Former Husky football star Carl Fennema was strong as can be

His love for his alma mater never flagged despite age and injury.

Sepia toned photograph from 1948 of Carl Fennema playing football in a grassy field

By age 91, Carl Fennema still had a grip like a vise.

Five years ago, I got to meet the oldest living New York Giants football player: 91-year-old Carl Fennema. A Husky star from the 1940s, he opened the door of his Seattle condo and shook my hand. I almost crumpled to the ground because my right hand felt like it was being crushed in a vise.

Despite walking with a slight stoop, the former Husky center and linebacker was as strong as an oak, even though he was just nine years from hitting the century mark. A bum knee kept him from going to Husky football games anymore, something he had done for as a season ticket holder for more than 60 years.

Born in 1926 in San Francisco, Fennema grew up loving sports, having been introduced to them by his father. When the family moved to Long Beach, he captained the Wilson High School tennis team and was an all-city football star. As a high school and college kid, he always was on the go; his summer jobs included working as a grocery clerk, shipyard stage rigger, tugboat deckhand, lifeguard, pari-mutuel clerk at Longacres and mowing fairways at a golf course. When he wasn’t working, he was busy playing beach volleyball and golf, and bodysurfing.

After high school, he starred in track and field as well as football at Compton College. His education was interrupted by World War II, when he joined the Navy in 1944. When he was discharged in 1946, the UW recruited him, and he played football and threw the javelin here on Montlake.

When his playing days at the UW were over, the New York Giants came calling for the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder in 1948, offering him a bonus of $500 on top of his NFL salary of $50 a game. The NFL was quite an eye-opener; in his rookie year, he broke his nose and his optic bone, and suffered a concussion. Season two brought a back injury and a doctor’s urging got him to retire from football.

So, the lifelong jock went into business, later starting Northwest Business Forms and becoming a co-owner of Totem Gym on Capitol Hill. Business life did not interfere with his athletic and outdoor pursuits. He was an avid fisherman and golfer, not to mention a nut for long-board surfing. And he also was one of the biggest fans of Husky football anywhere. He bought Husky season tickets in 1950 and was a Tyee member as well as a season ticket holder for the Seattle Pilots, Mariners and Sonics.

As the years wore on, his connection with the UW remained oak-strong. When legendary Husky football coach Jim Owens died in 2009, Fennema was proud to deliver a eulogy at the memorial service on campus. Fennema died in September 2022 at the age of 95. He embodied the spirit of the UW his entire life, and we will never forget him.