John Panelli died Friday, March 2, of a sudden illness in Royal Oak, Michigan at the age of 85. He was the first person to be named All-State on the Morristown, NJ high school football team. After a year on scholarship at where he won the "Mr. Cheshire" award for Athlete, Scholar & Gentleman, John received a scholarship to attend Notre Dame.
He played on the 1946 & 1947 National Championship teams at fullback/linebacker positions, winning the starting spot on the '47 & undefeated 1948 team. Panelli earned the Coffman award for Most Valuable Player in the East-West All-Star Classic before becoming a first round draft choice for the Detroit Lions in 1949.
Panelli played for the Lions as defensive linebacker in '49 & '50, then spent the following three years with the Chicago Cardinals. He was inducted into The Willie Heston Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1968, The Italian American Hall of Fame in 1995 and was awarded the "Unsung Heroes" Award by the All-American Football Foundation in 1997.
John left the NFL to start J.R. Panelli Equipment Company, a construction equipment dealership in Southfield, Michigan.
He is survived by his loving wife of 62 years, Margaret, his sons John, Andrew (Patricia), Peter and daughter Velma Krupnik (Steve), his sisters Angelina Lombardo and Anna Brockman, and his grandchildren Amanda Maurizi, and Juliana, John and Angelina Panelli.
Those wishing to make a commemorative donation can do so at www.stlouiscenter.org or mail to The Saint Louis Center, 16195 Old U.S. 12, Chelsea, MI 48118.
Information provided by at A.J. Desmond & Sons.