He was just a great person

Pueblo sports legend and NFL player remembered for storied career

Josue PerezBy Josué Perez
The Pueblo Chieftain
Jan. 1, 2023

Gary Knafelc, a Pueblo sports legend who went on to star for the Green Bay Packers in the National Football League, died Dec. 19 at his home in Florida. He was 90, and according to the Packers’ team historian, Cliff Christl, was one of two surviving starting players from Vince Lombardi’s first game as an NFL head coach. h “I think (people should remember) what a wonderful person he was,” said Mike Leonard, Gary’s nephew who resides in Pueblo. “He had that infectious laugh, and he was just a great person.”

Leonard, 66, was close with Knafelc, who in 1950 graduated from Pueblo Central High School, where he was a four-sport athlete and football standout under head coach Sollie Raso.

knafelcKnafelc in 1973 was inducted into the Greater Pueblo Sports Association Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class. He was the fifth member to be announced as an initial inductee, according to a Chieftain article at the time.

After graduating from Central, Knafelc attended the University of Colorado on a football scholarship. He was a star at the university for four years and was an All-American defensive end in 1953, adding 22 catches for 451 yards and eight touchdowns that season.

The Chicago Cardinals, now Arizona, chose Knafelc with the 14th pick in the 1954 NFL draft. He played one game for them before being cut and was later picked up by the Packers, where he became a fan favorite and had his most signature moments.

“He was tough,” Leonard said of Gary’s playing style on the field. “Not only did (the Packers players) become good football players, but they were excellent in life. They all remembered what Lombardi taught them.”

Before playing under Lombardi, Knafelc had what’s considered one of the most memorable moments in Packers history. With 20 seconds remaining in the 1955 season opener against the Detroit Lions, Knafelc caught a game-winning touchdown pass. The moment motivated hundreds of fans to storm the field, and some of those fans carried him off of it and to the Packers’ bench.

“He’s the only Packer that’s ever been carried off the field,” Leonard said.

Knafelc caught another game-winning touchdown two years later at Green Bay City Stadium, now known as Lambeau Field, and in 1959 caught his third during Lombardi’s first season as Green Bay’s head coach.

Knafelc was the starting tight end for the Packers before serving as their backup during their NFL Championship winning seasons in 1961 and 1962 under Lombardi, who went on to win three more titles in 1965, 1966 and 1967 before the start of the Super Bowl era. The Super Bowl trophy was named in Lombardi’s honor following his death in 1970.

Knafelc in 1964 retired from the NFL after 10 seasons. Between 1964 and 2004, he was the public address announcer at Packers games. He also owned an interior design company, Leonard said.

When he would discuss his playing career, Knafelc usually brought up Lombardi.

“He always talked about how much Lombardi did for all of them,” Leonard said.

In 1976, Knafelc was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, according to Christl.

Knafelc in 2013 told The Denver Post that he was in support of former players of his era asking the NFL to increase its financial and medical assistance.

“You couldn’t ask for a nicer guy,” Leonard said.


button back to gpsa stories 



The Greater Pueblo Sports Association (GPSA) has announced a list of honorees that have passed since the 2023 induction ceremony on Nov. 15.



Daniel RosalesDaniel

Class of 2002

Everett C. ThalhamerEverett C.

Class of 2014

Bob GrahamBobby Max

Class of 1990