Leo Anthony Nobile liked to be known for having the largest calfs in the National Football League when he played for the Steelers in the late 1940s. He also became known for something more dubious -- as the only player to almost drown during a game.
The game occurred at Forbes Field in 1948 or 1949, the years Mr. Nobile played as a two-way lineman for the Steelers. Rain made the field a mess, with puddles everywhere. Mr. Nobile found himself face down in one with a pile of players on top of him after a tackle was made.
"It was the only time my grandparents watched him play pro ball," said Natalie Nobile-Shoop, one of his three daughters. "They carried him off the field because he almost drowned."
Mr. Nobile, of Moon, died Tuesday of kidney failure. He was 84.
"He was a good man," said Dan Rooney, chairman of the Steelers. "He was president of our alumni association and for a while we'd all go to big parties the night before games."
Mr. Nobile played guard at Penn State University, where his education and athletic career were interrupted by World War II.
He served in the Army as a radio operator and was on a ship in the Aleutian Islands near Alaska when he received a transmission that the United States had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He relayed the information to the admiral of the ship, who told him to go back and get his story straight. He confirmed it four times.
After he graduated from Penn State, Mr. Nobile played for the Redskins in 1947, and played for coach John Michelosen's Steelers in 1948 and 1949.
On road trips, his daughter recalled him saying many times, Steelers owner Art Rooney would walk up and down the aisle of the bus or train passing out bologna and cheese sandwiches to the players on their way to the game.
"If they offered bologna and cheese sandwiches today," he once told his daughter, "they'd be wearing them."
When his playing career ended, Mr. Nobile became the divisional sales manager for Cutco Cutlery, a subsidiary of Alcoa. He retired from that job in 1973.
Then, the founding father of the Steelers helped make Mr. Nobile the founding father of the Stealers.
Art Rooney helped land him a job as director of activities and athletics at Western Penitentiary. There, Mr. Nobile started the first semi-pro football team at the pen and called them the Pittsburgh Stealers.
"We played no away games," he was fond of saying.
Mr. Nobile retired from that job in 1989.
In addition to his daughter, Natalie, he is survived by his wife, Ann Ryan Nobile; daughters Michelle Livingston and Beth Scarsellone; and a sister, Dolores Hopkins.
Visitation will be today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Copeland's Funeral Home, 981 Brodhead Road, Moon. There will be a prayer at 9 a.m. tomorrow at the funeral home, followed by a Mass to be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. at St. Margaret Mary Church, 1 Parish Place, Moon. Interment will be in Resurrection Cemetery.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com .