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Clayton Tonnemaker
Tonnemaker while playing at Minnesota, c. 1940s
Tonnemaker while playing at Minnesota, c. 1940s
Born (1928-06-08)June 8, 1928
Ogilvie, Minnesota
Died December 25, 1996(1996-12-25) (aged 68)
St. Paul, Minnesota

Frank Clayton "Clayt" Tonnemaker (June 8, 1928 – December 25, 1996) was an American football player who played center and linebacker for the Green Bay Packers from 1950 to 1954. Tonnemaker was an All-American at the University of Minnesota, where he played center linebacker. In 1980, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Tonnemaker, weighing in at 11 pounds, was born on June 8, 1928 on a farm near Ogilvie, Minnesota, to Anna Nelson and Frank Clayton Tonnemaker. After his father died when Clayton was 7, he and his mother and sister, Lucille, sold their farm at auction and moved to the town of Rush City, Minnesota. The family later moved to Northeast Minneapolis, and Clayton attended Edison High School.

Football career[edit | edit source]

Youth[edit | edit source]

Tonnemaker lettered in football at Rush City High School as an 8th grader. After moving to Minneapolis, Tonnemaker played center for the Edison football team, serving as captain and winning All-City Honors. He unofficially played for the Minnesota Gophers while in high school, even scoring a touchdown during a 1946 spring season scrimmage. It was not legal for a high schooler to train with a college team at the time, so the Gophers didn't acknowledge this.[1]

College: University of Minnesota[edit | edit source]

Tonnemaker officially began playing center linebacker for the Gophers during his freshman year, 1946, when a World War II-era ruling made it legal for freshman to play in the Big Ten. Before the war this was not allowed. He became part of a group of Gopher players known as the '49ers, their year of graduation.[1] He was a regular from mid-freshman year, with the Gophers winning 23 out of 30 games, and a "win-loss edge over every Big Ten rival except Michigan".[2] Along with Leo Nomellini, Tonnemaker was part of a defensive line that allowed "an average of less than nine points a game in the '49ers’ final season".[3]

  • Gopher Co-Captain – 1949
  • Consensus All-American 1949 (unanimous choice)
  • 1949 Look Magazine Eleven (named by the Football Writers Association of America) 1st Team
  • 1949 Sporting News All-American
  • 1949 Minneapolis Star named him Minnesota's greatest center in football history
  • 1949 – # 7 in the Heisman Trophy voting[4]
  • Co-Captain of the winning East team in the East–West Shrine Game – December 1949 (scored his only touchdown on an intercepted pass and 70 yard run)
  • Co-Captain of the All-Star Team at the Chicago College All-Star Game that beat the Philadelphia Eagles 17 to 7 – August 1950

Professional: Green Bay Packers[edit | edit source]

Originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, his pro contract was transferred to the Green Bay Packers after the All-America Football Conference merged with the NFL in 1950 and the rules changed.[5] The Packers made him their number one National Football League draft pick in 1950 (4th in the NFL overall),[6] and paid him $8,000 a year, the top salary on the team. Tonnemaker played center and middle linebacker.

  • Named All-Pro in his rookie season (1950) and again after his war service in 1953
  • Picked to play in the first Pro Bowl ever (January 14, 1951)[6] but missed it because he had to report for Army duty
  • Captain 1953/1954
  • Played from 1950–54[6]

Honors and awards[edit | edit source]

  • Minnesota Football Hall of Fame: 1946, 47, 48, 49
  • National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame: 1980
  • Played on 10 teams and named the captain of each one[7]
  • Chicago Tribune All-Time All-Big Ten Team – Center[8]
  • State of Minnesota Football Hall of Fame – 1981
  • Gopher Men's Sports Hall of Fame – 1992

Career[edit | edit source]

  • Served in the Korean War for 32 months, 18 months as a lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps in Japan.[9]
  • Left the Green Bay Packers in 1954 to begin a 22-year career with Cargill; achieved VP status[6]
  • 1961–1965 - NFL football commentator on CBS
  • 1979 – Became President of Coal Creek Mining Co in Ashland, Montana [10]
  • Tonnemaker spent the last years of his life in Minnesota and Wisconsin, close to his family, where he was involved in private business ventures.[11]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Maroon and Gold Forever, Ross Bernstein, 2009, Printing Enterprises, New Brighton, Minnesota.
  2. Viking Update, Dick Gordon, October 9, 1995
  3. Gold Glory, Richard Rainbolt, 1972, R. Turtinen Publishing Co, Wayzata, Minnesota, p. 133
  4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 30, 1949, p. 19
  5. Minneapolis Tribune, Sid Hartman, Feb. 6, 1980, p. 2C
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Green Bay Press Gazette, Don Langenkamp, January 21, 1979
  7. St. Paul Pioneer Press, Don Riley, October 19, 1980
  8. Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1995, Section 7, pg 7
  9. Interview with daughter, Susan Tonnemaker Hunter
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.

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