Glenn Presnell, one of the greatest Detroit Lions in franchise history and a stalwart on the Lions' first NFL championship team in 1935, died Monday night at his home in Ironton, Ohio. He was 99.
One of the underrated stars of the NFL's early years, Presnell, along with teammate Dutch Clark, co-piloted Lion coach Potsy Clark's famed "Infantry Attack" offense of the 1930's. During those years, it was no secret to Lion opponents that Detroit liked to run. With Presnell and Clark calling signals, Detroit's single-wing offense pounded out the yardage with devastating results for the opposition. Their 1934 squad still holds the franchise's single-game rushing mark with 426 yards, set against the Pittsburgh Pirates (later the Steelers) on November 11, 1934. Two years later, their 1936 team set a then-NFL single-season team record of 2,885 yards rushing. It is important to note that the mark was set in the days of twelve-game regular seasons. To this day it remains the Lion record, and it stood as the NFL mark for 36 years until it was broken by the 1972 Miami Dolphins, playing in an expanded 14 game slate.
Glenn was born July 28, 1905 in Gilead, Nebraska. He graduated from DeWitt (Nebraska) High School in 1923, and then attended the University of Nebraska. Presnell garnered All-American honors for the Cornhuskers in 1927 when he led the nation in rushing. He was also named All-Big Six and All-Missouri Valley.
As a sophomore in 1925, Nebraska played Illinois and the legendary Red Grange. The Cornhuskers slowed Grange that day, but Presnell ran wild in a 14-7 win over the favored Illini. It prompted famed sports writer Grantland Rice to proclaim Presnell "was better than Grange. Some teams stopped Grange cold, but no one stopped Presnell."
With the NFL in its infancy, many of the game's top players opted for jobs after college and continued to play ball at a semi-professional level. Presnell was one of those players as he was enticed to take a job teaching in Ironton High School in Ironton, Ohio while playing semi-pro football for the Ironton Tanks.
"I made $2,000 a year at Ironton and I got $150 a game with the Tanks. That was pretty good money in those days," Presnell once said of his playing days.
Presnell played for the Tanks from 1927-30. The Tanks folded after the 1930 season as the Depression took its toll on the Ironton community. Presnell then took his football skills to nearby Portsmouth, Ohio to play for the NFL's Portsmouth Spartans beginning in 1931.
It was in Portsmouth where Presnell and Clark began their gridiron exploits together. As rookies in ‘31, they led the Spartans to a second-place finish behind the Green Bay Packers. The duo would lead the Spartans to another top-three finish in 1932. Then in 1933, with Dutch Clark on a self-imposed one-year retirement, Presnell directed the Spartans to a second-place finish behind the Bears. Glenn would have a career year in his Portsmouth swan song, tying for the league lead in scoring (64 points), finished 2nd in passing yards (774), and 4th in rushing yards (522). The Presnell / Clark duo would reunite in Detroit in 1934, guiding the Lions to another runner-up finish behind the Bears. Finally in 1935, they would lead the Lions to their first NFL Championship, climaxing with a 26-7 title game win over the New York Giants.
Presnell also served as the Lions' regular place-kicker. In 1934, he booted an NFL record 54-yard field goal in a 3-0 victory against the Packers. It remained an NFL record until 1953, and stood as the Lions' record until Jason Hansen's 56-yard effort in 1995. In addition to his aforementioned tie for the league scoring title in 1933, Glenn would finish third with 63 points in 1934, behind the Bears' Jack Manders (76), and his old backfield-mate Clark (73). Presnell received NFL All-Pro honors in 1931 and 1933.
Presnell retired after nine professional seasons and spent one year as an assistant coach at Kansas, then went to his alma mater Nebraska before entering into the Navy during the World War II for three years.
After the war, Presnell was hired at Eastern Kentucky and spent 17 years as the EKU head coach and another 11 as the athletic director before retiring in 1974. Since then, he has been elected into the Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Nebraska and state of Nebraska hall of fames.
Jim Walker, Sports Editor of the Ironton (Ohio) Tribune, contributed to this story.