The Blacksmith

(Here’s an excerpt from my new book available on Amazon, Green Bay Gold):

The biggest and strongest man in the NFL in the late 1940s was probably Ed Neal, an early 300-pounder. The 6’4” Neal, who worked as a Texas oil field worker and blacksmith in the offseason, played middle guard on defense for Green Bay from 1945-49. After graduating Wichita Falls High School in 1938, Neal attended Ouachita Baptist, the University in Arkansas, LSU and finally Tulane before landing a tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1944.

Neal did not make the Eagles, but Curly Lambeau signed him in 1945 and put his wide stationary frame in the middle of the Packers’ defensive front, as a primitive precursor to Gilbert Brown. Ed is most remembered for his battles with Bear Hall of Fame center Bulldog Turner. Turner frequently referred to Neal as the toughest man he ever played against and with good reason. Turner estimated that Neal regularly cracked open Turner’s helmet, and he broke Bulldog’s nose five times in those days before facemasks. Bulldog recalled to a reporter in 1962, “Against me, he had a habit of upper-cutting with that big fist just before the play. I learned to duck, but I had to have a spare helmet.”

Another Bunyanesque Neal story is that in 1946 against the Eagles, Ed blasted center Vic Lindskog backwards on three successive plays, each one leading to Lindskog knocking down his own quarterback for a loss. The third time, the Eagle quarterback was downed for a safety. However, that is not mentioned in the next day’s game story. The news accounts say Eagle quarterback Tommy Thompson dropped back to pass and was tackled for a safety in the fourth quarter by Urban Odson. Neal also was said to smash glass coke bottles with a flex of his arm and to bend multiple bottle caps between his fingers at one time.

When starting center Jay Rhodemyre was holding out in 1949, Lambeau converted Neal to center, telling the Milwaukee Journal, “Whether we get Rhodemyre or whether we still close a deal, we’re going to keep Neal at center. He’s big and it shouldn’t be too much of a chore to teach him to hand the ball back to the quarterback in the T we play. On punts, if he doesn’t learn to spiral the ball, we’ll have to insert another center, and on defense, we’ll have to keep him in the line, of course. He’s too slow as a backerup [linebacker].”

Tobin Rote, who arrived with new coach Gene Ronzani, in 1950, recalled that Neal was the only big man on the offensive line at the time, and that Rote himself outweighed the guards. Although too slow and immobile to be a very good player, Ed made the Pro Bowl that season. One game into the 1951 season, he was traded to the Bears for a 10th round draft pick. He only played a handful of games with Chicago before injuries ended his career, but in one against Green Bay, he got even by beating on undersized Packers’ center Jay Rhodemyre all game.

1950beneal

1950 Bowman style custom card of Neal is colorized.

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