Charlie Powell, who signed with the 49ers when he was 19 and played seven seasons in the NFL between stints as a pro baseball player and a heavyweight prizefighter, has died at the age of 82.
U-T San Diego reports that Powell died on Monday and had been suffering from dementia for years.
Powell’s list of athletic accomplishments reads like it must be fiction: He was such a good multi-sport athlete in high school that he had contract offers to play baseball with the St. Louis Browns and basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters, he had football scholarship offers from Notre Dame and UCLA, and he was a champion in both the 100-yard dash and the shot put. At first he went the baseball route, but after becoming bored in the minors, he decided to become the NFL’s youngest player.
“I didn’t like baseball as much as I thought I would,” said Powell. “But because I was already a professional, I could sign with an NFL team without going to college.”
That turned out to be a wise move. Powell was so ferocious a pass rusher for the 49ers that he was once, before sacks were officially counted in the NFL, credited with sacking Hall of Fame Lions quarterback Bobby Layne so many times in one game that Powell alone backed the Lions up a total of 67 yards. Powell would play five seasons for the 49ers and two more for the Raiders.
But football wasn’t even Powell’s best sport. That would be boxing. Early in his NFL career Powell boxed in the offseason, and after he retired from football he focused on fighting exclusively, rising to the point where he was once ranked as the No. 4 heavyweight in the world. His notable opponents included the unbeaten Cassius Clay in 1963 and the former champion Floyd Patterson in 1964.
In a 1998 column, Jim Murray wrote that Powell compared favorably to the greatest all-around athletes in American history, noting that “Jim Thorpe and Jackie Robinson never had to tee it up with heavyweight champions of the world. And Michael Jordan couldn’t hit the curveball, either.” There was nothing in sports that Charlie Powell couldn’t do.