Len Rohde, a Pro Bowl offensive tackle who played 15 seasons for the San Francisco 49ers, has died at the age of 79.
A two-way lineman at Utah State in the 1950s, Rohde was chosen both by the 49ers in the 1960 NFL draft and by the Buffalo Bills in the 1960 AFL draft. He decided to accept the 49ers’ offer and initially played defensive end, but he was demoted from the starting lineup early in the 1962 season and worried that his career was about to end.
Instead, during a game later that season against the Rams, an injury to the 49ers’ future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bob St. Clair required Rohde to get pressed into duty on offense — and against Deacon Jones, the Rams defensive end who was perhaps the greatest pass rusher in NFL history. Rohde played so well against Jones in that game that Jones was furious, and the 49ers’ coaches were impressed.
“Deacon had some gamesmanship about him. He was always talking,” Rohde told the San Jose Mercury News in 2013. “And if he got blocked, he’d automatically think it must be because you were holding, so he’d start screaming at the officials.”
After that, Rohde was a permanent fixture on the 49ers’ offensive line, making one Pro Bowl and becoming one of the league’s most reliable players. Rohde played in 208 consecutive games — every single game the 49ers played from the time they drafted him in 1960 until his retirement after the 1974 season.
At the end of that last season, Rohde was gutting it out through knee and back injuries, and 49ers coach Dick Nolan pulled him aside and gently told him it was time to hang up the cleats.
“I was getting to the point where my back was bothering me quite a bit,” Rohde recalled in 2008. “Coach Nolan treated me well, he pulled me in one day and said, ‘You’ve been a good team guy all these years and you could really help us a lot.” And I said, ‘How can I do that?’ And he said, ‘If you retire.’ I said, ‘I think I got the message.’”
Rohde was married with a son and four grandchildren.
Photo via San Francisco 49ers.