Illini Legends Lists and Lore: Jan. 6, 2019

Illini Legends Lists and Lore: Jan. 6, 2019

Athlete ... coach ... team owner ... restaurateur ... hotel operator ... journalist. Former University of Illinois football great John "Jack" Depler was all of these during his life that began 120 years ago today on Jan. 6, 1899.

A consensus All-American for coach Bob Zuppke's Big Ten champions in 1918, Depler centered an Illinois line that also featured an all-star cast of Burt Ingwersen, Albert Mohr and Clarence Applegran. The following season, the Illini went 6-1 en route to the school's fourth conference crown and second national championship.

Depler's senior campaign in 1920 saw him named team captain. The three Illini teams on which the Lewistown native played for accumulated 16 victories and only five losses.

After graduating from Illinois in 1921, Depler played one season for the Hammond Pros in the National Football League, then became an assistant football coach at Columbia University in New York City. One of Depler's most famous pupils during his eight seasons with the Lions was Lou Gehrig, a strapping running back who made an even bigger name as a baseball player for the Yankees.

In 1929, Depler rejoined the NFL as a player-coach with the Orange Tornadoes, a club based in Orange, N.J. The following season, with the help of Bill Dwyer, an early Prohibition gangster and bootlegger, Depler bought the Dayton Triangles and relocated the team to Brooklyn, N.Y., taking most of the Tornadoes players with him. Depler's new Brooklyn Dodgers had success in that first season, 1930, going 7-4-1. However, the Dodgers struggled mightily in 1931 and Depler stepped down as head coach.

Depler transitioned his career into the operation of restaurants and hotels, operating in Oakland, Calif., and then Chicago. He and his wife, Celeste, settled in Paxton in 1955, owning the Middlecoff Inn. In their latter years, the Deplers moved back to Lewistown. In retirement, he authored a newspaper column for the for the Fulton County News and was presented with the Illinois State Historical Society's "Individual Award for Regional History Writing."

When Depler died in 1970 at the age of 71, his body was donated to the University of Illinois College of Medicine for medical research.

Illini Birthdays:

Today: David Zeddies, gymnastics (52

Monday: Mike Hebert, volleyball coach (75)

Tuesday: Brittany Sanchez, softball

Wednesday: Eric Novak, wrestling (37)

Thursday: Lou Henson, basketball coach (87)

Friday: John Wright, football/track & field (73)

Saturday: Verdis Brown, football (19)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is