State Your Case: Ed Sprinkle

Before there was Deacon Jones or Lawrence Taylor or Reggie White, there was Ed Sprinkle.

Sprinkle, Ed

(Photo courtesy of the Chicago Bears)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Before there was Deacon Jones… Before there was Lawrence Taylor… Before there was Reggie White… Before the birth of the term “sack…” Before the Sunday celebration of edge pass rushers…

There was Ed Sprinkle.

George Halas spent 63 years in the NFL as a player, coach and owner of the Chicago Bears. His career spanned the 1920s through the 1980s. He was named to the 1920s' NFL all-decade team as a player and later won 324 games as a coach. He became a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. So Halas knows a little something about football.

Halas called Sprinkle, “the greatest pass rusher I’ve ever seen.” So fond of Sprinkle was Halas that he assigned him jersey number 7 of the Chicago Bears -- the jersey Halas himself wore. Sprinkle played a violent brand of football – some thought too violent – and made it fashionable to play on the defensive side of scrimmage.

He began his career as an offensive and defensive linemen during the era when players went both ways. He played guard and defensive end for two seasons before Halas slid him out to end on offense. Over the next five seasons he caught 29 passes for 438 yards and five touchdowns. In 1946 he caught seven passes -- the team leader caught only 18 balls - with two touchdowns as the Bears won the NFL championship.

But his impact that season came on defense. In that title game against the Giants, Sprinkle knocked two New York running backs out of the game -- George Franck with a separated shoulder and Frank Reagan with a broken nose -- and also broke the nose of quarterback Frank Filchock. At 6-1, 200 pounds, Sprinkle was a menace to offenses.

Sprinkle was nicknamed “The Claw,” because of his tackling technique. In an era when players did not wear facemasks, Sprinkle flattened runners and passers with a high forearm to the face that would rattle anyone’s throat or jaw. Illegal now, it was a legal play then. The devastation that Sprinkle left in his path led Collier Magazine to declare him “The Meanest Man in Pro Football” in a 1950 cover story.

The NFL did not create the Pro Bowl until 1950 but Sprinkle became an early staple. He was voted by his peers to four of the first five Pro Bowls as a defensive end before retiring after the 1955 season. He also was elected to the 1940s. all-decade team for his impact as a blocker, pass catcher and tackler.

But there are no defensive stats to trumpet his greatness. Back in the 1940s and 1950s the term “sack” did not exist and tackles were not a statistic that NFL teams logged. Forced fumbles? No one counted them. That’s what you were paid to do. Sprinkle did return fumbles for touchdowns in both 1946 and 1951 and ran an interception back for another score in 1953.

Sadly, three defensive touchdowns do not command a bust in Canton.

So Sprinkle has never been a finalist for the Hall of Fame. His candidacy has never been discussed by the selection committee. The Hall of Fame opened in 1963, and some of the initial classes of inductees had as few as three players. So many of the great players from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s have fallen through the cracks, forgotten in time.

With no statistics, the Ox Emersons, Al Wisterts, Dick Barwegans and Ed Sprinkles only have the eye test to state their cases for Canton -- but none of the voters on the 46-member Hall-of-Fame selection committee ever saw any of these men play. So players of yesteryear remain buried in the senior pool, afterthoughts for busts in Canton that so many of them richly deserve.

Ed Sprinkle passed away in 2014 at the age of 90. But it’s never too late to right a wrong. Sprinkle deserves to have his candidacy heard. I trust the eyes of George Halas on this one.