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NEVER BEFORE SEEN ACTION OF THE REMARKABLE CHARLIE LEIGH
By Paul Camarata
Pulitzer Prize winning author William Kennedy once said, “Write about what you don’t know about what you know.” When he said it, the Albany, NY born newspaperman-turned-novelist was speaking to a small group of college students, one of which was Albany, NY born me. Not for many years did I realize that Kennedy’s suggestion applied as much to film making as it did to pure writing. To any kind of story-telling, really. Even the smallest knowledge gap in the most familiar subject represents an opportunity to explore, and extract new content.
Growing up in Albany I’d heard of Charlie Leigh, the local running back who never played college football but was part of the Miami Dolphins Dynasty of the 1970s. I was football fan enough back then to understand what an incredible accomplishment that was, but never looked further into Charlie’s story. Until this year when another player from my hometown, defensive tackle Joe Vellano, won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots. The new “Local Boy Makes Good” story got me thinking about other players from Albany who’d won Super Bowl rings. That’s when the quote came back to me: “Write about what you don’t know about what you know.”
More than on any project I’ve ever worked, my short film on Charlie Leigh was inspired by Kennedy’s advice. Because there was plenty about Charlie I didn’t know, including the very basics, like what he looked like as a runner. For me that mystery was solved in the NFL Films archives, where action footage of Charlie that had never been re-transferred from the original film on which it was shot — and thus, never been seen before — was discovered during production.
There he was, wearing 25 for Cleveland, then 15 and 23 for the Dolphins: a powerful, compact, and nifty back who ran the way Floyd Mayweather boxes, with dipped shoulders that prevented the defense from disrupting his relentless forward motion. He was a player good enough to be in the starting backfield on many NFL teams of the era. But for the Dolphins of the early ’70s, rich as they were with running backs, Charlie proved his value through versatility and humility, pitching in wherever Don Shula needed him. As a result, he was part of three consecutive Super Bowl teams, two of which won the Lombardi Trophy, and one, the ’72 squad, that remains the only undefeated team in NFL history.
Perhaps most amazing is that the Super Bowl winning line items on Charlie’s resume are only part of his remarkable football journey, one that included an historic leap from high school directly into the NFL, and a final “performance” that proved that Charlie Leigh was maybe an even better teammate in his community than he’d been on the football field.
Like all films, this one was a complete team effort. First and foremost my thanks go out to the Leigh family for their role in the project. Because of their willingness to share Charlie’s story with us, it will now live forever in the NFL Films library. Thanks also to everyone at Albany High School, the Palace Theater, the City of Albany, and Film Albany for their help with this production.
While much of the newly unearthed footage from Charlie’s NFL career will air this week on NFL Films Presents, as always, there was some action that didn’t make the final cut. To see it, as well as images of the commemorative golden football that Albany High School received in Charlie’s name this year as part of the NFL’s Super Bowl 50 High School Honor Roll Program, click on the photo above. There you’ll get a glimpse at a player that you may have never heard of, or if you’re like me, that you had heard of but did not know much about. And how lucky that would be, because as it was suggested to this son of Albany by another long ago, and proven by yet a third on this film, the place where you run out of knowing is often the spot where the story begins.
“THE STORY OF CHARLIE LEIGH” is scheduled to air at the following times.
Check local listings to confirm in your area.
Fox Sports 1
Thurs., Oct. 15th @ 12.30am ET
Fri., Oct. 30th @ 12PM EST
Sat., Oct. 31st @ 10:30AM EST
Special thanks to:
The Leigh Family
Zellie Rainey Orr
City of Albany
Albany High School
Mayor Jerry Jennings
The Palace Theater
NFL Films Presents is produced by Chris Barlow
“Charles Leigh” was produced by Paul Camarata
The Charlie Leigh Action Video at the top was edited by Jason Barnada