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White Trades Helmet for Headset : Charger Veteran Retires as Player, Will Stay as Coach

Times Staff Writer

When 9-year-old Amy White had to pinch-run for her dad in a pick-up softball game two weeks ago, 39-year-old Ed White said he knew it was time to exchange his helmet for a headset.

At a news conference Friday at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the Charger offensive lineman announced he had decided Thursday night to retire.

The Chargers announced that the 17-year National Football League veteran would remain with the team as an assistant to offensive line coach Dave Levy.

“I wanted to continue playing,” White said, “but physically I’m not able to do it. I could have played another year if I hadn’t been hurt. But I couldn’t overcome this particular injury at this point.”

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White chipped the inside of his right knee last season and had surgery in January. The surgery on the arthritic knee was not entirely successful.

“Something is still wrong with the knee,” said White. “I realized I’m crippled. Crippled may be too strong a word, but I can’t play racquetball and I can’t run and I certainly can’t have 280-pound men hanging on me.”

This comes from a man who has played more games, 241, than any offensive lineman in NFL history. White broke the mark held by his former Viking teammate, Mick Tingelhoff, when the Chargers played in Kansas City on the final Sunday of the 1985 season.

“It was a great feeling the whole game,” White said. “Nobody else had done that. I wish I could keep working on that record, but it didn’t work out.”

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Until the past couple of weeks, White thought he might be able to play this season.

However, after a recent workout during which White was limping considerably, White said Charger assistant head coach Al Saunders “planted the seed” about possibly retiring and becoming a coach.

“Based on his injury,” Saunders said, “he couldn’t have performed at the level we needed to win.”

White almost equally split his career with the Vikings and Chargers. After playing in four Super Bowls (all losses) with the Vikings, White came to the Chargers before the 1978 season in a trade that sent running back Ricky Young to Minnesota.

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As a Charger, the 6-foot 2 1/2-inch, 285-pound lineman was an integral part of the team’s record-setting offense. With the Chargers, White, an All-Pro from 1975-79, started 117 of 120 games and missed only two.

Besides being durable, he also proved versatile. When the Chargers lost right tackle Russ Washington in 1984, White switched from guard to tackle and successfully played a position he had never played before. Last season, when Doug Wilkerson retired, White moved back to left guard and had another strong season.

“He is one of the greatest offensive lineman to ever play the game,” Charger Coach Don Coryell said. “We are losing a great player, but fortunately he’s still a Charger.”

Said Charger owner Alex Spanos: “He has been a great player who someday will go into the Hall of Fame. I’ve enjoyed watching him play the last two seasons and I’m proud that he will continue to be a member of our organization.”

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One of White’s teammates who will miss him most in the huddles is quarterback Dan Fouts, a good friend.

“It seems like he played every game I’ve ever played in,” Fouts said. “Having him in there made me feel everything was going to be all right. If you polled all the defensive linemen in the league, Ed would be No. 1 in respect for his ability and the way he played the game. It might be unanimous. They broke the mold when Ed was born. Of course, they broke a lot of things when he was born.”

It’s unlikely that too many Chargers will be breaking curfew now that Big Ed is conducting bed checks.

“I’ll have Ed and Hank (Bauer) go together,” Coryell said. “Nobody will pull anything over on those two.”

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White admits to having “harassed a few coaches who made bed checks” during his playing days. He said it will feel strange to be a coach, but that he is looking forward to it.

“I will not be telling the players what to do,” White said. “I will be sharing techniques. I look forward to sharing the things I’ve learned through the years . . . I worked with two of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game, Bud Grant and Don Coryell. I hope I’ve learned something from them.”

Saunders believes that White, who served as a volunteer aide for his son’s Julian High School football team last season, has the temperament to be an excellent coach.

“He is extremely bright, very articulate, relates to people and demands a great deal of respect,” Saunders said. “He has been a coach on the field for many of the years he played.”

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Charger Notes How does the Charger offensive line shape up now that Ed White has retired? “Gary Kowalski (6-5, 290-pound tackle) has to end up being a player for us,” Charger assistant head coach Al Saunders said. “He played that position (guard) during mini-camp and did really well. He has excellent physical ability. I think he can do the job. But Ed White is like Dan Fouts. You never replace an Ed White.” Saunders added that Chris Faulkner, moved from tight end to guard during the off-season, had “an outstanding mini-camp.”


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