Emlen Tunnell: NFL Hall of Famer and All-Around Nice Guy

The Radnor High School grad broke through the NFL’s color barrier—and everything he knew about life, he learned in Garrett Hill.

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Emlen Tunnell in his NFL heyday.If our life course is set in childhood, then the pro football career of Emlen Tunnell was probably made in Garrett Hill, a “Huckleberry Finn kind of town” where everyone knew your name and got along.

“We had never heard of the word ‘integrated’ in those days. We all just lived together—Italians, Irish, Germans, English, Negroes and just about everyone else,” wrote Tunnell—the first black player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame—in his 1966 autobiography.

That nurturing background set the pattern for an amiable man who disarmed others with his personality, then wowed them with his skill. “I’m not mad at everybody,” he wrote in the era of civilrights marches, Vietnam protests and assassinations. “I’m hardly mad at anybody. Some of my friends tell me that I like guys nobody else likes. That may be true in a few cases. I look for the good in people, and I’ve found it in them most of the time.”

Tunnell played defensive positions, which, in theory, made him less likely to be a star than, say, a quarterback. But he made the most of it. In 1952, he gained more yards on kickoff, punt and interception returns (924) than that season’s NFL rushing leader (894 yards). He retired in 1961 with 79 interceptions.

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