DULUTH, Minnesota, AP. Walter “Bug” Bujkowski, a football innovator credited with the invention of the shovel pass and the tackle-eligible play, died in his sleep last night of congestive heart failure. He was 97.
One of the game’s early visionaries, Bujkowski developed the shovel pass in a 1927 game against the Pottsville Maroons.
“Bug was at tailback for the Duluth Eskimoes,” recalled Jim “Popcorn” Brandt, a Maroons’ lineman, “and he took a direct snap. Bug sorta flipped the ball to the wingback, Johnny ‘Horse’ Hampton, and hit him right in his nickname. I pounced on it but Bug started yelling ‘shovel pass, shovel pass’ and convinced the referee it wasn’t a lateral.”
Bujkowski’s quick thinking saved the day as Duluth went on to beat Pottsville, 12-3, the only bright spot in a 1-8-0 season for the Eskimoes. He had developed his shoveling skills as a youth working in the hard-scrabble, rough-and-tumble Owl Creek Mountains of Wyoming, where life-threatening avalanches of hyphens are an unfortunate fact of life.
Bujkowski would later improvise another pigskin innovation, the tackle eligible play, when he coached the Providence Steam Rollers. “We had an end that year who was real lazy,” recalled Earl “Milk Train” Poindexter, the Steam Rollers’ wing back. “He’d lean on the defensive lineman and grunt–just go through the motions.”
“Bug finally had enough one day and pulled the guy out of the game. One of the assistants asked who they should send in to replace him. Bug said, ‘We’re better off with nobody at that position than somebody who’s going to dog it.’”
Two plays later Bujkowski forgot that he had removed the end and called for a pass play. Providence quarterback Ed “Thunderbolt” Thompson threw it to the tackle at the end of the offensive line, paving the way for modern-day uses of the formation such as Mike Vrabel’s touchdown for the New England Patriots in the 2005 Super Bowl against the Eagles.
Bujkowski was a self-effacing man who wanted no credit for his pioneering inventions. When asked by a reporter at his 1993 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction how history would view his contributions to the game, Bujkowksi replied “Who gives a rat’s ass–where’s the buffet?”
His eyesight failing, Bujkowski lived out his declining years in a double-wide trailer with his chihuahua “Tige”. When interviewed by this reporter shortly before his death, Bujkowski said “I have no regrets. I’ve lived a full life, and I–JESUS, GET THIS DAMN SQUIRREL OFF MY–oh wait. That’s Tige.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that contributions be made to the Bemidji Institute for the Study of Sports Head Trauma.
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