Bill Pellington, who was known as the toughest and meanest outside linebacker in Baltimore Colts history and was defensive captain of the 1958 NFL championship team, died yesterday of respiratory failure associated with Alzheimer's disease at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Timonium resident was 66.
"He was the backbone of the Baltimore defense . . . a great football player and a fine human being," former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas said yesterday. "The last few years have been difficult and we would all like to remember him as he was on the field, where he was always at his best."
Don Shula, coach of the Colts in Pellington's last years and now coach of the Miami Dolphins, said: "He was a great, great, great friend. We spent a lot of time together and I have a lot of great memories. He was totally dedicated to football and he knew how to live life. When you were around Pellington there were bound to be many happy moments."
Pellington and Gino Marchetti, who were sometimes referred to as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Pellington was Jekyll), played their last regular-season game together against the Washington Redskins at Memorial Stadium and retired in 1964.
"You hate to lose a good friend and he was my best friend in Baltimore," Marchetti said yesterday from his home in West Chester, Pa.
"He was a fighter and even though he wasn't a natural athlete, through hard work and determination he became one of the toughest and meanest linebackers of the game during the 1950s and 1960s," Marchetti added.
Wrote Evening Sun columnist John Steadman of Pellington in 1993: "There was this commanding presence, a comfort to his teammates and a woeful experience for those across the scrimmage line.
"He knocked down anything that moved. The Baltimore Colts never had a better linebacker through 12 years of remarkable service. Durable. Dutiful. Dependable."
Art Donovan, a defensive tackle who played with Pellington until 1961, said: "He was a real close friend and on the football field was -- nuts! I never saw a guy do so much stuff on a football field and get away with it.
"He was a tough, tough football player and no one was worried about me or Gino -- it was Pellington."
Said Jim Parker, a lineman for the Colts from 1957 to 1967: "He was one hell of a football player -- all you'd see all over the field when he was playing was No. 36."
Pellington opened his Iron Horse restaurant in Timonium in 1963. The authors of a 1977 entertainment column wrote that they had just arrived in the Yorkridge Shopping Center restaurant when "we were suddenly confronted by a perfectly enormous man with the most compellingly genial manner we have seen in a long time . . . and he procured us seats, drinks, and good vibrations quicker than you could say Jack Robinson or more likely Bill Pellington since our friendly giant must have been the famous ex-Colt linebacker himself." The business was sold in 1984.
Pellington was born in Ramsey, N.J., and attended Defiance College in Ohio and Rutgers University in New Jersey. He served in the Navy in Panama during the closing days of World War II.
He tried to start his NFL career in 1952 but was cut by the Cleveland Browns. Pellington was signed as a free agent by the Colts the next year.
He played both outside and middle linebacker, and his last game Dec. 24, 1964, was a 27-0 loss to the Browns for the NFL championship.
The family suggests memorial contributions be made to the Alzheimer's Association of Central Maryland, Suite 202, 540 E. Belvedere Ave., Baltimore 21212.