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The so-called ‘meanest man in pro football’ dies

  • Written by Tim Hadac

Former Bear and Chicago Ridge bowling

alley owner Ed Sprinkle passes at age 90

Ed Sprinkle, a longtime resident of Palos Park and recently of Palos Heights who once owned a bowling alley in Chicago Ridge and widely acclaimed as one of the greatest football players in Chicago Bears history, died July 28. He was 90.
Mr. Sprinkle played as a right defensive end for the Bears from 1944 to 1955, earning the nickname “The Claw” for his ability to use his strong left arm against blockers and quarterbacks. He was named all-pro seven times and played in four Pro Bowls — in 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1955.
In a hardscrabble era of NFL football, he was known as a tough guy among tough guys, even getting tagged with a “meanest man in football” nickname by some—a designation Mr. Sprinkle and others close to him disputed.
“I don’t know where it started. I hit guys. I never stood around. Sometimes they interpreted that as being mean instead of being tough,” Mr. Sprinkle said in a 2012 interview with The Regional News. “Halas tried to defend me. He said I wasn’t a dirty player. I was mean as everyone out there.”
“His name is legendary. I’ve heard all the stories of the Monsters of the Midway, but I knew him as such a nice guy, such a gentleman. Hard to equate the legend with the man I know,” said Brian McCaskey, senior director of business development of the Chicago Bears and son of owner Virginia McCaskey, in 2012
In that same Regional News article, Mr. Sprinkle admitted to some run-ins with other players, including future Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula.
“I came around and hit him pretty good,” he said. “He said something, so I said, ‘If you want to stand around and watch the game why don’t you buy a ticket and sit in the stands?’”
Outside of football, he was a local businessman who owned a tile business on Southwest Highway, as well as a small bowling alley in Chicago Ridge on 111th Street and Oxford Avenue.
He was active in local affairs. He was a member of the Palos Lions Club and coached youth football and baseball, according to his daughter, Susan Withers, a banking executive and past president of the Palos Area Chamber of Commerce.
“My dad was tough on the field, because he had to be,” she recalled. “Everywhere else, he was kind and understanding. He wouldn’t just give orders, he would talk to you, explain things.”
“He was far more than a wonderful father,” Withers added. “He was a good friend. He was good with kids.”