As a researcher at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I find it really exciting when an interesting nugget of history pertaining to professional football is discovered. Part of the mission here at the Hall of Fame is to preserve the game’s history and we take a great deal of pride in doing that while we peel away the different layers of the sport’s past.
A few interesting tidbits came to light recently. The first really is not a discovery but more of reminder of a forgotten but important moment. It pertained to defensive back Don Doll (below) who played six seasons (1949-1954) in the National Football League with the Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Rams. He was actually one of the most effective defenders during his era as he racked up an incredible 41 interceptions (including three seasons in which he had double-digit picks) during his short career. The interesting note about him however occurred before his pro career. Let’s rewind a bit.
In 1944 Doll was a freshman phenom whose ball-carrying skills helped the University of Southern California to an undefeated season and a whipping of Tennessee in the 1945 Rose Bowl. Shortly after that victory, he was drafted into the United State Marine Corps where he found himself serving on the USS Missouri. It was while aboard that ship in Tokyo Bay that he stood witness to one of the greatest moments in world history, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender ceremony on Sept. 2, 1945 which ended World War II.
I recently visited Hawaii and had the chance to tour the USS Missouri. The retired vessel is now docked in Pearl Harbor and open for the public to tour. A plaque on the deck of the ship marks the spot where the ceremony took place. Check out my great photography.
After Doll’s’ honorable discharge he returned to Southern California in 1946 where he played out his college career before being drafted by Detroit in 1948. Doll had a long coaching career with several pro teams after his playing days were over. He passed away on September 22, 2010, a little more than 65 years after he witnessed that great moment on the Missouri.
Another interesting side note to NFL history I came across in recent days involves an NFL player who I would be surprised if anyone knew. His name is Harry Marker (photo below) and he played one game for the Pittsburgh Pirates (today known as the Steelers) in 1934. Marker was a defensive back out of West Virginia when Pirates owner Art Rooney signed him in ‘34. After his (very) short career Marker went on to a career in the Army where he served during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
Why is this significant? For many years it was believed that Colonel Ralph Heywood of the USMC, who played four seasons with the Detroit Lions, Boston Yanks and New York Bulldogs from 1946-49, was the only former NFL player to serve our country during all three of those conflicts. Well, new light has been shed on that fact. Special thanks go out to pro football historian David Neft who brought this to our attention. From this point on we will always note Marker’s service when we document the NFL’s impact and contributions during times of national crisis and military conflicts.
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