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75 for 75: From Gridiron to Boxing Ring 


"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.


October 12, 1952

Charley Powell was just one year out of high school when he earned his first start at defensive end for the 49ers and terrorized Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer. 

Prior to joining the 49ers, Powell was named the Southern California Prep Football Player of the Year. His athletic accomplishments at San Diego High School attracted the Harlem Globetrotters, who recruited him to play basketball, and Major League Baseball's St. Louis Browns. After a year in the Browns minor league system, the 19-year-old Powell gave up his baseball career to sign with the 49ers despite never playing a down of college football. 

In his first NFL start, the lightning quick 6-foot-3, 230-pounder made a sparkling debut. Although statistics from the 1952 season are incomplete, and sacks were not recorded as an official record, various newspaper and witness accounts claim Powell sacked Layne at least five times in the game. The Lions completed just 8-of-26 passing attempts for 74 yards with two interceptions. They also lost 49 yards on quarterback sacks as the 49ers pounded the Lions 28-0 at Detroit's Briggs Stadium.

In the game's aftermath, Powell was awarded the game ball and head coach Buck Shaw claimed, "This is undoubtedly the greatest defensive game that any 49ers team has played in the seven year history of the club. It is hard to single out anybody on defense….but maybe you could mention Charley Powell. He was tremendous at defensive end. It was the first start for a 1951 high school star now playing among professional men."

Powell remained a fearsome defensive end with the 49ers from 1952 to 1957, but his most incredible athletic accomplishment may have come after his NFL retirement. That is when he pursued a boxing career and quickly moved up the heavyweight ranks. He knocked out Cuban champion Nino Valdes, the second ranked heavyweight in the world in 1959, then took on future champ Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali). Clay stopped Powell via TKO in the third round. Still, Powell remains one of the true legends in 49ers lore.

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