Leo Nomellini: The 49ers’ First great draft pick
First ever pick in franchise history: Nomellini
With the eleventh overall pick in the 1950 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected Leo Nomellini. An Italian-American immigrant that came from humble beginnings in Lucca, Tuscany, Italy in the year 1924. He moved at a relatively young age to America with his family where they lived in Minnesota, before moving to Chicago, Illinois, attending Crane High School. After graduating high school, he joined the Marine Corps and fell in love with the game of football by the age of 18.
After being a part of World War II, he was given a football scholarship to play at the University of Minnesota where he played both offensive and defensive tackle. He earned two All-American selections during college before going to the pros.
Nomellini would be selected by the 49ers, where he played in the same positions as he did in college and achieved ten pro bowls and nine all-pro selections. He was granted to the 1950’s All-Decade Team, as well as the NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
His love for the sport kept him around for 14 seasons. When asked about his love for the game he said,
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.
Life after football
Nomellini would later go on the NWA San Francisco wrestling circuit. He went under the moniker of, “Leo ‘The Lion’ Nomellini,” where he went on to win ten tag team championships. Nomellini would then continue the Minnesota wrestling circuit, where he had yet another successful career as a tag team champion. His final championship win was on May 23, 1961, when he and Wilbur Snyder defeated Gene Kiniski and Hard Boiled Haggerty for the AWA tag team championship.
He passed away on October 17, 2000, after suffering a stroke.