A history of Armenian Players in the NFL

 

The National Football League was founded in 1920 and American football is the most popular sport in the United States. 

Over 100 years ago, when Armenians fleeing persecution in Ottoman Turkey arrived on U.S shores, many of their descendents ventured into sports. Whilst many Armenians have found success at college football level, only a handful have made it to the professional league. Here is a selection of Armenians who have played in the NFL.

 

 

 

Mihran Mike Gulian

 

Mihran "Mike" Gulian, was an Armenian-born American football player who played five seasons in the NFL in the 1920s. He was the first ever Armenian player in the league and was nicknamed "The Armenian Prince". 

Gulian was born in Marash, Western Armenia in 1900. Escaping the Genocide, his family migrated to the United States where Mihran grew up in Newton, Massachusetts.

Gulian played for the Buffalo All-Americans (1923), Frankford Yellow Jackets (1924), and Providence Steam Roller (1925–1927)

After retiring from football he worked for the Equitable Life Assurance Company in Boston. During World War II, he served in the United States Army for 10 months and then with the American Red Cross in India for three years. 

 

 

Max Choboian

 

Max John Choboian was an American collegiate and Professional Football quarterback who played professionally in the American Football League (AFL) before it merged with the NFL.

Born in Tulare, California, he played one season in the AFL for the Denver Broncos and started seven games in 1966. He sadly died of lung cancer at the age of just 34. 

The annual Max Choboian Road Race in Tulare was setup in honour of Max's memory and is currently in its 43rd year. 

 

 

 

 

Ben Agajanian

 

Benjamin James Agajanian, born in Santa Ana, California in 1919, was a placekicker in the AFL and NFL from 1945 to 1959 representing the likes of Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers to name but a few. 

During his college career Agajanian had four of his kicking foot toes crushed in an elevator shaft while working his summer job at a Coca Cola plant. All but his little toe had to be amputated. 

"Well if you're going to have to amputate the toes then square 'em off" Agajanian told the doctors. "Don't let one stick up."

His right foot shrunk from a size 10 to a size 7. Doctors said he would struggle to ever walk normally again.

Desperate to resurrect his career, he soon started kicking again. His coach Ted Shipkey sent him to a cobbler who made him custom, squared off boots.

 

 

Ben quickly discovered that with his now toeless foot, he could actually kick further and more accurately than ever before.

"I have never believed there is any such thing as a handicapped person" Agajanian said in a 1975 interview with the San Francisco Examiner.

"That's a phrase that defeats a lot of people before they even start to rehabilitate themselves. My so-called handicap was the best thing that ever happened to me. I hung in there and I'm proud of myself."

The accident helped Agajanian secure a twenty-year playing career in professional football and his right boot (pictured above) is on display at the NFL Hall of Fame Museum in Ohio. 

 

After retiring from the field at age 45, he was the Dallas Cowboys kicking coach for 20 years. He died in California in 2018 at age 98.

 

 

Don Paul

 

Born in Fresno, 1925, to parents who had survived the Armenian Genocide, Paul was a linebacker who played for the Los Angeles Rams (1948–1955) in the NFL and earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s most fearsome (and dirtiest) players

“Look at it this way – I never bit anybody,” he once told Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray.

He was inducted into the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986. He was one of only two players to play in six UCLA-USC games during the World War 2 years.

After his football career he worked as a broadcaster on Rams telecasts and ran several successful restaurants in the San Fernando Valley, including the Ram's Horn.

 

 

Gary Danielson (Tanielian)

Gary Dennis Danielson (born in Detroit Michigan,1951) was a quarterback in the NFL. He played for the Detroit Lions from 1976 to 1984 and for the Cleveland Browns in 1985, 1987, and 1988.

He amassed 13,764 passing yards and 81 touchdowns in 101 games in the NFL. He ranks fourth in Lions history in passing yards and touchdowns. His five touchdowns in a 1978 game against the Minnesota Vikings is still tied for a Lions record. He is currently working for CBS Sports as a commentator for its college football coverage

Asked about his Armenian heritage in a newspaper interview in 1979, Danielson said:

"When my father was a young man he changed the family name of Tanielian to Danielson. My brothers and two sisters thought we should change our family name back, but it never happened." "I'm proud of my Armenian heritage as is Garo."

 

Garo Yepremian

 

Most remembered for his infamous misplaced pass in Super Bowl VII 1973 playing for the Miami Dolphins vs Washington Redskins, Garo Yepremian arrived in the US via Larnaca, Cyprus at the age of 22.

A talented soccer player with a powerful left foot, after watching American football games on TV, Yepremian was convinced he could become an NFL kicker. Along with his brother Krikor, Yepremian began contacting NFL teams.


He was signed by the Detroit Lions after a tryout in 1966. In his rookie year, he broke an American football record by kicking six field goals in a single game against the Minnesota Vikings. Yepremian then signed for the Miami Dolphins in 1970. He lead the NFL with 117 points in 1971. He appeared in three Super Bowls (VI, VII, and VIII) winning two of them. 

 



Speaking of his Super Bowl gaffe, Yepremian said in a 2007 interview:

"I took a negative and I turned it into a positive. That happened in 1973, and I played 10 years after that. I could have taken it as a negative, and I could have then made a failure of out myself. But I persevered, and I was voted kicker of the decade of the 70s."

After retirement, Yepremian became a motivational speaker. In 2001, he founded the Garo Yepremian Foundation to raise money for brain tumor research. After a battle with cancer himself, Garo Yepremian passed away in 2015 aged 70.

Named as one of the Miami Dolphins all-time 40 greatest players, he is held in high regard by Dolphins fans for his phenomenal kicking ability and happy-go-lucky attitude. 

 

 

Alex Agase

Alexander Arrasi Agase was a guard and linebacker who was named an All-American three times in college and played on three Cleveland Browns championship teams.

Agase was born in Evanston, Illinois, 1922 to an Assyrian father, Charles Agase and an Armenian mother, Elsie Darwitt. Both were born in Persia.

After retiring from football, Agase worked as an assistant coach for the Dallas Texans. He was hired as an assistant at Northwestern in 1956 under head coach and fellow Armenian, Ara Parseghian.

 

 

Steve Furness

 

Steve Furness, born in Providence, RI, 1950, was a defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions and a member of the Steelers' famed Steel Curtain defense. He earned four Super Bowl rings as a professional player and ranks 12th on the Steelers' all-time sack list. He was of English and Armenian descent, with his maternal grandparents arriving in the USA from Kharpert, Ottoman Empire.

In 1999, he was named as one of the "50 Greatest Rhode Island Sports Figures" of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated magazine.

Furness died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2000. He is survived by two sons, Zack and Zaban Furness. Zaban (a stylized version of Zaven) is named after fellow Armenian Zaven Yaralian (pictured below), who served as an assistant coach for the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos. 

 

 

 

 

Rien Vartan Long

 

Born in Los Angeles, 1981, Rien Vartan Long is a former American college and professional football player who was a defensive tackle in the NFL for three seasons during the early 2000s.

He played college football for Washington State University, earned All-American honors, and was recognized as the top college interior lineman. The Tennessee Titans chose him in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He played for the Titans until his pro career was sadly cut short by injuries.

Long is of one-fourth Armenian descent and connects to his heritage greatly. He has a tattoo of the Armenian alphabet (Է) over the Armenian flag on his arm (pictured above).

Long's trip to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, accompanied by his family, in 2006 was the subject of a feature-length documentary, "The Long Journey from the NFL to Armenia" which can be watched in full on YouTube. 

 

Photo via Rien Long's mom's blog

 

 

Not forgetting:

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars

Trent Edwards, former quarterback for the Buffalo Bills 

Harry Hugasian, Chicago Bears / Baltimore Colts

Mark Roopenian, nose tackle, Buffalo Bills

Doug Gaynor, Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals 


8 comments

  • Detroit lions jacket

    Nice Styles you got here, So loving the Detroit Lions Jacket.

  • fred

    It was interesting how many of them passed thru Detroit.

  • Mark C. Roopenian

    Thanks for the mention!

  • Lou Mikitarian

    Jeff Tarpinian
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Tarpinian

  • Ara Bagdasarian

    Excellent Article…..thank you

    Ara Parseghian was drafted by HOF coach Paul Brown and played for the Cleveland Browns in 1948 and 1949 before being injured. He then returned to Miami to begin his famous coaching career at Miami of Ohio, Northwestern and of course Notre Dame where his record was 95-17 and 4 ties.


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