Brad Ecklund, former NFL player, coach

Posted: February 10, 2010

Brad Ecklund, 87, of Vincentown, a former NCAA and NFL football player who coached the Eagles' offensive line in the 1970s, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at Samaritan Hospice in Mount Holly.

Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 300 pounds for most of his playing years, Mr. Ecklund combined power and endurance to become an offensive machine for the University of Oregon and in the NFL.

He played 91 straight games through high school, in the military, and at Oregon - often averaging more than 50 minutes of playing time - before going pro.

It wasn't long before he became known in the NFL. He played there and in the old All-America Football Conference for four years, making it to the Pro Bowl twice, and coached for five NFL teams in 19 years. He coached for the Eagles in 1971 and '72.

But he left the limelight for others. He enjoyed ravaging a juicy sirloin more than being presented with awards, family members said. He never went to a ceremony at which he was the honoree.

His humble yet blunt personality was probably why Mr. Ecklund decided to leave the NFL and settle in Vincentown in the early 1980s to become a substitute teacher in the Lenape Regional School District.

For more than 20 years, Mr. Ecklund, who had degrees in health and physical education, was known as "Bazooka Joe" in district schools. Dangling a piece of the blue, red and white-wrapped gum, Mr. Ecklund would bait his rowdiest students to stay quiet and do their work. As long as they played by his rules, he didn't care about bending the "no chewing gum in school" rule.

Because Mr. Ecklund lived in the Philadelphia area for about the last 30 years of his life, he cheered for most Philadelphia teams, but he never became too attached, said his son-in-law, Neil DeStefano.

That might have been different - for Mr. Ecklund and for Philadelphia - if he had taken advantage of his first pro sports opportunity.

After finishing high school in Milwaukie, Ore., in 1940, where he excelled in baseball, track, basketball, and football, Mr. Ecklund was drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics. But he turned the offer down for a football scholarship to Oregon, where he started at center as a freshman.

About a year later, World War II interrupted his college career. Mr. Ecklund enlisted in the Marine Corps and was stationed at Jacksonville Naval Air Station before being deployed to Okinawa.

While in Florida, Mr. Ecklund boxed, and played basketball and football. He was the Marine Corps Golden Gloves boxing champion, DeStefano said. Also in Jacksonville, he met and married Ruthie McKinney in 1943.

"The indestructible giant," as a sportswriter once called him, returned from the war to play again for Oregon.

As a college player, Mr. Ecklund was named to the All-Pacific Coast Conference team three times, received All-America honors, and later was chosen for the University of Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. In 1949, he helped lead his team to the Cotton Bowl, where the Ducks lost to Southern Methodist University.

In 1999, Mr. Ecklund was named University of Oregon Lineman of the Century. In typical fashion, he did not go to receive his award; a son went instead.

When he graduated in 1949, he was offered pro football contracts by the NFL's Green Bay Packers and the All-America Football Conference's New York Yankees. Mr. Ecklund went for a higher salary with the Yankees.

He stayed with the franchise, which became the Dallas Texans and then the Baltimore Colts, moving to the NFL. All were ranked among the worst teams in pro football history.

After retiring as a player in 1953, Mr. Ecklund coached high school football in Portland, Ore., and at Oregon for two seasons before becoming an NFL assistant coach in 1960.

He worked for the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, and New Orleans Saints before joining the Eagles in 1971.

As an offensive line coach, Mr. Ecklund was known as "the Champ." He once lit up a cigar during a postgame interview and "addressed sportswriters half his age with gracious formality," according to an Inquirer article in 1972.

He also was blunt about the young team.

After the Eagles took a beating from the Washington Redskins in 1972, Mr. Ecklund told The Inquirer: "We have young players, not quite ready to play a veteran team like Washington."

At the same time, he worried about his players' morale: "It can really discourage a young player . . . he can lose his confidence."

Mr. Ecklund left the Eagles in 1973 to be an assistant coach with the Chicago Bears. It was his favorite assignment.

Until the week leading up to his death, he still received two to three trading cards in the mail each week from collectors seeking his signature, his son-in-law said.

After retiring from the NFL in 1979, Mr. Ecklund launched a scouting business in Los Angeles. When that did not work out, he moved to South Jersey to lead a low-key life.

He decided against getting involved in Lenape's high school football program.

"He didn't want to be the ex-NFL guy and interfere with their programs," DeStefano said.

Mr. Ecklund retired from substitute teaching in 2003.

When he wasn't preparing to sub in French or math class, Mr. Ecklund often could be found eating, his son-in-law said.

"He loved his groceries," DeStefano said.

His favorite food? "Volume," DeStefano said. The man just liked to eat.

Even in the hospital recently, Mr. Ecklund couldn't get enough of the "great" Jell-O.

"Here's a guy who is dying in a hospital and he's raving about the hospital Jell-O," DeStefano said, laughing.

In addition to his wife and son-in-law, Mr. Ecklund is survived by sons Brad Jr. and Brant; daughter Dede; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service will be held in the spring.

Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or

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