Courtesy of Chicago Bears
Hall of Fame finally calls for Chicago Bear Ed Sprinkle.
By Steve Metsch
Seldom has a trip to Canton, Ohio, been greeted with the enthusiasm of, say, a vacation to Hawaii.
But the induction of a former Chicago Bears star, the late Ed Sprinkle, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame has his family thrilled to be heading there for the induction ceremony in August.
“Everyone is ecstatic. Everyone. Every time the (induction) class came out, he was disappointed because he felt his play warranted it. My wife is over the moon. The only sad part is that he wasn’t here,” said son-in-law David Withers, who is married to Susan, Sprinkle’s daughter.
Sprinkle starred for the Bears for 12 seasons, 1944 through 1955. He was a four-time Pro Bowl defensive end and started for the 1946 NFL champion Bears. He would’ve made more Pro Bowls, but that game didn’t start until 1951.
His many highlights were on defense, usually sacking quarterbacks or disrupting runs. But he also returned a fumble for a touchdown against Green Bay in one game, and caught two touchdown passes in another win against the Packers, Withers said.
Sprinkle lived with Susan and David in their Palos Heights home for nearly 13 years until he died at age 90 in 2014.
“He was a wonderful guy, kind-hearted,” David Withers said.
“My wife and I took him to the alumni dinners, to training camp, and he never charged a penny for his autographs. He said, ‘That comes with the territory’. Very, very classy individual,” Withers said.
“One of the reasons I hit it off good with (Sprinkle) was I treated him like my dad. Toward the end, he was getting sick. We took care of him. I told him, ‘You have a home here forever’,” Withers said. “I can’t say enough about him. I lost my dad when I was 17.”
He often took Sprinkle out for breakfast at Lumes Pancake House on Harlem Avenue in Palos Heights.
Sprinkle often shared his football stories.
“There’s not enough time in the day to tell you the stories,” Withers said in a phone interview Friday, two days after the induction announcement.
Another former Bear, offensive lineman Jim Covert of the 1985 Super Bowl champs, is also part of the Class of 2020.
Withers laughed when asked about Sprinkle famously being named the “Meanest Man in Pro Football” by Collier’s magazine in 1950.
“Collier’s did a piece on him and I don’t think he was too happy with the piece. It was jumbled up a bit, made him look like a bad guy. He told me, when he played for (Bears founder and then coach George) Halas, you either played or you were gone. That was the rules. You had to play hard.
“He told me this one story. Halas called him into his office and said, ‘Ed, you didn’t have a very good game today. You missed five tackles.’ Ed said, ‘Yeah, but what about the 11 I made?’ He told Halas, ‘The other team is paid to play, too.’ That didn’t sit well with Halas. But Halas cared for him. He gave Ed his number, No. 7, the number Halas wore,” Withers said.
Back in those days, players were not paid millions. They had to work other jobs in the offseason to make ends meet.
Sprinkle worked as an engineer for Inland Steel. He later owned a bowling alley where the Santo Sports Store is now located, 6312 W. 111th St. in Chicago Ridge, Withers said.
Withers fondly recalls when he obtained a recording of the 1946 NFL championship game against the New York Giants, and watched it with Sprinkle, who knocked three Giants out of the game with his intense play.
“It was like he went back in time. He said he’d never seen it before. In the middle of it, he said, ‘Now watch this.’ He came off the end and broke the quarterback’s nose. He had a great memory. He could tell me scores, games, points, everything,” Withers said.
During Sprinkle’s playing days, defensive stats were not given much attention, Withers said.
“One night, he said, ‘You know, I had six sacks in one game but it was never recorded.’ If they had stats recorded like they are today, I think he would have been in (the Hall) many years ago,” Withers said.
Sprinkle enjoyed attending Bears training camp each year, and became friends with another great defensive player, Steve McMichael.
“Steve always called him Sprinks. He told him, ‘Sprinks, if I did what you did, I’d be broke from paying fines.’ Back then, Ed’s nickname was The Claw because he would clothesline everybody. You can’t do that now ... He said, ‘When I played football, it was always better to give than receive’.”
Sprinkle is the last member from the NFL’s 1940s All-Decade Team to be inducted. According to a story on www.chicagobears.com, Halas called Sprinkle “the greatest pass rusher I’ve ever seen.”
Sprinkle grew up on a farm in Texas, Withers said, and while playing for Hardin-Simmons University, caught the eye of former Bears star Bulldog Turner, another Texan and eventual Hall of Famer, as a potential pro star.
“They invited Ed to Bears camp and they were going to cut Ed. Bulldog said, ‘Come with me,’ and they went into Halas’ office. Bulldog said, ‘You’re going to cut one of the best football players on the team? If he goes, I go’.”
“So, Bulldog was the main reason why Ed is what he is today,” Withers added.