By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — After all these years, Bill Dudley is used to being honored. He entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966. Every winter, the best college football player in this state receives an award named for Dudley.
Even so, Aug. 18 was special for the former UVa great. That afternoon they celebrated Bullet Bill Dudley Day in his hometown of Bluefield, Va.
“It was just a very nice little-town occasion,” Dudley said by phone Wednesday morning from his home in Lynchburg. “It was a very nice experience, and the University was very kind to me.”
Gerry Capone, UVa’s associate director of athletics for football administration, attended the ceremony and was among the speakers, who also included Bluefield’s mayor and vice mayor. The mayor, Don Harris, read a letter from Gov. Kaine.
At Bluefield Town Hall, Dudley spoke too. “I’m not a young man anymore,” he said. “I’m an old man, but one which is sincerely appreciative of the opportunities and the blessings the good Lord has given me in life.”
Dudley will turn 88 in December. He was only 16 when, after graduating from Graham High School, he left for UVa.
Most of the people he knew in Bluefield no longer are there, though he saw a former high school teammate at the Aug. 18 ceremony. But Dudley carries fond memories of growing up in the Tazewell County town near the West Virginia line, even if his football career started slowly.
“I was out for high school football for two years, and they wouldn’t give me a uniform,” he said.
Eventually, of course, he became a star for Graham. He hasn’t forgotten a game against Richlands in which the opposing fans heckled the G-Men’s young phenom.
“Somebody yelled, ‘Graham had to take a timeout to let Bill Dudley take a nap!'” Dudley recalled, laughing.
At UVa, Dudley wore jersey No. 35. He rarely came off the field, and as a senior had a part in 206 of the 279 points scored by the Wahoos, who finished 8-1. He was the first UVa football player to have his number retired.
He left the University as the Cavaliers’ career leader in rushing, passing, total offense and punt returns. He spent nine seasons in the NFL — three each with the Steelers, the Lions and the Redskins — with a break in 1943 and ’44 for service in the Army Air Cop during World War II.
In 1946, Dudley led the NFL in rushing, punt returns and interceptions (as well as a long-gone category, lateral passes attempted) and was named the league’s MVP.
In ’47, he scored 11 TDs for the Lions: seven on receptions, two on runs, one on a punt return and one on an interception return.
He doesn’t travel as much as he used to, but Dudley is still a regular in Charlottesville during football season.
“I get up for the ball games. I wish I hadn’t been there last week,” he said with a laugh, referring to UVa’s 26-14 loss to William and Mary in the season-opener.
“That’s what drives coaches and people who love the game crazy.”