Ed Sprinkle, a Chicago Bears defensive end in the 1940s and 1950s who was dubbed “The Meanest Man in Football,” has died at the age of 90.
Sprinkle was handed the “Meanest Man” moniker by Collier’s magazine in a 1950 article, and reading about Sprinkle in 2014 feels like taking a time machine to a distant past in which even Ndamukong Suh would think the game was getting too violent.
From a 1949 Chicago Tribune article: “After the game, [Chicago Cardinals] Coach Buddy Parker charged that Ed Sprinkle, Bears’ end, deliberately stomped on Elmer Angsman, star right halfback. Reached at his home last night, Angsman corroborated his coach’s stand and said he has five cleat marks on his chest.”
The Associated Press quoted Hall of Fame Philadelphia Eagles coach Earle (Greasy) Neal as saying after another game, “Action should be taken against Sprinkle for his illegal use of arms. Unless something is done about it, we’ll take matters into our own hands.”
The Los Angeles Times gave this account of a Rams-Bears game: “The Ram attack was weakened consid-erably in the third quarter when fullback Dick Hoerner suffered a slight concussion after assertedly being worked over by the notorious Bear end, Ed Sprinkle. Hoerner was taken to Queen of Angels hospital for observation.”
Sprinkle denied that he was a dirty player, but he did enjoy the physical nature of football.
“I never really played dirty football in my life,” Sprinkle said. “But I’d knock the hell out of a guy if I got the chance.”
Sprinkle was only 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, but George Halas, the founder and longtime coach of the Bears, said he never saw a more intimidating pass rusher.
“Every team in the league has a passer who can beat you if you give him time to throw,” Halas said in 1950. “The only way you can stop passers like Baugh of Washington and Waterfield of Los Angeles is to rush them — knock them down before they throw. That’s where Sprinkle shines. He’s the greatest pass-rusher I’ve ever seen. Don’t forget, every time Sprinkle rushes the passer, the other team has at least two men blocking him. Sometimes it’s three when a guard pulls out of the line to help the tackle and halfback. . . . He’s got to push and shove and claw his way past those blockers, and if somebody gets an unintentional whack in the nose now and then, well, that’s football.”
That was football as Ed Sprinkle played it.
Photo via Chicago Bears.