When Football Players Needed Real Jobs

BRIAN HOFFMAN

I was talking football with some high school coaches not long ago when the subject of my affection for the Philadelphia Eagles came up. I mentioned I haven’t been a fan all my life, just since 1960.

That brought on a discussion of the 1960 National Football League champions. I had just turned eight years old when the Eagles became the only team to beat a Vince Lombardi coached Green Bay Packers team in a championship game. Soon talk turned to Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarek, a personal favorite of mine, and one of the coaches asked if I knew why they called him “Concrete Charlie?”

I knew, and it wasn’t because he was like a block of concrete on both sides of the line, the last NFL player to play both ways on the line of scrimmage. They called him that because he worked for a concrete company in the off-season.

That seems laughable these days, when NFL players make millions upon millions of dollars. I can’t imagine J.J. Watt working construction in the off-season, or Ndamukong Suh bagging groceries for a couple extra bucks in the summer. There was a day, however, when NFL players did what they could to pick up some needed cash.

Such was the case with the Philadelphia Eagles basketball team. Every year a team of Eagles football players would go on tour to high schools in the greater Philadelphia area, playing exhibition basketball games. They came to my high school every year, and it was something I dearly looked forward to.

They wore green uniforms with “Eagles” on the front, and from what I remember they didn’t all match. They would take on a team of local city league all-stars and it was a way they could earn some money in the off-season and still have some fun, as area fans paid an admission for the game and the Eagles got a cut of the gate.

After the game the players would sit along the wall under the basket and sign autographs for the fans. I have Sonny Jurgensen’s autograph somewhere in my “piles of stuff” from when he came to our school to play basketball in 1961. From what I can remember Sonny was a pretty good basketball player. He did go to Duke, you know.

Some of the others would only be familiar names to long time Eagles’ fans. Ever heard of Ted Dean? Bobby Walston?

Can you imagine if that were to happen today? What kind of crowd would it draw at a Roanoke Valley High School gym if a dozen Redskins or Panthers would come to town to play in a basketball game?

Of course, that would never happen. The players don’t need the money, and if they signed autographs after the game they’d pick up an Andrew Jackson for every signature. Soon they’ll be picking up a Harriet Tubman, but that’s a story for another day.

Another reason why this wouldn’t happen in today’s world is the chance of injury to a key player. Do you play pickup basketball? Do you know some guy you play with who just might accidentally undercut some NFL star? I wouldn’t want DeSean Jackson or Cam Newton playing against that guy.

But 1961 was a different time and a different era. A couple years later Sonny held out for a couple thousand more dollars a year and ended up getting traded to the Redskins, a move that still rankles me 52 years later.

Not long after that the Eagles stopped coming to our school. I guess they no longer needed the money, or maybe they just got a better deal from the concrete company.

I wish I knew where those autographs were. They might be worth a Jackson or two(Andrew, not DeSean).

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