The remarkable biography of a small-town athlete who became one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Bronislau “Bronko” Nagurski was a superstar for the NFL in the 1930s and one of the pioneer players of the league. He led the Chicago Bears to success on the gridiron as a larger-than-life personality, helping raise the popularity of the NFL during the Great Depression.
In Bronko: The Legendary Story of the NFL’s Greatest Two-Way Fullback, NFL Films historian Chris Willis tells the remarkable story of how Bronko became an NFL legend. Throughout his nine-year NFL career, Bronko’s name became synonymous with power football. While the new league fought to gain respect and recognition, Bronko immediately captured the attention of sports fans in Chicago and across the country. The bruising fullback could do everything: run, block, tackle, and even throw the occasional pass.
With the complete cooperation of the Nagurski family and unlimited access to personal letters, family scrapbooks, and photos, Bronko is the definitive biography of a true sports pioneer and NFL great.
Chris Willis is the head of the Research Library at NFL Films. He is the author of multiple books on professional football, including The Man Who Built the National Football League: Joe F. Carr; Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe, and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL’s Most Famous Traveling Team; and Red Grange: The Life and Legacy of the NFL’s First Superstar, all published by Rowman & Littlefield. Willis was nominated for an Emmy in 2002 for his work on the HBO documentary The Game of Their Lives and won an Emmy in 2016 for his work on HBO’s Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Houston Texans. He was awarded the Professional Football Researchers Association’s Ralph Hay award for lifetime achievement in pro football research and historiography in 2012. He lives in Audubon, New Jersey.
Foreword by Tony Nagurski, son of Bronko Nagurski
Chapter 1: A Better Life
Chapter 2: Bronislaw to Bronko
Chapter 3: International Falls
Chapter 4: School of Hard Knocks
Chapter 5: On His Own
Chapter 6: Off to College
Chapter 7: Mr. All-American
Chapter 8: Eileen
Chapter 9: East-West Shrine Game
Chapter 10: Joining the Chicago Bears
Chapter 11: State of the National Football League
Chapter 12: Rookie
Chapter 13: On the Doorstep
Chapter 14: NFL Champions!
Chapter 15: I’ll Try Wrestling
Chapter 16: Back-to-Back
Chapter 17: Not a Hollywood Star
Chapter 18: Sneakers Spoil Perfection
Chapter 19: Lost Season
Chapter 20: Return to Glory
Chapter 21: Wrestling Champion of the World
Chapter 22: Double Duty
Chapter 23: Stepping Away & Fatherhood
Chapter 24: Returning to the Bears
Chapter 25: Goodbye to Football
Chapter 26: Nagurski’s Pure Servicenter
Chapter 27: Pro Football Hall of Fame
Chapter 28: Hard Working Family
Chapter 29: Super Bowl XVIII Coin Toss
Chapter 30: Losing Bronko
Chapter 31: The Legacy of Bronko Nagurski
About the Author
The legend of Bronko Nagurski as one of pro football’s pioneer stars is detailed like never before in this outstanding retrospective narrative by Chris Willis. The background of Nagurski’s life before, during, and after his playing days, is both insightful and entertaining. Chris Willis has previously written some great books about a variety of NFL teams and players. This book might be his very best, and that is saying a lot.
A well-researched and extremely informative book about the early days of the NFL and one of its greatest players.
This book on Bronko Nagurski is full of original and unique research and details we'd never heard before. It covers Nagurski's life—pre-football, his career, and his post-NFL playing days and does it well. Willis is always so fluent in his writings of the Pre-World War II era and can make it relatable to younger readers who may not be enthralled with the NFL from that far back. Willis enjoyed the cooperation of the Nagurski family with access to loads of personal files and records and the inclusion of details from those documents makes the book more enriching and vivid. This is a fine, fine book and highly recommended.
12/20/21, PWInsider: Information on the forthcoming release of the book is highlighted.
5/14/22, Sports Book Review: This book was featured in a roundup of upcoming sports titles in 2022.
8/10/22, The Football History Dude Podcast: Chris Willis appeared on this episode to talk about the book.
9/5/22, Pigskin Dispatch Podcast: Chris Willis was interviewed about the book.