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Leo Nomellini (1924-2000)

Real NameLeo Joseph Nomellini

Lifespan - 6/19/1924 - 10/17/2000

6’3” 260 lbs. - Chicago, IL

Athletic BackgroundFootball [NFL], Wrestling, Track & Field [University of Minnesota]

Teacher(s) - n/a

Aliases - none

Peak Years - `53-`62

Place in HistoryIn the 1950s, Leo Nomellini was one of the most famous players in the NFL as the player who had it all - size, speed, skill and stamina.  He could play as both an offensive and defensive lineman and not only played a full sixty minutes, but he never missed a single game during his fourteen year career with the San Francisco 49ers.  Nomellini, an Italian immigrant, had never seen football until he played his first game while serving in the Marines.  He earned a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he lettered in track and field, wrestling and football.  During his time there, he played ball and wrestled alongside future pro-wrestling star Verne Gagne.  Nomellini was also a runner-up in the 1950 Big Tens tournament, losing to Ohio State’s Bill Miler who would go onto pro-wrestling stardom as well.  That same year, Nomellini was the 49ers’ number one draft choice and made his pro debut for Tony Stecher in St. Paul, Minnesota.  While Nomellini had several off-season runs in the territory that were successful, he found his greatest success on the Pacific Coast.  Joe Malcewicz used Nomellini as a top draw as the star lineman of the 49ers and drew two of the biggest gates of that era when he challenged Lou Thesz for the NWA Heavyweight Championship.  Thesz considered him the greatest football player turned pro-wrestler ever, although Nomellini did have a legitimate amateur background.  Nomellini and the Sharpe Brothers were the backbone of the San Francisco promotion for years.  Bronko Nagurski, another hall of fame football player turned wrestler, had been a great draw in the Upper Midwest, so Verne Gagne called upon his former teammate, Leo Nomellini, to return to Minnesota.  Although Nomellini was carefully booked and never in a top singles role, his teams with Gagne, Nagurski and Wilbur Snyder were all featured acts.  Leo Nomellini was also prominently featured in Rikidozan’s JWA promotion in 1960 and teamed with the puroresu kingpin in several state-side tag matches.  When Roy Shire took over the Bay area, he did use Nomellini, but only as a midcarder.  Despite the local hero status and believability that Leo “the Lion” possessed, Shire showed his disdain for the previous pro-wrestling office that he had crushed by undermining their greatest attraction.  He headlined with Don Manoukian, so Shire had his chosen local football player turned pro-wrestler.   Nomellini’s football and pro-wrestling careers ended around that time.  However, Nomellini extracted his revenge on Shire in 1980 by working with Gagne again, this time to bring the AWA into area.  Shire had lost TV, Nomellini helped Gagne secure TV and the AWA was able to move in a crush Shire who was physically and promotional ailing.  Leo Nomellini was an institution in San Francisco and his death twenty years later was a huge news story.  He was one of the true legendary football players of that era and his pro-wrestling success as a drawing card cannot be understated.  Many men have gone from successful careers in college and professional football into the world of pro-wrestling, but Leo Nomellini had two simultaneous careers in football and pro-wrestling that are certainly Hall of Fame worthy.