Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The fascinating career of Russell Thompson

It was just about 90 years ago this fall that the Nebraska Cornhusker football team – under the leadership of coach Dana Bible – appeared to be on the threshold of a great season.  Alas, it wasn't a "great" year, but thanks in part to a newcomer to the team, Whitney's Russell "King Kong" Thompson, the Huskers wrapped up the season with a 6-3 record, and a respectable 4-1 record in the old Big 6 Conference.  It was his second year of playing college ball – his first year was played with what was then known as Chadron Teachers College.

The Chadron Journal headlined a story about Thompson's success with "Russell Thompson Makes Good on Cornhusker Team."  Thompson, who played tackle, stood 6ft. 4in. and checked in at 234 pounds, proved to be fast and agile for his size.  The paper observed that early in the season, Thompson had a "poor start because he lacked a thorough grounding in fundamentals and a noticeable absence of "fire."  

But he did a quick about-face and reportedly turned in brilliant performances against Missouri and Kansas.  "He is a coming star" said the Journal, noting that Thompson – dubbed "King Kong" – was a veritable stone wall on defense in the season finale against Missouri with the Huskers winning 13-6.    He also revealed an ability to block on offense, bringing "smiles to the Nebraska coaching staff."  Against Kansas, "the Jayhawks found this giant tackle impenetrable."  Nebraska won the game 3-0.

Thompson had played ball at Whitney High School, but newspaper stories say he transferred to Chadron High School, where, he played football and then one year with "Chadron Teachers College."    After being recruited by Nebraska, he played out his remaining three years of eligibility – lettering all three years.

In 1935, Georage Hallas, owner and coach of the Chicago Bears offered Thompson a contract for $90 per game.  He played four years for the Bears before playing his final pro football season with the Philadelphia Eagles.  He also played one season of semi-pro basketball.

Thompson married Mary Jo Norman in Whitney in 1941 before moving to Wyoming, where the couple ranched near Keeline.  He helped start the Niobrara Convservation District and also served in the Wyoming Legislature in 1981-82.  

Thompson died on February 12, 2001 in Scottsbluff.  The family had been living in Lusk, Wyoming, for several years. Surviving Thompson was his wife, Mary Jo; children Cody of Lusk; Leif and wife Brenda of Philo, Ill; Tom and wife Dixie of Whitney; Roxanne and husband Roy Sharp at the family ranch; Link and wife Debbie of Gordon; 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.