Emlen Tunnell (1959-1961)

Emlen Tunnell Football Card


  • Born: March 29th, 1924 – Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
  • Death: July 23rd, 1975 – Pleasantville, New York
  • Position: Defensive Back, Safety
  • Years Active: New York Giants (1948-1958), Green Bay Packers (1959-1961)
  • College: University of Toledo, University of Iowa
  • Professional Football Hall of Fame Induction: 1967


Emlen Tunnell was a defensive back in the NFL for 12 years and in that time had won two championships, made the pro bowl 9 times, and among many more achievements still holds the record for second most interceptions of all time. Tunnell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February of 1967 and was the first African American to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Tunnell was an incredible player and extremely talented, and while he was all of these things, there were different ways that society treated him that he had to overcome.

During his time in college, Tunnell played offense as well as defense. While at the University of Toledo, Tunnell was an offensive halfback for the Toledo Rockets Football team. At that time, Tunnell was known as the “mainspring” of the Toledo offense. About mid-season in 1942, Tunnell suffered a broken neck during a game. Tunnell would later move on and enlist in the Coast Guard and after that, he would enroll at the University of Iowa. Tunnell enrolled at the University of Iowa in the fall of 1946. While playing for the Iowa football team, Tunnell led the team in total yards of offense and was second on the team in rushing yards. In his second year in Iowa, Tunnell set the Iowa single-game record with 155 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on just 6 receptions. Tunnell would have to leave Iowa due to his inability to afford to pay for school.

In 1948, Tunnell signed with the New York Giants and was the first African American to be signed and play for the Giants. Living in New York wasn’t that strange but an African American moving to Green Bay, Wisconsin was much more unusual. Green Bay at the time had almost no African Americans living in the city and Tunnell was one of the only African American players on the Packers. So after playing for the Giants for 10 years, Tunnel moved on to play in the small town of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The new coach for the Packers at the time, Vince Lombardi, was familiar with Tunnell’s talent due to his previous time as the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants. When Lombardi arrived in Green Bay, he knew that one of the players that he wanted that he knew could help the team was Emlen Tunnell. While Tunnell was extremely talented, he was nearing the end of his playing career at the time he joined the Packers. This, however, does not mean that Tunnell did not help the team. Tunnell was instrumental in solidifying the Packers defense by adding strong veteran leadership and much-needed experience. Tunnell also became the unofficial pastor for the team. Tunnell wasn’t completely happy with the amount of playing time that he was receiving with the Packers, however, Tunnell made the most of his time.

From the year 1943 to 1946, Tunnell served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He tried to serve in the Army and Navy but was rejected due to a severe neck injury that he suffered the year previous in college. Tunnell was a hero in his short time in the Coast Guard and received the Silver Lifesaving Medal for rescuing a shipmate from flames during a torpedo attack in 1944 and also for rescuing another shipmate who fell into the sea in 1946. Tunnell also played football for the Coast Guard’s football team. Tunnell was discharged from the Coast Guard in April of 1946.

Did you know Emlen Tunnell was the first African American inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame?