No. 20 Fran Nagle played for Montreal in the CFL before Johnny Rodgers did.
By Randy York
Fran Nagle, who had never played football until after he was a prisoner of war in World War II, died last Friday in Madison, Wis. His funeral and burial will be this Friday in Wisconsin’s Capital City. Nagle was 90, and if you’re a Husker football fan trying to connect the dots, understand this – he was best known as the quarterback who kept handing the ball off to legendary Husker All-America halfback Bobby Reynolds in 1949 and ’50.
Ironically, on the same day Nagle died, the Lincoln Journal Star used a quote from his account of Reynolds’ 33-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play against Missouri in 1950. “The whole thing took about five minutes,” Nagle recalled. “That was one for the books. There was never anything like it again.”
After some quick research on Nagle, there will never be another quarterback like he was, and let the record show that he was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1992. That means he did more than just hand the ball off to Reynolds so he could build a resume of dazzling touchdowns. Nagle was a solid athlete, too. He was, in fact, a decent passer and the All-Big Seven Conference quarterback in 1950. Nagle also has to be one of the few collegians who played in three postseason all-star games – the Senior Bowl, the College All-Star Game and the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Four-Year Starter with No Previous Experience
All of those accomplishments are impressive, but consider this: Nagle attended the University of Massachusetts-Fort Devans, and even though he’d never played football, he wound up the starting quarterback in 1947 and ’48. Then he followed his coach to Lincoln and started two years for the Huskers. Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, Nagle opted to play one season of pro football for the Montreal Alouettes before injuries and a desire to be closer to his family ended his athletic career.
A devout Christian, Nagle led an active, faithful and humble life, according to his obituaries published in the Lincoln and Madison newspapers. The father of 11 children, he made Madison his longtime home, teaching physiology for many years at the University of Wisconsin before co-founding and directeding the Bio-Dynamics Lab on UW’s campus, where he encouraged cardiac patients to enhance their recovery with exercise. Throughout the years, he also mentored graduate students.
Perhaps his full life, which included two years coaching football at Doane College, was the ultimate benefit before football entered the picture. After joining the Army Air Corps in WWII, Nagle’s plane was shot down during his first mission as a radio controller on a B24 Bomber. He was a prisoner for the last three months of the war, and his camp was liberated by General George Patton himself.
After reading that, you have to think handing the ball off to Bobby Reynolds was a smart and pretty safe strategy and one that I’m sure he would do all over again.
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