A Hulking Presence

Clayton Tonnemaker is a forgotten star from the 1950s. A combination center/linebacker, Tonnemaker was an All-American at Minnesota, where he played with Bud Grant and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1949.

The fourth overall pick of the 1950 draft, Tonnemaker joined the Packers in 1950. In Green Bay he played mostly left linebacker in the team’s 5-2 defense, but switched to the middle when the Packers went to the 4-3 at times. After a rookie season in which he went to the Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro, Clayton was drafted into the army in 1951. He served two years in Japan as part of the Medical Services Corp and also captained the Army’s All-Star football team.

When Tonnemaker returned to Green Bay in 1953, Ollie Kuechle wrote in the Milwaukee Journal, “Not since Don Hutson broke in with the Packers in 1935, unless it be Howton last year, has any man made such an impression in his first year of play as the 240-pound Minnesota muscle man in 1950. As line backer of Ronzani’s first team, Tonnemaker roved behind a five- man line like a club-swinging cop keeping order at a first graders’ picnic. His hulking presence alone, which was coupled with speed and grace when he moved, scared you.” Sportswriters don’t write purple prose like that anymore.

From what I’ve seen on film, Tonnemaker did present a hulking presence and was very stout at the point of attack, however, he also appeared heavy-legged and did not have the speed to be very effective in pass coverage.

Tonnemaker played just two more years in Green Bay and drew All-Pro notice both years, but knee problems shortened his career. Bud Lea wrote in the Milwaukee Sentinel in December 1954 following the season finale against the Rams, “Most disturbing was Clayton Tonnemaker getting a real going over while playing with badly crippled knees. In fact, Tonnemaker was hinting after the game that this was his last season.”

(adapted from my forthcoming book Green Bay Gold)

1953 and 1954 colorized mashup custom cards…

1953bctonnemaker 1954bctonnemaker

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