Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 616

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 616


This is the grave of Bullet Bill Dudley.

Born in 1921 in Bluefield, Virginia, Dudley was a great high school football player, even though he was way too young for his grade. I don’t really know why he graduated from high school at the age of 16 and I really don’t know how he did that and be star football player with boys two years his senior. But the University of Virginia offered him a scholarship (they didn’t really have full scholarships at that time but he got a cash grant to pay for his expenses) and he went on to star there. He was recruited as a kicker, but soon became the team’s top running back. By his junior year, he led the Southern Conference in total yards. He was the first All-American Virginia had and he won the Maxwell Award in 1941 for the best college football player in the country. In the East-West Shrine Game after the season, he had a ridiculous four interceptions, as well as throwing a touchdown pass himself.

Dudley was the #1 pick in the 1942 NFL Draft, wearing #35 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had a great rookie year, leading the league in rushing yards with 696 and selected as an All-Pro. But World War II had broken out and while Dudley had volunteered with the Naval Air Corps right after Pearl Harbor, he wasn’t 21 and he needed his parents’ consent and somehow that just never worked out. So when he turned 21 that summer, he volunteered again, this time for the Army Air Corps. But they were so inundated with new recruits that they told Dudley to go ahead and play the 1942 season first. After the season, he was inducted, but mostly was used for the Army’s football team against other services. He was their MVP in 1944. I guess raising the morale of troops sometimes is more important than another grunt in the trenches. After the war ended, he was sent to the Pacific for a bit and flew on a couple of supply missions, but that was really it.

Dudley returned to the NFL for the last four games of the 1945 season. He was so much better than the rest of the team that he still managed to lead the Steelers in points that year. In 1946, he led the Steelers in rushing yards, interceptions, and punt returns, playing two-way and on special teams. He won the MVP that year. But after the season, the Steelers traded him to the Detroit Lions. He played there for the next three years. He led the Lions in scoring all three years, but of course the team was terrible. Some things truly never change. After the 1949 season, the Lions traded him to the Washington Racists. He played another three seasons there and again led the team in scoring in two of them But he was fading physically. Those three seasons were separated by a year off in 1952. He came back in 1953, but he didn’t play much and retired at the end of the year, his body just unable to do more. The irony of his nickname is that Dudley was neither big nor fast. In fact, he wasn’t much of an athlete. In a race of running backs one year, he finished next to last. I’m not sure if Bullet Bill was a bit sarcastic or perhaps more about his determination and ability to pick off quarterbacks on defense. Anyway, he was a 4-time first team All-Pro (1942, 1946, 1947, 1948) and two time second teamer (1950, 1951).

After his career ended, Dudley worked for a scout for a little while, but soon ended up back in Virginia. There he worked in insurance and then ran for the Virginia House of Delegates, where he served four terms. It’s hard in the obituaries for Dudley to nail down his actual politics, but I suspect they were very, very bad. First, his reputation in the statehouse was as an irascible man who would bark at people who disagreed with him. The old “straight-shooter” which we all know is an euphemism for “real jerk.” Second, his first two terms were as a Democrat and his last two as a Republican. That he was first elected from a Lynchburg district in 1966 and left office after the 1974 elections suggests very strongly that this was an angry anti-civil rights Dixiecrat who turned to Nixon as a part of the Southern Strategy.

Dudley was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966. He died in 2010 after suffering a stroke.

Since this post is going up on the day of the title games, let me share a few thoughts, even though I know there will be an NFL open thread later. It’s hard to believe that the Titans can beat the Chiefs, but then it was hard to believe they could beat the Ravens too. I don’t think we can count them out and it is certainly possible to run straight into the Chiefs defense like Derrick Henry likes, but I think their run ends today. Why the 49ers are so heavily favored against the Packers is beyond me. These teams seem pretty even to me. Should be a good game. I am very much not a gambler, but if I were, I’d put some money on the Packers to cover at least. Moreover, with the Hall of Fame voting coming next week and Dudley a Hall of Fame member, if I had a vote, I think I’d choose Troy Polamalu, John Lynch, Steve Hutchison, Richard Seymour, and Alan Faneca. Tons of great choices as always. Glad to see Sam Mills and Zach Thomas get some finalist love. Not sure Reggie Wayne is a first-ballot guy. Time to get some safeties some love though. Especially if the Niners win, it would make a nice story if Lynch was inducted and his skill at putting together the team’s roster certainly can’t hurt him.

Bullet Bill Dudley is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Lynchburg, Virginia.

This grave visit was funded by LGM reader contributions. As always, many thanks! If you would like this series to visit more people who were in the 1966 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Joe Guyon is in Louisville, Kentucky and former Packers QB Arnie Herber is in Green Bay. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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