A superstar professional football player and wrestler, Leo Joseph Nomellini was born on June
19, 1924 and attended Chicago Crane Technical High School. He shined as a college
athlete at the University of Minnesota (1946-'49). He was drafted in the first round of the
1950 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers, and played 14 seasons (174 games) as a
defensive tackle. In 1969, he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, and in 1977, he went
into the College Football Hall of Fame. He stood 6'3" and weighed around 250-270 pounds.
Leo Nomellini was a famous University of Minnesota Football Star and San Francisco
49er. He served in the Marine Corps and achieved the rank of sergeant. Promoters lured
him into the ring, ready to seize Nomellini’s size and strength, and he was an immediate
superstar in Northern California. Later, officials signed him in a match with the World’s
Champion, Lou Thesz, a bout in which he won by disqualification and walked away with the
NWA Crown. Although it was reversed, Nomellini and that decision would always be
The night was Tuesday, March 22, 1955 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Nomellini
challenged Thesz. He shocked the world and made national wires as he beat the champ and
won the championship. The third fall was captured via disqualification after the first and
second were split. An estimated 13,000 fans watched referee Mike Mazurki hand over the
title. Officials of the Alliance decided that the title could not change hands on a
disqualification and the decision was void. Thesz remained tops. Nomellini continued to
wrestle and captured numerous championships on the west coast.
In honoring his football talents, Nomellini was both elected to the National Football
League Hall of Fame in 1969 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977. After retiring
from active competition, Nomellini became a promoter in Northern California and worked with
the American Wrestling Association out of Minnesota. Nomellini refereed an AWA World Title
match in Minneapolis on February 4, 1988 at the Auditorium between Curt Hennig and Greg
Gagne. Gagne beat Hennig in a cage match to capture the World Title. The AWA was
broken into pieces after the match as some promoters recognized the switch and some didn’
t. It was a controversial situation.
Nomellini died on October 17, 2000 in San Francisco of a stroke. News of his passing
was released across the Associated Press wire.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Leo Nomellini Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling