"Bullet Bill" Dudley, NFL Star and 2nd World War veteran, dies

« Previous story
Next story »
"Bullet Bill" Dudley, NFL Star and 2nd World War veteran, dies

Bill Dudley, undated photograph
Image courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame at
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today in Military History: February 4, 2010

Today's walk down history's paths and byways – with the latest edition of pro football's "ultimate" game still tingling our senses – I made the editorial decision to highlight a veteran of the Second World War and of the gridiron wars of the early days of the National Football League. [And, of course, this gentleman began his pro career with my long-time favorite NFL team.]


William McGarvey Dudley was born on Christmas Eve, 1921 in the town of Graham (later re-named Bluefield), Virginia in the southwest corner of the state, near the West Virginia border. Dudley played high school football for two years (after failing to make the team as a sophomore).

At the age of 16, Dudley was awarded an athletic scholarship by the University of Virginia football team. As a result, he received a $500 grant, out of which he paid for room, board, and books. Although he was originally slated as a punter and placekicker, Dudley eventually came to play the halfback position. In his sophomore year, he began as the fifth back on the depth chart but, due to a teammate's injury, played several games.

By his senior season (1941), Dudley was receiving a lot of ink in the nation's newspapers. In Virginia's game against the University of North Carolina, he scored three rushing touchdowns, threw for a fourth and kick all four extra points, at the Cavaliers beat UNC 28-7. It was UVA's first win against their rival in nine years. At the end of the season, Dudley was awarded the Maxwell Trophy as the outstanding college athlete of the year. He also played in the East-West Shrine game and the College All-Star Game in Chicago.

Initial NFL Season and 2nd World War Service

In the 1942 NFL College Draft, Dudley was the first player selected, by the Pittsburgh Steelers. During the 1942 season, he led the league in rushing with 696 yards on 162 carries. He also completed 35 of 94 passes for 438 yards and two touchdowns, punted 18 times for a 32.0 average, returned 20 punts for 271 yards (14.0 average), and ran back 11 kickoffs for 298 yards (27.0 average), scoring once.

In the first game of his professional career, Dudley ran for a 44-yard touchdown, and threw a 24-yard TD pass; in his second game he scored on an 84-yard kickoff return. At season's end, he was named to the All-Pro team. The Steelers finished the season with a record of 7-4, an improvement over the previous seasons 1-9-1 record It was also the first winning season in Steeler's history. Dudley was also awarded the Joe F. Carr Trophy, emblematic of the NFL's most valuable player.

With America's entry into the 2nd World War, the Armed Services began drafting all eligible young men to fight. Dudley originally enlisted and was sworn into the Naval Air Corps in the early summer of 1942; however the Navy found out he needed to have his parents' consent, since he wasn't twenty-one. In September 1942, Dudley then enlisted in U.S. Army Air Corps but there was an huge influx of recruits. Dudley was told he would have to wait three months before he began training. This delay made it possible for him to finish his rookie season with the Steelers.

Dudley went through basic training in Florida, followed by flight school in Texas. He then was assigned to the U.S. Army's football team (not to be confused with the college teams at the U.S. Military Academy). In 1944, Dudley helped his team to a 12–0 record and was named the team's MVP. At the end of the war, Dudley was shipped to the Pacific and flew two supply missions. He was then sent to Hawaii where the Army selected him to play in three more football games against All-Star teams

Return to the NFL

Dudley returned to the NFL late in 1945, playing in the Steelers' last 4 regular season games. In an Armistice Day game against the Chicago (later Arizona) Cardinals, Dudley announced his return to the pro gridiron, scoring 2 TDs and kicking 2 extra points. For the final 3 games of the season, he was held to only 1 TD.

Bill Dudley played another year for the Steelers, then was traded to the Detroit Lions. He played three seasons for the Lions (1947-1949), then was send to the Washington Redskins. Dudley played two seasons with the 'Skins, then became an offensive assistant with Washington in 1952. One year later, he returned to the field when injuries decimated the running back corps. Dudley finally retired at the end of the 1953 season.


Upon his retirement, Dudley became a talent scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions. In 1951 he entered the insurance business with his brother in Lynchburg, VA. He was also an assistant coach for his alma mater for three years after he retired. Dudley also served four terms in the Virginia House of Delegates, two as a Republican and two as a Democrat.

On January 30, 2010, Dudley suffered a massive stroke, dying at his home in Lynchburg on February 4.

Footnote #1: Bill Dudley was not blessed with great speed, but he had an elusiveness that confounded many opponents. Though only 5'10" and 175 lbs., during his entire NFL career he was in the top 10 of several offensive, defense, and special teams categories. One opponent commended that Bill "could not throw a pass correctly and 'ran as if he was staggering,' yet he could always find a way to beat you."

Bill Dudley's induction into Pro Football HOF, September 17, 1966; Image courtesy of https://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/steelers-legend-bullet-bill-dudley
Bill Dudley's induction into Pro Football HOF, September 17, 1966
Image courtesy of https://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/steelers-legend-bullet-bill-dudley

Footnote #2: Dudley is a member of three Halls of Fame: the Pro Football; the College Football, and Virginia Sports. Since 1990, the Downtown Club of Richmond (VA) has awarded the Bill Dudley Award, given to the outstanding college athlete in the Old Dominion. Since his induction into the Pro Football HOF, Dudley returned every year to greet the newest members of the exclusive "club."

Footnote #3: In the 1946 season, Bill Dudley led the NFL in three different statistical categories: a) rushing for 604 yards, b) 10 interceptions returned for 242 yards, and c) 27 punt returns for 385 yards. [Remember, folks; this was an 11-game season…]

Footnote #4: Bill Dudley is a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1940s. He is also a member of the Steelers Legends Team, an all-star team of Steelers who played before 1970.

Footnote #5: Dudley also holds a unique NFL distinction; he scored TDs in eight different ways: rushing, pass reception, punt return, kickoff return, interception return, fumble return, throwing a TD pass, and a TD from a lateral. [This last was a separate offensive category in the NFL's early years. It has been subsumed into the rushing category.]

Posted in top stories | 0 comments
« Previous story
Next story »


* To comment without a Facebook account, please scroll to the bottom.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Have a tip for us? A link that should appear here? Contact us.
News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.