Hanburger worked his way to Hall of Fame

Staff WriterFebruary 12, 2011 

As a two-way football player at North Carolina from 1961-1964, Chris Hanburger often expressed his displeasure with a game that required so much energy and seemed to give little in return but pain.

"I never saw a guy who hated football so much play so hard and play so well," former UNC offensive line coach Joe Mark said. "He used to say, 'What am I doing playing this game?' Then he'd get on the football field and good Lord have mercy he was tough."

Tough enough to be drafted into the National Football League by the Washington Redskins in 1965, where he spent 14 seasons as a linebacker. And now that toughness has landed Hanburger in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Last August, Hanburger was announced as a nominee for induction into the Hall, but on Saturday he was officially selected to be enshrined during a ceremony at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 11.

Hanburger, 69, received a phone call on Saturday, and before he knew it he was on a plane Sunday morning to Texas for Super Bowl XLV. As millions of television viewers awaited the coin toss, he and six other members of the class of 2011 were honored at the 50-yard line.

He will be enshrined with Richard Dent, Marshall Faulk, Les Richter, Shannon Sharpe, Deion Sanders and Ed Sabol.

"It's a tremendous honor," said Hanburger, who now resides in Darlington, S.C., and last played professional football 33 years ago.

Hanburger said he doesn't follow football closely. Football was his job, and he approached it as such, giving his best effort and moving on.

"I enjoyed training camp," Hanburger said. "I enjoyed practices and enjoyed the games. But as far as having it dominate my life, no, it never dominated my life. Never has and never will."

Low key

His son, Chris Hanburger Jr. of Apex, said his dad has a humble appreciation for the Hall of Fame honor and his time in the NFL, though he has always been "pretty low key about it."

About nine years ago, with the birth of his son, the younger Hanburger wrote to NFL Films to secure old footage of his dad.

In the highlights, he discovered a 6-foot-2, 218-pound linebacker with superior speed and a tireless work ethic. His father had told him very little about his playing days.

Hanburger was voted to nine Pro Bowls. He finished his career with 19 interceptions and three fumble recoveries returned for touchdowns, which stood as a league record when he retired in 1978.

Still, the younger Hanburger teased his father, saying, "In 14 years playing, I would hope they could make 20 minutes of good plays for you."

The elder Hanburger, who grew up as a "military brat," was born in Fort Bragg. He finished high school in Hampton, Va.

Urged by friends, he tried football as a junior at Hampton High. After several days of practice, he was so sore he couldn't shift car gears.

"I was almost a quitter," Hanburger said. "I wasn't going to practice one morning. I was going to quit. Two guys came to get me and talked me into going. I stuck it out."

He held on to the idea of playing even as he finished two years (1959-61) in the Army after high school. He was talented enough to win a scholarship to UNC.

Means to an end

There he became known for his straight-ahead approach to tasks. "He's just an easy-going guy," former UNC teammate Joe Robinson said. "He doesn't like a lot of notoriety. He just goes about his business and does what he has to do."

Mark served as an assistant coach on the staff of UNC coach Jim Hickey. Mark coached Hanburger, who also played linebacker, as an offensive lineman.

Hanburger was a co-captain of UNC's 1964 team with Ron Tuthill. He was a member of the 1963 Tar Heels squad that finished 9-2, was ACC co-champion and captured a Gator Bowl trophy with a 35-0 win over Air Force.

"He was just outstanding," Mark said. "He had exceptional speed. ... He wasn't overly big, but he could do the job."

He did the job so well that the Redskins drafted him in the 18th round as the 245th overall pick in 1965.

In typical Hanburger fashion, he learned about his draft status from friends after returning from a trip.

Football games stand as distant memories in Hanburger's mind. It was, he said, a "means to an end."

"Nothing really sticks out in my mind at all," Hanburger said. "You play the game. You cover people. You tackle people. You intercept a pass here and there. Get a fumble now and then. Game's over, you got the next game. Get ready for that one."

Hanburger played in the NFL during a time when players needed offseason jobs to augment their salaries. Among several of his jobs, he worked in the automobile industry, eventually co-owning a dealership in College Park, Md. He retired as a service manager at a different dealership in College Park.

In all of his time in sales, he said he never introduced himself as a former Washington Redskins player, always avoiding recognition and fanfare. So it was understandable why he forgot to mention his Hall of Fame induction to a fellow on the plan ride back from Dallas on Tuesday evening.

Carrying a bag with a Hall of Fame logo, a passenger noticed and asked Hanburger if he had ever been to the museum in Canton, Ohio. He replied, "No."

Hanburger's wife, Evelyn, listening, asked her husband why he lied.

"I said, 'I'm not lying,'" Hanburger recalled. "He asked me if I had ever been there. I've never been. So I wasn't lying. ... I'm going."

robinson@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4781

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