The San Francisco 49ers organization lost a dear friend and teammate when Gordy Soltau passed away on Sunday, October 26, at the age of 89. One of the most versatile 49ers to ever step on the playing field, Soltau was a model of dependability and productivity throughout his nine-year 49ers career. For his outstanding contributions to the franchise on and off the field, the three-time All Pro became the 23rd member of the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame, in 2012.
“For more than six decades Gordy Soltau has served as a gracious ambassador for the San Francisco 49ers,” said San Francisco 49ers Co-Chairman John York. “I consider myself very lucky to have developed a close relationship with Gordy, having come to know him as a true gentleman and consummate family man. As a link to the early years of our proud franchise, he possessed a selfless nature that was evident both on the field and through his military service to our country. We share with the Soltau family a feeling of great loss and sadness, and will join with them in remembering a man worthy of great love and admiration.”
Soltau made his mark on the 49ers franchise at a key point in the organization’s development. Originally selected in the third round (30th overall) of the 1950 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, he was quickly traded to the Cleveland Browns where legendary coach Paul Brown then offered to send him to San Francisco for an opportunity to start. He would go on to spend his entire nine-year NFL career with the 49ers (1950-58), leading the team in points scored each season and shared the team-lead once. His pass-catching prowess, combined with a strong, accurate kicking leg, allowed him to lead the NFL in points scored in 1952 (94) and 1953 (114), helping him to earn All-Pro honors and Pro Bowl selections in three consecutive seasons (1951-53). One of the league’s original ironmen, Soltau missed just two games during his career, becoming the first player in franchise history to surpass 100 games played. He registered a total of 249 receptions for 3,487 yards and 25 touchdowns, while also making 70 field goals and 284 PATs. He remains one of only three players in NFL history to score 25 touchdowns and make 70 field goals in their career.
Soltau’s rookie season was the team’s first year as a member of the National Football League, and one in which he caught just 14 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown. In his sophomore campaign he burst onto the scene, setting career highs in nearly every statistical category and leading the 49ers to a 7-4-1 record, more than doubling their win total from the season before. Soltau finished second in the NFL in receptions (59) and receiving yards (826) and fifth in receiving touchdowns (seven) that year. He was so valuable to the 49ers offense that season, that he registered as many receiving touchdowns as every other player on the team combined. Against the arch-rival Los Angeles Rams on October 28, 1951, he caught three touchdowns, made a field goal, and connected on five PATs, giving him 26 total points, a franchise record that stood for 39 years, until Jerry Rice recorded 30 points in a game. In 1953, Soltau became the first player in NFL history to catch six-or-more touchdowns and make 10-or-more field goals in a single season. To this day, only one player has ever replicated that feat. Soltau retired in 1958 as the 49ers all-time leading scorer with 644 points, a total that currently ranks fifth in team history.
Prior to starring for the 49ers, Soltau helped defend the country he would later entertain. Soon after graduating high school in the midst of World War II, Soltau enlisted in the United States military and became part of the Navy’s first class of Frogmen, a group that would later become known as the Navy SEALS. He saw action in the Pacific and in Europe as part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and was later made an honorary member of the Green Berets. Upon his return from the war in 1945, Soltau enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he was a standout athlete on offense, defense and special teams. After earning numerous accolades and playing in the Hula Bowl as well as the East-West Shrine Game, he was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Draft and traded to the 49ers shortly after.
Away from the football field, Gordy Soltau was just as impactful as he was on it, working tirelessly with the community to support the 49ers Foundation and youth sports. He served as the 49ers first player representative and was a pioneer in helping establish benefits for NFL players, including establishing a pension plan in 1962 and securing compensation for playing in exhibition games. Soltau helped found the Northern California Chapter of the NFL Alumni Association and became its first president soon after, a position he held for 29 years. Despite having hung up his cleats in 1958, he remained close to the 49ers following his playing days, serving as a color commentator for radio and television broadcasts in the 1960s. Soltau even provided radio commentary for the 1960 Olympic Games in Squaw Valley. An icon in Bay Area sports history, he was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and was later honored with a proclamation from the City of San Francisco declaring Monday, June 16, 2008, Gordy Soltau Day. He is also a member of the University of Minnesota Hall of Fame and the Duluth Hall of Fame.
Soltau was born on January 25, 1925, in Duluth, Minnesota. He is survived by his wife, Nancy; his daughter, Jill; his two sons, John and Mark; daughter-in-laws, Sarah and Valerie; and granddaughters Susie and Shelby. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the San Francisco 49ers Foundation or the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.
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