Bronko Nagurski Death – Heart Failure

Bronko Nagurski was a legend in pro football and pro wrestling.

1908-1990 (Age 81)

Bronko Nagurski, a legend on the gridiron, became a legend in pro wrestling. He won the top prizes in football and wrestling multiple times.

Unlike many football players who became wrestlers, he excelled in both fields. Some good football players became great wrestlers (or vice versa). Bronko was great at both.

Professional wrestling has seen many talented football players make the switch to the squared circle. Names like Angelo Mosca, Ernie Ladd, and Wahoo McDaniel come to mind. However, Bronko was the crème de la crème in football and wrestling.

Born November 3, 1908, in Rainy River, Ontario, Canada, Bronislau Nagurski played football and basketball in high school.

Football’s Force of Nature

Bronko Nagurski was a sight to behold when he played football. Powerfully built, he competed when players worked offense and defense. Nagurski played fullback on offense, plowing through opponents as he scored touchdowns. On defense, he terrorized offensive players as a tackle.

Nagurski played college football at the University of Minnesota, turning pro in 1930 to play with the Chicago Bears. He helped the Bears win three NFL Championships (this was decades before the Super Bowl). In addition, he was an All-Pro on four occasions and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 1932.

Pro Wrestling Calls

In 1933, Nagurski was invited to work as a professional wrestler. At the time, wrestling could pay more than pro football. Furthermore, Nagurski’s fame on the gridiron meant instant publicity. According to his official website, he wrestled from January to July and played football from September to December.

Playing football and pro wrestling seemed like a good fit. However, when The Chicago Bears refused to up his pay to $6,500, Bronko retired. Wrestling fans could now see him on a full-time basis.

You’ve Still Got It

In 1943, Bronko returned to The Chicago Bears to help the team deal with the manpower shortages caused by World War Two. It had been years since he’d played, but even so, the 35-year-old showed he still had the goods. Bronko helped the Bears win another NFL Championship.

Bronko would wrestle for many years, holding three different versions of the World Heavyweight Championship. He captured the World Heavyweight Championship (which dates back to 1905) from Dean Detton.

Later, Bronko won the National Wrestling Association (the National Wrestling Alliance’s predecessor) World Heavyweight Championship. Nagurski defeated Lou Thesz on June 23, 1939 to capture his first NWA World Title. After dropping the title to Ray Steele in 1940, Nagurski regained it from him in 1941.

A final world title run occurred in 1948 when he defeated Sandor Szabo for a so-called “local” world title (as opposed to the NWA World title). His football fame helped him as wrestling became a fixture on television during the 1950s. Bronko continued wrestling until the late 1950s before retiring.

Honor Upon Honor

Football and pro wrestling would honor Bronko many times. According to The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes and Icons, Nagurski is:

A charter member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame, he is also in the College Football Hall of Fame and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame — an unparalleled three-peat.

These are just some of his many accolades. Another is the Bronko Nagurski Trophy which is awarded to the best defensive player in NCAA football. Despite the many honors, Nagurski remained humble. His son Ronald would explain to the media how:

“He was a very private man. He always maintained a low profile and didn’t seek out endorsements and didn’t make an effort to capitalize on his athletic career. While we were growing up, you’d have never know that’s what he did for a living.”

The football and wrestling legend apparently lived by the proverb “before honor is humility.”

The Death of Bronko Nagurski

Bronko Nagurski died on January 7, 1990. He was 81.  The Los Angeles Times reported when he died that

Nagurski is survived by four sons and two daughters, 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Nagurski’s wife, Eileen, died in 1987.

The Washington Post reported on Bronko’s cause of death:

In a telephone interview, his son Ron said that Mr. Nagurski had been in declining health since the death of his wife, Eileen, two years ago. Death was attributed to cardiopulmonary arrest.

Nagurski is buried at the Saint Thomas Cemetery in International Falls, Minnesota.

Have you heard about Bronko’s career in football and/or wrestling? If so, which one do you think he’s more famous for? Let us know in the comments below.

Other pro wrestlers who died in 1990 include Ed “The Bull” Gantner, Pat O’Connor, and Jack Pesek.