ACC Legends Week: Maryland's Chet Hanulak
Nov. 16, 2012
Chet Hanulak (Maryland, 1951-53), one of the most explosive runners of his era, set an ACC single-season record for highest per-carry rushing average in the league's first season in 1953 that still stands today. Hanulak averaged 9.78 yards per carry (minimum of 65.0 yards per game) that year while leading Maryland to a 10-1 record and the Terps first National Championship (both AP and UPI) in football. Nicknamed "Chet the Jet" for his outstanding speed, Hanulak led the ACC in rushing in 1953 with 753 yards in his only season in the league. He still holds the Terrapin record for career yards per carry (8.13) and ranks 20th on the Terps career rushing list with 1,544 yards. A three-time letterman for Maryland (1951-52-53), he earned second-team All-America (International News Service) and first-team All-ACC honors in 1953. The 24th overall selection in the second round of the 1954 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, he played two seasons in the NFL with Cleveland in 1954 and 1957. A two- sport standout (baseball) for the Terps, he was inducted into the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. A native of Hackensack, N.J., he currently resides in Salisbury, Md.
You played on three Maryland varsity teams that had a combined record of 27-3. Was there any one characteristic or trait that defined those teams and made them so consistently strong?
In our day, we didn't go to school basically looking for a pro contract. Just to get a scholarship, in most cases, meant so much to the individual, so I don't think our team was made up strictly of potential pro players. We had guys like John Irvine, our center - he owned something like 10 banks in his day after he graduated. Our quarterback, Bernie Faloney, went on to own multiple businesses. So we had guys that were very successful other than playing pro sports. I think in our day we really didn't have that on our minds - I know I didn't, and I don't think anyone else did. We just had a good collection of guys that could play the game well. I just happened to fit in at the right time.
You played for Coach (Jim) Tatum, one of the legendary coaches in the ACC and all of college football. What did you take away from that experience, and what made him the coach that he was?
The thing that always impressed me was that he wasn't a fancy-type person. He was always a down-to-earth person and he told you like it was. If he told you something, that's the way it would be. On the field, we just had four assistant coaches in those days - we couldn't afford many more than that - but he let those assistants do the majority of the coaching, and then he would step in when he had to. So I could see that he was well organized.
How did he go about recruiting you from Hackensack?
I'll tell you a funny story. When I was called to interview with Tatum in College Park, I was still 16 and a little naïve at the time. I get on the train, scared to death, and wind up in Washington, D.C. An assistant coach picks me up to go out and meet Tatum. When I got there, it was late, so I couldn't meet with him, but they had made arrangements for me to go out with team. That was a great way to get a feeling for who your teammates might be. We had a good time, but then the next morning I had to meet with Jim Tatum. They said, `He's up in the office. Just go on up, knock on the door and go on in.' So I go up and do that, and this is the way I meet Tatum: He has his feet up on the desk, and he has the trainer working on his nails because he has one ingrown nail that is infected. So that was the way I met him. He said, `Come on in, Chet,' and I am thinking, `My God, what have I gotten myself into?'
But obviously, you did go in and meet him, right?
Yes, and while I was in there I happened to be looking out at the practice field. He said, `I'll tell you what, Chet. Put on a pair of shorts and (running) shoes and go on down to the field there. See that guy down there? If you beat him in a race, you will have a scholarship.' So I go down there, and the guy down there is Lloyd Colteryahn, their starting tight end who went on to play for the Colts for a few years. We went ahead and raced, and I beat him in the 40-yard dash. Well, Lloyd and I became friends and knew each other well for many years. One day he told me, `Chet, the only reason you got that scholarship is that I let you win that race.'
Prior to Maryland joining the ACC, you were part one of the great games in school history - the Sugar Bowl win over Tennessee at the end of the 1951 season. They were No. 2 in the nation, you were No. 3, and you wound up winning 28-13. What do you remember about that one?
My biggest problem was trying to get into the game. I was a sophomore at the time, and we had a really good runner on our team by the name of Shoo Shoo Shemonski. He was quite a character, and pretty laid back. I think Tatum used me to try to push him harder, so I got to play a lot. But during the Tennessee game, I was kind of perturbed because I wasn't playing as much as I thought I should be. But I did get into the game and made a couple of good runs, and I think I was the second-leading ground gainer that day. It was quite a game and quite an experience.
The 1953 team is significant in two ways - it was the National Championship year and it was Maryland's first year in the ACC. Do you remember hearing about the formation of the ACC, and did you have any reaction when you learned Maryland would be a charter member?
The funny part of it is that I don't think any of us really gave it a lot of thought. To me, it meant that we were going to be more organized. We'd been kind of bouncing around with a schedule. I remember that Coach Tatum was definitely in favor of it, and it was the best thing that ever happened to us. Over the years, any awards players received were multiplied by the fact they played in a pretty tough conference. It worked out well, I thought. The competition got a lot tougher.
You won the national championship right off the bat as an ACC member, and you were the only one from the league for 28 years afterward. Was that something that was special, to be the only one for so long?
Yes, it was. As I mentioned, we had a darned good team, and to win the conference the first year we were in it was a big thing for us. To this day, when I go to Byrd Stadium, I look at the signs that are up there for teams that won a conference title or a bowl game or something. You look and there we are, kind of set apart, as the national championship team.
You set a record for average yards per carry that still stands. Does it amaze you that a record like that could stand for what has been 60 seasons now?
Well, the game has changed. People really marvel at that, and I appreciate them keeping it listed, as it should be. But in those days, you had that split-T offense, and you had three running backs. You didn't have a single guy doing all the work, and that makes a big difference. I think I averaged in those days maybe 10 or 12 carries a game. Today, when guys are carrying 20 and 30 times, that average in most cases is going to come down. That doesn't take away my pride in the record, because at the time it was pretty good. I don't think it will ever be broken, and just from a selfish standpoint, I wish it wouldn't be. I'd like for that to still be up there, even after I am long gone.
You were a two-sport athlete when you were at Maryland. Was baseball a sport you took pretty seriously as well?
Growing up, I thought I was going to be a baseball player. I got invitations to different ballparks. The New York Giants gave me an interview, and I got a call from the Cleveland Indians. My brother Mike, who was 16 years older than me, was very involved in sports in high school but had to go into the service during World War II, so he never had the opportunity to go to college. Mike became sort of a father figure to me and a guide to what I should do. He said, `Chet, you're going to college. That will mean more to you in later years.' And he was right.
And did football present more scholarship opportunities than baseball?
Yes, but the funny thing was that I was only about 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds. Schools would ask, `How big are you?' and I would say, `Oh, 5-10, 180.' You had to do a bit of lying back in those days just to get an interview. I interviewed at Fordham when Vince Lombardi was the coach. I walked into his office and he said, `Chet, we would love to have you, but I will be honest. In two years, we are dropping the sport.' I always appreciated that. He could have just taken me, and then two years later, where would I have wound up? But I will never forget that, and that was another person that I got to meet. It's funny how things work out. You never know.
You played two seasons in the NFL with the Browns, in 1954 and 1957. The two years in between you were in the military. Where were you stationed and what did you do during that time?
Well, at Maryland I had been in the ROTC. I would up at Bolling Air Force Base as a lieutenant personnel officer. All I did, basically, was handle some personnel problems and play football there. Then I went back to the Browns, but the bad part was I'd had a little damage done to my knee when I was playing at Bolling Air Force Base and had to have a slight operation.
Did that set you back any when you got back to Cleveland?
I had a decent year, but it wasn't as good as my first one. I wound up having to make a decision. I was offered a job by General Tire and Rubber Company. In fact, I met the guy on the field during a Cleveland Browns game. I'd won an award, and he was presenting it. He said, `What are you doing in the offseason? Why don't you come to work with us?' So I went to work for General Tire, and I was given a chance to have my own store. I didn't feel like my second year, with my knee problem, that I'd been the same player I was my first year. I was newly married and we had a child on the way and I said, `I better start earning a living.' In those days, you didn't make much money playing pro ball. I think my signing contract had been $500, and I had to argue to get that, and then a $10,000 salary. General Tire equaled that very easily.
So you made the decision to change careers?
Yes, I went with General Tire. They had a training program in Baltimore, and then they told me they would give me a chance to have my own store. They said, `We are opening a store in Salisbury, Maryland, or we also have an opening in Sioux City, Iowa.' I thought, `What am I going to do in Sioux City, Iowa.' So I went with the opening in Salisbury, Maryland. And I've been here for 55 years."