Leo Nomellini

Italian-American football player and wrestler (1924–2000)

American football player
Leo Nomellini
refer to caption
Nomellini c. 1953
No. 42, 73
Position:Defensive tackle
Personal information
Born:(1924-06-19)June 19, 1924
Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Died:October 17, 2000(2000-10-17) (aged 76)
Stanford, California, U.S.
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:259 lb (117 kg)
Career information
High school:Crane Tech
(Chicago, Illinois)
College:Minnesota (1946–1949)
NFL draft:1950 / Round: 1 / Pick: 11
Career history
  • San Francisco 49ers (1950–1963)
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games played:174
Games started:166
Fumble recoveries:13
Total touchdowns:1
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branchU.S. Marines seal U.S. Marine Corps
Battles/warsWorld War II
Player stats at PFR
Pro Football Hall of Fame
College Football Hall of Fame

Leo Joseph Nomellini (June 19, 1924 – October 17, 2000) was an Italian-American football player and professional wrestler. He played college football for the Minnesota Gophers and was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the first round of the 1950 NFL draft. He played 14 seasons as a defensive tackle in the National Football League (NFL), all of them with the 49ers, playing his first three years as an offensive tackle as well. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969.

Nomellini was a three-time tag team champion in wrestling.

Early life

Nomellini was born at Lucca, Tuscany, Italy, and immigrated to the United States as an infant to Minnesota, before later moving to Chicago, Illinois, where he attended Crane High School. After high school, he joined the Marine Corps. It was there that in 1942, he first started playing football.

College career

After the war, he received a football scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he became a two-time All-American and the 49ers' first NFL draft choice in 1950.[1] While at Minnesota, Nomellini was a member of Delta Chi fraternity.[2]

Professional career

Nomellini was selected in the 1st round (11th overall) of the 1950 NFL draft, the first draft pick in the NFL by the San Francisco 49ers. As a professional, he appeared in 174 regular-season games and started 166 for his 14-year career.

While with the 49ers, he played both offensive and defensive tackle, winning All-Pro honors at both positions. He was selected to the All-NFL team six times: two years on offense and four years on defense. "He was as strong as three bulls," said 49ers teammate Joe Perry. "He'd slap you on the back and knock you twenty feet."[3] Nomellini was named to the NFL's all-time team as a defensive tackle. In 1969, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and in 1977, the College Football Hall of Fame.

Professional wrestling

NWA San Francisco

During the off-season Nomellini often wrestled professionally as Leo "The Lion" Nomellini debuting in Minnesota in 1950. For his career, he was a 10-time tag team champion. He won his first tag team championship in NWA San Francisco on March 14, 1952, when he teamed with Hombre Montana. The duo defeated Ben and Mike Sharpe for the NWA World Tag Team Championship (San Francisco version). Four months later, Nomellini and Gino Garibaldi won the NWA Pacific Coast Tag Team Championship. In April 1953, Nomellini regained the NWA Pacific Coast Tag Team Championship while teaming with Enrique Torres when they defeated Fred and Ray Atkins. Nomellini and Torres defeated the Mike and Ben Sharpe on May 6, 1953 for the NWA World Tag Team Championship (San Francisco version). On May 11, 1954 Nomellini teamed with Rocky Brown to defeat the Sharpes and win the NWA World Tag Team Championship (San Francisco version). In 1957, Nomellini, again teaming with Torres, defeated Lord James Blears and Ben Sharpe for the NWA World Tag Team Championship (San Francisco version).

While working for the National Wrestling Alliance, Nomellini once defeated Lou Thesz in a two-out-of-three falls match, but was not awarded the NWA World Heavyweight Championship because the first fall was a disqualification.

NWA Minneapolis Wrestling and Boxing Club/American Wrestling Association

Nomellini would leave NWA San Francisco to head to Minnesota to work for Verne Gagne and the NWA Minneapolis Wrestling and Boxing Club.

On May 15, 1958, Nomellini, teaming with Verne Gagne defeated Mike and Doc Gallagher for the NWA World Tag Team Championship (Minneapolis version). He would win the title again on July 14, 1959, while teaming with Butch Levy and defeated Karol and Ivan Kalmikoff. He would win it for the last time on July 19, 1960, once again teaming with Gagne and defeating Stan Kowalski and Tiny Mills.

Nomellini won his final professional wrestling championship on May 23, 1961, when he and Wilbur Snyder defeated Gene Kiniski and Hard Boiled Haggerty for the AWA World Tag Team Championship.

He retired from wrestling in 1965.


Nomellini died on October 17, 2000, after suffering a stroke.[4]

Championships and accomplishments

  • NWA World Tag Team Championship (San Francisco version) (4 times) - with Hombre Montana (1), Enrique Torres (2), and Rocky Brown (1)

See also


  1. ^ "Leo Nomellini". Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  2. ^ 1949 Minnesota Gopher yearbook, p.388, accessed 12 Aug 2020.
  3. ^ Maiocco, Matt; Clark, Dwight (2013). San Francisco 49ers: The Complete Illustrated History (Illustrated ed.). MVP Books. p. 32. ISBN 978-0760344736. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
  4. ^ Sullivan, Pat (October 18, 2000). "Ex-49er Leo 'Lion' Nomellini Dies at 76 / Hall of Famer suffered stroke 3 weeks ago". SFGate.com. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  5. ^ Klingman, Kyle (June 20, 2008). "Flood won't stop Tragos/Thesz HOF 'Super Weekend'". Slam! Wrestling. Canadian Online Explorer. Archived from the original on December 1, 2018. Retrieved November 6, 2018.

External links

  • Pro Football Hall of Fame Member profile
  • New York Times Obituary
  • Leo Nomellini's profile at Cagematch.net Edit this at Wikidata
  • Leo Nomellini at the College Football Hall of Fame
Leo Nomellini—awards and honors
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San Francisco 49ers 1950 NFL draft selections
  • Leo Nomellini
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Running backs
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Pre-modern era
two-way players
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Italics denotes members who have been elected, but not yet inducted.
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AWA World Tag Team Champions
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NWA World Tag Team Champions (Minneapolis version)
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National Wrestling Alliance World Tag Team Champions (San Francisco version)