I'm writing this article to salute the man whom I consider to be the greatest athlete to ever put on a 49er uniform. He may well have been the best athlete in American history. He is the youngest player to EVER start an NFL game.
That means a lot when you consider the amazing talent that has graced this organization since the team's beginning in 1946. The names roll off the tongue ...McElhenny, Perry, Tittle, Brodie, the man pictured above, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, John Taylor.
We also can't forget that we have had some Olympic track stars on the Niners like Renaldo Nehemiah and Bob Hayes. Jimmy Johnson was an amazing athlete and a brother to Olympic Decathlon champion, Rafer Johnson.
Well, my choice is none of these. He grew up in San Diego and was 6'4" and 230 lbs. by his senior year and very intimidating. He graduated from high school in 1952 as one of the greatest high school athletes in San Diego history.
He earned twelve (12) varsity letters. He ran the 100 yard dash in 9.6 seconds (only .3 of a second off the world record at the time), high jumped 6 feet, and set a shot put record of 57 feet, 9 1/4 inches. He also ran on the relay team. That was just in track.
When the Harlem Globetrotters came to town they tried to persuade his parents to allow them to sign him immediately and take him on the road with them. They refused and he remained in high school.
While in high school, he used to stop along the way to school at the home of World Light Heavyweight champion, Archie Moore. Each morning, he and Archie would spar, a high school kid, and the champion of the world. He held his own. He would also box at military bases to earn money for his family.
Right after graduating from high school, he signed a major league baseball contract with the St. Louis Browns of the American League. He played for the Stockton team in the California League during the summer. His power hitting reputation was legendary. It is said that he is the only player ever to consistently hit a ball over the roof at Balboa Stadium.
Finally, at the urging of QB Frankie Albert, Niner Head Coach, "Buck" Shaw drove to San Diego, met with his parents, and signed him to a contract which required his parents' signature. That first season in 1952, the Niners paid him $10,000. By the way, his name was Charlie Powell.
When he arrived in camp they decided to see what Charlie had and feed him to the wolves. He was lined up across from Leo Nomellini, the 6'3" 270 lbs. tackle who rightfully belongs in the Hall of Fame. Leo was also a professional wrestler who met Lou Thesz for the world championship. Charley stunned the Niners by holding his own with Leo, who was considered one of the toughest and meanest linemen in the league.
In his first game as a 19-year old defensive end, Charlie stunned the NFL. Playing against famed QB Bobby Layne and talent-laden team made up of several All-Pros, Charlie sacked Layne ten (10) times for -67 yards.
Layne didn't complete a pass until the fourth quarter. Charley was awarded the game ball, the first 49ers Rookie ever to earn one. Before I receive comments that he couldn't have had ten sacks because the NFL record is 8, this was before the league officially counted sacks.
Charley played a couple of seasons for the 49ers but his first love was boxing. He knocked out No. 2 contender Nino Valdes and earned a shot at Muhammed Ali. He lost to Ali, but Charlie will always be remembered by us old-time Kezar fans who loved No. 87 before Dwight Clark wore it.
Baseball, football, basketball, track, boxing...Charlie was not just good, but great at all of them. I salute Charlie Powell, the greatest athlete to ever wear a 49er uniform.
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