With 58 days left until the start of the NFL season, our countdown to the big day continues. Thursday, Sept. 4, is the day when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to take on the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. Over the course of the next 58 days we focus on the number that represents the days remaining … today it’s number 58.
Yesterday, we took a look at John Anderson, the Packers linebacker who spent double-digit years as one of the most productive and steady defensive players of the 1980s, but played on some really unproductive teams as far as wins.
Today we take a look at #58, a number that’s been worn by a total of 23 different players. That’s a lot of bodies in the same uniform since 1950. While most of the 23 aren’t quickly recognized by the average fan, there have been a few decent players who slipped into the jersey – guys like Mark Cannon, Mike Flanagan, Dan Currie and even Frank Zombo.
But once again, we have to reach back in time to focus on one of those players who have been forgotten by many and not known by the most recent of Packers fans.
Today’s feature is on Ed Neal, one of those Packers players whose legends not only bring a smile to one’s face, but also paint a picture of a game where tough guys ruled the playing field.
In seven years in Green Bay he played in 68 games and collected 5 fumble recoveries during a time when statistics were as hard to come by as a color television. But that’s one of the things that makes that era great. Relying on the memories of those who played the game, it was guys like Ed Neal whose legends come to life.
John Maxymuk, the author of “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore them,” focuses on Neal not just because he was one of those players who stood out during his era because of his size and strength, but because he is remembered so well for playing the game with a passion and ferocity that today could be considered dirty.
But not during his days.
Here is how Maxymuk helps bring to life his playing days:
The stories that are told about Ed Neal all revolve around his strength and toughness. Bear Hall of Fame center Bulldog Turner said of Neal, “His arms was as big as my leg and just as hard as that table.” Each time Turner would snap the ball against the Packers, Neal would swing his forearm into Turner’s face.
Bulldog claims Neal broke his nose five times with that forearm. In response, Neal claimed that Bulldog broke his nose three times, as well. Packer quarterback Tobin Rote insisted he saw Neal break beer bottles over his forearms. To make it even worse, Neal would cover his forearms with shin pads, making them even harder.
Turner said that he adjusted by ducking his head as he snapped the ball. Neal reacted to that by smashing him over the top of the head, regularly smashing Turner’s plastic helmet. Bulldog said he would bring a couple extra helmets to Packers games because of this.
Neal said of Bulldog, “That was the meanest man I have ever played against.”
Ed Neal came out of Wichita Falls, Texas. In high school he lettered in track, boxing, wrestling and football – playing fullback and defensive tackle. He attended three different colleges: Tulane, Louisiana State, and Oachita Baptist before being signed by Philadelphia in 1942 where he spent one season.
Coming to the Packers as a free agent in 1945, he settled in at middle guard in the 5-4 defense common at the time. The middle guard’s function in that defense was similar to that of the nose tackle today – clog up the middle.
It was an ideal spot to put the big, tough guy, and Neal was bigger and tougher than most players at the time. He was 6-4 and his weight generally ran between 290 and 300 pounds. After seven years of battling in the trenches for the Packers, Ed went over to the Bears in 1952 on Bulldog Turner’s urging.
He was injured in midseason, though, and his career ended.
After football he returned to Wichita Falls and worked as a blacksmith in the oil fields for several years before landing a job with the city’s water department, where he worked until he died at age 65.
Ed Neal was not the first 300-pounder to play for the Packers. The first was tackle Milburn “Tiny” Croft, who joined the team in 1942. After Neal, the team wouldn’t have another 300-pound player until 1986 when tackles Greg Feasel and Tom Neville both passed that weight benchmark.
In the following year, replacement player Steve Collier weighed in at 342 pounds and was given an opportunity to make the regular club after the strike. The only other player to reach that level in the 1980s was Tony Mandarich, who originally weighed in at 315, but was listed at 295 in his second year as the steroids wore off.
In the 1990s, of course, 300-pound linemen became commonplace.
Here are the players who have worn #58 since 1050: