Football fans have heard it time and again in places where one of their burly heroes was a Nebraska farm boy or the strapping son of a Virginia coal miner or Pennsylvania steel worker. But how many residents remember Arnold "Duke" Iversen, the tough-as-nails kid who grew up working on his father's farm in rural Petaluma and starred on the Petaluma High School Trojans before playing big-time collegiate football at the University of Oregon and moving up to the professional ranks, where he played for five seasons?
One of Petaluma High's all-time best athletes, and a charter member of its Sports Hall of Fame, Iversen was a bruising blocker and ball carrier coming out of the backfield and a punishing tackler on defense for coach Paul (Pee Wee) Lathrop's mighty Trojans of 1935-38.
The youngest of five children born to Danish immigrants Chris and Karen Iverson, and the only one to spell his name Iversen after a doctor mistakenly wrote it on his birth certificate, Arnold attended Dunham Elementary School, but unlike his brothers and sisters who attended Analy High, he attended Petaluma junior and senior high schools. Big for his age, he was given the nickname, "Duke" in junior high.
His father was one of eight siblings, seven of whom came to Petaluma. He settled in the Roblar District in 1896 where he and his brother, Louis, purchased 160 acres, which they evenly divided. "We were rural people. I was at the end of a shovel all day long," remembers Iversen, 90, of his childhood working on his father's sheep and poultry ranch.
His prowess for football developed early and he became a two-way varsity starter in ninth grade. Write-ups in the Argus-Courier referred to him as Big Duke Iversen. Football had a high priority, and when the University of Oregon offered the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Iversen a scholarship, he quickly accepted. Like many players from that era, he played both ways, as a blocking quarterback in the Ducks' single-wing offense and linebacker on defense. After three years at Oregon, and with World War II underway, Iversen joined the U.S. Marines and was stationed in Jacksonville, Fla., where he was trained in aviation ordnance and played football for two years on a service team that was stacked with pro and college players until he was shipped to Okinawa, Japan where he taught judo and hand-to-hand combat, and played football, until the war ended.
After the war, he returned to Oregon for his final year of football eligibility. His durability and rugged play there earned him a roster spot in the 1947 East-West Shrine Game at Kezar Stadium, where he co-captained the West squad to a 13-9 victory. Iversen then returned to the family farm along with his wife, Elizabeth. He wasn't planning on playing professional football until he was notified he was the seventh-round pick, 54th overall, of the National Football League's New York Giants, in 1947. He played both ways as a rookie, starting five games and playing in eight, as a blocking back and linebacker, and finished the season with three fumble recoveries. He was released at the end of the 1947 season, but was signed by the New York Yanks of the old All-America Conference and played four more seasons before, at age 31, bad knees told him it was time to call it quits. "I knew someday I'd have to grow up and make a living," said Iversen.