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RIP Bill Willis.
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Old 29 Nov 2007, 08:57 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default RIP Bill Willis.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cleveland Plain Dealer
Bill Willis dies
Posted by Mary Schmitt Boyer
November 28, 2007 19:23PM



Bill Willis, a Hall of Fame middle guard with the Browns who also was Ohio State's first black football All-American, died Tuesday evening from complications following a stroke suffered on Thanksgiving. He was 86.

"As great a football player as he was, he was three times as good a dad," his son Will Willis Jr. told The Columbus Dispatch.

Willis' speed and quickness revolutionized the position of middle guard. But, more significantly, he helped break the color barrier in professional football. Signed by Paul Brown in 1946, a year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Willis became the first African-American in the All-America Football Conference and was among the first in the modern era of professional football, along with teammate Marion Motley, who signed with the Browns shortly after Willis.

When Willis was inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, he asked Brown to present him.

"Paul, I am honored to have you to be my presenter today because, after all, that's the way it began 31 years ago," Willis said in his induction speech. "I have always said that Paul Brown changed my life. If it had not been for PB, I am certain I would not be here receiving this honor today. It was he who afforded me the opportunity to play pro football when it was not the popular thing to do. I was the first black to play in the All American [Football] Conference, and Paul arranged for me to play without fanfare. He simply gave me the opportunity to make that ballclub of his."


This picture is famous to me. It was on a poster my dad hung in his home office when I was a kid.

My mother and father watched him play when they were kids. He was the one of the first black professional athletes in America, his signing with the Browns predating Jackie Robinson's with the Dodgers.

I met Marion Motley, and the banquet I met him at, he was a featured speaker and had a couple of nice stories about Bill and himself. He also had a couple of jarring stories about Bill and himself. The two of them faced almost constant adversity back then, but if it wasn't for people like Bill Willis, the game would be much different.

Rest in peace Bill. You've earned it.

Late.
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Old 30 Nov 2007, 10:51 AM   #2 (permalink)
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This guy is always overlooked. RIP. Really set the benchmark and opened up a lot of doors. Long career, long life. We should all be so lucky.
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