Legend has it that George Halas, the owner-founder of the Chicago Bears selected Colgate guard Danny Fortmann as his team’s ninth and final pick in the 1936 National Football League Draft because he liked his name. It was the league’s first draft and not nearly as sophisticated as today’s version.
On the surface, it appeared at first that Halas had made a mistake. At 6’ and weighing 210 pounds, Fortmann who was just 19 years old when he was drafted, appeared to be too small for line play in the NFL. A Phi Beta Kappa scholar, he definitely didn’t possess the usual credentials for someone who was supposed to knock down enemy ball carriers or lead the interference.
By the time his rookie season started, Danny had turned 20 but was still the youngest starter in the NFL. He had determination and talent, however, and soon was excelling as a little man in a big man's game.
On offense, he called signals for the linemen and was a battering-ram blocker. On defense, he was a genius at diagnosing enemy plays and a deadly tackler. For seven seasons, Fortmann and Chicago's No. 1 pick in the historic 1936 draft, tackle Joe Stydahar, were a formidable combination on the left side of the powerful Bears line.
The Bears were a dominant team during Fortmann's career. From 1936 to 1943, the “Monsters of the Midway” won three NFL championships and took divisional titles on two other occasions, and Fortmann was the top man at his position in pro football. He earned first- or second-team All-NFL honors all eight years of his career.
Typical of his hard work and desire to excel, Fortmann continued his education while playing for the Bears and graduated in 1940 from the University of Chicago Medical School.