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Pudge Heffelfinger

William "Pudge" Heffelfinger
Heffelfinger at Yale
Date of birth: December 20, 1867
Place of birth: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Date of death: April 2, 1954(1954-04-02) (aged 86)
Place of death: Blessing, Texas, United States
Career information
Position(s): Guard
College: Yale
As coach:
As player:
Chicago Athletic Association
Allegheny Athletic Association
Career highlights and awards

  • 3x All-American (1889, 1890, 1891)
  • 1x W. Pennsylvania Circuit champion (1892)
  • First recognized professional football player
  • Total coaching record: 17–13–1

William "Pudge" Walter Heffelfinger (December 20, 1867 – April 2, 1954) was an American football player and coach. He is considered the first person to play football professionally.[1]

Playing career

Heffelfinger, a three-time All-American, played for Walter Camp at Yale University in 1889, 1890, and 1891.[1] He then played amateur football for the Chicago Athletic Association (for which he was compensated with "double expenses," as was a common practice at the time).

First professional football player

In the 1960s a man known only as "Nelson Ross" walked into the office of Art Rooney, the president of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League. After a brief discussion, the man gave Rooney a typed, 49-page manuscript about the early history of pro football. Ross' examination of Pittsburgh newspapers indicated that the first pro American football player actually was Pudge Heffelfinger, an all-American guard from Yale, who was hired to play for Allegheny on November 12, 1892 for $500 ($13.1 thousand in 2014 dollars[2]). Up until then John Brallier, of the Latrobe Athletic Association, was considered the first professional American football player. The Pro Football Hall of Fame soon discovered a page torn from an 1892 account ledger prepared by Allegheny manager, O. D. Thompson, that included the line item: "Game performance bonus to W. Heffelfinger for playing (cash) $500."[3] Though the payment was not verified until the acquisition of an Allegheny Athletic Association expense ledger from the day by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, this fee has established Heffelfinger as being the first professional American football player on record. The Pittsburgh Athletic Club had previously offered him $250 to play for them in the game, but he felt the amount was not enough to jeopardize his amateur status.[4]

On November 12, 1892, Heffelfinger was paid $25 for his expenses and a bonus of $500 (far above and beyond even double his expenses) by the Allegheny Athletic Association to play in a game against the rival Pittsburgh Athletic Club. The game was played at Recreation Park, which was located on Pittsburgh's north shore. The spot is marked by a historic marker.[5] Although the payment for Heffelfinger's play was not published or admitted, his presence set off quite a controversy as Pittsburgh A.C. protested the presence of Heffelfinger and several other Chicago Athletic Association players in their line-up. Allegheny retaliated with the fact that Pittsburgh had imported players as well. The game ended in a 4–0 Allgheny win. Heffelfinger scored the game's only touchdown on a recovered fumble.[1]

The next week, Allegheny paid former Princeton tight end Ben "Sport" Donnelly $250 to play alongside Pudge against Washington & Jefferson College. Despite having two pros in their line-up, the Allegheny would go on to lose the game, 8–0.[6]

Coaching career


Heffelfinger took his first head football coaching job with the University of California, Berkeley for the 1893 football season and was the third person to be assigned to the post. His team achieved a record of 5 wins, 1 loss, and 1 tie.[7]


Heffelfinger was the third head football coach for Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and he held that position for the 1894 season. His overall coaching record at Lehigh was 5 wins, 9 losses, and 0 ties.[8]


Heffelfinger also coached the University of Minnesota football team in 1895. He led the team to a 7-3 record in his only season there. Highlights included victories over rivals University of Wisconsin–Madison and University of Chicago, outscoring their opponents 136 to 58 for the season.[9]

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall
California Golden Bears (Independent) (1893)
1893 California 5–1–1
California: 5–1–1
Lehigh Brown and White (Independent) (1894)
1894 Lehigh 5–9
Lehigh: 5–9
Minnesota Golden Gophers (Independent) (1895)
1895 Minnesota 7–3
Minnesota: 7–3
Total: 17–13–1


External links

  • College Football Hall of Fame
  • College Football Data Warehouse
  • "History: Pro Football's Birth Certificate," Pro Football Hall of Fame,
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