Hall of Famer, Baltimore Colts legend Gino Marchetti dead at 93

Hall of Famer, Baltimore Colts legend Gino Marchetti dead at 93

Hall of Famer and former Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti, whose blue-collar roots and lunch-pail approach to football made him a perfect captain for a team in Baltimore, died Monday in Paoli, Pa.

He was 93.

“I kissed him and he knew me and smiled,” Joan Marchetti, his wife of 41 years, told the Baltimore Sun. “That was Gino’s way of saying goodbye.”

Marchetti — known simply as Gino in his adopted hometown — led the 1958 and ’59 NFL champion Colts as one of the most feared pass rushers in league history, revolutionizing the defensive end position by relying on his speed and quickness more than brute strength.

In many ways, he was the prototype of today’s NFL speed rusher, though he played in an era when sacks weren’t kept as an official statistic.

“He revolutionized the way you play that position in the NFL,” said former Colts player and coach Don Shula, himself a Hall of Famer. “Prior to Gino, the attitude [of pass rushers] was to try to physically overpower the offensive tackle. Gino showed that with good instincts and a lightning quickness, he could get around his man without really engaging him.

“The offensive tackle’s uniform never got very dirty,” Shula added, “but the quarterback’s sure did.”

The son of an immigrant coal miner in Pennsylvania, Marchetti’s almost balletic moves — he could hurdle a blocker to make a tackle — belied No. 89’s ability to muscle aside offensive linemen, the Sun’s obituary noted: “Colliding with the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Marchetti, Lions quarterback Bobby Layne once said, was “like running into a tree trunk in the dark.”

“Gino,” The Evening Sun’s Bill Tanton wrote, “romanticized defense.”

Yet no Colts player epitomized the club — or the city — better than Marchetti, according to the The Sun, a sentiment echoed by the city’s current NFL team in a statement Tuesday:

“Gino Marchetti is at or near the top fo the greats in Baltimore athletic and football history,” the Ravens’ statement read, in part. “Beloved in Baltimore, this Pro Football Hall of Famer loved our community and the fans who were so special to him. … We appreciate the kindness and respect Gino showed the Ravens over the last 23 years.”

Marchetti, a World War II veteran, began his career with the Dallas Texans in 1952 before that team folded, helping make him a Baltimore Colt.

He played for the Colts from 1953-66, making the All-NFL team nine consecutive seasons (1956-64) as the league rose to made-for-TV prominence, by, at least in part, using as a springboard an injury to Marchetti in what many described as the game of the century: a broken leg in the Colts’ eventual overtime victory against the Giants in the 1958 NFL championship game.

From PressBox Baltimore‘s obituary Tuesday:

“He was a tough, fierce, physical iron man, who was always there for the Colts on defense. But strangely enough, an injury Marchetti suffered might have helped the Colts win the NFL title during the famous 1958 NFL title game.

“The New York Giants were trying to convert a third-and-4 late during the game while clinging to a 17-14 lead. Frank Gifford tried to run, and Marchetti helped make the tackle — but wound up breaking his leg on the play. It took the officials some time to spot the ball, because they waited until the trainers carried Marchetti off the field, and the spot they gave New York left the Giants just short.

“That was a controversial point of the game, which was debated for years. It opened the door for Johnny Unitas to lead the Colts on his famed drive during the final two minutes, as Baltimore tied the game and forced overtime. Marchetti made the trainers put him down on the sidelines so he could get an idea of what was happening.”

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted Tuesday that not only was Marchetti “one of the greatest to play the game, but also “a player who helped turn the nation’s attention toward the ‘new sport’ on television.”

Marchetti retired after the 1966 season, having started 151 of his 161 career games over 14 seasons, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972. He was named to the NFL 50th and 75th anniversary teams.

He remained visible — and popular — in the Baltimore area in retirement with his chain of fastfood restaurants that made him almost as famous as a businessman as he was as a player.