Emlen Tunnell: Pioneer and One Tough SOB

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Emlen Tunnell: Pioneer and One Tough SOB
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In the hectic world that is the National Football league, we spend more time looking forward than we do back. But with the NFL Draft still about seven weeks away, I thought it might be time to take a break, look back, and appreciate a true giant among men, Emlen Tunnell .

As a long-time Giants fan who greatly appreciates the history of the organization, I was relatively familiar with Emlen Tunnell. I knew he was a talented safety for the team in late 40s through the late 50s and I knew he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. I also knew he went on to become a scout and ultimately an assistant coach for Big Blue, but what I didn’t know would be unearthed while simply searching through some statistics.

Born on March 29th, 1925, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Tunnell was one of four children. It wasn’t until he began attending high school at Radnor Township that his parents, Elzie and Catherine, realized he had a gift.

Tunnell became an all-sports star. He seemingly excelled at everything he did and promptly earned himself an athletic scholarship to the University of Toledo in Ohio where he took the field as his team's tailback.

Unfortunately, Tunnell’s athletic career, and his life, almost ended just as quickly as it had begun.

During a game in the fall of 1942, at the age of 17, Tunnell went down with a devastating injury…a broken neck. The injury was so severe that he awoke the following day to a Catholic priest in his room, administering the Last Rites.

Tunnell would persevere, however, returning to sports after nearly a year of wearing a neck brace. And although he was warned that football should no longer be in consideration, it wouldn’t take long before he found peace on that beautiful green grass once again.

That place of peace and green, green grass? Well…let’s just say it wasn’t exactly something many people would refer to as relaxing or peaceful.

After being turned down by both the Army and the Navy because of his previously broken neck, Tunnell found a home in the Coast Guard. And as I mentioned above, it’s where he found his way back to football.

After only a single season, Tunnell was named to the United Press Pacific Coast All-Service team. It was a testament to not only his heart and determination, but the ability to adapt and overcome all odds. And it was just the beginning of what would be one of the great careers and stories of all time.

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