South Dakota: Chris Hanburger
(Note: THI is naming the greatest former UNC football or basketball player from each of the 50 states. The criteria is the player had to live in the state he represents at some point before arriving at UNC. The duration doesn’t matter, he just had to live there. College and pro careers were factored with a lean toward their UNC accomplishments.)
If you spend part of an afternoon googling the football career of Chris Hanburger, one thing will be clear shortly into the venture: Hanburger wasn’t obsessed with football or adulation. But he was an incredible player.
Born in Fort Bragg, NC, and the son of an Army Colonel, Hanburger moved around as a child including a period for a few years in Aberdeen, SD. An outstanding high school football player in Hampton, VA, Hanburger actually enlisted in the Army 11 days after graduating.
He spent two years in the service before going to school to play football at North Carolina, which had stayed in regular contact with him since high school. Hanburger, however, remained in the reserves serving every summer in South Carolina even while he was a Tar Heel.
At Carolina, he became a star. First at linebacker and then also at center. Hanburger was one of the last great two-way players in college football, earning first-team All-ACC honors as a linebacker in 1963 and 1964 and remaining a starter paving the way for Ken Willard and the Tar Heels’ offense, as well.
Hanburger was more ballyhooed as a linebacker, a position he later played for 14 seasons in the NFL. But to get a true gauge of what kind of player he was, just listen or read what his offensive line coach at UNC said about him.
“I never saw a guy who hated football so much play so hard and play so well,” Joe Mark told the Raleigh News & Observer in 2011. “He used to say, 'What am I doing playing this game?' Then he'd get on the field and good Lord have mercy he was tough.”
The 1963 Tar Heels were co-ACC regular season champions and finished with a 9-2 mark after clobbering Air Force 35-0 in the Gator Bowl. Following the lead of Hanburger’s blocking was Ken Willard, a tailback who ran for 742 yards that season. A year later, Willard was the No. 2 overall selection in the NFL draft.
Behind Hanburger again in 1964, Willard ran for 835 yards, which were big numbers at the time. The Heels defeated Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest by a combined score of 68-24 that season.
Hanburger was the 245th player selected in the 1965 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins but forged an impressive 14 seasons through the 1978 campaign only playing for the Skins. He played in nine Pro Bowls and was the 1972 NFC Defensive Player of the Year. The 1972 Redskins reached the Super Bowl but lost to the Miami Dolphins, 14-7. Hanburger started 135 straight games for the Skins at one time.
Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker and longtime Redskins radio broadcaster Sam Huff described what it was like playing alongside Hanburger.
“He was tremendous. He wasn’t very big, but he was quick,” Huff told ProFootballHallofFame.com in 2011. “When we needed to get the quarterback, I would call a blitz. I would come up the middle and he would come from the outside and we took that quarterback apart. He was one of the best blitzers that I think ever played the game.
“He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because he had such great talent. He was coachable because he had so much great talent. He was a great player.”
Hanburger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.