Norm “Wild Man” Willey
Born: August 22, 1927
Died: August 18, 2011
Norman Earle Willey was born August 22, 1927 in Hastings, WV and grew up in Pennsville. A kind, thoughtful boy in school, Norm turned into a force of nature once he stepped onto the football field. He was long and lean, with great anticipation and agility to go along with his aggressive playing style. Those traits also served him well on the basketball court for Pennsville Memorial High School.
Norm was recruited to Marshall and, after a brief stint in the Navy at the end of World War II, became the star of the school’s basketball team in the late-1940s. He also played fullback and linebacker for the football team. His older brother, Harold, played football for Marshall before the war and returned to the gridiron for the Thundering Herd in 1946.
The Philadelphia Eagles picked Norm in the 13th round of the 1950 draft. At 6’2” and 220 pounds, he was slated to play fullback, but found himself behind veterans Joe Muha and Jack Meyers. Coach Greasy Neale moved Norm to the other side of the ball and he used his speed and instincts to become a difference-making pass rusher. He obliterated Eagles QB Tommy Thompson on three straight plays during a practice and was know ever after as Wild Man Willey.
In a 1952 game against the Giants, Norm had a day that went down in history, knifing through blockers to tackle quarterbacks Charley Conerly and Fred Benners at least a dozen times. Witness estimate the number anywhere between 8 and 17, with Norm himself guessing 15. He was named NFL Player of the Week but because tackles and sacks were not kept as official statistics—and no film of the game exists— his record-breaking day is anecdotal. The Eagles paid their players $10 every time they nailed the opposing quarterback, so Norm got fat envelope after the game.
Norm won the starting job in his third pro season and was recognized by fans as the top pass-rushing end of his era. He was named All-Pro in 1954 and was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1954 and 1955. He averaged at least two sacks a game during his playing days. Norm’s final season in the NFL was 1957. He started all 12 games at right defensive end for coach Hugh Devore on the same line as fellow New Jerseyan Sid Youngelman.
After leaving the NFL, Norm returned to his hometown and became a teacher at Pennsville High for three decades. He taught Health, Phys Ed and Driver’s Ed, and was an assistant coach for the Pennsville Memorial football team. He also coached a semipro team in Wilmington, Delaware in the late 1950s. Norm was a regular at Eagles games in the 1960s and 1970s, and loved mingling with active and retired players at the stadium.
In 2003, Norm was inducted into the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2011, a few days short of 84, in Delaware. The Norm Willey Boot is now given to the winner of the annual Thanksgiving Day game between Pennsville and arch-rival Penns Grove.