Charles Chulada, who is said to be one of the oldest competitive football players in the country at age 55, plays his sax outside the Melody Motel in Plains Township where he is staying. Below, the published poet reads one of his works.Times leader staff photos/clark van orden
PLAINS TWP. – One overcast afternoon in September, Charles Chulada stood in the parking lot of the Melody Motel on state Route 115 wearing a Scranton Eagles football jersey, cement-spattered work boots and a large crucifix around his neck as he played a solo saxophone rendition of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.”
A red pit bull named Simbett Halley’s Comet Super Nova Crystal Summer Candice Nichol Bear-Bear wandered around on a rope leash tied to Chulada’s waist.
On the hood of his battered, duct-taped pickup truck sat a dog-eared Bible stuffed with papers and notebooks full of his original poetry.
Chulada, originally from Wilkes-Barre, is a stonemason by trade; he’s also a poet, musician, self-described “Jesus freak,” and, at age 55, one of the oldest active football players in the country.
“People ask me how I can still play at my age without getting injured, but you know what? I feel stronger now than when I was younger. I’m in my prime.”
Chulada moved back to the Wyoming Valley from Daytona Beach, Fla., this summer to be closer to his two teenage daughters, Crystal and Candice. In Florida, he had been playing for the semi-pro Daytona Beach Speed and joined the Scranton Eagles’ roster in midseason as an offensive tackle. According to the team’s management, Chulada is the oldest player in the semi-pro Empire League.
Moving back to Northeast Pennsylvania was something of a homecoming for Chulada, who played for the Eagles in the 1980s when the team won several national championships and Chulada was recognized as an outstanding offensive lineman.
These days, the former Syracuse University wrestler and Coughlin High School football player still cuts an imposing figure. He’s not a huge man, but is tall and solid with massive, weathered hands and thick arms. His physique, combined with a head of gray hair, a salt-and-pepper goatee and large, dark-rimmed glasses, give Chulada a kind of rugged professorial look.
And he is a scholar of sorts – or rather, as he puts it, a “half-assed philosopher.”
Behind Chulada’s rough appearance is a true poet’s soul. In what passes for a normal conversation with the man, he’ll quote long passages of the Bible and even longer passages of Shakespeare, jumping from one topic to another in an unbroken soliloquy about the meaning of life.
“If we lived in a perfect world there would be no such thing as risk,” he said, standing with sax in hand in the motel parking lot. “We don’t live in a perfect world; we live in an imperfect world. So, why do we have to take a risk?”
At this point Chulada paused, leaning in, “Because if we didn’t take a risk we could never hurl our heart towards thrilling uncertainty.”
Then, in a fit of inspiration, he rifled through a stack of papers in his saxophone case and pulled out the tattered pages of a hand-written poem, entitled, “Email from Jesus Christ.” He read the entire three-page poem out loud.
As unlikely a character as he might be in the world of football, so it is with his religion. Chulada is not shy about his faith; he adamantly attributes his enduring athletic ability – and all his other talents – to Jesus Christ. He cannot converse on any subject for very long without quoting the Bible.
Asked if he is a superstitious man, Chulada strongly denied it. “I’m a clairvoyant. St. Peter is blowin’ the horns in heaven and I’m blowin’ the sax on earth.”
Chulada has had his surprisingly tender poetry published in several collections. Somewhere between Shakespeare and St. Peter he interweaves his own lines: “The end of the equation always equals the eternal question: Why? Why?”
Why does a 55-year-old man play football against guys half his age? Chulada says he plays to give glory to God, that he can still get on the gridiron and pound it out and compete. He doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon.
“I’m going to try out for the New York Jets as a free agent, can you believe that? I want to go one-on-one with their starting offensive tackle, and if I don’t make it there are 31 other teams,” he said, slowly growing more animated and pointing a finger to the sky. “I will play in the NFL before I die … I will die on the field of glory!”
To see more photos and to hear a recording of Chulada playing “Summertime” on the saxophone, visit www.timesleader.com .
“PEOPLE ASK ME how I can still play (football) at my age
without getting injured, but you know what? I feel stronger
now than when I was younger. I’m in my prime.”