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Charlie Powell -mountainjack
The greatest athlete to ever play for the 49ers is one that very few fans know anything about.
Charlie Powell was the youngest player in the history of the National Football League, just 19 years old when he became a starting defensive end with the San Francisco 49ers in 1952. He was 6'3" and weighed 230. In high school, he was such an outstanding basketball player that the Harlem Globetrotters tried to sign him. Charlie earned three varsity letters each in football, basketball, baseball and track at San Diego High.
In track, Charlie high-Jumped 6 feet and put the shot 57 feet 9 - 1/4 inches, a San Diego High record which still stands. "And every now and then I'd fill in and run the relays.'' Charlie recalls. "But baseball and track were the same season, so I'd go to the track meet, maybe put the shot a couple of times, and then change in the car and go to play baseball" He was California State Football Player of the year in 1950.
Every morning before high school, Charlie Powell would visit with Light Heavyweight World Champion Archie Moore and work out and spar with the champ. He signed with the St. Louis Browns (Pro baseball team) as a power-hitting right fielder and spent the summer after graduation playing Class B ball in Stockton and Idaho before forsaking baseball for pro football.
Upon the recommendation of QB Frankie Albert, Powell joined the 49ers as a nineteen-year-old free agent from San Diego High School, Powell was Southern California’s "Prep Player of the Year" in 1950-51 and named on All-America High School team. He earned letters in football, basketball, baseball and track. Upon graduation from high school, Powell played professional baseball with the Stockton Ports of the California League. Powell also trained for a boxing career.
During his 1952 pro debut as a starting defensive end against Lions in Detroit, Powell’s performance was unbelievable, the greatest single game performance in 49er history. His line coach, Phil Bengston, instructed Powell to "rush Bobby Layne as hard as you can." Following the instructions to a tee, he spent the day making life miserable for Layne and his All Pro offensive line, who failed to complete a pass attempt until the fourth quarter. Powell’s performance was so inspirational that his teammates awarded him the game ball. It was the first time a 49er rookie was so honored. He recorded 10 sacks for -67 yards on the All Pro QB in his first game at the age of 19. That would be the NFL record, but those stats were unofficial in those days.
Besides playing football for the 49ers, Powell also boxed professionally. Charlie knocked out Nino Valdez, ranked #2 in the world, in a nationally televised fight and moved up to number 4 in the world. This was when there was only one division. Charlie fought 56 professional fights and lost to future heavyweight champs Floyd Patterson and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali). Ring magazine declared him the best boxer ever to come out of another pro sport. In 1954, he was rated among the best young heavyweights in the country. But after suffering three broken hands, he decided to return his energies to football.
Powell played for the 49ers for five seasons in between attempts to become the world’s heavyweight boxing champion. I salute the greatest athlete ever to play for the 49ers and hope this tribute makes him known to 49er fans of today.