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Helmet Swinging Brawl Nothing New to 49ers Faithful

Gary Mialocq
Nov 15, 2019 at 9:04 AM


The year was 1953, and on Sunday, Sept. 27, the Buck Shaw-coached San Francisco 49ers welcomed the Philadelphia Eagles to Kezar Stadium for the first time in their short history on opening day before over 44,000 rabid fans. It didn't take long for nastiness to erupt as Hardy Brown, well known as one of the meanest men in football and a legend with his infamous shoulder block tackle that knocked out 22 players in a single season, laid out Eagles RB Toy Ledbetter with a vicious shoulder tackle that broke his cheekbone.

With teams exchanging vicious hits throughout the first half, in the third quarter, Eagles WR Bobby Walston made the mistake of exchanging blows with Charlie Powell, who quickly subdued him. At the same time, two Eagle players took off their helmets and attacked beloved 49er HOF RB Hugh McElhenny.

Enraged 49er fans stormed the field, and what followed was a 15-minute melee that could easily be called a riot. Officials were overwhelmed and unable to stop the brawl until the 49er band played the "National Anthem," and everyone finally stopped swinging and came to attention.

This 49ers squad in 1953 was well known for its tough characters. In addition to Brown, the 49ers featured WWA Wrestling champion Leo "the Lion" Nomellini, a 10-time Pro Bowl participant and rated the top defensive lineman of the century, 6'9" 275lb tackle Bob St. Clair, who was famous for eating raw meat, and Charlie Powell, a fantastic multi-sport athlete who later would knock out Nino Valdes, the No. 2 ranked heavyweight in the world, and fight both Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali. Also on the squad was the legendary Clay Matthews, grandfather of today's star of the same name.

In the early 1950s at San Diego High School, the 6'3" 220 lb. Powell ran 100 yards in 9.6, (just .3 off the world record at the time) threw the shot over 57 feet, and high jumped six feet. He was named the Southern California prep football Player-of-the-Year and was recruited by the Harlem Globetrotters to play basketball. His parents refused to sign their permission. Instead, Powell signed a pro baseball contract with the St. Louis Browns, and after one season, Charlie left baseball, and thanks to Frankie Albert, he signed with the 49ers despite never playing a down of college football. He was only 19 years old when he joined the 49ers. In his first NFL game with the 49ers on the road against HOF QB Bobby Layne and the Detroit Lions, Charlie unofficially registered 10 sacks for minus 62 yards, and Layne didn't complete a pass until the 4th quarter.

Watching the Myles Garrett - Mason Rudolph fiasco last night brought back many memories of that Sunday afternoon at Kezar in 1953 when I, as a 10-year-old original Kezar fan, watched the brawl in living color. My most vivid memory was of the two Eagle players swinging their helmets at McElhenny, who amazingly pulled off his own helmet and returned the favor as fans swarmed the field to protect him. Those were the days, my friends, we thought they would never end, and last night Garrett proved it.

The most humorous part of the evening was watching the disbelieving former players expressing shock that this could happen and saying they had never seen anything like it in their 30 years or so being involved in football at all levels They just weren't around 66 years ago like I was...
  • Gary Mialocq
  • Written by:
    Native of SF. Attended Washington HIgh, CCSF and SF State University. Investor & Startup Business Consultant, Former Juvenile Detention Counselor, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Self-employment Specialist, Real Estate Investor, Genealogist. Senior Pro Golfer.


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2 Comments

  • Michael from Pismo Beach
    I just turned the Big 70 and I have been a 49er fan since 1957 and I had never heard that story. Obviously, several of the aforementioned players were still playing when I was 7 years old. However, I grew up in Spokane, WA, and coverage there in those days was sketchy at best. I envy those San Francisco natives who were able to see those historic games in Kezar Stadium. That being said, that was one of the funniest stories I have ever heard in my life! I was in tears from beginning to end! Talk about the Wild West! Wow, that sounded like an all-out brawl. The funniest part is that all the people started coming to their senses and to stand at attention to patriotically honor the National Anthem.
    Nov 15, 2019 at 11:28 AM
    2
    Response: Michael, you have to remember that this game was played only 8 years after the end of World War II and at the time of the Korean War. Patriotism was rampant as soldiers had returned home and everyone was a proud American at that time. The economy was booming and it was still ten years prior to JFK's assassination and the coup that followed.
  • ray from eagle point
    remember Gary Lewis in the early 60s
    Nov 15, 2019 at 10:02 AM
    1
    Response: Sure do. Gary was a star at Poly High School, CCSF and Arizona State. He's one of four 49ers to die of ALS, the others being Matt Hazeltine, Bobby Waters, and Dwight Clark. I have a special memory of Gary Lewis. Playing basketball against Poly at Kezar Pavilion, he and I both dived for a loose ball and of course Gary, being 80 lbs heavier won that battle as I landed in the third row of courtside seats. He very graciously extended his hand to help me back on to the court with that huge smile of his...

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