BULLDOG TURNER (1940-1952: Chicago Bears)
It was mid-March, a crisp, sunny day in the rolling green countryside of central Texas. Out by the stable Clyde (Bulldog) Turner asked if I cared for a beer. Then he went behind the stable and plucked two cans of beer from the cool ground under a shade tree. The beer, although not cold, was sufficiently chilled to be refreshing. Owing to a touch of sugar that afflicts him. Bulldog had been warned by his doctor to abstain from alcohol, and so, in order to escape recriminations from his wife, he had found it convenient to store an occasional libation in the outdoors. A big, beefy man, Turner had paid the price that Texas summers extract from those who labor on the land. At 50, his skin was burnt, his thick, straight hair was faded silver and the backs of his hands were scaled. He explained that mainly he breeds race-horses hut that he also owns cattle, sheep and goats, though "not many of each." Agriculture, he went on, had not been prosperous in recent years. His modest 1,200-acre ranch had dwindled to 250 acres.
People in the countryside and in nearby Gatesville, a town of 5,000, in some cases knew him to have been a professional athlete, but they surmised that he had been a baseball player. The fact is that in 1941, only a year after he had turned pro with the Chicago Bears, he became the first man in nine years to unseat the great Mel Hein of the New York Giants as the NFL's All-League center. Men who played against Turner say that among his virtuosities must be included exquisite stealth in the art of holding.
In the living room of the old house, built in 1900, he joined his wife Gladys, a handsome blonde from the Panhandle who in her youth surely must have been a great beauty. He chose an armchair, soberly forewarning me that he was certain his voice would sound ludicrous on my recording machine. He suggested I reconsider. Actually, his voice had the depth of a general's. His posture was ramrod straight, and his forearms rested authoritatively on the arms of the chair. I knew that I had wandered into the presence of a master storyteller.
First of all, I come from Yoakum County 'way out in West Texas, where my dad was a cowboy. He worked for big ranches. They had to be big to make a living, because that wasn't too good a country up there. No trees or nothing. I was born in a little cabin on a ranch in 1919, and when I was 3 or 4 we moved into a town called Plains. That was the only town in the county at that time, so naturally the courthouse was there. There wasn't even any town square. There wasn't enough town to go around any kind of square.
Up there in Plains, you went all the way from the first grade to graduation in the same school building, and of course there was no such thing as a football team. I didn't know anything about football till after we moved to Sweetwater. In 1932 my dad went over there and traded for some property and started buying and selling cattle, and then he came back and got us.
It was my junior year when I first went to Sweetwater High. I noticed that some of the boys there had a big "S" on a knit sweater they wore, and that those boys got all the attention. So I decided that maybe I ought to get me one of those knit sweaters. I learned that the boys wearing 'em were football players. Well, I picked cotton after school most of that fall 'cause we needed the money, but finally I told my dad, "I'm going to quit picking cotton. I'm going out for football." He asked why, and I said, "I want to get me a sweater." That's all I wanted was that ol' slip-on knit sweater with a big ol' "S" on it.
Man, I went through many a rough hour to get that sweater. The first day I went on the field was the roughest day I ever spent on a football field. That includes college through pro. I had cleat marks all over my shins. There were 14 on the squad, the Sweetwater Mustangs, and I was the No. 1 substitute. I played every position except quarterback, I guess. Sammy Baugh was two years ahead of me at Sweetwater High, so that makes two of us from one school that made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Sammy had already gone when I started.
That year we had a lousy team. We won maybe a game or two out of the whole season, but I got my sweater, and in getting it I developed something that I didn't anticipate. I found that I loved to play football. So I was real fired up and looking forward to the next football season, but then they said I couldn't play anymore for the high school. I was 15, see, and I was supposed to have graduated. A lot of boys down here in Texas graduated young. Why I don't know. Anyway, I should have graduated, but the move from Plains to Sweetwater was such a big jump that I failed my first year at Sweetwater and I didn't graduate. I had to go another year. But they said I was ineligible for football.
That nearly run me crazy. I said, "Heck, I can't stand this." So I ran off from home. I ran off to see if I could get me a place on a college team. At that time I had an old cow, as I recall, and cows brang about $8. I sold that cow and bought me some new gloves and a new coat, and I think I still had a good bit of money before I left. I hitchhiked around for a while, and then I went to Fort Worth and checked into a hotel. In those days you could get a room for $1.50 a week, so I stayed there and went around to colleges within hitchhiking distance and told them, "I want to be an athlete." Every one of them turned me down. The trouble was, I had no reputation as a football player.