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Ex-Nevada star Bill Mackrides, two-time NFL champ, dies at 93

Bill Mackrides
Bill Mackrides is one of three Wolf Pack alums to start and NFL game. (Philadelphia Eagles)

One of the great little-know Nevada football stars of the first half of the 20th century recently passed away.

Bill Mackrides, who played for Nevada in the 1940s before a six-year NFL career, died last month at age 93. He was one of the oldest-living NFL players prior to his death.

Prior to Colin Kaepernick, Mackrides was the previous Wolf Pack alum to start an NFL game at quarterback. He's one of three to do that, joined by Kaepernick (58 starts) and Stan Heath (one start). Playing in the NFL with three teams from 1947-53, Mackrides appeared in 46 games with four stars. He completed 131-of-315 passes (41.6 percent) for 1,583 yards with 15 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. He also rushed for three touchdowns.

I caught up with Mackrides in 2012 when Kaepernick became an NFL starter. Age 87 at the time, Mackrides was living outside Philadelphia and was decades removed from his last trip to Reno, which he called his "second home." He fondly remembered his time at Nevada.

“The people in Reno were so nice,” Mackrides said in 2012. “It was such a great experience there and I met so many wonderful people. When I left, I even sounded like a Nevadan. I know that it’s not Ne-vah-dah, but it’s Ne-vad-da. It was a great experience at Nevada.”

Mackrides starred for the Wolf Pack from 1943-44 and in 1946, not playing in 1945 so he could serve in Japan as part of the U.S. Marine Corps. During his tenure, the Wolf Pack had some of its most successful seasons, compiling a 15-7-1 record. After Mackrides left for the NFL following his junior year, Heath took over at Nevada and led the team to a national ranking in 1948.

“They were both excellent quarterbacks,” said Wolf Pack athletic director emeritus Dick Trachok, who was a member of the 1946 team with Mackrides. “Stan was on the All-Century team, but Bill has to be right up there near the very top when you look at the best quarterbacks to play here.”

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Mackrides, who was known for both his throwing and running ability, was the 19th selection of the 1947 draft by his hometown Eagles. As a youth, Mackrides said he was a water boy for the team.

In 2012, Mackrides said his remembrances of his NFL career weren't crystal clear – “My problem is I got hit too many times,” he joked. “Back then, they didn’t say, ‘Don’t hit the quarterback.’” – but the highlight of his pro career came in the 1948 and 1949 seasons, when the Eagles won the NFL championship. Mackrides was a backup to Tommy Thompson, who was blind in his left eye, and made one start in that 1948 season. His only playoff appearance came in 1947 in a 21-0 win over Pittsburgh.

After five years in Philadelphia, Mackrides played for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1952 before his final NFL season with Pittsburgh and New York in 1953. While the modern NFL is a multi-billion business and America's true sporting passion, Mackrides played in a league that included only 10 NFL teams and far less fanfare and money.

“Guys today make as much as our whole team used to make,” Mackrides said. “They were hiring guys for $1,000 or $600 per season. I made a little more, probably $7,000 or $8,000 a year.”

Mackrides was one of the first Wolf Pack football players inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. He was enshrined in 1976 as part of the fourth class in Nevada’s hall history. He came out of relative anonymity to forge an NFL career, starting his career as an offensive lineman before finally getting his chance at the darling position of quarterback.

“My father was a shoemaker and he had a business on Penn’s campus,” Mackrides said. “I got to go and see the Penn players play and I got interested in football. I went out for my team as a freshman in high school and there were so many guys going out, 50 or 60 guys, and I had never played tackle football.

“I watched it and the team needed a center, so I went out for center and was a backup at that position. That’s how I made the team and I worked my way up to quarterback in a couple of years. I had to convince everybody that I could throw the ball.”

He eventually became one of Nevada's best quarterbacks ever and a man his teammates remembered as a stand-up guy.

“He was a great quarterback and on top of that a first-class guy,” Trachok said.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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