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NFF Chapter Leader Joe Fortunato Passes Away at 87
The driving force behind the NFF Miss/Lou Chapter in Natchez, Miss., Passes
Published: 11/13/2017 10:00:00 AM

Joe Fortunato, who along with his wife Catherine were the driving force behind the NFF Miss/Lou Chapter in Natchez, Miss., passed away Nov. 6. He was 87.

In recognition for their contributions, Joe and Catherine were recognized with a prestigious NFF Chapter Leadership Award in 2004. The Miss-Lou Chapter serves the high schools of the Natchez area of Mississippi as well as the area that lies just across the Mississippi River in Louisiana. The annual scholar-athlete banquet, held in February, annually recognizes seven student-athletes, distributing $10,000 in scholarships to the group. The two-day Joe Fortunato Golf Tournament, held each year in May, raises the bulk of the funds. The chapter also presents the Distinguished American and Contribution to Amateur Football awards at the event.

Fortunato, a 1951 First Team All-American and one of the greatest players in Bulldog history, was inducted into the Mississippi State football "Ring of Honor" last month, becoming the seventh MSU legend enshrined in the "Ring of Honor."

Fortunato, a native of Mingo Junction, Ohio, lettered as a fullback and linebacker at State from 1950-52. He became one of the first Bulldogs to rush for over 1,000 yards in a career, scoring six touchdowns and registering four interceptions.

As a junior in 1951, Fortunato was tabbed first-team All-American and first-team All-Southeastern Conference. The following season, he was selected honorable mention All-American and All-SEC after leading MSU with 779 rushing yards and cementing himself as one of the nation's top linebackers.

In 1952, the Chicago Bears selected Fortunato in the NFL Draft. After serving in the military, Fortunato established himself as one of the elite players in Bears history. From 1955-66, he played in 155 games, recording 16 interceptions and 22 fumble recoveries. A team captain, Fortunato started for 12 straight seasons and was a catalyst for the Bears' 1963 NFL championship.

Fortunato was a three-time first-team All-Pro selection (1963, '64, '65), and he played in five NFL Pro Bowls (1958, '62, '63, '64, 65). To this date, no player in MSU history has played in more Pro Bowls than Fortunato. The highlight of his career might have come in 1963. Just months after guiding the Bears to a 14-10 victory over the New York Giants in the 1963 NFL Championship Game at Wrigley Field, Fortunato would captain Vince Lombardi's last Pro Bowl team.

Following retirement, Fortunato remained with the Bears for two seasons as an assistant coach. He was selected to the NFL's 1950s All-Decade Team, and in the early 2000s, was voted one of the NFL's 300 greatest players.

Fortunato was inducted into the Mississippi State M-Club Hall of Fame in 1990 and then selected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1978. He is a 1990 inductee of the National Italian Sports Hall of Fame.

In 2010, NFL.com selected Fortunato as the second-greatest MSU player in league history behind only Kent Hull.

MSU Athletics contributed to this report.

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