Gordy Soltau, who led the NFL in scoring in 1952 and 1953 and was inducted into the 49ers’ Hall of Fame two years ago, died Sunday. He was 89.
Soltau was part of a generation of football players that served in World War II before beginning playing careers. According to a release from the 49ers, Soltau enlisted soon after graduating from high school and became part of the Navy’s first class of frogmen that later became known as the Navy SEALS.
He saw action in the Pacific and in Europe as part of the Office of Strategic Services – a predecessor of the CIA – and was later made an honorary member of the Green Berets. When he returned from the war in 1945, Soltau enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he stood out on offense, defense and special teams.
The 49ers used him in a variety of ways, too, during his nine seasons (1950-58) with them.
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In his second year, Soltau finished second in the NFL in receptions (59) and receiving yards (826) and fifth in receiving touchdowns (seven). His seven touchdown catches matched the rest of the team combined.
Against the rival Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 28, 1951, he caught three touchdown passes and made a field goal and five extra points, giving him 26 points, a franchise record until Jerry Rice recorded 30 points in a game in 1990. In 1953, Soltau became the first NFL player to catch six or more touchdown passes and make 10 or more field goals in a season, and only one player has replicated that feat.
Soltau led the 49ers in points in all nine of his seasons. He missed just two games and was the franchise’s first player to play in more than 100 games. He caught 249 passes for 3,487 yards and 25 touchdowns and made 70 field goals and 284 PATs. He is one of only three players to score 25 touchdowns and make 70 field goals.
Soltau retired as the 49ers’ all-time leading scorer with 644 points, still fifth in team history.
“For more than six decades, Gordy Soltau has served as a gracious ambassador for the San Francisco 49ers,” owner John York said in a statement. “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, born Jan. 25, 1925, in Duluth, Minn., is survived by his wife, Nancy; daughter Jill; 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
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.