RENO, Nev. — Don Manoukian, a longtime Reno civic leader who starred as a lineman for the Oakland Raiders when they debuted in the American Football League in 1960 and was a pioneer of professional wrestling as bad guy “Don the Bruiser,” died Tuesday at a Reno hospital. He was 80.
“He was absolutely an original,” said Jackie Powers, his sister who confirmed his death. “He could put a twist on even the most pressing story and have a funny ending to it.”
Manoukian was a second-team all-pro guard in 1960, his only season with the Raiders. His teammates included Tom Flores and Jim Otto.
Standing only 5-foot-7, Manoukian was a football and track star at Reno High before he played at Stanford under coach Chuck Taylor.
Dick Trachok, former Nevada football coach who coached Manoukian in Reno, said he was one of the best players in school history and “a first-class guy.”
“He was one of the funniest guys I've ever known,” Trachock told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://tinyurl.com/mojqa7e ).
Born June 9, 1934, in Merced, California, Manounkian said he left professional football because he could make more money at the time on the pro wrestling circuit in the United States and Japan.
Longtime friend Pete Lazetich said Manoukian was a master of the wrestling ring who still could bench press 300 pounds on his 70th birthday.
“He set the tone for Hulk Hogan, all the guys that came after him,” he said.
Manoukian retired from wrestling to Reno in 1967. He spent 49 years as a real estate broker and was involved in a number of business ventures and restaurants. He was active in the Elks Club and other civic organizations.
Former Nevada football coach Chris Ault said Manoukian was known for his charisma and infectious personality.
“Everyone in Reno would have Don be the emcee at their functions,” Ault said. “He was just always one of those guys who made you feel at home and made everybody feel good. So he will certainly be missed.”