The often untold story of former NFL player Willie Galimore is one of triumphs and an early demise. Recently, NFL analyst and current Morehouse College Fellow Scott Pioli put the spotlight on Galimore, a football legend who got his start at Florida A&M University. Learn a piece of history in the story from the NFL below.
Curious about the changing selection of photos appearing behind former NFL executive Scott Pioli during his appearances on NFL Network? Each image is from a framed cover of a sports magazine, chosen to highlight some of the lesser-known stories from football history that deserve to be widely told. For example, Pioli has focused this season on featuring some of the greats associated with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) who have not been given their due.
Below, Pioli digs into the story of Willie Galimore, a former Florida A&M and Chicago Bears running back whose scouting story is as sensational as his nicknames.
In an NFL Films documentary short, Willie Galimore — known as “The Wisp” and “Gallopin’ Gal” — was described as one of the last great steals before scouting became sophisticated. I’d definitely agree with that assessment, as Galimore’s journey to the NFL involved one of the more fun, interesting and nontraditional scouting stories I’ve heard over the years.
This is because the Bears learned about him from, of all sources, a jockey, who offered Chicago assistant coach Phil Handler a tip while Handler was taking in horse races at Hialeah Park Race Track, just outside Miami. As recounted by the Chicago Tribune, the jockey told Handler of a Florida A&M running back who wore No. 50, a player who earned All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) honors four times and was named Black College All-America by the Pittsburgh Courier three times during his career with the Rattlers (1953-56). Over Galimore’s four seasons at FAMU under Jake Gaither, a College Football Hall of Fame coach, the Rattlers won four conference titles and one Black College National Championship while compiling a 33-4-1 record.
It’s hard to believe a team needed a tip on a player of his caliber, but that was the reality for great HBCU players in the mid-1950s. Galimore was drafted in the fifth round by the Bears in 1956 before joining the team for the ’57 season, and it didn’t take long for the rookie to turn heads. In seven seasons with George Halas’ Bears, Galimore recorded 2,985 rush yards (10th in franchise history) and 37 total touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry for his career. The one-time Pro Bowler also helped the Bears win their eighth championship in 1963 — before his career and life came to a premature end the following year.
On July 27, 1964, during the team’s annual training camp in Indiana, Galimore and teammate John “Bo” Farrington died tragically in a car accident when driving back to the St. Joseph College dorms from a country club. Galimore’s No. 28 was retired by the Bears after his passing.
There are also several notable non-football items about Galimore. Shortly before his death, he struck a blow for civil rights by becoming the first Black person to register as a guest at the Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge in his hometown of St. Augustine, Florida. Galimore’s son, Ron, was also the first Black U.S. Olympic gymnast.
Though Galimore is one of the more well-known names to come out of FAMU, the school’s talent list is rich. Among HBCUs, Florida A&M boasts the fifth-most players drafted (69) — including Pro Football Hall of Famer Bob Hayes, as well as Pro Bowlers Henry Lawrence, Ken Riley and Nate Newton — behind Southern University (78), Jackson State (101), Tennessee State (117) and Grambling State (121). Forty-two NFL players learned under Gaither’s tutelage. Gaither coached the Rattlers from 1945 to 1969 and compiled a record of 203-36-4, the best winning percentage (.844) in college football history among coaches with at least 200 wins.
Though Galimore’s NFL career was shortened, his impact on Halas’ Bears is evident, as his uniform number is one of the franchise’s 13 retired digits. And to think, the NFL may have missed out on his contributions if not for a jockey.