Earl Lindley — The pearl of the gridiron

Image: Earl and Marilyn Lindley returning to Edmonton with the Grey Cup

Earl and Marilyn Lindley returning to Edmonton with the Grey Cup

A native of Wellsville, Utah, Earl Lindley now lives a simple life. He wakes up just like any other man, has 24 grandchildren, and goes on vacation with his family. He lives in a nice home with his wife Marilyn on the outskirts of Smithfield and is active in his community.

Unlike the average person, his picture has been on the front page of a major metropolitan newspaper where played professional football and became a national hero.

What many people don’t know about Earl Lindley is how valuable to Utah State University he was.

Lindley played two sports for the Aggies, a trend which has all but disappeared from the collegiate athletic scene. As a basketball player, he lettered twice at USU in 1952 and 1953.

“I thought I had better luck in football,” Lindley said.

On the gridiron, he was dominant. Playing on both sides of the ball, he was positioned at defensive end and also halfback in John Roning’s single-wing offense. Lindley led the entire nation in scoring during his senior year and the Aggies won eight games including a 14-7 win against BYU.

“We played pretty good ball,” Lindley said. “John Roning was a good coach.”

After graduation, Lindley was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but elected to play in the Canadian Football League so as not to interrupt his Sunday worship. Because CFL rules dictated only a certain number of Americans eligible to play for one team, Lindley was taking a risk by trying out for the Edmonton Eskimos.

“I can remember the anxiety he felt, wondering if he made the team,” Marilyn said of the first tryout her husband had with Edmonton.

Not only did he make it, but Lindley helped the Eskimos win three straight Grey Cups from 1954-56, the first three the franchise ever won. Known as “Earl the Pearl,” he even scored the first touchdown as a tight end for Edmonton in the 1954 championship game.

“It was neat when we won the Grey Cup,” Lindley said. “We came home and they had a big parade for us in Edmonton.”

It was an experience he might never have had. An accident severed some tendons in Lindley’s right hand at a very young age, making it impossible for him to fully straighten his fingers. He became left-handed, but no one knows if Lindley might have been a natural right-hander.

“I threw passes, I caught passes,” Lindley said of playing with the disability. “I was just adjusted to it.”

Following the accident, Lindley went on to be an athletic standout in high school. He earned 11 letter awards in four sports, including track and baseball in which he ran hurdles and pitched for South Cache High School. It was also where he started dating his wife of 60 years.

During Lindley’s sophomore year at Utah State, he said there were “only three or four married on the (football) team.”

Lindley married his sweetheart during a week in October the football team didn’t have a game on the schedule.

“We had a bye week, so the week before we got married that Thursday,” Lindley said with a laugh. “We’ve been married 60 years come October. It is a long time.”

As a student, Earl Lindley and his wife Marilyn paid their electric bill, four dollars every month. They lived in a prefab house near the campus usually available only to veterans. After they bought their own furniture, the Lindleys’ rent went down to $27 from $29.

“I think about it now and I think we were nuts,” Marilyn said.

When a shoulder injury ended his career in Canada, Lindley turned to coaching and teaching. He taught Physical Education and Health at the high school level in Edmonton before spending the next three years as the head football coach at Idaho Falls High School. He joined the staff of college teammate LaVell Edwards and served as a backfield coach at Brigham Young University for seven years. Before going into administration at North Cache Middle School, Lindley was the head football coach at Sky View High School for ten years.

After few decades, 24 grandchildren, and Hall of Fame inductions both in the state of Utah and at USU, Lindley said he still remembers the glory days when he looks through one of the many scrapbooks Marilyn made.

“I would sit some days for two or three hours,” Lindley said. “I would say to one of my kids or grandkids, ‘I want you to read this, I was a pretty good football player!’”

Lindley said one of his fondest memories on the football field at Utah State was during a win in Boise over Idaho during his senior year. Lindley said on fourth down, the Aggies were trailing by a small margin.

“In the huddle, Lamont Lamb said ‘give the damn ball to Earl, he’ll score,’” Lindley said. “They all wanted me to run the play. I scored one (touchdown) and then I scored another. I always thought a lot of that football team.”

Things today are different from the days when Lindley played football at Utah State in the early ’50s. The biggest difference between then and now?

“Just got old,” Lindley said.