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Although the coaches are high on him, Rolf's problem is Charlie. "Charlie has played well, and some people call him a legend," says Rolf. "That doesn't help me. I'm struggling to make it, fighting to survive, and Charlie's reputation gets in my way."
As if to emphasize the time span, Rolf and Buster lift weights. The old pro scorns it. "I never saw a player worth his salt push that iron around," he says.
Charlie's mass and muscle came from pushing steel on Santa Fe track gangs and on oil rigs beginning at age 13. Before that he labored in the family's mattress works, immodestly called a factory when it was no more than a cottage industry. By the time Charlie was 11 he could stuff and stitch a neat ticking.
Krueger singles out Bear Bryant, his coach at A&M, as having been his most profound influence, the man who made Charlie Krueger. The Bear certainly seasoned him, but when Krueger arrived at A&M he already had the qualities Bryant most admired and put to use: loyalty, obedience and a calloused approach to hard work. When Bryant was through with him, Charlie Krueger was a prime Texas-seasoned football player, and the 49ers drafted him No. 1. San Francisco got what it expected, a very special professional.
"I discovered that in my class the ones who survived were alike in attitude and background," says Krueger. They were, for the most part, good old boys from Texas and Southern towns where spectral lights did not shine on their farms and factories. "I guess we were the last completely goal-directed group to enter the pros, and I tell you, we were scared to death to fail. For four years in college I jumped, afraid the Bear would send me home," says Krueger, who was one of 10 prize prospects to survive out of a freshman class of 115. " 'Please let me last another day' was my daily prayer."
The 1958 College All-Stars demonstrated their goal direction by beating the Detroit Lions 35-19. For Krueger the game was an augury. Although he started and played extremely well, stopping Quarterback Bobby Layne on several key plays, even setting up an interception that led to an All-Star score, Krueger went all but unnoticed in the newspaper reports of the game. The hero was an A&M teammate, Bobby Joe Conrad, who kicked four field goals even though he had never attempted one in college.
Seldom had there been a more enthusiastic pro than Krueger. In 1958, when he joined San Francisco, all the factors came together—his background, his family training and four years of Bryant coaching—and Krueger became a 49er in a state of rapture. "I never really enjoyed football until I came into the NFL," he says.
However, in time the joy wore thin. That is when Krueger became aware of the encroachment of commercialism, the takeover by TV. "The television money changed the game completely," he says. "You could see it in the organizations. Suddenly they became all business—sharp and efficient. The ledger and the bottom line became the favorite topics."
From a practical viewpoint, it was for the players a great leap forward. Until then there were no benefits but a limited insurance policy. Krueger realizes that the business takeover was to his advantage. Indeed, it transformed pro football into a profession and reduced the fear, the rampant insecurities.
But it was no longer Charlie Krueger's game. His ended in the early 1960s. "Technically, it is now a much better game—or should I call it a product," he says bleakly.