A listing of athletes born in Minnesota who have left their mark in the football world. Partially compiled from “Minnesota’s 50 Greatest Sports Athletes” – Sports Illustrated (1999).

  • Bernie Bierman (Litchfield, MN)
    Coached Minnesota to five national football titles between 1932 and ’41; 93-35-6 record in 16 seasons.
  • Matt Birk (St. Paul, MN)
    Pro football center. Played with the 2013 Superbowl Champions, Baltimore Ravens. Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. College football and graduate from Harvard. Graduate of Cretin-Derham Hall High School.
  • Gino Cappelletti (Keewatin, MN)
    Gophers kicker from 1952 to ’54; placekicker-receiver for Patriots set AFL records for career points (1,100), field goals (170) and PATs (330).
  • Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. (Minneapolis, MN)
    Wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League. He was drafted third overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. College All-American, and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2003. Was the 2010 Pro Bowl MVP.
  • Paul Giel (Winona, MN)
    Two-time All-America halfback for Gophers was Heisman runner-up in 1953; pitched in majors for six years.
  • Sid Gillman (Minneapolis, MN)
    Receiver for North High in 1930; longtime pro coach and passing-game innovator took Chargers to AFL title in ’63.
  • Walter “Pudge” Heffelfinger (Minneapolis, MN)
    Guard. Three-time All-American at Yale. Considered the first professional football player in history. In 1892, he earned a “game performance bonus” of $500 cash to play in a game against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. He later coached the University of Minnesota football team in 1895.
  • Walt Kiesling (St. Paul, MN)
    One of football’s first great pulling guards; won NFL titles with 1934 Bears and ’36 Packers.George Keogan Detroit Lakes Longtime Notre Dame coach was the Rockne of Irish basketball; 327-97 record from 1923 to ’43.
  • Jim Langer (Royalton, MN)
    Five-time All-Pro center played every offensive down during the Dolphins’ perfect season in 1972.
  • James Laurinaitis (Wayzata, MN)
    NFL Linebacker. Selected by the St. Louis Rams as the 35th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Starting linebacker at the Ohio State University. Received the Bronco Nagurski Award in 2006 as the nation’s best defensive player. Selected as Defensive Mr. Football in Minnesota in 2004.
  • John Madden (Austin, MN)
    Moved to California at very young age. Former player in the National Football League, a former head coach with the Oakland Raiders in the American Football League and later the NFL. Coached team to Super Bowl victory in 1976. Former color commentator for NFL telecasts. Emmy Awards.
  • Karl Mecklenburg (Edina, MN)
    Broncos linebacker was Pro Bowl pick six times; 79 sacks, second in franchise history.
  • Biggie Munn (Anoka, MN)
    Track and football star at Minnesota from 1929 to ’31; coached Michigan State to ’52 national football title.
  • Bronko Nagurski (International Falls, MN)
    All-America tackle for Gophers in 1929; All-Pro fullback led Bears to three NFL titles. Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963; Wrestler, three-time world heavyweight champion, 1937, 1939 and 1941.
  • Bruce Smith (Faribault, MN)
    Smith led Golden Gophers to back-to-back national titles in ’40 and ’41 and is the only Minnesotan to win the Heisman Trophy (1941). In 1942, he starred in a football hero type movie titled “Smith of Minnesota”. After serving in WW2, Smith went on to play in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers (1945-48) and the Los Angeles Rams (1948).
  • Marc Trestman (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
    Football coach. In January 2013 he became the head coach of the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. Prior to that he was head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, and in 2009 was named CFL Coach of the Year. During college, he was a quarterback with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers for three seasons.
  • Steve Walsh (St. Paul, MN)
    NFL Quarterback. Played college ball at the University of Miami. Selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1989 NFL Supplemental Draft, Walsh played for 5 other NFL teams in his 11 year professional career.
  • Ed Widseth (Crookston, MN)
    Won three straight NCAA football championships with Gophers from 1934 to ’36; All-Pro tackle for Giants from ’37 to ’40.
  • Bud Wilkinson (Minneapolis, MN)
    Played guard and halfback for Minnesota’s national title teams in 1934, ’35 and ’36; coached Oklahoma to record 47 straight wins.

Honorary Minnesotans
Individuals who were NOT born in Minnesota, but who have lived, studied or spent a significant part of their lives in Minnesota.

  • John Gagliardi (Trinidad, Colorado)
    Football Coach; Gagliardi has the most wins of any coach in the NCAA (486) and is the first active coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (2006). Gagliardi has also coached more seasons (64) than anyone in the history of college football and was the head coach at St. John’s in Collegeville, MN from 1953-2012. He announced his retirement on November 19, 2012 at the age of 86, ending his career with a record of 489-138-11. His St. John’s teams (also known as the “Johnnies”) won four national titles, including the NAIA National Football Championship in 1963 and 1965, and the NCAA Division III National Football Championship in 1976 and 2003. He instructed his players to call him “John” instead of “Coach”.
  • Bud Grant (Superior, WI)
    He was a three sport athlete in college, in football, basketball, and baseball for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Played both Professional Basketball (Minneapolis Lakers) and Football (Philadelphia Eagles). NFL Coach of Minnesota Vikings. Led the Vikings to four Super Bowls, and eleven division titles.
  • Ole Haugsrud (Superior, WI)
    Sports Executive. Owner of the Duluth Eskimos in the National Football League in the late-1920s. Part owner of the Minnesota Vikings in 1960. The Minnesota Vikings team name, colors and secondary logo are coincidentally the same as those used at Haugsrud’s high school in Superior, WI in the 1950’s.
  • Max McGee (born in Sexton City, Texas; moved to Minnesota in 1973)
    Pro Football Player; Caught the first ever Super Bowl touchdown for the Green Bay Packers. Was the leading Packer receiver in 1958 and 1960-’62. Voice of the Packers in the 80’s and 90’s.