Team's First Hall of Famers
Joe "The Jet" Perry and Leo "The Lion" Nomellini were the first alumni of the San Francisco 49ers to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Perry played pro football for 16 seasons and Nomellini for 14. They duo were teammates for 12 of those years.
Joe "The Jet" Perry
Perry, a fullback, first joined the 49ers in 1948, when that club was member of the All-America Football Conference. He stayed in San Francisco until 1961, when he was traded to the Baltimore Colts. Two years later, he was back by the Golden Gate for a final campaign in 1963.
Nomellini, on the other hand, was a tackle who excelled on either offense or defense. He was the 49ers first draft choice in their first NFL season in 1950. He never played with another team. During his long tenure wearing the Scarlet and Gold, Nomellini did not miss a game. Counting pre-season, regular-season and post-season games, including 10 Pro Bowl appearances, Leo played in 266 pro contests.
Beside the obvious fact that they were both great football players, Perry and Nomellini had at least one other thing in common - that is they almost didn't play football at all.
Perry actually embraced high school football on the sly for his mother had always vetoed the sport because of what she felt were the dangers involved. Eventually, his mother, seeing how badly Joe wanted to play, relented and soon became a staunch fan.
Joe attended Compton Junior College in California, where in his first season he scored 22 touchdowns. The next year he was in the U.S. Navy with the Alameda Naval Training Station team. There he was spotted by John Woudenberg, a 49ers tackle, who promptly reported his find to owner Tony Morabito and head coach Buck Shaw.
The 49ers did make Perry an offer and right from the start he was a regular and a star. He earned his famous nickname, "The Jet," when 49ers quarterback Frankie Albert marveled, "When that guy comes by to take a handoff, his slipstream darn near knocks you over. He's strictly jet-propelled."
In 16 years, Perry rushed for 9,723 yards, second only to Jim Brown at the time of his retirement. He became the first-ever to rush for 1,000 yards two straight seasons in 1953 and 1954. He also caught 260 passes for another 2,021 yards and scored 513 points in his story-book career.
Leo "The Lion" Nomellini
In Nomellini's case, recognition as an all-time pro football great is a far cry from the impoverished days Leo knew as a youth. Born in Lucca, Italy, in 1924, Leo came to Chicago's tough west side as an infant. He attended Chicago's Crane Tech but had to pass up sports so that he could work a full shift in a foundry to help support his family.
Leo eventually enlisted in the Marines and it was then that he got his first taste of football as a member of the Cherry Point, N.C. Leatherneck team. When his Marine days were over, the University of Minnesota offered him a football scholarship. He went on to become a two-time All-America pick at tackle.
With the 49ers Nomellini became one of the few players ever to be named all-pro on both offense and defense. He won offensive tackle honors in 1951 and 1952 and defensive tackle laurels in 1957 and 1959.
In action, Nomellini was one of the best pass rushers in the NFL and it wasn't often that the enemy penetrated his area on the ground. Yet on offense, he was a fine pass blocker and adept at opening holes in the opposition line. In 1955, when injuries created a severe crisis on the 49er squad, Nomellini played on both sides of the line, accumulating nearly 60 minutes in every game.
For the 49ers, Joe Perry and Leo Nomellini were the perfect pair. The Lion justifiably earned the tag of "indestructible" while The Jet was considered virtually "unstoppable."
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