Washington Post – September 11, 1937
By Shirley Povich
At first blush you felt just a trifle sorry for the great hulk of a guy who was up on his feet, toying with his unused soup spoon and a stray fork as he tried to find words to acknowledge the luncheon in his honor. Bronko Nagurski, you guessed, would a thousand times rather be lugging his 230 pounds and a football through the walls of the place.
The embarrassment that was written across his features as he heard himself introduced before the Touchdown Club and the Minnesota State Society at the Harrington Hotel was something to see. A tinge of red crept around the tips of his ears as he heard himself described as Minnesota’s greatest football immortal, and he had squirmed uncomfortably in his chair as a succession of speakers hailed him as the wrestling champion of the world.
And so his appearance was utterly disarming when, at long last, he raised himself to his feet and began haltingly to say that he appreciated all this. There was something plaintive about it as he made excuses for his speechmaking and then — he drew down the house!
“Ya know,” said Bronko, “it’s nice to be in Washington. Wrestling has taken me into most of the big cities in the country, but I can truthfully say, honest, that I have met more friends of mine — more Minnesotans — in Washington than in any other town I’ve been.
“There must be some easy money here.”
The Bronko, who was once described as the only fullback who ran interference for himself, revealed that he had been wrestling so steadily he needed a vacation. He said he was going to take a nice, long rest this fall — by playing professional football with the Chicago Bears.
Of course, the fact that Nagurski is now recognized as the world’s wrestling champion in most places didn’t prove a drawback in his 1937 contract negotiations with the Chicago Bears. He wangled a salary out of ’em that is exactly double what he was paid in 1936 when he already was tops among the gridiron mercenaries.
He was telling the folks after the food had been stowed away how it was quite by accident that he broke into the rassling racket — an accident to his manager, Tony Stecher, who dug Bronko up out of a gymnasium at one of the amateur clubs in Minneapolis, back in ’33. But Stecher finished the story.
“Guys around Minneapolis were telling me that Bronko could wrestle, but they were always tipping me off about this or that football player who couldn’t get out of his own way on the mat. But I kept hearing these stories about Nagurski until I got downright curious about him.
“I used to wrestle myself, when I wasn’t managing my brother, Joe Stecher, who was world’s champion twice. I was a pretty good middleweight in my day and was still working at it when I hunted up Nagurski in the gym of that amateur club. Thought I’d work out with him and see what he had. We went at it for five minutes and I signed him to a contract right then and there.”
Only five minutes?
“Yeah, that Bronko broke a couple of my holds like there was nobody else in the ring but him. Then he picked me up, banged me on the floor with a body slam, broke two of my ribs and put me in the hospital for three weeks. I figured anybody who could do that to me was going to go pretty far in this business.”