by Scott Kindberg
October 30, 2020
CSHOF Member Crist Passes Away At 69
Chuck Crist stands just off the patio at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club. It’s August 2019 and a couple hundred people, including inductees and members of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame, are enjoying the organization’s annual picnic.
No one is basking in the moment more than Crist.
In fact, when Cameron Hurst, a journalism major at St. Bonaventure University, approaches to ask a few questions — his cellphone at the ready to record the video — the Salamanca native is more than happy to oblige.
Hurst’s first query is simple: “What does it mean to be an inductee of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame?”
Crist doesn’t hesitate with his response.
“I have to be honest with you,” he says. “Actually, I was a (resident) of Cattaraugus County, but we played all the Chautauqua County schools, so for them to consider me a part of their group was really a terrific honor. I thank (everyone) who was responsible.
“It’s been a good ride.”
Sadly, Crist, 69, the former NFL defensive back with the New York Giants, New Orleans and San Francisco, died Wednesday morning in Cleveland Clinic after a six-year battle with aplastic anemia. He leaves behind his wife, Patti; children, Scott and Niki; four grandchildren; and countless friends.
“This one hits me especially hard as I had become quite close to Chuck since he was inducted in 2015,” CSHOF president Randy Anderson wrote in an email. “He loved the CSHOF and supported us in many ways. Just a few months ago, he established a Legacy Award to honor people who have made an impact in youth sports behind the scenes. Although he was a former professional athlete, he was very much just a ‘regular’ guy. His Legacy Award reflects that common touch.”
“Hungry Horse Sweeps To Softball Crown.”
That was the headline, accompanied by a photograph, that appeared in the Olean Times Herald on Aug. 28, 1980. Courtesy of John Firkel, that article resurfaced earlier this year on the “Olean … Memories Back in Time” Facebook page.
Among the 10 members of that Hungry Horse championship fast-pitch team were: Dan O’Neil, Jim Ryan Jr. John Nelson, Bill Welch, Jim Ryan Sr., Brad Weitzel, Dave Andrews, Tom Irons, Dave Hamacher and a guy wearing a San Francisco 49ers T-shirt.
That young man — then 29 years old — was Crist.
When that photo was taken, he was two years removed from his professional career. Crist’s journey from the western Southern Tier of New York, to Penn State University (where he never played a down of football, choosing to accept a basketball scholarship instead) and, ultimately, to the NFL places him on the Mount Rushmore of greatest athletes to ever hail from these parts.
But that’s not how I’ll remember him most. Our personal friendship didn’t take root until the months leading up to his induction into the CSHOF in February 2015. In the throes of his illness and a patient at Roswell Park Cancer Institute at the time, Crist defied all odds that cold, winter evening and made it to the banquet.
Ever the competitor, there was no way he was going to miss it.
“That was his goal,” Crist’s son, Scott, told The Post-Journal in a 2016 interview. “He just made short-term goals and that certainly was one of them. ? He was going to be there no matter what. It gave him something to look forward to, to get himself healthy enough to be there. It meant a lot to be recognized.
“He probably wears that (CSHOF) ring every day.”
At that 2019 picnic mentioned above, Hurst, the Bona student tasked with producing the inductee interviews, asked Crist one final question: “What is your favorite moment of your sporting career?”
While Crist had plenty to choose from in a highlight-reel personal resume that spanned decades, he settled on what happened on Nov. 27, 1978 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco as No. 1.
The 49ers were hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Monday Night Football.” The game was televised in prime time by ABC. Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith were in the booth. The Steelers, who would go on to win the Super Bowl at season’s end, routed the 49ers that night, but it wasn’t without a big play from Crist, who intercepted a first-quarter pass by quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
“I told all our (defensive backs that) Terry Bradshaw is the easiest guy to read,” Crist told Hurst. “On his second throw (of the game), I intercepted it and ran out of bounds. (My teammate) said, ‘You were right.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but the problem is (Bradshaw) knows you’re coming and he’ll get the ball there anyways.”
While the 49ers lost the game, 24-7, Crist still had the opportunity to reunite with fellow Penn State alums and Hall-of-Famers Franco Harris and Jack Hamm.
“We just had a lot of fun AFTER the game and AFTER they scraped me off the turf most of the night,” Crist told Hurst. “That was a great night for me, because it was one of my final games (of my career), playing against the Steelers and (Harris and Hamm) on Monday night.”
Thirty-seven years later, also on a Monday night, Crist was enshrined in the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame and his plaque commemorating that evening hangs in the Hall of Honor, located on West Third Street in Jamestown. The 6,000-square-foot space is filled with thousands of pieces of memorabilia, including several significant contributions from Crist.
Among them are his old 49ers helmet; a jersey, and a framed and signed poster of him during his time with the Giants; and a 12-foot oak conference table that formerly occupied a space in his administrative office during his days working in the Salamanca Central School District.
At one end of that table is a plaque that reads: “Donated by Chuck Crist.”
That’s only fitting.
From the time he was the star safety and quarterback for the Killbuck Panthers in the Olean Midget Football League in the early 1960s, Crist has given everything he had — to sports, to his friends and, most importantly, to his family.
Rest in peace.
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