STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) – Joe Fortunato, who was enshrined into the Mississippi State football Ring of Honor last month, died at the age of 87 on Monday.
A 1951 first-team All-American and one of the greatest players in Chicago Bears history, Fortunato holds the distinction of being one of seven MSU legends in the Ring of Honor.
A native of Mingo Junction, Ohio, Fortunato 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 was 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.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Mary Basilica in Natchez. Visitation will take place from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday and from 10-11 a.m. Thursday at the church.