Remembering "Bullet" Bill Dudley: The Greatest Virginia Cavalier of All Time

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IApril 11, 2017

They just don't make them like this anymore.

"Bullet" Bill Dudley, a Cavalier legend, an NFL Hall of Famer, and an icon to the Commonwealth of Virginia, died this morning at age 88 from a short-term illness.

While Dudley played generations ago, his mark is still felt in Virginia. Every year the Dudley award is given to the top football player in the state, an honor since 1990.

The Bullet did absolutely everything in his career. After being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dudley led the league in rushing as a rookie.

Then he went off to serve in World War II, defending his country and leaving the gridiron behind for possible death and dismemberment in the name of honor and country.

When he returned to the Steelers in 1946, he picked up right where he left off. Dudley led the league in rushing yards, punt returns, and interceptions, earning him NFL MVP honor that year.

The Hall of Famer in both college and the NFL finished his professional career with over 3,000 rushing yards, nearly 1,500 return yards, 23 interceptions, and 33 field goals made.

However, Dudley's mark on professional football simply is not the same as the mark he made on the University of Virginia. He is, without question, the greatest Cavalier football player of all time.

At the time Virginia was beginning to pick up steam with its football program. Coach Frank Murray was looking for a program-defining player to catapult the Cavaliers into the national spotlight.

Of all the candidates, "The Bluefield Bullet" was probably near the bottom of everyone's list entering the 1939 season. The 150-lb., 16-year-old freshman began the year seventh on the depth chart.  

Yet after injuries throughout the season whittled down the candidates, Dudley got his chance on the biggest stage, against the Navy Midshipmen.

Despite losing 14-12, Dudley had two big plays, including a 45-yard touchdown that had the coaching staff convinced they had found their future.

The Bullet Train took a while to pick up steam, but by his junior year, everyone was on board.

As a junior, Dudley earned third-team All-American honors and had the most yards of anyone in the South, second in the country.

In 1941, Dudley was an All-American and led the Cavaliers to an 8-1 season—perhaps the greatest season in the history of Virginia football.

Just as important, Dudley fulfilled Coach Murray's goal of making Virginia relevant on a national scale. Before the entire country on Thanksgiving weekend, Dudley's final game was against archrival North Carolina.

Despite not beating the Tar Heels in the past 14 years, Dudley singlehandedly brought the Cavaliers to victory 28-7. Not only did he run it in three times, but he also threw the passing touchdown and knocked in all four extra points.

No wonder he was an All-American.

As Chauncey Durden of the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote of the game: "He came, they saw, he conquered."

Dudley is a legend, so to imagine that the mythic hero is actually human comes as somewhat a shock to Virginia fans today as they mourn a transcendent figure. 

While his career may be long over and the game has long since changed, Dudley's memory will stay in the hearts of Cavalier fans as they move forward in a new era. 

As they try to move forward and reclaim the glory Dudley brought them so many years ago, they can take pride in knowing that there's one more Wahoo in heaven.

All aboard!