Lavvie Dilweg (’27): MU Law’s Contribution to the NFL (and to Congress)

slide0005_image008Marquette University eliminated its varsity football team in 1960, and the heroics of the Golden Avalanche, Hilltoppers, and Warriors (as the team was variously known) are now dimly remembered, if at all.  There was a time, however, when Marquette produced a steady supply of players for the National Football League.   Beginning in 1920, a total of 70 former Marquette players found their way into at least one NFL game.

The first Marquette alumnus to play in the NFL was Edward Lewis “Bo” Hanley, a Milwaukee native who played wingback for the Detroit Heralds in 1920, the league’s inaugural season when it was known as the American Professional Football Association.   The 5’7”, 150 pound Hanley was born in Milwaukee in 1887, and was thus 33 years old during the 1920 season, his only year in the NFL.  When the Green Bay Packers entered the NFL in 1921, their center was 29-year old Marquette alumnus, Richard John Murray, the second Marquette student to play in the NFL.  “Jab” Murray, as he was known, was a native of Ocanto and was 6’1” tall and weighed a hulking 219 pounds.

The last Marquette player to join the NFL ranks was defensive back John Martin Sisk, Jr. who played for the Chicago Bears in 1964.   Sisk—whose father starred at Marquette in the 1920’s and with the Bears in the 1930’s—had played at Marquette as a freshman and then had transferred to the University of Miami when the school dropped football.   The last two Marquette football players to appear in the NFL were Minnesota Viking safety Karl Kassulke, who transferred to Drake University after Marquette dropped football and who entered the NFL in 1963, and Dallas Cowboy defensive lineman, George Andrie, who remained at Marquette for his senior year after the school dropped football and was then drafted by the Cowboys.  Both Kassulke and Andrie appeared in the Pro Bowl during their careers—Andrie did so on five occasions–and both appeared in the Super Bowl, albeit on the losing side.  Both players retired after the 1972 season.

However, the greatest of the Marquette alumni in the NFL was clearly LaVern “Lavvie” Dilweg, who played left end for the Milwaukee Badgers and the Green Bay Packers from 1926 to 1934, winning first team all-pro honors six times.

The 6’3,” 200 lb., Dilweg was born in Milwaukee in 1903.  He grew up in city of his birth and was a star football player at Washington High School in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s.  He continued his football career at Marquette where he won All-American honors as an end who played both defense and offense.

After two years in the college, Dilweg enrolled in the Marquette Law School from which he graduated in 1927.  The diploma privilege had not yet been extended to Marquette, but Dilweg took, and successfully passed, the bar exam during the summer following his graduation.  Having exhausted his college football eligibility prior to his third year of law school, Dilweg played for the NFL’s Milwaukee Badgers while attending law school during the 1926 season.

Dilweg was one of five former Marquette players on the Badgers roster that season.  Unfortunately, the professional Badgers, who featured eight rookie starters, were generally outclassed by their opponents in 1926.  The team finished with a record of 2-7, and folded before the official end of the season, bringing to a close Milwaukee’s official presence in the NFL.

In 1927, Dilweg signed with the Green Bay Packers and at the same time began the practice of law in Green Bay where he was to reside for the rest of his life.  During Dilweg’s years with the team, the Packers were one of the premier teams in the NFL, and he was one of its top stars.  After finishing second in 1927, and fourth in 1928, the Packers reeled off three consecutive NFL championships, and would have won a fourth in 1932, but for the NFL rule that ties did not count in the standings.  In 1932, Green Bay finished 10-3-1, but lost the title to the 7-1-6 Chicago Bears.   (Under modern rules, which treat ties as a half-win and half-loss, Green Bay would have been awarded the 1932 championship.)  Between 1929 and 1932, the Packers were a combined 44-7-3, with an undefeated 12-0-1 season in 1929.

In 1933, the NFL was divided into two divisions and the Packers level of play declined somewhat.  In both 1933 and 1934, they finished third in the NFL’s Western Division.   At the end of the 1934 season, Dilweg retired from football at age 31 to devote himself to his law practice and his other business interests.  He did, however, keep his hand in the sport by refereeing Big Ten football games on a regular basis until 1943.

In addition to his law practice, Dilweg was involved in the construction industry in Green Bay, as well as numerous other business and civic activities.  He served as a director of the Green Bay Blue Jays baseball team which was a member of the Class D Wisconsin State League, and from 1934 to 1943, he was in charge of the Green Bay Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), a New Deal housing agency.

A strong supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, Dilweg was active in Democratic Party politics in Wisconsin.  In 1943, he was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives from Wisconsin’s 8th District.  His election marked only the third time since 1848 that the voters of Green Bay’s district had elected a Democrat to Congress.  By all accounts his celebrity as a former Green Bay Packer star contributed to his victory.  In the House, he served with a former Marquette Law School classmate, John B. Bennett of Michigan (’25), who was also elected in the fall of 1942.

Unfortunately for Dilweg, his stint in the House of Representatives turned out to be only a single two-year term as he went down to defeat with President Franklin Roosevelt as the Republican Party carried Wisconsin in the 1944 elections.  (Ironically, Bennett, a Republican, was also defeated in 1944, but he was later returned to Congress for nine additional terms.)

After leaving Congress , Dilweg resumed the practice of law in Green Bay but also maintained an office in Washington, D.C.  In 1961, he was named by President Kennedy as a member of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.  Dilweg died in Florida in 1968, just prior to his 65th birthday.  He is a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, and his grandson, quarterback Anthony Dilweg, played in the NFL from 1989 to 1991 and with the Packers from 1989 to 1990.

The photo accompanying this post is of the Marquette Golden Avalanche preparing to play in the first Cotton Bowl in 1937.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Gordon Hylton

    I have received several email requests for more information on Dilweg’s adventures with the Golden Avalanche, the Packers and the United States Congress. In bullet point form:

    * After the 1925 season, Dilweg was invited to play in East-West Shrine Game, the premier all-star game in that era for college players. He was apparently the first Marquette player so honored. According to Ring Lardner, who covered the game, Dilweg was one of the top performers present and outplayed his more famous counterpart, end Brick Muller of the University of California.

    * Although all were gone by 1926, Dilweg’s rookie season, the roster of the NFL’s Milwaukee Badgers (1922-1926)had included Fritz Pollard (1922), the first black player in the NFL and the first black head coach of a major league professional sports team; Johnny “Blood” McNally (1925), an original member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and later Dilweg’s teammate with the Packers, Jimmy Conzelman (1922-24), also a Hall of Famer; and Paul Robeson (1922), the noted musical performer and civil rights activist. While playing for the Badgers, Robeson was also a student at Columbia Law School in New York.

    * After the 1926 season Dilweg declined an offer to sign with the Chicago Bears and opted instead to join the Green Bay Packers.

    * According to the Dec. 12, 1932 issue of Time Magazine Red Grange once described Dilweg as “the ablest end he ever met.”

    *Although he played end on defense, when he retired in 1934, Dilweg was the NFL’s all-time leader in interceptions. He was also the Packers all-time leading receiver at the time of his retirement, but his marks were shattered by his replacement at left end, the legendary Don Hutson.

    *When he relocated to Green Bay, he initially practiced law with Gerald Clifford, who was one of the so-called “Hungry Five” who owned the Packers in the 1920’s. In January 1935, Dilweg was a witness to the reincorporation of the Packers as a non-profit organization.

    * Dilweg’s interest in politics manifested itself publicly shortly after he moved to Green Bay. In 1928, while playing for the Packers, he ran for the position of county attorney, but was defeated by his Packer teammate Verne Lewellen, a graduate of the University of Nebraska and a member of the Wisconsin bar. Halfback Lewellen held the office for several years while still an active member of the Packer roster.

    * Prior to his election to Congress, Dilweg unsuccessfully ran for the office of state attorney general. In 1950, he was also an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate.

    * As a congressman Dilweg was most closely indentified with the idea of keeping college and professional sports going during World War II. His rousing “What Does Baseball Do for America?” speech, delivered on the floor of Congress in 1943, was frequently quoted, and he lobbied President Roosevelt, unsuccessfully, it turned out, for the creation of a National Sports Commission.

    *From 1951 to 1952, Dilweg served as a special Assistant United States Attorney assigned to investigate the existence of an alleged oil cartel.

    * Dilweg was reappointed to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission in 1964 and 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson.

    * Dilweg died less than three days after the Ice Bowl. He was suffering from cancer at the time, but was in Florida visiting relatives. He is buried in Green Bay.

    * In 1968, Dilweg was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. His formal induction came in County Stadium in Milwaukee in October before a Packers-Bears game. In 1970, he was selected as a charter member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

    * Efforts of the part of football historians to secure his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame have so far been for naught. In 1986, noted football historian Bob Carroll described Delweg as “the best end we ever forgot.” Almost a quarter century later, that observation appears equally apt.

    * Dilweg’s wife Eleanor Coleman was a member of the 1924 United States Olympic Diving team.

    * On October 31, 1939, legendary Washington, D.C. sportswriter Shirley Povich opined in his column that “Marquette has supplied professional football with more good players than any other college.” He then cited eight names, including that of Dilweg.

    1. Amy Dilweg Wenhold

      Great information about my grandparents. Just a little correction on Eleanor Coleman Dilweg (wife).

      She held the world record in the 100-meter breaststroke in 1922 and was a member of the 1924 Olympics swim team (with teammate “Tarzan“ Johnny Weissmuller) in Paris, France, swimming the 200-meter breaststroke event. Later she became a sports reporter where she was introduced to grandpa “Lavvie.” ❤️

  2. Gordon Hylton

    The Marquette Law School contributed a number of players to the Marquette football team in the 1910’s and 1920’s. The law school required first none, then one, then two years of college for admission so students could continue to play college football once they entered the law school (so long as they did not exceed four years of competition. Medical and dental students played as well.

    In 1922, Laurence McGinnis of Topeka, Kansas and a second year law student (or law school junior, in the parlence of the time) was elected captain of that year’s varsity football team. McGinnis was a tackle/kicker who transferred to Marquette from Washburn College in Kansas.

    McGinnis’ appointment was a big enough story to be reported in the October 27, 1922 Kansas City Star.

  3. Michael D. Benter

    Mr. Hylton:

    I wrote a 342-page history of the Milwaukee Badgers that I am presently seeking a punlisher for. I found your research on Mr. Dilweg quite thorough and containing a couple of facts I did not discover during my research. I also did a bio on Larry McGinnis that I think might be of interest to you. Let me know.


  4. Helen Rivera

    Mr. Benter:

    I am Larry McGinnis’ niece and I would be very interested in his bio if you wish to share.

  5. Uvea Hudson

    Will the government press a new case against Roger Clemens?

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