in Tiburon looks across the water to the ferry landing on Angel Island, doesnt care to state her age. But lets just say the FDR presidency is more than an American history study topic to her.

During Ernie Nevers junior year of high school, he and his parents left Superior, Wis., for Santa Rosa. George Nevers, Ernies father, bought a prune ranch opposite the brass foundry near the current intersection of Mission Boulevard and Highway 12.

It was the spring of 1919, and Ernies arrival was good news for the Santa Rosa High football team, which had formed the previous fall and stumbled through a winless season.

Nevers helped design plays, and carried or passed the ball on nearly every snap from the fullback position. He anchored the defense and kicked field goals and extra points, too.

This lad seems to have an educated toe, for when he kicks his goals he never fails to make them, The Press Democrat reported on Oct. 17, 1920.

A former Santa Rosa classmate, Raymond Clar, once wrote of trying to tackle the 187-pound Nevers in a scrimmage.

I remember no particular pain, Clar wrote. I did exhibit, with some pride I must confess, a bit of flexiblity in my nose which healed itself about the time Ernie began to appear bigger than lifesize on huge roadside billboards as Americas Greatest Athlete.

Riding Nevers broad shoulders he scored 108 of 170 points, not including his touchdown passes Santa Rosa finished 7-3 and won the Northwest Section of the California Interscholastic Federation before getting drubbed by a much deeper and stronger Berkeley High team in a playoff game.

Nevers immediately turned his attention to basketball, and dominated so thoroughly that he was named California high school basketball player of the year for 1920-21. Pretty impressive when you consider he played less than half the season.

After three league games, capped by a 32-point performance against Petaluma the school yearbook, The Echo, called it the most sensational scoring ever seen on any court in the country Nevers got an urgent message from his former coach in Wisconsin. The old team needed him desperately. So he abandoned Santa Rosa and traveled east, playing for Superiors Central High the night he arrived.

But Nevers returned after graduation. He was a player-coach on Santa Rosa Junior Colleges first football team in 1921, taking units at the JC to help him get into Stanford.

It was at Palo Alto that Nevers reputation exploded. He earned 11 varsity letters in three years, in football, baseball, basketball and track. On the football field, he became one of the Wests first grid stars.

The pinnacle of Nevers collegiate saga was the 1925 Rose Bowl. He had broken both ankles earlier in the year. Legendary coach Glenn Pop Warner went to his garage and fashioned splints that ran from the bottoms of Nevers feet to six inches above the ankles, fastening them tight with inner tubes.

Five days before the game, Nevers couldnt walk. But he played. And carried the ball on every single snap for the Indians. And finished with 114 yards. Despite throwing two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the Fighting Irishs 27-10 win, Nevers shared player-of-the-game honors.

In 1962, Sports Illustrated named Nevers the greatest college football player of all time. Warnerwrote in his autobiography: In an era of great ones Red Grange of Illinois, George Gipp and the Four Horsemen from Notre Dame, Elmer Oliphant and Chris Cagle of Army, or even Jim Thorpe of Carlisle Nevers always stood a bit taller.

He was a bona fide celebrity, with film roles on the way, and his two-semester alma mater was quick to capitalize. Santa Rosa High, newly relocated from a schoolhouse on Humboldt Street to the Mendocino Avenue campus, dedicated Ernie Nevers Field in 1925. It would be four years before the school had enough funding to add bleachers, a permanent track and a field that was more than a dirt patch.

Out of college in 1926, Nevers joined an NFL team called the Duluth Eskimos that was owned by a former high school chum, Ole Haugsrud. Eager to trade on the Nevers name, Haugsrud organized a barnstorming tour that took the Eskimos to 29 cities, including five in an eight-game span.

Sportwriters dubbed them the Ironmen of the North, and no one was more unbreakable than Nevers. He missed only 26 minutes all season, sidelined briefly with a case of appendicitis.

The Eskimos folded after the 1927 season, and Nevers sat out the next year with a back injury. He joined the Chicago Cardinals in 1929 for three stellar seasons.

Nevers was still a fullback, but of course he did everything for the Cardinals. On Nov. 28, 1929, he scored six touchdowns and kicked four extra points against the rival Bears; 79 years later, his 40 points remain a single-game NFL record.

They called him Swede or Big Dog, and he was all-pro five times in five seasons. In 1963, Nevers would become a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But football wasnt his only pursuit. Nevers pitched three seasons for the St. Louis Browns, dishing up those two dingers to Ruth in a mostly lackluster career that saw him finish 6-12.

Some insist Nevers played pro basketball, too, though the record is murky.

The big man still wasnt done with Santa Rosa. After retiring from the NFL he joined the football staff at Stanford and played for a Santa Rosa semipro football team called the Bonecrushers. They played on the field that now bears his name.

Despite his reserved nature, the affable Nevers also became a regular speaker at the annual sports banquet at the Flamingo Hotel. His sister Edith remained in Santa Rosa, and the family would gather here for holiday dinners.

During World War II, Nevers enlisted in the Marine Corps, became a major with the 134th Torpedo Bomber Squadron and served for nearly three years. At one point, his battalion was missing in action for several months, cached on a small island. Some of the men died, and Nevers, suffering from beri-beri, supposedly wasted away to 110 pounds.

His first wife died stateside during the war.

Nevers met Margery in New York City after coming home, and she became his second wife. The couple later settled in Tiburon, where Margery sold real estate and Ernie became a sales rep and spokesman for beverage distributors and a spice company.

He never lost his athletic build, but not everyone who knew him realized they were talking to a living legend.

He didnt live in the past, said Tina Nevers, Ernies daughter. I had to pull stuff out of him. He had some stories about (colorful NFL star) Johnny Blood and playing in Pottsville, Pennsyvania. But they were funny stories, not really about him.

Nevers died in 1976.

There arent many people left who remember the 1925 Rose Bowl or the 40 points scored by one man against the Chicago Bears in 1929. But thanks to an astute decision by the Santa Rosa board of education some 83 years ago, Ernie Nevers name wont be completely forgotten here for many years to come.

Of all the records in the history of the National Football League, the one that has survived the longest was set on November 28, 1929, when Chicago Cardinals fullback Ernie Nevers, scored every one of his team’s points (six touchdowns and four extra point conversions) in a 40-6 rout of the Chicago Bears.

The next week, the former Stanford University star again scored all his team’s points for a two-game total of 59 solo points. At Stanford, Nevers had gained gridiron fame when he courageously led the Indians against Notre Dame in the 1925 Rose Bowl game. Playing on what amounted to two very sore ankles, both of which were broken earlier in the season, Nevers rushed for 114 yards as Stanford lost to the superior Irish, 27-10.

Stanford coach, Pop Warner once called him “the football player without a fault” and compared him favorably to another player he coached, the legendary Jim Thorpe. Like Thorpe, when it came to football, Nevers could do everything exceptionally well, run, pass, kick, call signals, and play rock hard defense.

After he finished his Stanford career, Nevers signed pro basketball and baseball contracts and, in fact was destined to throw two homerun pitches to Babe Ruth in his historic 60-home run season in 1927. But pro football also beckoned. In 1926, Nevers turned pro with the NFL’s Duluth Eskimos.

The Eskimos were a traveling team. That season the team crossed the country playing 29 games, 28 of them on the road, against league and non-league opponents. Nevers reportedly played all but 29 of a possible 1,740 minutes.

Injuries forced Ernie to sit out the entire 1928 season, but he returned as the do-everything man for the Cardinals in 1929. In both 1930 and 1931, he was also the playing coach of the Cardinals. Nevers earned All-NFL honors each of his five pro seasons.

 

Marine Corps Hall Of Fame

ERNIE NEVERS Class of 2006
Fullback

1926-1927 Duluth Eskimos,
1929-1931 Chicago Cardinals 
Ernest Alonzo Nevers. . .Stanford All-America, 1925 Rose Bowl hero. . .Lured from pro baseball career by Eskimos. . . Truly a do-everything iron man, playing 1714 of 1740 minutes in 29-game 1926 season. . .Missed 1928 with injuries, returned with Cardinals, 1929. . . Scored record 40 points in one game against Bears, 1929. . .All-league all five NFL seasons. . . Player-coach one year in Duluth, two in Chicago. . .Born June 11, 1903, in Willow River, Minnesota . . .Died May 3, 1976, at age of 72...

 

 

STATISTICS   GAMES AVG HR RBI Career 723 .263 16 217

One of the toughest, most versatile athletes of the 20th Century, stories of Ernie Nevers were so outlandish, they read like fiction.

The only man in the history of sports to play professional football, baseball and basketball in the same year, Nevers' single game scoring record remains the oldest National Football League's record for any category.

 

Born in Willow River, Minnesota, on June 11, 1903, Nevers soon moved with his family to Santa Rosa, California. He played as a senior on his high school's very first football team. It turned out that Nevers knew more football than his coach; and soon took over designing the offense, placing himself at fullback.

Although Ernie Nevers is still regarded as one of the greatest athletes ever to attend Stanford, Stanford landed him only after an epic recruiting struggle with its archrival, the University of California at Berkley.

At 6-1, 205, he was a big man by the standards of his day. As a fullback, he was gigantic. Called "Swede" and "Big Dog" by his teammates, he truly did everything - he ran, passed, punted and tackled. He was noted for his fearless, reckless style of play, and on occasion, when the action got especially ferocious, he would toss his helmet aside and fling himself into the action bareheaded. Legendary football coach Pop Warner once called Ernie Nevers, "the greatest player I ever coached."

Nevers' most legendary performance was in the 1925 Rose Bowl against Knute Rockne's Fighting Irish, featuring the legendary Four Horsemen.

After recovering from two broken ankles earlier in the season, Nevers almost did not play. Walking on crutches two days before the Rose Bowl, coach Pop Warner fashioned a pair of braces made from rubber tubes to help support Nevers' ankles.

Everyone doubted that Nevers would last no more than 10 minutes, but he played all 60 minutes, out gaining all four Horsemen. Nevers carried the ball 34 times for 117 yards. On defense, he intercepted a pass and was in on 80 percent of Stanford's tackles.

Although Stanford lost, 27-10, Irish coach Knute Rockne was in awe of Nevers' performance. "Nevers could do everything," Rockne recalled later. "He tore our line to shreds, ran the ends, forward-passed and kicked. True, we held him on the 1-yard line for four downs, but by that time he was exhausted."

At Stanford, Nevers earned 11 letters - in football, baseball, basketball and track. - In baseball, he once pitched 37 consecutive scoreless innings - a school record that still stands.

In 1926, Nevers turned pro, signing with the National Football League's Duluth Eskimos. Nevers missed just 27 minutes of action in the entire 29-game schedule - when doctors ordered him to sit out a game after he was diagnosed with appendicitis. But with Duluth trailing 6-0, Nevers could not stand to watch. Disregarding doctor's orders, he inserted himself into the game, and threw a 62-yard TD pass and kicked the extra point to give the Eskimos a 7-6 win.

In 1927, Nevers set a new record by becoming the first man in the history of sports to play professional football, baseball and basketball in the same year, when he signed a contract with a Barn Storming Professional basketball team in St. Louis, Missouri, earning $300 per game.

Nevers' major-league baseball career was a short one. Playing for the woeful St. Louis Browns from 1926-1928, he did gain a measure of fame as a result of Babe Ruth hitting two of his record-setting 60 home runs off him in 1927.

The Babe, not one to flatter anyone unnecessarily, said to Nevers, "You've got good speed, kid. For my sake, I hope you stick to football."

Injuries forced Nevers to sit out the entire 1928 football season, but he returned as the do-everything man for the Chicago Cardinals from 1929 to 1931. In 1929, Nevers scored a NFL record 40 points in one game in a 40-6 win over George Halas' Chicago Bears led by Red Grange. Nevers' single game scoring record still stands to this day and may never be broken.

After his football playing career ended in 1932, Nevers began a coaching career, but at the outbreak of World War II, too for the draft, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. While serving in the Pacific, he and his battalion were reported missing for several months. When they were finally found on a deserted island, several had died, and Nevers, who suffered from beriberi, weighed only 110 pounds.

Following the war, Nevers was involved in starting the Chicago Rockets' franchise in the All-American Football Conference, and spent most of the rest of his life working in a variety of positions for Bay Area beer, wine and liquor distributors.

Nevers was modest and private, and declined most requests for interviews. He kept few football mementos in his home, and reportedly never talked about sports with his family. Around the news media, he seemed embarrassed to talk about himself, and when he did, it was often in a humorous, self-deprecating way.

In 1951, Nevers was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame and became a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. Sports Illustrated also named him the best college football player of all time. Ernie Nevers passed away in 1976 at the age of 72

About this Memorial Page

×