Bill Dudley, 1946 NFL MVP and Pro Football Hall of Famer, dies at 88

Bill Dudley, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who led the NFL in rushing, punt returns and interceptions in 1946, has died. He was 88.

Dudley had a stroke Saturday and was admitted to Lynchburg General Hospital, his son, Jim Dudley, said Thursday. He said his father hadn't been ill before the stroke and died in his wife's arms.

"Bullet" Bill Dudley was a runner, passer, punter, kicker and defensive back during his nine-year NFL career, highlighted by a 1946 season in which he was the league's Most Valuable Player with the Pittsburgh Steelers. While with the Washington Redskins, Dudley shared an apartment with NFL great Sammy Baugh. Dudley later served in the Virginia Legislature.

"He lived to a high standard," Jim Dudley said. "He was devoted to service and having a positive effect on those people he associated with, and he did. If that's the measure of greatness, he was a great man."

Dudley starred in college at Virginia and was the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Steelers in 1942. He played three seasons in Pittsburgh, a stay interrupted in 1943 and 1944 because of Army service during World War II. He later played three years with the Detroit Lions and three with the Redskins, ending with his retirement in 1953.

The year after his MVP season, Dudley scored 11 touchdowns -- on seven receptions, two rushes, a punt return and an interception return.

"Bill was truly an NFL and Steeler legend as one of the great players to wear a Steelers uniform," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement released by the team. "Bill's dedication to the game of football and to the game he loved will never be forgotten. We will miss Bill, but knowing Bill, he would want us to focus on the positives of the great career he had and the great life he lived."

Born in Bluefield, Va., Dudley played at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds. He wasn't especially fast, but he earned his "Bullet" nickname because he always hit his target.

Dudley was 16 when he was given a scholarship to Virginia and 19 when he cemented his status as perhaps the greatest athlete in school history. As a senior in 1941, he had a hand in 206 of the 279 points the team scored on its way to an 8-1 record. He was an All-American and winner of the Maxwell Award as the nation's top player. He was fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

Dudley was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956, the Pro Football Hall of Fame 10 years later and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1972.

After his playing career, Dudley entered the insurance business with his brother, Jim, and also served four two-year terms in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1966 to 1975. He also served on Virginia's Board of Visitors from 1976 to 1984.

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Virginia's athletic director, Craig Littlepage, said Dudley "truly distinguished himself in the way he was an ambassador for the University of Virginia throughout his life."

"There will never be a better representative of the university than 'Bullet' Bill Dudley," Littlepage said in a statement.

In 1990, The Downtown Club of Richmond began presenting the Dudley Award to the top college football player in the state, and Dudley usually made the presentation. He was in attendance Dec. 8 when Virginia Tech's Cody Grimm won the award, which is now sponsored by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Dudley and his wife, Libba, celebrated their 62nd anniversary in July and lived in Lynchburg since 1950.

In addition to his son and wife, Dudley is survived by daughters Jarrett Millard and Rebecca Stinson. The Dudleys had another son, William, who died of leukemia at age 6 in 1954.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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