Charlie "Tank" Tolar
Induction Year: 1991
In 1990, the Houston Oilers celebrated their 30th birthday by selecting an all-time Oiler team.
The running backs were Earl Campbell, who won the 1977 Heisman Trophy at the University of Texas, and Charlie Tolar.
Louisiana high school football produced a bumper crop of running backs between 1953 and 1955. Two of them, John David Crow of Springhill and Billy Cannon of Istrouma (Baton Rouge), won the Heisman Trophy in successive years. Tommy Mason of Lake Charles was an All-American at Tulane and an 11-year standout in the National Football League. Jimmy Taylor of Baton Rouge ranked third in NFL career rushing when he was traded from the Packers to the Saints after the 1966 season.
But 5-7 Charlie “Tank” Tolar of Natchitoches was the primary reason that the Oilers moved Cannon – the first draft choice in the history of the franchise – from halfback to tight end.
“It’s like trying to tackle a bowling ball,” Oiler teammate Dalva Allen said after scrimmaging against Tolar.
“When I can’t see who’s got the ball,” said Boston Patriots defensive captain Tony Saridsco, “I figure they gave it to Charlie.”
“This season,” Oilers coach Lou Rymkus said in the team’s second year (1961), “Tolar is the best back – running and blocking – that we’ve got.”
When he went into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame 30 years later, Tolar was a member of a class that included the late Buddy Parker – the Pittsburgh Steelers coach who cut Tolar in 1959.
“He wasn’t little,” recalled former Oilers guard Hogan Wharton. “He was just short. It was easy work blocking for him. He had amazing strength, and plenty of moves. He’d carry people six or seven yards.”
Former Northwestern State coach Jack Clayton said Tolar was the best player he ever coached. “He had great speed,” said Clayton, “and he was the hardest fellow to knock down I’ve ever seen. If we were behind by six points or less and had the ball with five or six minutes to play, we would just give it to him every time. They couldn’t stop him.”
That is exactly what the Demons did in an 18-14 State Fair victory over Louisiana Tech in 1958.
When he set Natchitoches High records with 1,897 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns in a single season, Tolar weighed only 155 pounds. But after three seasons at Northwestern State, he was a solid 195-pounder.
Before he rewrote the Demons’ rushing and scoring records, Tolar made a brief appearance at LSU.
He was recruited by Gaynell Tinsley, but by the time he arrived in Baton Rouge the Tigers’ head coach was young Paul Dietzel – and Tolar, like many others on an LSU squad that dwindled from 74 players to 43, didn’t go along with the philosophy of the new regime.
“There were a lot of things that I didn’t agree with,” Tolar recalled later, “but the main thing was that I wasn’t ready to settle down and study. I wasn’t ready for college.”
Northwestern State’s new football coach, Clayton, built his offense around Tolar. He led the Gulf States Conference in scoring and rushing three years in a row, and was a second team Little All-America selection in his senior season.
Despite his fireplug physique, Tolar ran the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat, long-jumped over 22 feet and could jump high enough to dunk a basketball.
After he was cut by Parker, Tolar and former Northwestern State teammate Charlie Hennigan went to Houston to try out for the Oilers’ first squad. Tolar caught the attention of Rymkus when he “flipped” a couple of San Diego Chargers in head-on collisions. One of them, Jim Otto, suffered a dislocated shoulder.
“He was a hard-nosed competitor,” Rymkus said. “He reminded me of the way Special Delivery Jones used to run for us with the Browns. If you need one tough yard, Charlie would usually get it for you.”
Oilers backfield coach Walt Schlinkman, who had been a 5-8 running back with the Packers, was especially pleased with Tolar’s blocking. “His center of gravity is so low that he can get under the linemen and raise them up when he makes contact,” Schlinkman said. “He gets their legs off the ground and robs them of their power.”
Tolar had only 54 carries for 179 yards in his rookie season, but two years later he became the Oilers’ first 1,000-yard rusher as the team won its last seven games to claim a third consecutive division title. In seven seasons with the Oilers, he had 3,277 yards rushing and caught 175 passes for another 1,266 yards.
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