Joe Savoldi

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Joe Savoldi
Joe Savoldi.jpg
Joe Savoldi (left), using his trademark "dropkick", against an opponent
Birth name Joseph Anthony Savoldi Jr.
Born (1908-03-05)March 5, 1908
Castano Primo, Italy
Died January 25, 1974(1974-01-25) (aged 65)
Henderson, Kentucky, US
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Jumping Joe Savoldi
Billed height 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Billed weight 255 lb (116 kg)
Debut 1931
Retired 1950

Joseph Anthony "Joe" Savoldi Jr., more commonly known by his nickname- "Jumping Joe" Savoldi (March 5, 1908 – January 25, 1974) was an Italian-born American football player, professional wrestler, and Special Ops agent for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during WWII.

Biography[edit]

Savoldi was born two months premature in Castano Primo (Italy). He spent his childhood in Castano Primo and Bergamo (Milan, Italy), being raised by his grandmother and an aunt before finally joining his family in Three Oaks, Michigan at age twelve. Giuseppe Savoldi anglicized his first name to "Joe" and became a star athlete in high school, excelling in football, basketball, baseball, and track. After graduation from Three Oaks High, he enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, where, beginning in 1928, he would play football for the Fighting Irish teams coached by Knute Rockne. His first start for Notre Dame came during his sophomore year against would-be national champion, Georgia Tech, after Rockne's first, second, and third string fullbacks all fell to injuries. During that appearance, Savoldi fumbled a kickoff and played a terrible game before being sent to the showers. The following week, coach Rockne moved Savoldi from running back to the line, and Savoldi briefly quit the squad before being moved back to the running back position. It was also during the 1928 season that Savoldi was in the locker room at Yankee Stadium to witness Knute Rockne's legendary, "Win one for the Gipper speech."

The All-American fullback was first nicknamed, "Galloping Joe," followed by "The Wandering Wop," followed by "The People's Choice," before finally earning the moniker "Jumping Joe." The nickname that finally stuck, was a result of a play he made in a 1929 game against Carnegie Tech, when he scored a touchdown by jumping (diving) up and over the goal line to win the game. Although commonplace now, diving over the line of scrimmage was extremely dangerous during a period of leather helmets and little, or no, shoulder padding.[1] Other career highlights for Savoldi came on October 4, 1930, when he scored the first ever Notre Dame touchdown at the newly opened Notre Dame Stadium; and one week later, when he scored three touchdowns against Navy, sealing his fame as "the first hero in the lore of Notre Dame's $750,000.00 stadium." Savoldi averaged an incredible 11 yards per carry and 40 yards per kick off return,[2] and due to his size (5'11" 218lbs) was known for his punishing style of running the ball. His career came to a sudden end on November 17, 1930 when he withdrew from school after divorce papers were filed, and news of his secret marriage was leaked to the press.

Savoldi and his Notre Dame teammates were undefeated national champions during both the 1929 and 1930 seasons, and Rockne referred to those teams as his best ever. The backfield of Carideo, Savoldi, Brill, and Schwartz remains the only offensive backfield in the history of college football to all have been voted to an All-American team during the same season (1930). In a newspaper interview three months before his death, Rockne called Savoldi, "the greatest offensive fullback in the game."

Upon Savoldi's expulsion from Notre Dame, he was first signed by Curly Lambeau of the Green Bay Packers, but when local Chicago Bears fans heard the news, their harsh criticism of George Halas not signing Savoldi led to an elaborate double-cross of Lambeau. According to Halas, Lambeau had broken the newly created "Grange Rule" by signing Savoldi prior to his senior class having graduated. But as soon as Lambeau retracted Savoldi's contract, Halas signed Savoldi, and Jumping Joe joined the Bears. Lambeau and the Packers then protested with commissioner Carr, but the commissioner allowed the Bears to keep Savoldi as long as they were willing to pay a fine of $1,000 per game that Savoldi played in. The Bears started Savoldi at the halfback position opposite Red Grange, and in his first game (only ten days after leaving Notre Dame), he scored the only touchdown in a 6–0 victory over Ernie Nevers' Cardinals on Thanksgiving Day in Wrigley Field. After helping the Bears win their final three games of the season (including a 21-0 upset of Lambeau's Packers on December 7, 1930 at Soldier Field), Savoldi was invited to re-join his fighting Irish team in a Notre Dame All-Star vs West/South All-Star game in the Los Angeles Coliseum. During the 20–7 victory, Savoldi scored three touchdowns, was named the game's MVP, and caught the eye of two famous spectators—wrestling promoter Billy Sandow and former world champion Ed "Strangler" Lewis. Sandow and Lewis allegedly promised Savoldi more money in a single wrestling match than he would make during the entire following season with the Bears. Savoldi agreed to meet Lewis and Sandow the following day at a local gym, and after an informal tryout in which Strangler Lewis proclaimed Savoldi the strongest man he had ever wrestled, Sandow eventually signed Savoldi to a contract in May of 1931. Savoldi's debut match took place in February 1931, wrestling under the management of Puss Halbritter, and before formalizing his contract with Sandow, he appeared in a final charity football game in Kezar Stadium with the Savoldi all-stars and was also considered for the starring role of Tarzan in the upcoming film. In October 1931, Savoldi signed a motion picture contract with Hollywood and committed to appear in football and wrestling pictures.

As a wrestler, Savoldi became known for his finishing move, the flying dropkick (the pro wrestling move known today as simply the "dropkick"). From the early 1930s through the end of his career in 1950, Savoldi was credited as having originated the move,[3] but today that attribution is disputed between him and Abe Coleman.[4]

Interpromotional wars were raging at the time, and on April 7, 1933 at Chicago Stadium, Savoldi was involved in a double cross on heavyweight champion Jim Londos. After a tangle by the ropes, referee Bob Managoff declared Savoldi the winner by pinfall and awarded him the title. Vigorous arguments were waged over whether Savoldi had truly won the match, and whether Londos' title had even been on the line. As a result, Savoldi and Managoff were suspended in some territories and the title change was not universally recognized. Londos continued to bill himself as world champion, while Savoldi went to the New York area claiming the same, until he was defeated by Jim Browning on June 12 at Yankee Stadium. After peace was made between rival promotions, a Londos/Savoldi rematch was held at Chicago Stadium on January 31, 1934. Londos won the contest in front of 20,200 fans, one of the largest crowds to ever watch a wrestling match up to that time and the largest indoor match ever at that point.

Savoldi continued his wrestling career throughout the decade, touring New Zealand in 1936, appearing in Hawaii and Australia in 1937, and spending a lengthy time in Europe shortly before World War II. In 1941, he brought a new energy drink to market, called Dropkick, The Drink For "All Americans". Despite excellent pre-sales, including a contract with the University of Notre Dame to feature the drink in their stadium during the 1942 season, the business venture fizzled when the United States entered the war, and the ensuing sugar rationing eliminated his ability to mass-produce the drink.[5]

As the conflict continued, Savoldi was approached by the U.S. government in 1942 about joining the war effort in an espionage role. He was chosen due to his fluency in multiple dialects of Italian, his expertise in hand-to-hand combat, and his deep knowledge of the Italian geography—including the interior of Benito Mussolini's compound.[1][6] Savoldi was given the code name "Sampson" and assigned to the Special Operations branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) where he took part in missions in North Africa, Italy, and France during 1943–1945.

A member of the McGregor Project (2677th Regiment APO 512), Savoldi took part in multiple missions behind enemy lines. His service in Special Operations included at least three successful, high-visibility missions, all within the McGregor Project and all under the assumed identity of Giuseppe DeLeo. The real Giuseppe DeLeo was a captain in the Italian Army who had been captured in North Africa during Operation Torch. Savoldi's first operation under the McGregor Mission, or McGregor Project (July 1943 – December 1943), was approved by President Roosevelt and overseen by General William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Captain Edward A. Hayes, Captain E.M. Zacharias, Col. William Eddy and led by John Shaheen. Savoldi worked with Lt. Mike Burke, Lt. John Ringling North, and Peter Tompkins, and his orders were to protect Marcello Girosi during time spent in Morocco, Algiers, Palermo, Messina, Stromboli, Calabria, Terracina, Maiori, Capri, Ischia, Salerno and Naples.] The McGregor Mission secretly arranged the surrender of the entire Italian Naval Fleet (just prior to D-day Salerno) through direct contact with Rear Admiral Massimo Girosi, Commander of the Royal Italian Navy and brother of Marcello Girosi. On a larger scale, the mission also worked through the Girosi brothers in Italy (all royalists and loyal to King Umberto) to orchestrate the over-throw of Benito Mussolini and to set ground work for the subsequent armistice agreement that led to Pietro Badaglio's position as Prime Minister of Italy. During this period it is thought that Savoldi was also tasked with the protection of OSS leader General Donovan, during his meetings with General Patton in and around Palermo Sicily during July 10, 1943.

Savoldi's second operation as part of the ongoing McGregor Mission was to extract secret documents along with torpedo scientist, professor Carlo Calosi and his wife out of Nazi-occupied Rome. Calosi was the inventor of the highly effective SIC trigger "Silvrifici Italiano Calosi" torpedo and the OSS knew about the Germans' intention to locate Calosi and kill him if he refused to help German scientists with weapons development. This mission, carried out by Joe Savoldi, Donald Downes, and Andre Pacatte, was successful as they located Calosi, extracted him from Rome, and transported him and his wife to the Amalfi Coast, the hills of Algiers, and eventually the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island. Once in the USA, Calosi worked to reconstruct the SIC torpedoes and developed effective countermeasures later used against the Germans. During his third major mission, Savoldi worked undercover (as Giuseppe DeLeo) in Naples, Italy where he was credited with infiltrating the local mafia and helping to break up one of the largest black market operation in all of Italy. While undercover, Savoldi again assumed the identity of Giuseppe De Leo, but he worked in civilian clothing posing as a rogue operator. Savoldi spoke Italian in several dialects as well as French, Spanish, and some German, and his dangerous work behind enemy lines was highly regarded according to several, now declassified, documents. The 1946 book titled Cloak and Dagger, written by Alastair MacBain and Corey Ford, includes an entire chapter titled, "The Saga of Jumping Joe", recounting Savoldi's participation in the McGregor Mission.[7][8] The book was later adapted to film under the same title, Cloak and Dagger starring Gary Cooper. Savoldi's friend and former OSS agent E. Michael Burke acted as technical advisor. A 1950 NBC radio show of the same title based on Ford and MacBain's book lasted 26 episodes. Cloak and Dagger began with actor Raymond Edward Johnson asking "Are you willing to undertake a dangerous mission for the United States knowing in advance you may never return alive?"

Savoldi resumed his wrestling career before war's end, but his ability to move around in the ring would begin to diminish due to the onset of arthritis. He tried promoting in the Chicago area for a while between 1946 and 1948, and is credited with nicknaming and training the first African-American pro wrestling champion Bobo Brazil.[9] Savoldi returned to the ring for a couple more years, wrestling his final match in 1950. He then went back to university to work towards earning his qualifications for a teacher's degree, and eventually started a program to mentor hard-to-reach kids before becoming a full-time science teacher at Henderson County High School in Henderson, Kentucky. Joe Savoldi died in 1974 at the age of 65, and is buried in Henderson.

He is unrelated to the New Jersey-based professional wrestling family who changed their last name from Fornini to Savoldi during 1937 (while Jumping Joe Savoldi was wrestling internationally). That family includes Angelo Savoldi and son Joseph.

In wrestling[edit]

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

  • Montreal Athletic Commission
    • World Heavyweight Championship (Montreal version) (1 time)[10]
  • National Wrestling Association
    • European Heavyweight Championship (1 time)[11]
  • Other titles
    • Rocky Mountain Heavyweight Championship (1 time)[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Young, Rick (September 2003). "Out of Bounds". Irish Reveries. IrishLegends.com. 6 (1). 
  2. ^ Based on 1929-1930 game statistics provided by the Notre Dame athletic dept
  3. ^ Based on newspaper articles from a 30 year period as well as film footage.
  4. ^ Couch, Jason (November 2007). "Was Savate's Drop Kick from Pro Wrestling?". MartialHistory.com. 
  5. ^ "Savoldi Family Says, "Country Needs a Good DROPKICK"". Dropkick.com. 2003. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. 
  6. ^ "Outrageous Good Fortune" Michael Burke page 94, "Savoldi was brought in from a training site. He was built like a gorilla but moved as lightly as a leopard. He would terrify Girosi and maybe the entire Italian fleet."
  7. ^ References to Savoldi's missions are also covered in "The OSS in Italy" by Max Corvo
  8. ^ "Wild Bill Donovan: The Last Hero" by Anthony Cave Brown
  9. ^ Friend, Percival A. (December 2, 2002). "The Way It Was – The Birth of Bubu Brasil". The Way It Was by Percival A. Friend. Archived from the original on October 28, 2009. 
  10. ^ "World / International Heavyweight Title (Montreal)". Wrestling-Titles.com. Puroresu Dojo. 2003. Retrieved June 9, 2010. 
  11. ^ "European Heavyweight Title". Wrestling-Titles.com. Puroresu Dojo. 2003. Retrieved June 9, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Rocky Mountain Heavyweight Title". Wrestling-Titles.com. Puroresu Dojo. 2003. Retrieved June 9, 2010.