Although soccer may be Italy’s top sport, the NFL is still king in the United States. An average of 17.9 million viewers tune in to each pro football game1. There have been nearly 20 pro players who were born in Italy and countless others of Italian heritage. Some of the greatest coaches, offensive ends, quarterbacks and Heisman winners are proud Italian Americans.
Here’s a non-inclusive list of a few greats:
Notable Italian Americans in Football
- Alan Ameche, nicknamed “The Horse,” won the Heisman Trophy as a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a five-time all-pro fullback. He played for the Baltimore Colts and is famous for his winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL Championship game against the NY Giants, the first NFL playoff game to go into overtime. He is a member of the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.
- Vince Lombardi is the namesake for the NFL’s Super Bowl trophy. As head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi led the team to win five NFL Championships and the first two Super Bowls. His parents emigrated from Salerno, Italy and he is a member of the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. Lombardi’s grandson, Joe Lombardi, is the current quarterback coach for the New Orleans Saints. In the Saints’ 2010 Super Bowl win, Joe won the trophy named after his grandfather.
- Vinny Testaverde, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., was an NFL quarterback for 21 seasons and retired in 2008 at age 44. Testaverde, also a Heisman trophy winner, played college football for the University of Miami where he was All-American. He was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft and holds the NFL record for the most consecutive seasons with at least one touchdown pass. He is well known for his time on the NY Jets and is the oldest player to win an NFL game at age 44.
- Dan Marino, former quarterback of the Miami Dolphins, led the Dolphins to the playoffs 10 times in his 17 year career and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. He’s considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
- Joe Montana won four Super Bowl games with the San Francisco 49ers. He played with San Francisco for 14 seasons and was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. He is ranked number four on NFL.com’s Top 100 Player’s of All Time. His maternal great-grandparents emigrated from Sicily.
- Gino Marchetti, a friend and teammate of Alan Ameche, played for the Baltimore Colts for 13 seasons. He helped the Colts to two Super Bowl Championships in 1958 and 1959. Marchetti was voted “the greatest defensive end in pro football history,” by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
- Dick Vermeil is one of the most successful and likeable coaches in history. He took the Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs within three years of serving as a coach for each team. Vermeil is a member of the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and was named Coach of the Year in 1999 by the Associated Press.
- Nick Buoniconti, was a middle linebacker for the Boston (now New England) Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. He graduated from Notre Dame and was drafted in the 1962 American League Football Draft. He was a key member of the “No Name Defense” team of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, the first NFL team to finish a season undefeated.
Current Italian Americans in Football
- Breno Giacomini, 26, is an offensive tackle for the Seattle Seahawks. He played college football at the University of Louisville and was originally drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2008.
- Anthony Castonzo, 24, is an offensive tackle with the Indianapolis Colts. An Illinois native, he played at Boston College and was selected as a first-round draft pick in 2011 by the Colts. He was the first true freshman to start at Boston College since 1998.
- Joe Flacco, 27, is a starting quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. He played college football for the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Delaware. He was the 18th overall pick by the Ravens in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
- Danny Amendola, 26, is a wide receiver for the St. Louis Rams. He played college football for Texas Tech and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys. A Texas native, he completed 12 catches in the first half of a September 16, 2012 game against the Washington Redskins. The Rams went on to beat the Redskins 31-28 and Amendola tied Reggie Wayne’s record for most catches in a half.
A few Italian born players:
- Bruno Banducci was born in 1921 in the region of Tuscany. He played college football at Stanford University and was a sixth-round pick in the 1943 draft. He was an offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. From 1946-1954, he was selected to play in six Pro Bowls.
- Leo Nomellini was born in Lucca, Italy and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As both an offensive and a defensive tackle, he played every 49ers’ game during his 14 seasons with the team. He was two-time All-American at the University of Minnesota, and has the honor of being the San Francisco 49ers’ first-ever NFL draft choice in 1950.
1 according to a 2011 poll by Harris Interactive
Written by OSIA National Office Assistant, Carol Cummings.