Leo Nomellini San Francisco 49ers
"I really like to play football. It’s tough and it’s hard and no pro football owners can pay a player enough for the punishment they take. You just have to like it—and I do.”
To many of his opponents, it must have seemed that Leo Nomellini was around an awfully long time. He was, too, for he didn't miss a game for the San Francisco 49ers from the day they first played in the NFL in 1950 until after the 1963 campaign, 14 long years later.
Leo played in 174 straight regular-season games and counting all appearances, including 10 Pro Bowl games, he played in 266 pro contests. Nomellini was an All-America tackle for two years at Minnesota and the number one draft choice of the 49ers in 1950.
The choice of Nomellini proved to be a superb one. At 6-3 and 260, "The Lion” had everything needed to be an all-time pro great – size, speed, agility, aggressiveness, dedication to the game, superb conditioning and the willingness to go the full 60 minutes of any game.
Nomellini was one of the few players ever to win All-NFL recognition both on offense and defense. Leo was named all-league at offensive tackle in 1951 and 1952, and then received All-NFL honors for his defensive line play in 1953, 1954, 1957, and 1959.
The status as an all-time pro grid great is a far cry from the impoverished days Leo knew as a youth. Born in Lucca, Italy, in 1924, Nomellini came to Chicago as an infant. Because he had to work to help support his family, Leo had to pass up high school football. So the first game he ever saw was one he played in, as a member of the Cherry Point, N.C., Marines team.
Later, at Minnesota, he was a starter in the first college game he ever saw. Freshmen were eligible then and it was the start of a brilliant four-year college career. Like a fine old wine, Leo improved with age during his long term with the 49ers. When he finally retired at 39 after 14 years of battering the enemy, Nomellini had been tagged "indestructible." It was a tag he had truly earned and appreciated.