William Heffelfinger

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William Heffelfinger
Pudge heffelfinger.jpg
Heffelfinger at Yale
Date of birth (1867-12-20)December 20, 1867
Place of birth Minneapolis
Date of death April 2, 1954(1954-04-02) (aged 86)
Place of death Blessing, Texas
Career information
Position(s) Guard
Height 6 ft 4 in (193 cm)
Weight 178 lb (81 kg)
College Yale
Career history
As coach
1893 California
1894 Lehigh
1895 Minnesota
As player
1892 Chicago Athletic Association
1892 Allegheny Athletic Association
Career highlights and awards

William Walter "Pudge" Heffelfinger (December 20, 1867 – April 2, 1954) was an American football player and coach. He is considered the first athlete to play football professionally, having been paid to play in 1892.[1]

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Playing career[edit]

Heffelfinger, a three-time All-American, played for Walter Camp at Yale College in 1888, 1889, 1890, and 1891.[1] He then played amateur football for the Chicago Athletic Association (for which he was compensated with "double expenses", as was a common practice at the time).

First professional football player[edit]

In 1895, teenage football star and college-bound player John Brallier was paid $10 to play a game for the Latrobe Athletic Association, making him the first publicly acknowledged professional American football player. It would be more than half a century before college graduate Heffelfinger would be recognized for being secretly paid $500 to play a football game in 1892.

In the 1960s a man known only as "Nelson Ross" walked into the office of Art Rooney, the president of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League. After a brief discussion, the man gave Rooney a typed, 49-page manuscript about the early history of pro football. Ross' examination of Pittsburgh newspapers indicated that the first pro American football player actually was Pudge Heffelfinger, an all-American guard from Yale, who was hired to play for Allegheny on November 12, 1892 for $500 ($13.2 thousand in 2016 dollars[2]). The Pro Football Hall of Fame soon discovered a page torn from an 1892 account ledger prepared by Allegheny manager, O. D. Thompson, that included the line item: "Game performance bonus to W. Heffelfinger for playing (cash) $500."[3] Though the payment was not verified until the acquisition of an Allegheny Athletic Association expense ledger from the day by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, this fee established Heffelfinger as being the first professional American football player on record. The Pittsburgh Athletic Club had previously offered him $250 to play for them in the game, but he felt the amount was not enough to jeopardize his amateur status.[4]

On November 12, 1892, Heffelfinger was paid $25 for his expenses and a bonus of $500 (far above and beyond even double his expenses) by the Allegheny Athletic Association to play in a game against the rival Pittsburgh Athletic Club. The game was played at Recreation Park, which was located on Pittsburgh's north shore. The spot is marked by a historic marker.[5] Although the payment for Heffelfinger's play was not published or admitted at the time, his presence set off quite a controversy as Pittsburgh A.C. protested the presence of Heffelfinger and several other Chicago Athletic Association players in their line-up. Allegheny retaliated with the fact that Pittsburgh had imported players as well. The game ended in a 4–0 Allegheny win. Heffelfinger scored the game's only touchdown on a recovered fumble. A touchdown was only worth four points at the time.[1][6]

The next week, Allegheny paid former Princeton end Ben "Sport" Donnelly $250 to play alongside Pudge against Washington & Jefferson College. Despite having two pros in their line-up, the Allegheny would go on to lose the game, 8–0.[7]

Coaching career[edit]


Heffelfinger took his first head football coaching job with the University of California, Berkeley for the 1893 football season and was the third person to be assigned to the post. His team achieved a record of 5 wins, 1 loss, and 1 tie.[8]


Heffelfinger was the third head football coach for Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and he held that position for the 1894 season. His overall coaching record at Lehigh was 5 wins, 9 losses, and 0 ties.[8]


Heffelfinger also coached the University of Minnesota football team in 1895. He led the team to a 7-3 record in his only season there.[8] Highlights included victories over rivals University of Wisconsin–Madison and University of Chicago, outscoring their opponents 136 to 58 for the season.[9]

Head coaching record[edit]

Year Team Overall
California Golden Bears (Independent) (1893)
1893 California 5–1–1
California: 5–1–1
Lehigh Brown and White (Independent) (1894)
1894 Lehigh 5–9
Lehigh: 5–9
Minnesota Golden Gophers (Independent) (1895)
1895 Minnesota 7–3
Minnesota: 7–3
Total: 17–13–1


  1. ^ a b c Names, Larry D (1987). "The Myth". In Scott, Greg. The History of the Green Bay Packers: The Lambeau Years. 1. Angel Press of WI. pp. 24–25. ISBN 0-939995-00-X. 
  2. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved October 21, 2016. 
  3. ^ "NFL History by Decade, 1869–1910". NFL.com. Retrieved November 12, 2014. 
  4. ^ "History: Birth of Pro Football". Pro Football Hall of Fame. February 7, 2010. Retrieved November 12, 2012. 
  5. ^ "First Professional Football Game Historical Marker". ExplorePAHistory.com. Retrieved November 12, 2014. 
  6. ^ "History: Pro Football's Birth Certificate". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved November 12, 2014. 
  7. ^ PFRA Research. "Five Hundred Reasons" (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved November 12, 2014.  Originally published in Carroll and Braunwart, Pro Football, from AAA to '03: The Origin and Development of Professional Football in Western Pennsylvania, 1890-1903 (1991) from PFRA.
  8. ^ a b c Grasso, John (2013). Historical Dictionary of Football. Scarecrow Press. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-8108-7857-0. 
  9. ^ DeLassus, David. "Coaching Records Game by Game: Heffelfinger, 1895". College Football Data Warehouse. Retrieved November 12, 2014. 

External links[edit]