Gene Knutson, a backup defensive end for the Green Bay Packers in 1954 and 1956, died Saturday in Cassopolis, Mich. He was 75 and had been battling cancer, according to the Beloit News.
He was a four-sport star at Beloit Memorial High School in the late 1940s. As a senior, he was an all-state football player in 1949 and an all-state basketball player in 1950. He was a member of Beloit’s state champion American Legion baseball team in 1947 and its state champion track and field team in 1949.
Knutson went on to play offensive end and defensive end at the University of Michigan, and was drafted by the Packers in the 10th round of the 1954 NFL draft, the 111th player chosen.
Wearing No. 81, he played in 18 games for the Packers, who went 4-8 in each of his seasons. He missed the 1955 season with a knee injury. He retired after the 1956 season because of knee problems.
Knutson described his time in the NFL in an interview with the Beloit News: “It was more of a business â€” dog eat dog. When I played, there were only 12 teams and the (roster) limit was 33. It was a lot harder to get on a pro roster than it is now. I would love to be coming out of college now.”
After leaving the NFL, Knutson was a teacher in South Bend, Ind., then went into business. He founded the NFL Alumni chapter in South Bend.