Charles “Tinky” Leigh, Sr., left an indelible mark in sports history, becoming the first African American, and only the fourth player in NFL history, to go directly from high school into the National Football League (NFL).
Leigh, who died in 2006, was also the youngest member of “The Perfect Season” (17-0) Miami Dolphins team who were recently honored by President Barack Obama at the White House on Aug. 20. The Dolphins, who are the only team in league history to go undefeated in a season, also went on to win back-to-back championship titles in Super Bowls VII and VIII, with Leigh being a member of both of squads.
Unfortunately, 41 years after that perfect season – which was ironically capped off by a 14-7 decision over the Washington Redskins on Jan. 14, 1973 in Los Angeles – the Leigh family was not invited to take part in the recent ceremony at the White House, in which former Head Coach Don Shula and his team were honored for their notable achievement.
But in the minds of family members, Leigh’s memory will never fade, particularly because the photograph showing Coach Shula being hoisted onto the shoulders of his team, also shows No. 23 celebrating nearby.
“I’m ecstatic to know that my father was part of that winning team,” said Charles Leigh, Jr. “It was very emotional for us and my whole family. And to see my father’s picture online recognizing the event was very emotional, but unfortunately, whether it was by mistake or an oversight, only the living team members were honored.”
The Leigh family moved to the Atlanta area after Charles Sr. died of cancer. His widow Marie, relocated to be close to her children, Sherrell Leigh of Duluth, Ga., Carla Leigh of Riverdale, Ga., and Deverren Leigh of Colonie, Ga., and Charlie Jr., who now lives in South Fulton County.
Charlie and Marie Leigh were childhood sweethearts. They married in 1964. As a dedicated and avid supporter, Marie attended all of his NFL games.
“My father also died not knowing he was the first African American to go straight from high school into the pros,” Charles Jr. added.
(Photo: The late Charles “Tinky” Leigh (#23) celebrates the Miami Dolphins’ win over the Washington Redskins in Super VII in 1973. President Barack Obama recently invited “The Perfect Season” team to the White House to commemorate their achievements as being the only NFL squad to go undefeated in league history.)