Emlen “The Gremlin” Tunnell of Pennsylvania was the first black and first defensive player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. He was known as one of the greatest defensive backs in the history of the game.
Like all the best players of his era, Tunnell suffered through severe injuries, including a broken neck in 1942 that could’ve ended his career – and his life. The injury was so severe, Tunnell awoke the next day with a Catholic priest by his bed, issuing last rites. He wore a neck brace for a year.
Once he recovered, Tunnell put his energy into playing basketball for his alma mater, University of Toledo, and was key in helping them reach the National Invitationals Tournament. Only a few years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard to serve in World War II; this was after the Army and Navy rejected his enlistment because of his past neck injury.
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