Hall of Famer Wojciechowicz was the Lions’ original Iron Man

Alex Wojciechowicz was a two-way player for the Detroit Lions from 1938 to 1946. The Fordham graduate played at center on offense and at linebacker on defense.

His name was Alex Wojciechowicz.

That’s quite a mouthful, so everyone just called him Wojie.

He was the Detroit Lions’ number-one pick in the 1938 National Football League draft. A New Jersey kid, he had been a two-time All-American at Fordham University, the first player ever drafted out of that institution.

In those days, the Fordham Rams were famous for their dreaded offensive line known as the “Seven Blocks of Granite.” In addition to Wojie, the line included Leo Paquin, Johnny Druze, Ed Franco, Al Babartsky, Natty Pierce, and a fellow by the name of Vince Lombardi, who only became one of the best coaches in NFL history with the Green Bay Packers. The Rams were good enough to finish 15th in the Associated Press poll in 1936, and third in 1937.

Football was in Wojie’s blood. The NFL was in its infancy, played on muddy, slippery fields by men in leather helmets. And Wojie loved getting dirty. At 5’11” and 215 pounds, he was as strong as an ox, a commanding presence on the gridiron. Lions’ coach Dutch Clark liked Wojie so much that he gave the kid the starting nod at center coming out of camp in 1938.

Three years removed from an NFL championship, the Lions had fallen back to the pack. Wojie, however, was one of the team’s stars, always playing at a high level. Like most other players of his era, he played on both offense and defense. At linebacker, he used his powerful arms and vice-like hands to take down the opposition. He was also an extremely agile player, a quick man for his size who ranged the field like a cat.

Wojie twice made the Pro Bowl, and in 1944, perhaps his best season, he intercepted seven passes, establishing a Lions record that has since been broken.

As durable as he was talented, Wojie hardly ever missed a game, gaining a reputation as one of the game’s ironmen. Detroit never made the playoffs during his tenure; in fact, Wojie had to endure the team’s historically awful 0-11 season in 1942. He always regretted that he never played on a winner in the Motor City.

His days in Detroit ended swiftly. On October 13, 1946, the Lions suffered an embarrassing home opener, a 34-14 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Cardinals. The Briggs Stadium crowd booed lustily throughout as the team dropped to 0-3. Head coach Gus Dorais made the bold decision to release four linemen. Among them was the 31-year-old Wojie.

“This day had to come,” he said afterward, “and I can’t say I’m not disappointed that it happened now. This is going to be a long, hard season for the Lions.” His words would prove prophetic, as Detroit managed only one win.

Wojie planned to return to New Jersey, where he had some business interests. Within a couple of days, however, the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a call. Given a reboot to his career, Wojie became a key veteran leader on the Eagles teams that went to two consecutive NFL championship games, winning the second in 1949.

After his playing days, Wojie helped kick start the NFL Alumni Association. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he was one of the first recipients of the coveted NFL Alumni Order of the Leather Helmet.

During Super Bowl week in Detroit in 1982, Wojie commented on the state of the game. “If I had my choice, I’d rather play with conditions like they have it today. Their protection is greater. They can throw their bodies around more recklessly; they don’t have to think of self-preservation at all because of all that equipment.”

Wojciechowicz died in his hometown of South River, New Jersey on July 13, 1992 at age 76.