The autograph signing featuring the Baltimore Colts at the Towson Center on March 29 turned out to be a final show of warmth for Madison "Buzz" Nutter.
Though ailing, Nutter insisted on attending the reunion of old Colts and their fans, said his daughter, Lisa Bowie, who accompanied him.
"Dad said, 'I wouldn't miss this even if I was in a wheelchair,' " Bowie said yesterday. "He got to see old friends, hear old stories and have his picture taken with fans. He signed for more than three hours and enjoyed it immensely.
"My father went a happy man."
Nutter's death leaves guard Alex Sandusky as the only surviving member of the Colts' rugged offensive line that helped Baltimore win back-to-back titles 50 years ago. Also gone are Jim Parker, Art Spinney and George Preas, who died last year.
Like Preas, Nutter played football at Virginia Tech. He was a 12th-round draft choice of the Washington Redskins in 1953 but failed to make the team and returned to his native West Virginia to work in the steel mills.
A year later, he earned a spot on the Colts' roster and became a solid, if unobtrusive performer on a line starring three All-Pros.
"Let's face it, Buzz didn't get enough credit," teammate Dick Szymanski said. "Buzz was a vastly underrated center and a good pass blocker who never got hurt - and when he did get hurt, he stayed in the game."
Even toward the end, at last month's autograph session, Nutter maintained an old-school stoicism, said Jim Mutscheller, a former Colts tight end.
"I couldn't believe how frail he looked," Mutscheller said. "But Buzz never complained.
"He was down-home, unpretentious and genuine - a raw-boned guy about 6 feet 4 who sort of reminded you of Abe Lincoln. On and off the field, he seemed always to be in control."
The 1958 championship game showed Nutter at his best, Art Donovan said.
"I've watched those films 10 times, and Buzz was the most outstanding lineman on the field," said Donovan, the Colts' Hall of Fame defensive tackle. "He played like a man possessed. He almost beat the passes downfield on his way to block for Raymond [Berry]."
It's what Nutter did after that game that endeared him to Gino Marchetti.
When fullback Alan Ameche scored the winning touchdown in overtime, giving the Colts a 23-17 victory over the New York Giants, Ameche slammed the ball to the ground.
In the bedlam that followed, Marchetti said, "a fan grabbed the ball and would have run off with it if Buzz hadn't chased after him and gotten it back."
In their jubilant locker room, the Colts presented the ball to Marchetti, who had broken his leg during the game. Marchetti, in turn, presented the ball to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago, where it remains on display.
In 1961, Nutter was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers, along with defensive tackle Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, for receiver Jimmy Orr. There, overshadowed no more, Nutter made All-Pro. In 1965, he returned to Baltimore for his 12th and final season before starting the beer distributorship in Waldorf that his family still owns.
Nutter is survived by two sisters, Anne Allen of Huntington, W.Va., and Judy Young of West Palm Beach, Fla; a brother, Bill Nutter of Parkersburg, W.Va.; three sons, David Nutter of Bryantown, Douglas Nutter of Marbury and Brian Nutter of La Plata; a daughter, Lisa Bowie of Burlington, Ontario; and 10 grandchildren.
Nutter's wife of 44 years, Carole, a devout Catholic, died in 1997. Two days before her death, in a service that took place in his wife's hospital room, Nutter - a lifelong Methodist - converted to Catholicism.
"He died a Catholic," David Nutter said yesterday.
Funeral services - a viewing and Mass - will be held Saturday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church (times to be determined), followed by interment at Mount Carmel Monastery, both in La Plata.