The University of Minnesota has produced five Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Impressive, but the Golden Gophers have an even more impressive record on the sideline. Minnesota has produced three Hall of Fame coaches, two in pro football and one in college – Bud Grant and Tony Dungy in pro football and Bud Wilkinson in the college game. The Golden Gophers also produced Phil Bengston, who succeeded Vince Lombardi as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
Wilkinson played tackle at Minnesota and became the ninth overall pick of the 1937 draft by the New York Giants. Grant played end for the Gophers and became the 14th overall pick of the 1949 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Dungy played quarterback but went undrafted and signed as a college free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1977 to play safety. Bengston was an All-America tackle who graduated in 1935 – two years before the first NFL draft.
Wilkinson won three national championships coaching the University of Oklahoma and Dungy won the Super Bowls both as a player with the Steelers and as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Grant won an NFL title with Minnesota in 1969 and took the Vikings to four Super Bowls.
Dungy is an interesting story as a player. He left Minnesota as the Big Ten’s all-time total offense leader but the NFL had not warmed to the idea of African-American quarterbacks then. So his only opportunity was on the defensive side of the ball.
Dungy led Pittsburgh with six interceptions in 1978, helping the Steelers win their third Super Bowl of the decade. Ironically, Dungy did throw eight passes for the Steelers in a 1977 game when injuries to Terry Bradshaw and Mike Kruczek forced him to take the snaps as the team’s emergency quarterback.
That prejudice against African-American quarterbacks also hurt Sandy Stephens. He took the Gophers to a national championship in 1961 and also delivered the school’s only Rose Bowl victory that season. He was both the Rose Bowl and Big Ten MVP. Stephens became the first black quarterback to earn All-America honors and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
The New York Jets took Stephens with the fifth overall pick of the 1962 AFL draft and the Cleveland Browns took him 25th overall in the NFL draft. But both teams told him he could not play quarterback in their leagues. Stephens would have to move to either wide receiver or defensive back. So he signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL where he would be allowed to play quarterback. He has since been enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Both would have been quarterbacks in today’s NFL. Dungy offered a similar skill set to Russell Wilson and Stephens had the arm and mobility of a Donovan McNabb. Because of the professional slights at their positions, Minnesota comes up a bit short at the quarterback position on its all-time NFL team.
The only quarterback the Golden Gophers have ever produced to win a start in the NFL was Mike Hohensee, who won twice as a replacement quarterback for the Chicago Bears during the 1987 player strike.
Here’s the all-time University of Minnesota NFL team:
QB — Mike Hohensee, Only Gopher QB to win an NFL start
HB — Marion Barber Pro Bowl, 7 seasons, 59 touchdowns
FB — Bronko Nagurski, Hall of Fame
WR — Gino Cappelletti, 5 Pro Bowls, AFL’s all-time leading scorer
WR — Eric Decker, 8 seasons, 53 touchdowns
TE — Charlie Sanders, Hall of Fame
T — Matt Herkenhoff, 10 seasons, 122 starts
T — Frank Youso, 8 seasons, 80 starts
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G — Gale Gillingham, 5 Pro Bowls, 10 seasons, 115 starts
G — Milt Sunde, Pro Bowl, 11 seasons, 112 starts
C — Brian Williams9 seasons, 62 starts
DE — Carl Eller, Hall of Fame
DE — Aaron Brown, 8 seasons, 57 sacks, Super Bowl champion
DT — Leo Nomellini, Hall of Fame
DT — Anthony Montgomery, 4 seasons, 22 starts
OLB — Bobby Bell, Hall of Fame
MLB — Karl Mecklenburg, 6 Pro Bowls, 79 sacks
* -OLB — De’Vondre Campbell, 2021 first-team all-pro
CB — Wilbur Moore, Pro Bowl, 8 seasons (1940s), 13 INTs
CB — Andy Uram, Pro Bowl, 6 seasons (1940s), 9 INTs
* -S — Antoine Winfield, Jr., Pro Bowl, Super Bowl champion
S — Tyrone Carter, 11 seasons, 9 interceptions
K — Chip Lohmiller, Pro Bowl, NFL’s 78th all-time scorer
KR — Rick Upchurch, 1970s NFL all-decade team
ST — Marcus Sherels110 career tackles
LS — Derek Rackley, 8 seasons with Atlanta, Seattle
* -Still active