The University of Nevada will commemorate the 40th anniversary of former Wolf Pack star Marion Motley’s induction into the Professional Football Hall of Fame during the 2008 football season, the university announced Aug. 29.
This season, Nevada will put Motley's image on the scoreboard at Mackay Stadium, honor his legacy at the Wolf Pack’s Nov. 22 football game vs. Boise State and put together a series of features on Motley on its official website, Nevada Wolf Pack, to share his story with Wolf Pack fans and honor the legacy that Motley left on the Wolf Pack and professional football. Bully’s Sports Bar and Grill has also renamed a menu item the "Motley Burger" as part of the tribute to Motley, who is widely regarded as one of the best players in the history of football.
“Marion Motley is truly one of the best players not only in the history of Nevada football but in the history of the sport, and his legacy reaches far beyond his accomplishments on the playing field,” Nevada Director of Athletics Cary Groth said. “By commemorating the 40th anniversary of Motley’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we can share his story with many fans who may not be aware that the ground-breaking path he took toward ending segregation in professional football and achieving the sport’s highest honor started here at the University of Nevada.”
“Motley’s heroics on the football field are well-chronicled. But his impact off the field is, in many ways, more important,” said Paul Mitchell, recruitment and retention coordinator at Nevada’s Reynolds School of Journalism and a member of the committee working to honor Motley’s legacy. “He was living in the era of segregation in an area that had a reputation as not being particularly inviting to African-Americans that was dubbed the ‘Mississippi of the West.’ He paved the way for African-American students, African-American administrators and African-American faculty on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. I am, we are, forever in his debt."
A native of Canton, Ohio, Motley came to the University of Nevada in 1940 where he quickly established himself as a star. He broke into the starting lineup at fullback and linebacker and played for the Wolf Pack for three seasons from 1940-42. A powerful blocker and tackler at 6-1 and 240 pounds, Motley also returned several kickoffs for touchdowns, including a 105-yarder in a 1941 game that is still tied for the school record. While Motley was at Nevada, a Reno reporter wrote that "in Marion Motley, the ball club has one of the best backs in the entire nation."
Motley left Nevada in 1942 when he was inducted into the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Station just outside of Chicago where he played on the station football team, which was coached by future Pro Hall of Famer Paul Brown. Brown signed on to coach the Cleveland Browns of the new All-American Football Conference in 1945, and a year later, he gave Motley, then 26 years old, married with four children and working in a mill in his hometown, a chance to try out for his team.
Motley made the Cleveland squad, and in 1946, he, Browns teammate Bill Willis and two African-American players signed by the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League, permanently broke the color line in modern professional football.
Motley played nine seasons of professional football, including eight with the Browns (1946-53) and one with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1955). He was the all-time rushing champion of the AAFC and led the National Football League in rushing in 1950. Called "the greatest fullback ever" by his coach Brown after a 1946 game, Motley amassed 4,720 rushing yards in his career and averaged a staggering 5.7 yards per carry, and played in the 1951 Pro Bowl. Motley was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his hometown of Canton in 1968, becoming the second African-American to earn the sport's highest honor.
Even more than 50 years after he played the game, Motley's legacy is still recognized. In 1994, he was named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, while Sports Illustrated's Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman called Motley, who died in 1999 at the age of 79, the best player in the history of football in his book, A Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football.