Mutka: Gary’s Beisler served as Brodie’s protector
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent April 21, 2013 10:44PM
Updated: May 23, 2013 6:35AM
It’s been 40 years since Randy Beisler helped San Francisco’s offensive line set an NFL record for fewest sacks in a season, but he’s still appreciated.
Last season the 49ers named him an honorary captain for their game with the Buffalo Bills. The memorable day included visits with the current team and their Super Bowl coach, Jim Harbaugh.
“They also showed some highlights of my playing days on the Jumbotron,” said the Gary native, who watched the game from the owner’s box.
Beisler spent five (1969-74) of his 11 years in the NFL with the 49ers, who won five playoff games during that stretch. He was traded by the Eagles, who drafted him out of Indiana University in the first round. He was picked three spots ahead of Purdue’s Jerry Shay, another NFL product of the Steel City melting pot.
“As soon as I arrived, the 49ers started talking to me about being in the offensive line,” said Beisler, who still lives in the Bay Area. “I said, ‘wait a minute. There must be some mistake. I’m a defensive end.’ ”
No mistake. The switch wasn’t a complete shock since he had played on the offensive side in college. Beisler transitioned to starting left guard for the 49ers, who pocketed consecutive Western Division titles from 1970-72.
Along with right guard Woody Peoples, center Forrest Blue, and tackles Len Rohde and Cas Banaszek they were tagged “The Protectors.”
Frisco’s best record in that stretch was 10-3-1 in 1970. Quarterbacked by John Brodie, they beat the Vikings 17-14 in 7-below-zero weather.
Dallas was their playoff nemesis.
“We thought we had the better team, overall, but they beat us all three years,” said Beisler, who grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan and was a two-sport star at Wirt.
The biggest heartbreaker came in 1972, a season-ending 30-28 meltdown. Beisler still finds it difficult to understand how a 15-point lead evaporated.
“Roger Staubach came off the bench to throw two touchdown passes in the last minute and a half,” he said. “We were standing on the sideline talking about how we were going to spend our bonus money.”
He forced a chuckle.
“That went up in smoke.”
Beisler finished his career at Kansas City under Paul Wiggins, who traded for him.
“He was my line coach at San Francisco,” explained Beisler, whose career ended with a horrendous injury in 1977.
Trying to tackle a cornerback on an interception, he was accidentally speared.
“Helmet-to-helmet,” he said. “Broke my neck.”
Beisler tried to return, but was deemed only 80 percent when he took his physical in the next training camp. So, he retired to a lucrative post-football career in real estate. Coaching was never an option.
“Back then assistant coaches were grossly underpaid and overworked,” he said. “Coaching didn’t look that glamorous. Now they’re still overworked, but the pay is better.”
Concussions weren’t that big a deal back then, said Beisler, who will be inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame on May 5 at the Avalon Banquet Center.
“We joked about it when somebody came off the field,” he said. “How many fingers? Count ’em and get back out there.
“Or, get the trainer over here and tape an aspirin on his helmet.”
Improved helmets worn by bigger and faster athletes changed the dismissive attitude towards “getting your bell rung.” Now football’s in a crisis mode.
“Helmets got better and became a weapon,” said Beisler, one of Wirt’s finest athletes.
He played tight end for the late Walt Nabhan, a father-figure, but was closer to his assistant, Jack Owen.
“He mentored me, not only in football, but in track,” said Beisler, who finished second in the state in the shot put.
Beisler practically grew up on Miller Beach, encouraged by his mother, Katherine, who loved Lake Michigan.
“She spent nearly every day of her life on the beach,” said Beisler, who returned her ashes to the lake several years ago.
“We had a little ceremony,” he said. “It’s what she wanted.”
In high school, Beisler never played against Shay, a Lew Wallace grad, but they were rivals in the annual battle for the Old Oaken Bucket.
“We became friendly later, playing in several All-Star games together,” Beisler said.
Others who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame are Gerald Irons, John Boyajian, Mark and Mike Deal and Craig Buford. Veteran official John Goss will also receive a certificate of merit at the affair, which begins with a reception at 5 p.m. on May 5. Munster’s John Friend will serve as master of ceremonies.
For more information contact Valparaiso’s Mark Hoffman at email@example.com.