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Latinos on the Gridiron  

Trailblazers of the Day | Saturday, September 14, 2013

On Sunday, September 15, the Chicago Bears will celebrate Latino Heritage Month. One of the Bears’ standout players is Center Roberto Garza, who has started nearly every game since coming to the Bears in 2005. Born of immigrant parents in Texas, Garza is a leader in the community as well as on the field.

While only 1 percent of NFL players are of Latino heritage (just 24 players on Opening Day rosters), Garza was not the first Latino Bear. Peter Perez – whose parents came from Zacatecas, Mexico - was a star Guard at Marmion Military Academy and University of Illinois, and played for the 1945 Bears. He later joined the Aurora (Illinois) Police Department and was Kane County Undersheriff.

Other milestones:

  • The first Latino to play in the NFL was Cuban-born Ignacio Molinet, who played for the 1927 Frankford Yellow Jackets (later the Philadelphia Eagles).
  • The first Latino drafted by an NFL team was tight end/punter Joe Aguirre, picked by the 1943 Washington Redskins. Aguirre was likely the first Latino to coach pro football, too, when he became Defensive Coach for the Edmonton Eskimos in 1952.
  • The first Latino in the Hall of Fame (1965) was Honduran-born Steve Van Buren, the Eagles running back who was the first to win three consecutive rushing titles.
  • Few players are been selected for the NFL Pro Bowl; even fewer have been named eight times. The first Latino was Linebacker Ted Hendricks (“The Mad Stork”) who was born in Guatemala City. Hendricks played 15 seasons for the Colts, Packers and Raiders, and played in five Super Bowls.