George Nock—NFL Player and Artist
Sometimes it takes a while before an individual finds their true calling in life. For George Nock he grew up with art before taking a slight detour toward the world of college and professional football, before returning to his real love and talent, art.
Born March 4, 1946, in Baltimore, and raised in Philadelphia, Nock came from a big city background and lived a big city life.
Nock excelled at both art and athletics during his early years. Even in his earliest years he was drawing and during junior high he crossed paths with two mentors who had a distinct influence on his life path. African American artists and educators William Tasker and John Battle III allowed George to excel in his coursework and even provided weekend lessons at the Fleischer Art Memorial. While still interested in art, Nock began to focus energies on sports during high school.
Nock attended Morgan State College (now University after 1975), where he and the Bears had several memorable moments during his career there. During the 1965 Orange Blossom Classic, facing Florida A&M, Nock returned a punt for a touchdown and the Bears defeated the Wildcats 36-7.
The following year, Nock and the Bears played in the first bowl game where a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) won an integrated game. Morgan State College defeated the West Chester Golden Rams by a final score of 14-6, in the Tangerine Bowl (now called the Citrus Bowl) in Orlando, FL, capping off an undefeated season at 8-0.
Several Morgan State players from the 1966 team went on to NFL careers including Tangerine Bowl MVP, Willie Lanier, Bob Wade, Baryl Johnson, Alvin Mitchell, Jeff Queen, and Nock. Lanier went on to be a star in the league, playing in 149 games, intercepting twenty-seven passes, and recovering eighteen fumbles in an eleven-year career. He was an eight-time all-pro, went to the Pro Bowl six times, was selected to both the 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time teams, and had his number retired by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
Nock’s college career was strong enough to invite interest from the NFL, and in the 1969 draft he was taken by the New York Jets in the 16th round, the 416th player taken overall. Being drafted that low, it was a struggle to make the team, but he did, playing alongside quarterback Joe Namath. He only played in two games that season and totaled negative five rushing yards.
While Nock’s numbers were not strong, the team ended the regular season with a 10-4 record, good enough to make it to the playoffs where they would lose to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The young Nock came back strong in the 1970 season, not just earning a roster spot but playing in all fourteen games, starting in nine. He finished second on the team in rushing yards with 402 and also caught eighteen passes for an additional 146 yards. Combined he scored six touchdowns. This was certainly a solid year, but the team was poor. Namath broke his wrist in the fifth game of the season and the team finished a dreadful 4-10.
Nock was to play one more season with the Jets. In 1971 he played in all fourteen games and totaled 137 rushing yards, 44 pass reception yards, and scored five touchdowns.
In 1972 he moved on to the Washington Redskins where in his final year in the league, he played in only seven games, cut down due to injury. He ran for twenty-two yards and caught no passes. The Redskins went to Super Bowl VII but were defeated by the undefeated Miami Dolphins.
Nock did not play in the 1973 season due to injury and was later traded to the Baltimore Colts. He was to later file suit against the Redskins for negligent treatment by team physician Dr. P.M. Palumbo, Jr.
In a post-career interview posted on the Washington Commanders website, in discussing how he transitioned from football to art, Nock stated, “I was always drawing and doing something related to the arts. I pursued it in a way that could be considered a career at the time, [but] I pursued it as a hobby just because I loved to do it. Doing it on my own, I developed my skill.” In discussing his passion for art, he went on, “I just decided to pursue the artwork, and see what happens. There’s a thing that eats away at you and there’s where your passion lies, so follow it. That’s what I did.”
The interview continues, delving into how Nock got into bronze sculpture,
Well, it took a while to do the bronze. I could always sculpt, but I never took a class. I’m self-taught. But then in ’89, I decided to really take a look at it and I was at a football convention in L.A. and when I came back I just made up my mind to do bronzes. I just made up my mind. I went directly to a foundry out in Northern Virginia. They took me in and I asked if they could show me how to do this. [But] they said, “We don’t let people [bronze] off the street.” So, I went and got this sculpture of a football player that I had done and brought it back to them. I said, “I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life.” They said, “come on in, man.” That’s how that happened.
George Nock, the artist, has firm ties to the Orlando area. Visitors to Lake Lorna Doone Park can visit the “Breaking Barriers” monument. This incredibly important work, highlights two Little League baseball players, one African American, the other White. The monument is in commemoration of the first integrated Little League game played in the South. This game was played here in 1955 at what was then called Optimist Park.
Rather than attempt to retell the story of how the Pensacola Jaycees Little League team came to Orlando to participate in the district tournament, I refer readers to this excellent Major League Baseball article.
The world lost George Nock in 2020 at age 74 to COVID-19. An online memorial for him may be found using THIS LINK.
“67 Years Ago, 2 Teams of 12-Year-Old Boys Made History.” https://www.mlb.com/news/1955-little-league-baseball-history-pensacola-jaycees-orlando-kiwanis.
“Breaking Barriers.” Orlando Arts. July/August 2023.
George Nock. https://www.georgenock.com/.
“George Nock, Jets RB from 1969-1971 & Acclaimed Artist, Dead at 74.” New York Jets. https://www.newyorkjets.com/news/george-nock-jets-rb-from-1969-71-acclaimed-artist-dead-at-74.
“George Nock.” Just Lookin. www.justlookin.com/bios/gNock.htm.
“George Nock.” Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/N/NockGe00.htm.
“Mayor Dyer & Commissioner Hill Unveil Barrier Breakers Monument. https://www.orlando.gov/News/Press-Releases/2022-Press-Releases/Barrier-Breakers-Monument-Unveiling.
“Nock Files Negligence Suit.” New York Daily News. September 28, 1974.
“Redskins Past to Present—George Nock.” https://www.commanders.com/news/redskins-past-to-present-george-nock-16952628.
“Willie Lanier.” Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/L/LaniWi00.htm.
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