Position, years at UA: Tackle, 1933-34, 1936
Honors, accomplishments at UA: First-team All-Border Conference in 1934 and 1936. … Became the first UA football player to play in the NFL. … Legendary UA athlete in track and field (discus, shot put, javelin and the high jump) and boxing.
Why he made our list: It is most difficult to rank players from long-ago eras, as the comparisons to modern players break down, but Michael Earle Nolan rates here because of his mythical place in school lore. He arrived on campus around the time a now-classic adventure film hit the theaters, and he would live up to the nickname “King Kong” Nolan. He was “Tarzan” too for a while, but that one didn’t stick.
At 6 feet 2 and 230 pounds and described as having a 50-inch chest, Nolan was a fearsome force on the football field, playing offensive and defensive tackle.
“I used to think that everyone playing in front of me was my deathly enemy,” he told Abe Chanin in the book, “They Fought Like Wildcats.”
“I thought I was the better man and I worked myself into a frenzy. … Most players came over me, and when I’d go downfield, I’d block anyone standing up. Even the referee.”
Nolan — a Tucson High product whose name is listed as “Earle” and “Earl” throughout the UA record books and various newspaper accounts of the day and from later — was an honorable-mention AP All-American in 1936.
“Earle was something else,” teammate Pat Turner said in “They Fought Like Wildcats.”
“He was so strong that he could stand straight up in the line, take a blocker on each leg and still make the tackle. … He was a big, shy guy, but he was awfully damn rough on the football field.”
Life after college: Nolan boxed professionally and signed in 1937 with the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL for $125 per game. In 1938, he was kicked off the team.
“I got in an argument with the coach, and that’s putting it mildly,” Nolan said in “They Fought Like Wildcats.”
“We came to blows and I was dismissed from the team.”
Nolan volunteered for the Marines in 1941 and had a decorated military career during World War II, fighting at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. He worked in the Tucson Fire Department upon his return home, earned a civil-engineering degree from UA in 1955, worked in mining and was the chief engineer for the Coronado National Forest for 15 years until retiring in the early 1970s.
Nolan died April 6, 1991, at Tucson Medical Center. He was 80.
In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we are counting down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Leave your top 10 at AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook, and check out azcentral.com for the countdown of ASU’s Top 50 football players.
Arizona’s top 50
No. 50 — LaMonte Hunley
No. 49 — Hubie Oliver
No. 48 — Rob Gronkowski
No. 47 — Jim Donarski
No. 46 — Ontiwaun Carter
No. 45 — Steve McLaughlin
No. 44 — John Fina
No. 43 — Glenn Parker
No. 42 — Bobby Lee Thompson
No. 41 — Marcus Bell
No. 40 — Fred W. Enke
No. 39 — Ka’Deem Carey
No. 38 — Juron Criner
No. 37 — Dana Wells
No. 36 — Tom Tunnicliffe
No. 35 — Bruce Hill
No. 34 — Chuck Osborne
No. 33 — Brandon Sanders
No. 32 — Sean Harris
No. 31 — Mike Thomas
No. 30 — Bobby Wade
No. 29 — T Bell
No. 28 — Joe Salave’a
No. 27 — Eddie Wilson
No. 26 — Chuck Levy
No. 25 — Allan Durden
No. 24 — Nick Foles
No. 23 — Tony Bouie