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Sour grapes should not be ruled out. A certain amount of disillusionment followed trades and cuts of good friends. To Krueger, it appeared his buddies were being made the scapegoats for the 49ers' persistent failure. And failure weighed heavily on the teams of the early to mid-'60s. How can failure be explained? Why do teams of comparative skills differ in results? This subject was exhausted by Krueger and his teammates.
"I remember a time, it must have been 1962, when we sat around and figured out that there were 32 ex- 49ers on active rosters," says Krueger. "Then 36 men were the limit, so to me it indicated someone in authority had terrible judgment."
After a 42-10 exhibition victory over the Giants, a bunch of the 49ers gathered in Del Vecchio's, a North Beach restaurant, glorying in the triumph. "We tried to analyze New York's problems and ended up figuring that the Giants were hopeless," says Krueger. "As I recall we won all except one of our exhibitions but lost the division race. Meanwhile, the hopeless Giants took the Eastern championship." Besides being an obvious lesson in humility, the incident taught Krueger never to look back. Football games, he claims, should be played, enjoyed and forgotten.
It is only in retrospect that Charlie Krueger can be philosophical. "One night our frustration just boiled over into a bad scene, at least it frightened our wives and neighbors," says Butchee Mudd, now the long-haired freak of the University of California coaching staff but still the goal-oriented competitor of those disappointing 49er seasons. All night and into the morning Krueger and Mudd sat in Butchee's kitchen drinking beer and screaming: "Why? Why? Why?" They played the devil's advocate, one against the other, arguing, thumping about, banging on walls. "We ended up in the backyard, still screaming as daylight broke," says Mudd. "I can't recall we came to any conclusion that mattered, but it helped relieve the frustrations."
Disappointed in his first marriage and in the lack of a family, Krueger, a man of powerful familial impulses, involved himself more completely with his team. He was the catalyst for the disparate personalities on the squad, the surrogate father for many, like Mudd, and for others a concerned big brother. The role came easy. "Charlie was and is the center of reality for the team," says one 49er. " Charlie Krueger makes you believe in those old-time virtues," says Mudd.
Outside of football, Krueger's interests run from big business to the man on the street. "Charlie collects stray dogs and people," says Mudd, who has never understood his friend's shepherding instincts. The dogs, Charlie Krueger vetted, fed and generally rehabilitated before passing them on to worthy homes. The people, he kept as friends, and they are as mixed as his pack of street hounds. "Charlie's an unusual man, and so are his friends," says Bob Brachman. They include several millionaires, particularly a young paper magnate, Jim Benton, who is sufficiently impressed with Krueger's abilities to offer him a choice position in a new paper concern. However, hobnobbing with the rich and powerful is not Krueger's developed interest. Most of his spare time is spent at the Monterey Garage jawing with Bill Butler, a mechanic and favorite companion on mountain-lion hunts in the High Sierras, or at Harry's Hof Brau in Redwood City, where the cook is a friend of 15 years' standing.
Padding about the High Sierras is the closest Krueger comes to indulging in fun and games. And that, too, has changed. He has given up shooting pumas for the pleasure of tracking them to their lairs. In this, his one recreation, Krueger is a purist. He scorns campers, with their outdoor creature comforts, as motels on wheels, and he does not like them cluttering up his landscape. Instead, Charlie Krueger is a backpacker, but also a chef who delights in whipping up a good sauce and producing a fine bottle of wine on a craggy peak.
"There must be an algebraic formula to express it but I feel best in relation to the thinnest density of air and people," he says.
The qualities that ennoble him among what Krueger calls his "peers" enrage his bride of nine months, Kristin Adler Krueger, the daughter of San Francisco Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler. This bright, sophisticated woman, educated in Europe and a serious student of the flute, piccolo and piano, cannot understand her husband's self-effacing attitude toward football. But then she finds it difficult to square the two Charlie Kruegers: the fiercely intense 49er tackle in the battered, antiquated helmet and her witty, bookish husband, a man totally disinterested in games. She is the fan in her house. Kris watches TV football, knows the scores and can identify the players. Much to the shock of his neighbors, Krueger never catches the Monday night game. "Does a butcher watch another butcher carve meat on his day off?" he says.
In ordinary circumstances, Kris Krueger would have tolerantly waited for her husband to complete his career. However, there was a lot at stake for both husband and wife. The Kruegers had decided to delay a family and other connubial events, like building a house, until after Charlie retired from football. He was not sure, but it looked as if 1972 would be his last season. It was one of those "Honey, you'll be the first to know" routines. The issue was still in doubt until mid-season last year, when Kris Krueger learned of her husband's decision to return for his 15th season—he was incapacitated with a broken arm in his rookie year—on her car radio.