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Naturally, she was angry. It was small solace that Krueger's intentions were of great moment to the San Francisco area and the 49ers' playoff hopes. Charlie had broken his promise. He had allowed 49er Coach Dick Nolan to convince him to play yet another season.
To his wife's charge that he is under Nolan's spell, Krueger responds heatedly: "It's true, I came back because Dick Nolan asked me. He convinced me that I could play effectively another year, could be of real service. But let's be perfectly candid. I'm back because my divorce was costly, and a business venture with Jim Benton was delayed a year."
Krueger might well have forgotten what it meant to play for an inspired coach, except that he made the Pro Bowl in 1961, one of the two times that he was so honored. And Vince Lombardi coached the West. As Krueger says, it brought back old times, memories of the Bear. "I was wasting time waiting for practice to begin when I realized that I hadn't brought my football shoes," says Krueger. "In my mind, I bracketed Vince and the Bear together. All I could think of was Vince will send me home if I don't have my shoes. On the other hand, he'll send me home for being late for-practice. That's what the Bear would have done. I had no alternative, so I ran down the street to a sporting goods store. I mean ran. Fortunately, they had my size, and I made practice on time.
" Lombardi was a brilliant coach, and his teams proved it. To miss a chance of playing for him or messing up the experience would have been stupid, tragic."
Krueger believes it is every player's right to work for a great coach. Five years ago he was ready to quit. The disappointment, the frustrations had reached a peak, and at age 31 he was mentally ready, if not totally prepared, to get on with living and without football.
When Nolan took over the 49ers in 1968, Krueger went in to see him and explained he was thinking of retiring. Nolan, after all, would prefer to work with younger men, build for the future. Krueger had heard that expression so often that he almost laughed to hear himself using it. Instead, Nolan asked Krueger to stay on. "We have use for old men of 31," the coach said.
"Now I can say I have played under an exceptional man, a first-rate coach," Krueger says. "It is more work under Nolan, but it has purpose."
Nolan brought an efficiency into the 49ers' preparation that Krueger admired. Everything was set forth in clear detail, even to which foot to put forward in the stance and how far from the line. That was one of the benefits of commercialism and prosperity. No longer did a team copy plays off a blackboard or try to figure out badly mimeographed pages. Everything was neatly drawn, and Nolan used that other artifact of big business, visual aids. But neatness alone did not count. Nolan's insistence on details did. The new coach had a new system for the old pro—he had put in a flex defense that required greater awareness of responsibilities and reactions, and the defense prospered.
"It used to be when we reviewed the game films a player had to be prepared for an ordeal," says Krueger. "I mean it could be painful. First off we would be split into offense and defense, and each unit would watch the breakdown separately. If you goofed, they would take you apart, read you out, tear you down. I mean they left a player nothing. They would strip him, leave him no place to hide, no shred of dignity. It was a terrible experience, and you wondered if you could survive. You were always so busy looking frantically for an escape that often you missed the point. Nolan doesn't work that way. Everything is calm and reasoned, and we all sit together reviewing our performances. He makes his point. He can be forceful but Dick Nolan is never destructive."