Emlen Lewis Tunnell (1925-1975) was an American professional football player who is regarded as one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the National Football League (NFL). He was born on March 29, 1925, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Tunnell attended the University of Toledo and excelled as a football player. After college, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. Following his military service, Tunnell signed with the New York Giants in 1948, becoming the first African American player to join the team.
During his career, Tunnell primarily played as a safety and was known for his exceptional skills in intercepting passes. He had excellent speed, agility, and a keen understanding of the game. Tunnell was renowned for his ability to read quarterbacks and anticipate their throws, earning him the nickname “Offensive Defenseman.”
Tunnell had an illustrious career in the NFL. He played for the New York Giants from 1948 to 1958 and then for the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1961. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and was named an All-Pro six times. Tunnell led the league in interceptions in both 1949 and 1952 and set the NFL record for career interceptions (79) that stood for over four decades until it was surpassed in 2005.
Beyond his exceptional playing career, Tunnell also made history off the field. He was the first African American to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. Additionally, Tunnell became the first African American to be hired as a full-time assistant coach in the NFL when he joined the New York Giants coaching staff in 1963.
Tragically, Emlen Tunnell passed away on July 23, 1975, at the age of 50. He left a lasting legacy as a trailblazer for African American players in professional football and as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. Tunnell’s impact on the game is still recognized and celebrated today.