He was born in Rainy River, Ontario, Canada and his family moved to International Falls, Minnesota on the Canadian-United States border when he was still a boy. Nagurski became a standout at the University of Minnesota, where he played fullback on offense and tackle on defense and was named an All-American.
Nagurski turned professional to play for the Chicago Bears from 1930 to 1937. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After leaving football, he built a career as a professional wrestler becoming a 3-time world heavyweight champion.
During World War II, professional football teams were short of players and in 1943 Bronko Nagurski returned to the Bears for one season. He scored a touchdown in the Bears' championship victory against the Washington Redskins, then returned to wrestling until his retirement in 1960. He lived out a quiet life on the shores of Rainy Lake on the Canadian border.
He died in International Falls is buried there in Saint Thomas Cemetery. After his passing, the town of International Falls honored him by opening the Bronko Nagurski Museum in Smokey Bear Park. It is the only museum dedicated to a single football player.
In 1995 Nagurski was again honored when the Football Writers Association of America voted to have his name attached to college football’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy.