Oklahoma City civic leader Lee Allan Smith for years politicked that LeRoy “Ace” Gutowsky deserved to be inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
“I certainly think he has enough statistics and records,” Smith said. “It's an eye opener to most people when they hear what he accomplished. I hate for old people to get lost in the shuffle just because they passed away a long time ago. His credentials are phenomenal.”
Gutowsky, who died in 1976 at age 67, was one of the NFL's top fullbacks in the league's early years. He retired in 1939 as the NFL's career rushing leader.
Born in Russia, raised in Kingfisher, Gutowsky was a multi-sport star at Oklahoma City University before he became one of the NFL's top players.
Gutowsky led the NFL in carries in 1934 with the Detroit Lions. He was on the Lions' 1935 NFL title team. He led the league in yards from scrimmage in 1936. He rushed for 827 yards that season, which was the Lions' single-season record that stood until 1960.
His NFL career began with the Portsmouth Spartans in southern Ohio, but his claim to fame was a fullback on one of the top rushing attacks in league history.
Known as the “Infantry Attack,” the Lions rushed for 2,885 yards in 1936, a mark that was the NFL single-season team record for 36 years until the league expanded regular-season schedules from 12 to 14 games.
Dutch Clark and Ernie Cadder were flashier backs, but Gutowsky was “the hard-line plunger” who was a workhorse that scored touchdowns. In a recent ranking of the top 100 players in Detroit Lions' history, Gutowsky ranked No. 41.
“I never saw him play, but he was my offensive line coach at OCU so you heard stories on how good he was,” said Frank Bruno, 88, who played football at OCU in the 1950s. “Back in those days you played both ways. He also was a pretty good linebacker.”
Led by Gutowsky, the Goldbugs (OCU's nickname until 1944) were a combined 15-1 in 1929 and 1930, including going 3-0 against Oklahoma and Oklahoma A&M.
“OCU had great football teams back then,” Smith said. “They were really, really good. One of the best players they ever had was Ace Gutowsky. I'll never forget as a young boy they used to put the light on in the tower after they won. And they won a lot back then.”
Gutowsky was born in the Polish extraction in Russia in 1909. His father moved to the United States when Ace was an infant. They settled in Kingfisher.
After serving in the Army during World War II, Gutowsky went into the oil business with his father, Assaph, who discovered an oil field in west Edmond that produced 117 million barrels of oil.
Gutowsky also was an accomplished bridge player. He won the 1951 match national title, earning a “life master” rating, the first Oklahoman to achieve the highest ranking in bridge.