If a survey was done to name the most notable of the many San Diego-area athletes to ultimately achieve success in professional football, most people would nominate Junior Seau, John Lynch, Marcus Allen and Reggie Bush. Brian Sipe might get a nod from a few folks, and Stephen Neal could possibly get his name added to the list as well. But it would take either a student of football history or a San Diegan of the AARP set to rattle off a couple of names that are unknown to most, but were every bit as dominant in their day – Charley and Art Powell.
|Charley Powell (#87) makes a tackle against the Los Angeles Chargers in 1960.
The Powell boys grew up in San Diego’s Logan Heights district, and honed their athletic skills at a place the kids called “The 40 Acres,” now the home to Memorial Park. The kids in the neighborhood held impromptu track meets there, as well as pick-up football and baseball games. The Powell’s and many more of our local athletic standouts of the time (former Negro Leagues and PCL baseball star, Johnny Ritchey and AFL standout, Dave Grayson, to name just two) credit their early development to the time they spent at The 40 Acres.
For the Powell brothers, their excellence in athletics began to garner attention when they entered San Diego High School. Charley grew to be a 6’3” and 230-lbs. high school senior, who played football, basketball, baseball and track & field. He graduated in 1952, the proud owner of 12 varsity letters, and promptly passed up scholarship offers from Notre Dame, UCLA and a tryout with the Harlem Globe Trotters, to play a season of professional baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. After spending a year being pitched around and served a steady diet of curveballs, Charley left baseball, and at 19 years of age, became the youngest player ever to play in the NFL when he broke into the starting defensive line of the San Francisco 49ers. He gained instant notoriety when he sacked the Detroit Lions’ Bobby Layne 10 times in a single game for a total loss of 67 yards. Charley played five seasons with the 49ers, and then put his football career on hiatus to place further emphasis on boxing, something that he had also been doing professionally since 1953. Powell rose to be the No. 4-ranked heavyweight in the world, and had matches against No. 2-ranked Nino Valdes of Cuba (won by TKO), Floyd Patterson (lost by KO) and a young Cassius Clay (lost by knockout). In the midst of his boxing career, Charley went back to football and played two seasons with the fledgling Oakland Raiders of the American Football League, and ultimately put an end to his boxing career in 1965.
While Art Powell’s career perhaps wasn’t as varied as his brother, Charley’s, the football and basketball star came out of high school to play both sports at San Diego City College and then San Jose State. Art was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1959, but found his niche a year later in the American Football League. The young wide receiver joined the New York Titans in 1960, and had three successful years playing opposite Hall of Famer, Don Maynard. In 1960, he and Maynard became the first wide receiver duo to each earn 1,000 yards receiving. They repeated the feat in 1962. Art was sold to the Oakland Raiders after the 1962 season, and quickly adapted to coach Al Davis’s vertical passing offense. He put up strong numbers with the Raiders, averaging 1,123 receiving yards in each of his four seasons in Oakland. He was traded to the Buffalo Bills in 1967, as part of the deal that brought Daryle Lamonica to the Raiders, and he played six games with the Bills before ending his career with the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. Art Powell averaged more than 1,000 yards per season in his eight years in the AFL, and hauled in 81 touchdown receptions. When the two leagues merged in 1970, he was named to the All-Time AFL Team.
|Art Powell (#84) goes up for a pass in Balboa Stadium.
The Powell brothers never made a lot of money in professional football; they came along some 40 years before players began cashing in on free agency. But their contributions to the game were legendary, and the very deservedly hold high-ranking positions on any “Top San Diego Athletes in Pro Football” list.