San Francisco native Bob St. Clair, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who was best-known for eating raw meat, died on Monday. He was 84.
St. Clair played 19 seasons – from Polytechnic High to the University of San Francisco to the 49ers -- with Kezar Stadium as his home field. He was a third-round draft pick of the 49ers in 1953.
"On behalf of the entire USF community, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the St. Clair family on the passing of one of the greatest Dons of all-time," USF athletic director Scott Sidwell said in a statement on Monday. "Bob was a great San Franciscan who along with his '51 Dons' teammates, embodied the character and values of our University by taking a courageous stand against racism in the early 50s. He will be greatly missed."
St. Clair was one of three future Pro Football Hall of Famers of the legendary 1951 USF team that went undefeated but turned down an invitation to the Orange Bowl because officials declared only the white players were allowed to participate.
“We pulled out of the Bowl bid because it was the right thing to do, and the only thing to do — we were a family,” St. Clair said in the ESPN documentary ’51 Dons.
In 2001, the City of San Francisco and the Recreation and Parks Department dedicated the playing surface in his honor, naming it Bob St. Clair Field.
“I’ve had so many highlights, so how do you say which one is best?” St. Clair said in the 2005 book, 49ers: Where Have You Gone?
“I went into the Hall of Fame; I had my jersey retired (79) retired by my hometown team; they named a field at Kezar after me. And I’m still alive to enjoy it.”
St. Clair’s career ended in 1964 after sustaining two Achilles’ tears in three years. In 1990, St. Clair was inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining offensive teammates Y.A. Tittle, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson.
“The thing you realize is that the 49ers have three running backs and a quarterback from those teams already in the Hall,” receiver Billy Wilson said in 1990. “Someone had to be doing the blocking.”
St. Clair was an imposing figure, standing 6 foot 9 and weighing 265 pounds. And his personality was just as large. Upon beginning his professional career, the 49ers’ veterans nicknamed him “The Geek” for his penchant for eating uncooked meat.
When he was a child, St. Clair’s grandmother fed him raw meat. He said he never could bring himself to eating meat that was not straight from the package. He said he was denied service at several restaurants because of his unusual preference.
St. Clair was named to the Pro Bowl five times and earned All-NFL honors three times in his 11-year professional career. He was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1950s. The 49ers retired his No. 79 jersey in 2001.
During a time when players held down other offseason jobs, St. Clair served as the elected mayor of Daly City from 1958 to ’64. He was on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors from 1966 to ’74.
"With the passing of Bob St. Clair, the 49ers organization has not only lost an all-time great but one of our most ardent supporters,” 49ers owner and chair John York said in a statement. “One of San Francisco’s favorite sons, Bob spent the better part of his life at Kezar Stadium and was quite happy to share memories of his high school days or his 49ers tenure in the beloved venue.
“I always looked at him as an immortal figure that possessed a tremendous joy for life and all things 49ers. We will continue to celebrate the spirit of Bob St. Clair as we remember all that he brought to this franchise and its fans. Our prayers and best wishes are with his family and friends.”