Bronko Nagurski was one of the most dominant and versatile players in the history of American football. He played for the Chicago Bears from 1930 to 1937 and again in 1943, winning three NFL championships and earning four All-Pro selections. He was also a successful professional wrestler, winning multiple world heavyweight titles. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame in their inaugural classes. But how did this formidable athlete die? Here is a brief overview of Bronko Nagurski’s cause of death and his legacy.
The Early Life and Career of Bronko Nagurski
Bronko Nagurski was born on November 3, 1908, in Rainy River, Ontario, Canada, to Ukrainian and Polish immigrants. His family moved to International Falls, Minnesota, when he was five years old. He grew up working on his parents’ farm and sawmill, developing his strength and stamina. He was discovered and signed by the University of Minnesota head coach Clarence Spears, who was impressed by his size and power. He played both tackle and fullback for the Golden Gophers from 1927 to 1929, earning consensus All-American honors in 1929. He was also a standout wrestler and track and field athlete in college.
Nagurski joined the Chicago Bears in 1930, becoming one of the first stars of the NFL. He was a force on both offense and defense, playing fullback, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, and linebacker. He was known for his hard-hitting style and his ability to break tackles and run over defenders. He led the league in rushing touchdowns in 1932 and helped the Bears win their first two NFL titles in 1932 and 1933. He retired in 1937, partly due to a salary dispute and partly to pursue a wrestling career. He became a popular and successful wrestler, winning the National Wrestling Association world heavyweight championship in 1939 and the National Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight championship in 1941 and 1942.
The Comeback and Death of Bronko Nagurski
In 1943, Nagurski made a comeback to football, as the Bears were in need of players due to World War II. He played mostly as a tackle, but also saw some action as a fullback. He scored a touchdown in the NFL championship game, helping the Bears defeat the Washington Redskins 41-21. He retired for good after the season, having won his third NFL title. He returned to wrestling, but retired from that sport as well in 1960.
Nagurski lived a quiet and modest life after his retirement, running a gas station and a fishing resort in International Falls. He avoided the spotlight and rarely gave interviews. He was married to Eileen Kane from 1936 until her death in 1987. They had two sons, Bronko Jr. and Tony. Nagurski suffered from various health problems in his later years, including diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. He died of cardiac arrest on January 7, 1990, at the age of 81, at Falls Memorial Hospital in International Falls. He was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in International Falls.
The Legacy of Bronko Nagurski
Bronko Nagurski is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential players in the history of American football. He was named to the NFL 1930s All-Decade Team, the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and the 100 Greatest Bears of All-Time. His number 3 jersey was retired by the Bears in 1988. He was also honored by the University of Minnesota, which retired his number 72 jersey and named an award after him. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is given annually to the best defensive player in college football by the Football Writers Association of America. Nagurski is also remembered as a pioneer and a legend in professional wrestling, having influenced many wrestlers with his physical and charismatic style. He was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002.
Bronko Nagurski was a remarkable athlete and a humble person, who left a lasting mark on two sports and on American culture. He was a symbol of strength, versatility, and toughness, who inspired generations of fans and players. He was a true legend, who died of cardiac arrest.