BILL WILLIS

BILL WILLIS

Class of 1977
Middle Guard >>> 6-2, 213
(Ohio State)
1946-1953 Cleveland Browns (AAFC/NFL)

William Karnet Willis ... All-American tackle at Ohio State ... Played two ways, but excelled as defensive middle guard ... Lightning quickness his constant trademark that earned him job in first pro scrimmage ... Touchdown-saving tackle against Giants preserved Browns' 1950 NFL title drive ... All-AAFC three years ... All-NFL, 1950-1953 ... In three NFL Pro Bowls ... Born October 5, 1921, in Columbus, Ohio ... Died November 27, 2007, at age of 86.

Bill Willis, at 6-2 and 210 pounds, was small by pro football standards in 1946, yet he performed in a class by himself, particularly on defense. In the eight years he played for the Cleveland Browns from 1946 through 1953, he was a first-team All-League selection seven times and a second-team choice once. He also played in three NFL Pro Bowls.

Bill, an African American, came to his first pro training camp as a comparatively small man seeking a job in a big man's sport that had, for about 15 years, been a whites only game. Lined up as the middle man on a five-man defensive front, Bill overwhelmed the center four straight times, each time crashing into quarterback Otto Graham.

Bill's charge was so quick that the coaches felt he had to be offside. But head coach Paul Brown, who had coached Bill at Ohio State, made a personal check and found that his recruit hadn't been offside at all, just exceptionally fast and agile in his defensive charge. That very night, Brown signed Willis to his first pro contract, helping to permanently break pro football’s “color barrier” a full year in advance of Jackie Robinson doing the same in major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Bill played both offense and defense for the Browns but it was at the middle guard position that he earned lasting admiration and acclaim. Lightning quickness was his constant trademark but opponents remember he was a solid blocker and devastating tackler as well. It was Bill’s touchdown-saving tackle in a playoff game against the New York Giants that enabled the Browns to continue their quest for the 1950 championship their first year in the NFL after four dominating seasons in the All-America Football Conference.

Year Team G
1946 (AAFC) Cleveland Browns 13
1947 (AAFC) Cleveland Browns 13
1948 (AAFC) Cleveland Browns 14
1949 (AAFC) Cleveland Browns 12
1950 Cleveland Browns 12
1951 Cleveland Browns 12
1952 Cleveland Browns 12
1953 Cleveland Browns 11
AAFC Total   52
NFL Total   47
Career Total   99
Additional Career Statistics: AAFC – Interceptions: 1-6
 

 

Championship Games

1946 AAFC – Cleveland Brown 14, New York Yankees 9
Willis played in this game. No statistical data available.

1947 AAFC – Cleveland Browns 14, New York Yankees 3
Willis started at right guard. No statistical data available.

1948 AAFC – Cleveland Browns 49, Buffalo Bills 7
Willis played in this game. No statistical data available.

1949 AAFC – Cleveland Browns 21, San Francisco 49ers 7
Willis played in this game. No statistical data available.

1950 NFL – Cleveland Browns 30, Los Angeles Rams 28
Willis started at right guard. No statistical data available.

1951 NFL – Los Angeles Rams 24, Cleveland Browns 17
Willis played in this game. No statistical data available.

1952 NFL – Detroit Lions 17, Cleveland Browns 7
Willis played in this game. No statistical data available.

1953 NFL – Detroit Lions 17, Cleveland Browns 16
Willis played in this game. No statistical data available.

All-Pro: 1946 (HA)

All-Pro Second Team: 1948 (AP, SN)

All-AAFC: 1946 (OA), 1947 (OA), 1948 (UPI, NY, OA)

All-AAFC Second Team: 1949 (UPI, NY, OA)

All-NFL: 1950 (UPI, NY), 1951 (AP, UPI, NY), 1952 (AP, NY), 1953 (AP)

All-NFL Second Team: 1952 (UPI), 1953 (UPI)

(3) – 1951, 1952, 1953

• 1940’s All-Decade Team

Year Team W L T Division Finish
1946 Cleveland Browns 12 2 0 (1st)
1947 Cleveland Browns 12 1 1 (1st)
1948 Cleveland Browns 14 0 0 (1st)
1949 Cleveland Browns 9 1 2 (1st)
1950 Cleveland Browns 10 2 0 (1st)
1951 Cleveland Browns 11 1 0 (1st)
1952 Cleveland Browns 8 4 0 (1st)
1953 Cleveland Browns 11 1 0 (1st)

Full Name: William Karnet Willis

Birthdate: October 5, 1921

Birthplace: Columbus, Ohio

High School: East (Columbus, OH)

Died: November 27, 2007 at Columbus, Ohio

Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: January 8, 1977

Enshrined into Pro Football Hall of Fame: July 30, 1977

Presenter: Paul Brown, Hall of Fame coach

Other Members of the Class of 1977: Frank Gifford, Forrest Gregg, Gale Sayers, Bart Starr

Pro Career: 8 Seasons, 99 Games

Drafted: Not drafted. Signed as a free agent in 1946 by Cleveland Browns

Uniform Number: #30 (also wore #45 and #60 briefly)

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