Sacramento Bee – March 30, 1954
By Marco Smolich
Leo Nomellini, all 252 pounds of him, pointed to a ruggedly handsome fellow, 24 years old, six feet two and 230 pounds.
“He was a successful amateur wrestler,” declared Leo, a rugged tackle for the San Francisco 49ers and a rough character when it comes to grunting, groaning and grappling.
“Give him a chance to learn the professional style and he’ll do all right.”
So spoke Nomellini about Art Michalik, a rookie standout in 1953 as a defensive guard for the San Francisco footballers.
Big Art was in the Memorial Auditorium dressing room last night prior to making his local debut as a wrestler. His opponent was to be Aldo Bogni, a mustachioed Argentinian, the villainous type about whom Michalik evidently knew little and cared less.
“This’ll be my 11th match as a pro,” said Art. “I plan to keep on wrestling when I’m not playing football. Sure, Nomellini’s success gave me the idea but I’ve always liked to wrestle.”
The sturdy American of Polish ancestry was quite a grappler for four years at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa. He was unbeaten, made all-conference and in 1951 finished third in the Amateur Athletic Union’s national tournament.
For one year, before joining the 49ers, he was stationed as a marine at Treasure Island, where he coached the wrestling squad.
“There, see what I mean,” interjected Nomellini, who was to appear in the tag team main event. “I’m telling you, let Art gain a little color in the ring and he and I will make up a fine tag combination.”
Regardless of his wrestling background, Michalik, like Leo, is known better for his work on the gridiron. The 49ers did not latch onto him until the 19th pick and the other clubs still are kicking themselves.
How come an athlete of Michalik’s potential turned up for his collegiate ball at St. Ambrose?
“Well, I could have gone to any one of several Big Ten schools, or UCLA, or Notre Dame,” remarked Art. “And there were others. I wanted to make sure I played right from the start, however, and at St. Ambrose there was no freshman rule so I got in four years of varsity experience.”
Art, who merited Little All-American recognition, did not attend classes just to carry his books. He was graduated with a major in physical education and a minor in psychology.
“I may study for my masters in the Bay Area,” he continued. “I like the West Coast. Chances are I’ll have my father, a police sergeant in Chicago, and mother move out here.”
Both Michalik and Nomellini hold high hopes for the 49ers next season.
“As far as I know the only man we’re sure of losing to the army is Fred Bruney, a safety,” observed Leo. “We’ll have ends Bill Jessup and Ed Henke and tackle Bob Toneff out of the service and halfback John Henry Johnson from the Canadian league. Those boys have proved themselves already.
“And we’ll ad some promising rookies. But I think a rookie will have a tough time making the club. If we pick up where we left off last year, we can take the championship.”
Nomellini is happy Arnie Weinmeister, formerly a tackle for the New York Giants, decided to cast his lot in Canada.
“He’s easily the toughest player I’ve faced,” said Leo.
Art’s idea of a really rough customer is Cleveland’s Frank Gatski, who figures to keep right on being troublesome.
“I’ll tell you something, though,” added Leo. “Sixty minutes of wrestling takes more out of me than 60 minutes of football.”
Anyway, after the wrestling wars, Nomellini and Michalik should need little work to be in shape for the 49ers game August 21 against the Washington Redskins at Hughes Stadium.