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Ed Beard was a menacing linebacker at Oscar Smith, in the NFL. Off the field, he was ‘a good guy and he did a lot for people.’

Virginian  Pilot logo Virginian Pilot 1/23/2023 Larry Rubama, The Virginian-Pilot

On the field, Ed Beard was a menacing figure as a star at Oscar Smith High who played for Army and in the NFL.

Off the field, however, he was friendly and kind-hearted, willing to help anyone in need.

That’s how his former Oscar Smith classmate Willie Skenes Jr. will remember him. Beard died Jan. 15. He was 83.

“He would help you in any way he could,” Skenes said. “If he could help you, no one had to know about it. He was a good guy and he did a lot for people. Everywhere he went, everybody knew him and spoke well of him. When you come back after a career like he had, you don’t see many people like that. He was someone you could go up and talk to.”

Beard was a star football player at Oscar Smith High, in South Norfolk, in the late 1950s and a state champion heavyweight wrestler despite his school’s lack of a wrestling program. He wrestled unaffiliated.

Beard attended Staunton Military Academy and then went on to play football for two years at the University of Tennessee. He then joined the Wheeling Ironmen, a semi-professional team, before being drafted into the U.S. Army, where he was named the Most Outstanding Player on the Army football team.

Beard was picked in the 1964 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers and played eight seasons in the league as a middle linebacker and on special teams from 1965 to 1972, starting in 53 games. He was the first special-teams captain in the NFL.

“Pro football was the farthest thing from my mind when I was coming up,” Beard told The Pilot’s Abe Goldblatt in 1979.

“I made up my mind to give it my damnedest shot. I stayed with the 49ers 13 years, eight as a player and five as a coach. I was drafted as an offensive tackle weighing 245 pounds. But I dropped to 216 pounds in the Army, which was too light for tackle. As a last resort, they made me a linebacker.”

In 1971, he won the Len Eshmont Award, given to the 49er each year who represents the “inspirational and courageous play” of the player the trophy honors.

After a career-ending injury against Dallas in the playoffs, Beard served for a decade as an NFL assistant coach and defensive coordinator for the 49ers, New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions.

Beard was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

Beard returned to Hampton Roads to start his own construction business, Ed Beard Home Improvements. He also worked for a time with the Chesapeake Sheriff’s Department and as a bondsman in Chesapeake.

In 1996, the 7,000-seat Oscar Smith football stadium was named Beard-DeLong-Easley Field in honor of Beard, Steve DeLong and Kenny Easley. All three were All-American athletes who graduated from Oscar Smith and went on to play in the NFL.

“That brought great joy to quite a few of us, but to him it affected him emotionally, you could tell,” Skenes said. “He didn’t expect nothing like that. It was a great thrill for him. But he never would have expected anything like that. He was very humbled about it. He represented it well.”

Skenes said Beard will be missed for his stories and for keeping everyone laughing.

“A very jovial type guy when you were around him,” he said. “He was just a lot of fun to be around.”

People noticed in recent years that Beard was slowing down.

“We have a group of old-timers that meet the first of the month and have lunch. He’d come to that,” Skenes said. “We knew he was deteriorating and we hated that. It’s a big loss, but it’s going to happen to all of us. But we enjoyed him for a long time. A lot of stories could be told about that guy. You could write a book about him.”

A service to celebrate Beard’s life will be held at 4 p.m. Jan. 30 at Graham Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Chesapeake.

Larry Rubama, 757-575-6449, Follow @LHRubama on Twitter

©2023 The Virginian-Pilot. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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