William “Pudge” Heffelfinger

Image Gallery of William “Pudge” Heffelfinger


Considered by almost all football historians to be the very first player to play “Professionally” (in other words – Paid) William Heffelfinger was already a legendary college football for Yale when he was offered $250 dollars by the Allegheny Athletic Association of Pittsburgh to play in game against The Pittsburgh Athletic Club, a local rival, in 1892. Heffelfinger refused so the offer was doubled to $500, about $13,000 in today’s economy. Heffelfinger accepted and reportedly scored the games only points on a fumble recovery for a touchdown as Allegheny won 4-0.

“Pudge”, as he was also known, was the son of a shoe maker who had been wounded at Gettysburg. He played baseball and football in high school an reportedly filled in on the University of Minnesota from time to time. He ended up at Yale where his reputation as a football playing terror grew. He was been named to Walter Camp’s very first ever All-American team and was a major part of a Yale team that lost only 2 games in a 3 year span from 1888-1891. During the 1888 season Yale not only went undefeated and unscored on but put up 698 points on offense in 13 games.

After leaving Yale coached at different Universities while staying active on Pro and Semi-Pro teams. It was not uncommon for him to put on a uniform and physically participate in practices. When he was in his 40s he played a full game against the Columbus Panhandles and went a whole 60 minutes when he was 53 against the Ohio State All Stars. He claimed he would have played better had he not dislocated his shoulder early in the game. He even participated in a charity game in Minneapolis when he was 65 years old. Along with being a great player he is believed to first “Pulling Guard” in football and supposedly introduced the concept of “Linebackers” to the defense.

As great as his exploits on the playing field were some historians feel his greatest contribution to professional football was his consultation to then-President Teddy Roosevelt concerning sweeping rule changes. In 1905 player deaths were reported as the American public was becoming increasingly critical of football as a sport. Then US President Teddy Roosevelt became involved and along with William Heffelfinger introduced sweeping rule changes to make the game safer. He even made time to write a book about those early days football, “This Was Football”. William Heffelfinger passed away at the age of 86 in 1954.

For another good reading on William “Pudge” Heffelfinger check out The First Pro Football Player Wasn’t Just First; He Was Also Great

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