We The Italians | The Italian American stars in US sports: Football 2 of 3 (from 50s to 70s)

The Italian American stars in US sports: Football 2 of 3 (from 50s to 70s)

The Italian American stars in US sports: Football 2 of 3 (from 50s to 70s)

  • WTI Magazine #94 Aug 19, 2017
  • 108

In the 1950s the NFL continued to expand. The Cleveland Browns, the dominant team of the AAFC competing league that during the decade in the league, won the NFL title in 1950 on their first participation. In 1951, after a stop that lasted from 1942, the Pro Bowl came back. In 1953 the racial policies of the league were challenged by a Federal Court. Vince Lombardi left New York to lead the Green Bay Packers, who had closed the previous season with a record of 1 win, 10 defeats and 1 draw.  

From the Fifties to the Seventies 

Gino Marchetti, son of Maria and Ernesto, born in West Virginia, tackle and defensive end, a veteran of the Second World War who fought in Belgium and was then summoned in the College All-Stars, was chosen in the second round of the 1952 draft by the new franchise of the Dallas Texans. The following year, the team moved to Baltimore and Gino became the mainstay, kicking off a glittering career. From 1955 to 1965 Gino was selected to play 10 Pro Bowl in 11 years (the missing year he was selected but a injury prevented him to play). From 1957 to 1964 Gino was named 8 times All-Pro, and he was also elected in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the very first year of eligibility. Simply great!

Dante Lavelli, son of Angelo - a locksmith - and Emily, born in Ohio in 1923, Dante fought in France, Belgium and Germany during World War II. In 1946 he signed a contract with a new team playing in a new pro league, the Cleveland Browns and the AAFC - All American Football Conference. In the 4 years of life of the new league, "Spumoni" (this is how his teammates nicknamed him) Lavelli was one of the top stars. From 1946 to 1949 he was either first or second best receiver and 4 times league champion, and placed in the All-League Team. In 1950, with the merger between the two pro leagues, Lavelli and the Browns confirmed their skill at the highest level by winning the NFL Championship immediately (Spumoni made 2 TDs). From 1951 to 1956, Lavelli and the Browns won another 5 conference titles and won two NFL Championships. Dante was elected All-Pro three times and, at the end of his career, he had a score of 386 receptions for 6488 yards and 62 TDs. He was elected on the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Leo Nomellini, born in Lucca in Italy in 1924, emigrated with his family to Illinois at the age of 4. When he finished high school he enrolled in the Marines and, at Cherry Point in North Carolina, approached football with exciting results: the comrades called him "Leo The Lion". At the end of the military service he moved to the University of Minnesota, headed for more than one sports program: football, track and field, wrestling. All-American in 1948 and 1949, Leo was selected in the All-Stars College of 1950 as the nation's strongest tackle.

In the same year he was also the first pick of the San Francisco 49ers and played with the Californian team uninterruptedly from 1950 to 1963, without skipping a regular season or a pre-season game. He was elected All-Pro for 6 years, played 10 consecutive Pro Bowl and was included in the All-Pro Team of the 50s and, of course, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here's a paisan that has gone a long way, with lots of sacks and many tackles to conquer his America. I forgot, during spring breaks Leo used to win some titles in wrestling, just to keep fit.

After having served in the US Navy in the Pacific, the defensive end Andy Robustelli, born in Connecticut, landed at the Arnold College, where he was named All-American for 3 years in a row. In 1951, he was chosen to the nineteenth round of the draft, becoming a pro football star. With the Los Angeles Rams Andy was named All-Pro in 1953 and 1955; in 1951 and 1955 he played two NFL finals, winning in 1951. After joining the New York Giants, Robustelli was named All-Pro for 5 more years and with them he played 6 more NFL finals, was selected for 7 Pro Bowl and in the 1962 season he was voted as NFLs MPV, the best of all. In 14 years of pro football he skipped only one game and scored 22 fumbles! He was elected to the College of Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Lino Dante "Alan" Ameche, "The Horse", was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1933 and, after being a star at the Wisconsin Madison University (1954 All-American and Heisman Trophy winner), he arrived to the Baltimore Colts in 1955 and with them won 2 NFL titles in 1958 and 1959. A curiosity: he became especially famous for scoring a touchdown in an overtime victory in what was defined as "The Greatest Game Ever Played" (1958 NFL Championship, Baltimore Colts - New York Giants 23-17, broadcast live from NBC across the nation). 5 times All-Pro Fullback, 4 Pro Bowl (1955-1958), Ameche retired in 1960 due to a serious injury to the achilles tendon. His surname came from friends ("Amici" in Italian) of his family of origin.

Al DeRogatis, defensive tackle, after good performances at Duke University (1949 College All-Stars) was hired by the New York Giants and then selected in the Pro All-Stars of 1951 and 1952. His was a very short career, ended due to a serious injury; later, he became a radio commentator and then a TV commentator.

Gino Cappelletti, the son of a winemaker, after the success in college football (1955 All-Big10 Team) was not called by any pro team and ended up playing in the semipro league in Ontario, Canada for $ 500 per game. In 1960, he was called by the Boston Patriots of the new AFL league and played as a kicker and wide receiver: for 6 consecutive seasons he scored at least 100 points and for 5 seasons he was the best scorer of the league. From 1961 to 1966 he was summoned to the AFL All-Stars Game.

Nicholas "Nick" Pietrosante, 1959 College All-Stars, first choice of the 1959 NFL draft, at his second year was one of the best runners in the league with 872 yards and 8 TDs. In 1961 he was in the Top 5 and the best Detroit Lions player (1959-1965). He then closed his career with the Cleveland Browns (1966-1967).

Nicholas "Nick" Buoniconti, a linebacker, excelled as captain of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and, in 1962, was chosen by the Patriots. In Boston, in just one year he won the Eastern Division title and joined the AFL Champioship. In 1969 he moved to the Miami Dolphins: in the next 6 years he contributed significantly to the successes of the Florida team and participated in the victories of the Super Bowl VII (Miami Dolphins - Washington Redskins 14-7) and VIII (Miami Dolphins-Minnesota Vikings 24-7). For him, also 5 nominations for All-Pro and 8 Pro Bowl from 1964 to 1973.

Robert "Bob" Talamini, a guard, was one of the best athletes expressed by the AFL. With the Houston Oilers (1960-1967) and the New York Jets (1968) he played six AFL Championship Games and 6 Pro Bowl. He was also one of the protagonists of the Super Bowl III, when for the first time an AFL team (the New York Jets) won over a NFL team (the Baltimore Colts). He dedicated this victory to the general manager of the Houston Oilers who, the previous year, said that Talamini was finished as an athlete.

Daryle Lamonica, "The Mad Bomber", came from Notre Dame, a quarterback selected by the Buffalo Bills (1963-1966) as a back-up of Jack Kemp. In Buffalo Lamonica rarely played, but he was noted for his ability to move and run with the ball in his hand. In 1967 he went to the Oakland Raiders (1967-1974) and in the first season threw for over 3,200 yards, becoming the best QB of the NFL. On January 14, 1968, the Raiders faced the Packers for the Super Bowl II losing 14 to 33: Lamonica threw for 208 yards with 15 completed passes and 2 TDs passes.

The quarterback Dante "Dan" Pastorini was the first pick of the Oilers in 1971. With the Houston team (becoming an NFL team after the merger with AFL in 1970) he soon became a starter, but suffered a series of injuries that limited his good qualities. Between 1971 and 1983) Dan also played with the Oakland Raiders, the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles, throwing for 18,513 yards with 1,556 passes completed for 103 TDs, and a pass rating of 59.1. In the second half of the eighties he became a dragster pilot. 

Robert "Bob" DeMarco, a center born in Jersey City with a long militancy in the NFL, played for 15 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals (1961-1969), the Miami Dolphins (1970-71), the Cleveland Brows (1972-1974) and the Los Angeles Rams (1975), playing also 3 Pro Bowl.

Franco Harris, the son of military Cad Harris and the Italian Gina Parenti (originally from Pisa), after his success in college football (with the Nittany Lions of Penn State in 3 seasons he scored 24 TDs and ran 2,002 yards), in 1972 was elected to the First round from Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition to the lucky break of the famous action known as "The Immaculate Reception", he was actually one of the greatest running back of the twentieth century. Franco ran at least 1,000 yards for 8 seasons, and played in 4 winning Super Bowl (1975, 1976, 1979 and 1980) and 8 Pro Bowl. He was also elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Franco was a powerful fullback but, thanks to his speed and balance, he often used his accelerations and his ability to evade the defenders of a halfback or a wide receiver.