Arkansas’ First NFL Player

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In a couple months, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Jake Bequette and Joe Adams will join a long, prestigious list of former Razorbacks to play in the NFL. Indeed, more than 140 Hogs have logged time in the nation’s top football league.

When did this list begin?

Ninety years ago, with 23-year-old Ben Winkelman, a Fayetteville native who ended up playing for the now-defunct Milwaukee Badgers for three seasons. There’s not much readily accessible online about this team, but thanks to the good folks at ProFootballReasearcher.org, we know 1) Milwaukee was one of three NFL teams of the era (along with Green Bay & Racine) and 2) Winkelman, at 6’1” and 190 pounds, apparently was a crackerjack end. He earned third-team All-Pro honors in 1923. Granted, the newspaper responsible for dispensing these honors was based in Wisconsin, but still…

So, what happened to the Big Wink?

Again, online details are sketchy, but according to fanbase.com decades later Winky wound up coaching at Oregon and San Jose State, where he was by helped the famed youth football patriarch Pop Warner, then an SJSU athletics consultant. Apparently, Winkelman found a home in central California. He died near Sacramento in 1981, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.

It’s doubtful many Arkansans are still around to recall Winkelman in his athletic heyday. Still, this Razorback’s place in the state’s athletic history shouldn’t be forgotten.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Ben H. Winkelman, (my Grandfather) was a great humble man, in addition to his football legacy, he was an expert fisherman, and taught me how to fly fish, tie knots, and general fishing techniques. He also took me to my first NFL SF Fourty Niner game in Kezar Stadium in 1959 to see Y.A. Title (hall of Fame quarterback), and the SF Giants baseball in 1960. To see the Hall of Famer Willie Mays. I was blessed to have him as a Granfather!

  2. Very interesting, Erik. Thank you for sharing. Did your granddad share many stories about his Hog playing days? Especially his games vs Oklahoma.. In 1918, Arkansas lost in Norman 103-0. A year later, at home, the Hogs won 7-6.

  3. Evin, If he did I was too young to remember? Thank you for that information. On another note my nephew Karl Winkelman Jr. played Offensive Tackle for Cal Poly SLO recently and had the opportunity to play a game at San Jose State against the Spartans in the Stadium that his Great Grandfather coached, It was a great day for the Winkelmans.as most of the family watched that game.

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