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*Bill Willis was born on this date in 1921. He was a Black professional football defensive lineman.
William Karnet Willis was from Columbus, Ohio. Willis attended Ohio State University, where he joined the track and football teams. He was part of a Buckeyes football team that won the school's first national championship in 1942. After graduating in 1944, Willis heard about a new AAFC club in Cleveland led by his old Ohio State coach, Paul Brown. He got a tryout and made the team.
He was one of the first two African Americans to play professional football in the modern era, signing with the Browns and playing a game in September 1946 along with Marion Motley. With Willis as a defensive anchor, the Browns won all four AAFC championships between 1946 and 1949, when the league dissolved. The Browns were then absorbed by the NFL, where Willis continued to succeed. Cleveland won the NFL championship in 1950.
Willis retired in 1954 to focus on helping troubled youth, first as Cleveland's assistant recreation commissioner and later as the chairman of the Ohio Youth Commission. He was married to Odessa Porter until her death in 2002. The couple had three sons, William, Jr., Clement, and Dan. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971. In 1977, he was inducted as a charter member of the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame. He was elected the same year to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ohio State University honored Willis on November 3, 2007, by retiring his #99 jersey. Bill Willis worked with youth and the community until his death on November 27, 2007.
Image: New York Dailey News