"I am very honored to have my jersey number retired and being the only one makes it all the more special," Gatski said."It all started at Marshall and the school has always treated me first-class whenever I have visited. I thoroughly enjoyed my career at Marshall and had so much fun there. I am thrilled and looking forward to coming back and being honored."
Gatski came from Farmington, WV, were he was a three-year starter at center and linebacker in 1936-37-38. He worked in the coal mines in 1939-40, before being offered a chance to come to Marshall by legendary Herd football and basketball coach Cam Henderson to earn a scholarship playing football for the Herd. He was a freshman, starting center for the JV football team in 1940, when the Herd was 8-2 with fellow MU HOF member Jim Roberts at center for the varsity. Gatski then started 17 straight games at center and linebacker for Marshall in 1941 and 1942. The Herd upset Wake Forest at Fairfield Stadium in 1941 on the way to 7-1 record, with "Gunner" (so named for his hard-hitting style) helping block for Jackie Hunt and Courtney Driscoll (22 touchdowns combined that season). Marshall was severely undermanned in 1942, due to the loss of men to the service at the beginning of World War II, and the Herd slumped to 1-7-1 under Henderson.
Gatski played briefly for Auburn after being discharged from the Army in 1945, serving three years during the war from 1943-45. In 1946, former Marshall teammate Sam Clagg contacted new Cleveland Browns assistant coach Johnny Brickles, who had previously coached at Huntington High, about Gatski securing a tryout with the new All-American Football Conference team. He hitchhiked to Bowling Green State University, were the Browns camped in the early years (as well as using the BGSU colors of orange and seal brown for the new pro team that would replace the Cleveland Rams, who had fled after winning the 1945 NFL title to Los Angeles).
Gatski impressed head coach Paul Brown enough that Gatski signed for $2,500, plus a $500 signing bonus, although Gatski would never earn more than $10,000 per year playing football. Gatski would start 132 consecutive games for the Browns and, in 1957, the Detroit Lions. The Browns were in 10 consecutive championship games during his 11 years, winning the AAFC in 1946-47-48 (a perfect season of 14-0) and in 1949 before jumping to the National Football League, along with AAFC teams from San Francisco (the 49ers) and Baltimore (the first Colts team, disbanded in 1953 but later reformed). The Browns beat the defending NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles in their first exhibition game and went on to win the NFL Championship in 1950 over that former Cleveland team, the now Los Angeles Rams. Gatski and the Browns won titles again in 1954 and 1955, as Gatski was rejoined on the Browns by his former Marshall teammate, Ed Ulinski, who started at guard for the Browns 1946-49, then coached from 1954 until the mid-1970s. The Browns lost the NFL title game in 1951-52-53 to Los Angeles and Detroit twice, respectively. In over 20 years of playing football at the high school, collegiate and professional level, Gatski never missed a game or a practice.
Moving to Detroit for 1957, Gatski and Lions' QB Bobby Layne beat the Browns for the title, giving Gatski the most titles for any position player (non-kicker) in the history of the NFL -- eight in 12 seasons, with 11 title games. He was NFL All-Pro five times and played in four Pro Bowls in his career. "Once you win one championship," Gatski told reporters in 1985, "you want to win the next one. It just kinda of builds up. Just being there, winning all those games, that's what it was about to me."
Gatski scouted for the American Football League's Boston Patriots 1958-61, then became head football coach and athletic director for the WV Industrial School for Boys in Prunytown, WV, until the school closed in 1982.
Besides playing with the Browns with his Marshall teammate Ulinski, Gatski was the inspiration for another famous football player from Farmington. Sam Huff, who played collegiately at WVU, followed his hometown hero Gatski into the NFL; Huff was an all-pro career at linebacker with the Washington Redskins and New York Giants.
In 1985, Gatski became the only former Marshall player, and the 13th Cleveland Brown, to enter the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. His induction class may have been one of the greatest of all-time, including former Commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozell, the architect of the modern National Football League, its merger of NFL-AFL, its multi-million television contracts and many other things the NFL has today; NY Jets quarterback Joe Willie Namath, who led the Jets to the upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III; Dallas Cowboys quarterback (and Navy Heisman Trophy winner) Roger Staubach; and Buffalo Bills (and USC Heisman winning running back), O.J. Simpson, the first back in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season.
Gatski will attend the Marshall-UAB homecoming game for his jersey retirement. In attendance will be the Governor of the state of West Virginia Joe Manchin, who is also a native of Farmington. It is hoped Gatski might be available on Friday, October 14, to attend the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame induction of the 2005 class: Herd Football player B.J. Cohen, now of the Arena Football League's New Orleans VooDoo (1994-97); Men's Golfer Pat Carter, winner of 11 WV Opens (1987-90); basketball player Harold McCloud, who died about 20 years ago but was a contemporary of Gatski's (1938-41). McCloud will be represented by his family; from Track and Field, discus and shot put champion in the Southern Conference, Shawn McWhorter (1980-84); and Softball pitcher Cristy Waring-Hayes (1995-98).