Sad news emerged from the sports world this week when the nation learned that former Detroit Lions offensive lineman Ed Flanagan, who also earned four Pro Bowl nods during his career, died at the age of 79, as Fox News reports.
Flanagan's passing was announced by the Detroit Lions organization in a statement on Twitter, which referenced the gridiron standout's status as “a member of the Detroit Lions All-Time Team” and featured a photo of the player in his heyday.
Having gained notoriety during his college days playing alongside famed quarterback Bob Griese at Purdue, Flanagan was ultimately named to the 1964 All-Big Ten team during his senior year.
As NBC Sports noted, Flanagan's professional career then began in 1965, when he was selected by the Lions in the fifth round of the draft.
Impressively, Flanagan earned the job as the team's starting center as a rookie, and that was a role he retained for ten years.
Following a decade in Detroit and Pro Bowl honors in the years of 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1973, Flanagan decided to try his luck in the World Football League, but such an arrangement was, in the end, not to be.
Due to a subsequent contract battle with the Lions, Flangan went on to sign with the San Diego Chargers for the 1975 season, and he retired for good following the 1976 season.
Flanagan's career trajectory offers an instructive comparison between the NFL of years' past and the multi-billion-dollar industry it is today, with the famed center once revealing that the Lions paid him a mere $12,000 per year for much of his career, as NBC News noted.
It was not until he moved to the Chargers during the last two years of his life in professional football did Flanagan pull in $37,000 annually, the highest salary of his career.
Recalling the surprisingly modest realities of professional sports in the 60s and 70s, Flanagan once recalled, “We always worked in the offseason. I started off selling steel in Detroit, calling on General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. I did that for two years, and then I got into real estate. I sold real estate for two years.”
Flanagan long held the respect and admiration of coaches and teammates throughout the league, as Fox News notes, with former NFL coach Chuck Knox stating back in 2015, “He was a Pro Bowl center and was a member of what was regarded as the best offensive line in the NFL at the time.”
“He was an outstanding center. He had been a wrestler in high school and college and had good balance. Plus, he was tough and smart,” added Knox.
During a 2003 interview with ProFootballResearches.org, former Lions offensive lineman Bob Kowalkowski declared Flanagan the finest center in the entire league during the era in which both men played, as the Detroit Free Press notes.
“Ed had great blocking technique. Usually when he hit somebody, they went down. But we called him 'Easy Ed,'” Kowalkowski recalled. “He was an even-tempered guy. He never let stuff upset him. That helped him handle the NFL.”