Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Halfback ?Bullet? Bill Dudley began his Hall of Fame career with the Steelers.
Awards: Football Hall of Fame
Football legend “Bullet” Bill Dudley was born on December 24, 1921, in the town of Bluefield, Virginia. In high school, Dudley proved his talent by leading his football team to victory over their rival, Princeton High. At the age of 16, he was offered a scholarship to the University of Virginia to play football. He gratefully accepted this offer and in 1938, Dudley began his career as a Virginia Cavalier. Dudley became the Pittsburgh Steelers’ number one draft pick for the 1942 season. He was traded to the Detroit Lions after the 1946 season and again to the Washington Redskins in 1949. Dudley currently resides in Virginia and is employed in the insurance industry.
The world has seldom seen such an accomplished all-around player as football legend, “Bullet” Bill Dudley. The football idol was born on December, 24, 1921, in the town of Bluefield, Virginia. Dudley’s football talents blossomed early in life. As a teenager, Dudley attended Bluefield’s Graham High School, where his heart and mind were avidly focused on the game of football. At 5’10” and 110 pounds, Dudley’s small stature did not prevent him from making the football team in his junior year. He excelled under the wise eye of his mentor, Coach Marshall Shearer. Dudley’s newly acquired knowledge and skills helped mold the would-be football Hall of Fame legend into an exceptional athlete. While in high school, Dudley earned the nickname, “Bullet.” Although not swift on his feet, he always hit his target with commendable precision. “Bullet” guided the Graham High School team to victory over the favorable Princeton High when he kicked an astonishing 35 yard field goal. Dudley’s competitive edge worked to his advantage and at the tender age of 16, he was drafted to the University of Virginia’s football team by Coach Frank Murray. Awarded a scholarship to attend the school and a $500 grant for his room, board, and books, he eagerly accepted this offer. Originally chosen to be the team’s punter, Dudley’s versatility on the field was immediately recognized and he eventually assumed the roles of halfback and tailback. As a result, Dudley initiated his career in 1938 as a University of Virginia Cavalier, alternating between the punter and tailback positions. In 1939, the 150 pound Dudley began the season as a fifth back. Due to injuries on the team, he was granted the opportunity to make a greater name for himself on the football field. Dudley’s impressive performance secured him the position of starting tailback for every game in 1940. Dudley became the South’s leader in total offense, but his talents were not enough for the Cavaliers to achieve a winning record. Dudley continued to shine throughout his senior year at the University of Virginia. In the unforgettable North Carolina vs. University of Virginia game of 1941, “Bullet” performed exceptionally for the entire football world to see. That night, Dudley scored three of Virginia’s touchdowns (passing for the fourth) and kicked for four extra points. This remarkable performance, coupled with his other notable efforts on the field that season, locked “Bullet” Bill Dudley in as the University of Virginia’s first All-American player. “I was tremendously honored to make the All-American team,” Dudley told sportswriter Lawrence Elliott in 1954, “but I don’t feel that I have to strain to live up to some mythical something. Yesterday’s sports hero is a lot like yesterday’s newspaper—you always know there’s a fresh one coming tomorrow.” That same year, Dudley was also named the “Outstanding College Football Player of the Year” by the Maxwell Memorial Club of Philadelphia. In 1942, World War II began and Dudley was filled with an overwhelming desire to serve his country as a Navy pilot in the Air Corps. Because he was not yet 21, Dudley lacked the parental consent required to enlist. Instead, he became the Pittsburgh Steelers’ number one draft pick for the 1942 season. “So in the meantime…I signed a professional football contract. I played there with the Steelers mainly for the money,” Dudley explained. “They signed me for $5,000, because I was the number-one draft choice.” To the astonishment of his coaches and teammates, Dudley led the NFL in rushing yards with 696 yards on 162 carries. Later that same year, the armed forces began drafting all eligible young men to enter into combat. Dudley’s old dreams of military service finally became a reality in September of 1942, when he qualified to join the Army Air Corps. Due to an influx of recruits, he had to wait three months before he was able to start training. This timely delay allowed Dudley to finish his rookie season with the Steelers. The hold up proved to be beneficial because Dudley was named to the All-Pro team and awarded “Rookie of the Year.” Dudley finally persisted through basic training in Florida before attending flight school in Texas. Eventually, he was invited to join the Army’s football team. In the 1944 season, Dudley led his team to triumph with a 12-0 record. Consequently, he was named Most Valuable Player and made the All-Service squad. Once the war ceased, Dudley was shipped to Hawaii, where the Army selected him to play in three more football games against All-Star teams. That fall, he returned to Pittsburgh and rejoined the Steelers for the four final games of the 1945 season. During one game in particular against the Chicago Cardinals, Dudley proved that he was still a football force to be reckoned with. Dudley ran for two touchdowns and kicked for two additional points during this game; becoming the Steelers’ leading scorer for the 1945 season. In addition, Dudley rushed for 204 yards, returned five punts for 20 yards, connected on ten to 32, and returned three kickoffs for 65 yards. The following year, the Steelers welcomed a new head coach, Jock Sutherland. In that 1946 season, Dudley scored 48 points for the Steelers, contributing to their 5-5-1 record. That same season, he became the league leader in rushing (604 yards), interceptions (10 total which he returned for 242 yards), and punt returns (27 total for 385 yards). In addition, Dudley led in lateral passing, although that category is no longer regarded as a separate statistical entity. Dudley is the first and only NFL player to lead in four unique statistical categories, earning him the title of “Triple Crown Winner.” That same year, Dudley was named All-Pro and honored NFL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Earning the NFL MVP award made Dudley the first player in football history to receive this award in college, service, and professional levels. Dudley and his coach, Jock Sutherland, could not always tolerate each other. During one passing drill at preseason camp, Sutherland, who made sarcastic comments about Dudley’s sidearm passing motion, criticized his star for suggesting that it would be easier to complete passes if the defensive squad wore different color jerseys than the offense. Words were exchanged, Dudley later apologized, but after the season, he announced his retirement. However, Dudley could not ignore the guaranteed three-year contract and the $20,000 salary per season that the Detroit Lions were offering him. Consequently, Dudley was traded to the Detroit Lions after the 1946 season. He was elected captain of his team all three years from 1947 to 1949. The Lions team had plenty to passion for the game but, regrettably, lacked the talent. The Lions finished last during Dudley’s first season. In the October 19 game against the Chicago Bears, Dudley returned a punt for an 84 yard touchdown. Amazingly, this return is still the fourth longest in NFL history. Also that year, Dudley scored 13 touchdowns, seven on pass receptions, four on runs from scrimmage, one on a punt return, and one on kickoff return. In 1948, Dudley made a brief appearance as a football player in the movie Triple Threat. In Dudley’s last season with the Lions, he led Detroit in scoring for the third consecutive year. The Lions finally clawed out of the losing position with a 4-8 mark. When Dudley’s three-year contact came to an end in 1949, Lions coach, Bo McMillin, traded him to the Washington Redskins. Dudley played for three seasons with this new team, leading them in scoring every year. On December 3, 1950, Dudley intercepted a 60 yard punt kicked by Steelers’ player, Joe Geri. He grabbed the pigskin and sprinted, untouched, for a 96 yard touchdown. Dudley took a well-deserved break during the 1952 season, but returned in 1953, playing on the Lions’ defense and as place-kicker. The rest of his time was spent coaching the backs, a task Dudley enjoyed immensely. He retired at the conclusion of the season due to knee injuries and an overall physical deterioration. However, Dudley utilized his football wisdom by coaching and scouting for the Steelers and the Lions. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956 and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. Dudley entered the insurance business in Lynchburg, Virginia, with his brother, Jim, in 1951. He briefly worked with Home Life, until switching to Equitable in 1961. Dudley was inducted into the Professional Hall of Fame in 1966. That same year, Dudley was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, serving until 1973. Currently, Dudley resides in Virginia and is employed in the insurance business. The Downtown Club of Richmond, Virginia, has sponsored the Bill Dudley Award since 1990, awarded each year to the state’s top college football player. In June 2002, he was chosen as one of the seventy greatest Washington Redskins. Jim Sargent recalls sports writer Robert Smith’s judgment of Dudley in a 1954 issue of Sport: “Despite his lack of breakaway speed, Bill was the most feared kickoff returner in the game .... He passed sidearm, like a kid, yet he had a fine completion average. He was ‘too small,’ but he was hardly ever hurt too badly to play. He was the league’s top ground gainer, yet he was also one of the fiercest defensive tacklers and the best in the game at interceptions. As one of the men who faced him ruefully admitted, Bill could not throw a pass correctly and ‘ran as if he was staggering,’ yet he could always find a way to beat you.”