My favorite part of Super Bowl last January week had nothing to do with either of the two competing teams - the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers. But it did have something to do with my favorite team, the Washington Redskins.
To me, the next best thing to having your favorite team in the Super Bowl is finding out that one of your favorite all-time NFL players has been selected for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. When the NFL announced, during Super Bowl week, that former Redskins linebacker Chris Hanburger would be one of seven new inductees to be enshrined the following August in Canton, Ohio, I was thrilled. Well, August is here and Hanburger will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this Saturday night, Aug. 6.
Redskins' fans have been fortunate in recent years to see former players such as cornerback Darrel Green, wide receiver Art Monk and offensive tackle Russ Grimm inducted into the Hall of Fame. Those three were all part of the great Redskins teams of the 1980s and early '90s under legendary head coach Joe Gibbs, who himself is a member of the Hall.
Most current Redskins fans are well versed and learned of the great Redskins teams under Gibbs which won Super Bowls over the Miami Dolphins (1983), the Denver Broncos (1988) and the Buffalo Bills (1992).
But sort of forgotten by Redskins fandom were the exploits of the Redskins teams of the 1970s under head coach George Allen, who came to the Nation's Capital in 1971 and, over the following seven years, led Washington to NFL glory it had not known since the 1940s.
Hanburger, an undersized, perennial standout defensive player who had been chosen by the Redskins out of the University of North Carolina way back in 1965 in the 18th round of the NFL Draft, was a hallmark member of the coach Allen teams - an era of Redskins history highlighted by a trip to Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles in January of 1973.
Hanburger was a coaches' dream. He was a quiet leader counted upon to call the team's defensive formations. He was quick, ultra tough and had a nose for the football. Hanburger, who throughout his Redskins' career was part of linebacker corps that included the likes of Jack Pardee, Harold McLinton and the great Sam Huff, was always, it seemed, involved in the middle of a play doing his best to help stop opposing offenses.
When I was a youngster, I loved those Redskins teams of the 1970s, which included standout players such as running back Larry Brown, receiver Charley Taylor, center Len Hauss, quarterbacks Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen, defensive linemen Diron Talbert and Verlon Biggs, and cornerback Pat Fischer. And there was also the steady Hanburger, whom I and other young fans thought had a last name spelling of H-A-M-B-U-R-G-E-R - like what you ate at McDonald's.
Hanburger or Hamburger, it didn't really matter to me. The Redskins' linebacker was a humble, non-arrogant member of the Redskins' `Over The Hill Gang,' the affectionate nickname given to coach Allen's aged group of winners.
One of Hanburger's signature plays was the ‘clothesline tackle,' in which the standout player would, with his swinging right arm, nail a ball carrier across the chin strap area to bring him down. That form of a tackle, now considered illegal, was a sight to behold when showcased by Hanburger.
But Hanburger was also a text-book, fundamentally sound linebacker who was known for his stunning, jarring hits on running backs. When in street clothes, Hanburger, with his handsome features and straight, boxer cut dark hair, looked anything but a star football player. But when attired in his football pads underneath his burgundy and gold uniform, the understated Hanburger was an NFL force.
Amazingly, until earlier this year when his name was being tossed as a Hall of Fame candidate, most football fans, if asked to write down a list of the 100 or so best defensive players of all time, would not include Hanburger. Most probably would not even know who he was. He would not have fit into today's show boating style of players who raise their arms in triumph after sacking a quarterback or bringing down a ball carrier for no gain. Not physically imposing and anything but a flaunting, arrogant player, Hanburger was all about T-E-A-M. He could have cared less if his name was ever mentioned in a post game newspaper story, as long as he and his teammates had walked off the RFK Stadium field victorious. Those Redskins teams of the 70s, thanks in part to the heroics of Hanburger, were winners. Oh, if only the current Redskins' roster had more players the likes of a Chris Hanburger, who won Washington fans over with his consistent, first rate play and team-first mentality.