For decades, there’s been a natural link between wrestling and football, as tens of thousands of high school and college athletes have competed both on the mat and the gridiron.
Now, as football season gets underway, USA Wrestling has put together its first-ever All-Time NFL Honor Roll featuring pro football stars who once wrestled. The national governing body for wrestling in the U.S. released its list on Thursday, Sept. 5 to coincide with the NFL’s first game of the season between the Denver Broncos and Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Among the NFL stars listed are five NCAA Division I wrestling champs, more than a half-dozen NCAA All-Americans, and a number of other college mat stars, along with other pro football players who wrestled at some point in their athletic careers.
Of the NCAA titlewinners on the USA Wrestling All-Time NFL Honor Roll, four were heavyweight champs. Jim Nance, who played for the New England Patriots, was the first African-American heavyweight champ, winning the title for Syracuse University in 1963 and 1965. Curley Culp, recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee whose long NFL career included the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Oilers, and Detroit Lions, pinned down the 1967 NCAA title in less than a minute for Arizona State. Pittsburgh Steeler great Carlton Haselrig won three NCAA Division I titles and three D2 championships for Pitt-Johnstown. More recently, Stephen Neal earned three Super Bowl rings for the New England Patriots after his mat career that included a World freestyle title and being a two-time national champ for Cal State Bakersfield in 1998-99. In addition, Art Baker of Syracuse became only the second African-American NCAA titlewinner at any weight by winning the 191-pound crown at the 1959 NCAAs, later played for the Buffalo Bills.
Among the NFL Honor Roll members who earned NCAA All-American honors in wrestling include Antonio Garay, Charlie Getty, Bob Golic, Henry Jordan, Lorenzo Neal, Steve Sefter, and John Henry Ward.
With 70 athletes who made names for themselves in wrestling and football on USA Wrestling’s list, there are plenty of names even the most casual sports fan will recognize, including Jim Thorpe, Larry Csonka, Dan Dierdorf, Ronde and Tiki Barber, Ray Lewis, Ricky Williams, Archie Griffin, and Bo Jackson, to name a few. A dozen Honor Roll honorees are already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Want to know more? To see the entire list of grappling and gridiron heroes on the USA Wrestling NFL Honor Roll – including basic background information on each honoree -- visit TheMat.com.
Fan of the big men of college wrestling? Check out NCAA Heavyweight Champs Yahoo group, featuring photos and info on champs from 1928-2000, including Jim Nance, Curley Culp, Carlton Haselrig, and Stephen Neal.
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