Over more than two decades of semi-pro football in Minnesota, George Hall was known to many people by many names.
King Juicy. Juice. George. Uncle.
Whatever you called him, you immediately liked him. Then, after not much longer, you loved him. He lit up every room, brought laughter to every team gathering. Could cuss with the best. Inspire like no other.
On Tuesday, April 11, that light went out. George “Juice” Hall died unexpectedly, leaving semi-pro football fans and followers in Minnesota and across the country shocked and heartbroken.
He was the heart and soul of the St. Paul Pioneers. An offensive lineman and high 1995 draft pick in the new Mid-America Football League, Juice would later join several former Minneapolis Lumberjacks to launch the fledgling St. Paul Pioneers in 2002. But when he was traded to back to the Jacks at the end of training camp, Juice called team founder and former coach Adam Gold with an offer: He would retire as a player and become the sideline manager just to stay a Pioneer. That early dedication was the start of a 21-year relationship in which Juice would wear many hats. All of them critical to the Cardinal and Black.
The Pioneers enjoyed early success, winning MFL league crowns in 2003 and 2004. For a year, he stepped away. But after a winless 2005, the Pioneers called Juice to return to the squad in 2006 and another championship followed.
It was 2008, though, when Juice truly made his mark. After a 2007 season of financial uncertainty, George and his wife Dede bought the Pioneers. They returned the team to St. Paul from the suburbs. They returned the silver “P” to the Pioneers’ helmets. And they also asked Mark Heiser to become head coach.
That combination of passion, smarts and football savvy proved to be magic. The Pioneers went deep into the new NAFL playoffs in 2008, losing in the Elite Eight of the North American Football League to eventual National Champion Indianapolis. And the next season? The Pioneers finished 15-1, defeating the Nashville Storm in Miami, Fla. to win the 2009 NAFL title -- and their first National Championship. It was an epic ride, with the Pioneers beating teams throughout the Midwest and on both coasts.
In 2010, Juice transitioned to become a board member. And the Pioneers would move to the Northern Elite Football League. No matter. More championships kept coming. A lot more. St. Paul would win NEFL crowns in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Pioneers also captured two more National Championships, winning bowl games over teams from Texas in 2012 and 2014 in Daytona, Fla. Every step of the way, Juice was there – filling a variety of critical roles, from general manager to vice president to video director. For his years of dedication, he was named to the Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But George Hall’s legacy is much more than championships. He was loved and respected by football friends and football foes alike. He gave and got respect, from Bellingham, Wash. to Homestead, Fla. During his two decades with the Pioneers, George created and fostered the deep-seeded feeling of family the Pioneers have become known for providing. Players – current and former -- always knew they could talk to Juice. And “Uncle” always had their backs – even if the love he gave was sometimes tough. It may be why so many former Pioneers are now coaches and board members themselves.
And no one could deliver a killer pre-game speech better than Juice.
This year would have been no different. Even after losing a leg to infection, year, he was ready to “strap it on” once more for a potential championship run in 2022. Earlier last week, he’d posted videos of him learning to walk with a prosthesis. Knowing Juice, he would have come up with a killer joke about it.
But he never got the chance. And his beloved P-Unit is grieving.
Goodnight Juice, King Juicy, Uncle. George. Sleep well.
The St. Paul Pioneers -- and the semi-pro football world -- will never be the same.