Sunday, May 27, 2007

Charlie Leigh Day Yesterday

Albany honors son who always returned
Family, friends, NFL teammates turn out to dedicate football field to Charles Leigh Sr.
By PAUL NELSON, Staff writer
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First published: Sunday, May 27, 2007

ALBANY -- The way the story goes, football scouts came to look at Freddie Leigh and instead found themselves smitten with his powerful kid brother with the flashy moves.

Charles Leigh Sr. would later parlay that athletic prowess into a National Football League career, including being a part of the history-making undefeated season with the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Straight from Albany High School to the pros. All without playing a down of college football.

The man known as Tinky lost his battle with lung cancer last fall.

On Saturday, the city that Charles Leigh Sr. never forgot threw a party for him and renamed Bleecker Stadium football field on Clinton Avenue in his honor.

Many of his immediate family, friends and even former teammates attended the gathering, which included the unveiling of his No. 23 jerseys from his playing days in Cleveland, Miami and Green Bay. They will now hang in the lobby of the stadium's locker room.

The Albany native played six years in the NFL and was a punt returner for the Dolphins. After his playing days, he came back to Albany, worked for the city and coached high school football.

Charles Leigh Jr. of Harlem recalled how his father joked that when he died, the funeral would have to be held at the Palace Theatre to hold everyone he knew. That's just what happened after Leigh died Oct. 26.

The 41-year-old Leigh says no matter where he went, his dad spoke proudly of his roots in the Arbor Hill neighborhood.

"If you do that, your city will never forget you and will always support you," said Leigh, adding that he hopes his father's achievements and humility will set an example for those in his hometown -- especially the younger generation -- to pursue their dreams.

Charles Leigh Sr.'s widow, Marie, said she felt her husband's spirit in the field that now bears his name and hosts Albany High School football games.

Al Jenkins, who played with Leigh on the undefeated Dolphins team, said Leigh was a big part of their perfect season.

"He could run, hit, tackle and block, all the fundamentals," said Jenkins, who also played with the Browns. "We were a family."

Jenkins also recalled that Leigh couldn't wait to get back to Albany when the football season ended.

Raymond Leigh said his older brother treated everyone the way he wanted to be treated.

"He received respect from all because he gave respect to all," he said.

Paul Nelson can be reached at 454-5347 or by e-mail at

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