Ed Sprinkle, “Meanest Man in Football,” dies at 90

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.

51 responses to “Ed Sprinkle, “Meanest Man in Football,” dies at 90

  1. 6’1 and 207 lbs as a pass rusher?

    The Bills must have had this information as a guide when they drafted aaron Mabin in the st round

  2. I freakin’ love hearing about these old time guys.

    “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.” .. Classic!

  3. Awesome guy, awesome story! But was I the only one confused by him saying he never played dirty football, yet stomped on a guy? Idk, but still gotta love the tough old-timer

  4. “That was football as Ed Sprinkle played it.”
    ====================================

    No, that was just football.

  5. Meanest man or a case of misunderstanding? Let’s travel back in time for some trash-talk:

    “Oh sorry about piling on top of you, my coach told me everybody likes a Sprinkle topping, I thought you would enjoy it, my bad!”

  6. RIP Ed Sprinkle. Must have been a great player for the era, but at 6’1″ 207 lbs, he would have been too small to play DE or LB in todays game and many DBs are larger than that today. How could a pass rusher of that size knock over a 6’6″ 33o lb O-lineman of today?
    Great players of yesteryear helped to make the game great, but make no mistake, technology, food and conditioning has changed the players in a relatively short period of time.
    Who knows what the players will morph to in the future?

  7. RIP to a legend

    Reading those excerpts were pretty neat though, it almost feels as if reading an article about a game that could have happened today, right down to the details on that “slight concussion”!

  8. This is, but another example, where NFL Films kept these legends alive. Sprinkle was wayyy before my time, and probably most of you out there — but NFL Films put together pieces on guys like Ed Sprinkle, Hardy Brown, Night Train, Bucko Kilroy, etc.

    There is a great NFL Films clip of YouTube of the Chuck Bednarik/Chuck Noll feud.

    The fact I have any awareness about Sprinkle is a testament to NFL Films enriching the NFL experience SUBSTANTIALLY. And it’s also why I really really would like to see Steve Sabol enshrined, albeit posthumously — since he passed away before the people who determine such matters haven’t figured out Steve’s worth even now … after Steve passed.

    And yeah, the Sprinkle stories are spicy — back during a time when, as Halas said simply but profoundly, “That’s football.”

  9. The way football should be played now. These premadonnas (today) are afraid to touch someone.

  10. People seem surprised at the size of the players back then.

    I’m more surprised at the 330 lb. freaks of today.

    I’d like a rational explanation of how that happened.

  11. RIP Mr. Sprinkle. The article was fantastic, I love reading about these old guys. He must have been a natural hitter, considering his size and position and rep.

  12. 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.”
    ——————————————
    Wow. And Ndamakung Suh is vilified for the same thing.

    Proof that the game hasn’t changed, but the so-called “fans” have.

  13. Steeler Nation is so far above you and your lowly franchise. We built this league. Pittsburgh’s three rivers are made from the tears of our opponents. Bow to your supreme overlords. says:
    Aug 5, 2014 8:19 PM

    R.I.P. Still a below average player.

    _______________________________

    Chicago Bears , Green Bay Packers, New York Giants

    All more historic and meaning full than the Steelers to the NFL History & culture we have today and all have more NFL championships than the Steelers.

    Steelers fans are a lot like Vikings fans, except for the 6 NFL Championships the Steelers have.

  14. Washington, I think, had a quarterback by name of Eddie LeBron. He was 5’5or6″ tall. (or short) It was a running joke that he was so short that the defensive players couldn’t see him until it was too late. In addition, he had a knack of faking handoffs, etc. that drove them crazy. The players then were significantly smaller, all across the team.

  15. I love the old game and players like Sprinkle, but if he played today 90% of the people posting here would be screaming he should be banned for life, especially if he stomped Manning or Rodgers. Can’t have it both ways folks.

  16. The Bears have always played tough like Ed Sprinkle.

    In my lifetime they have had Dick Butkis, Mike Singletary, and Brian Urlacher. Hard hitting but not dirty.

    Growing up a Packer fan I can remember Abe Gibron sending 2 players to block the Packers kicker on every kick off.

    There is still a toughness in the Bears that can be traced back to George Halas and players like Ed Sprinkle who deserved respect.

    My Dad is saddened by Ed’s death. He is one who still remembers Ed, but he was before my time.

  17. Bears fan here: Thank you bobnelsonjr, you are a great testament to yet another rich, and proud franchise. Not to mention the greatest rivals a football fan could ever ask for. Well said, and here’s to 3 or 4 more decades of our teams playing the meanest, closest, and hardest fought games 2 or 3 times a year.

  18. About the guys disappointed by some Steeler fans, I don’t blame them. The unjustified arrogance of some of my Steeler brothers and sisters makes us all look like delusional idiots.

    About the Bears, yes – they have had an exceptional number of tough players spanning a lonnnng time. In more recent years, one could also name (in addition to Butkus, Singletary and Urlacher) Dent, Kreutz, Marshal, McMichael, Payton, Fencik, Wilson, Hampton, Plank and Briggs. By all accounts and the tape (they called it film in those days), Ditka was an absolute beast too.

    All those players came ready to tee it up in between the lines. Any real football fan should respect and appreciate good, clean, tough, hard-nosed FOOTBALL.

  19. dobreshunka says:
    Aug 5, 2014 9:46 PM
    I love the old game and players like Sprinkle, but if he played today 90% of the people posting here would be screaming he should be banned for life, especially if he stomped Manning or Rodgers. Can’t have it both ways folks.

    ————————————–

    Yeah. The game has changed. It is also way better to watch now, and does more to protect the players than it ever did before. No one really wants it both ways, “folks”.

  20. Off topic:
    So the NFL knew or should have known about concussions back in the 40’s and 50’s. Their argument is the lasting affect? Just want to make sure I get this correct.

    I digress, he’s before my time, but I hope he enjoyed his time both on and off the field.

  21. The game has changed mainly because of one person, Roger Goodell, who let his merry band of lawyers run the league.

  22. Before football became the game of two hand touch between a bunch of track stars on HGH as we know it today

  23. I also love these old timer stories. Makes me wish I could go back and live in that time for a while. Reading this stuff makes me even more disgusted about today’s contract hold outs, guys like T.O and all the new rules in the game today.

  24. @jpherling: Probably less than you think. People did not use their head as a weapon when it only had a leather covering. Also the shoulder pads and such were not made of plastic hard enough to stop a bullet. Plus, guys were not 290 running a 4.8 40. Lots of factors make concussions more prevalent today.

  25. “RIP Sir. May they sprinkle your ashes at Soldier Field.”

    ———————————-

    Yeah cause players want Sprinkle sprinkles all over their uniforms when they get tackled. Not to mention a mouth full of Sprinkle sprinkles.

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