I read with great sadness of the passing of former Baltimore Colts star Ordell Braase (“Baltimore Colts defense end Ordell Braase, who played on three NFL championship teams, dies at 87,” March 25). I remember the “old” Colts teams with respect and appreciation. The likes of Ordell Braase, Gino Marchetti, Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Bobby Boyd, Alan Ameche, Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, and so many more brought many happy Sundays into my life. These players were like family, much unlike the prima donnas of today’s NFL. They were loyal to their team and their fans and they were approachable and friendly too. Today, when the pro football season is over, many of the players leave for “home.” The old Colts took Baltimore for their home and didn’t leave it at season’s end.
I remember seeing Alan “The Horse” Ameche at a bank in Towson when I was a young man fresh out of high school. I approached him and we had a nice conversation. I wasn’t put off or brushed off either. What a gentleman! Later, as a defense tactics Instructor in the Baltimore City Police Academy, I was honored to spend some time with Ordell. He had retired and was at that time representing a company that sold gym equipment. We needed new mats for the gym and I was among those who met with him to explain our needs. Once again, a real gentleman.
Finally, in my later years as a police officer, as a captain of detectives, I was honored to have the opportunity to spend some time with John Unitas. This man is the epitome of what a sports Icon should be. John Constantine Unitas, in my humble opinion, is the greatest quarterback ever to have played in the National Football League. There can be no fair comparisons made to John from the modern quarterbacks and I will explain why. In today’s game, the quarterbacks are so protected that breathing on them heavily may draw a penalty. Johnny Unitas played during the time when quarterbacks were fair game on every play. They were actually under protected. I remember John playing with an aluminum girdle to protect his broken ribs and the opposing defenses still did their best to put him out of the game — for good reason. If he played under today’s rules, at his peak, he would own every record for quarterbacks in the book. Also, there was no five-yard “bump and run” rule in effect when he and Raymond Berry played. Just as with the quarterback, the receivers were subject to assault far down the field.
The owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers paid “Johnny U” the highest of compliments when he said that letting Unitas go to Baltimore was the biggest mistake that the Steelers ever made. Not many people know which quarterback the Steelers kept when they let him go. It was Ted Marchibroda, a good man, but not a great quarterback.
John is interred at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, not far from where my brother John is buried. Johnny U is in a marble bench by the lake. He is not far from his old friend “Artie.” When I visit my brother, I always stop to pay my respects and leave a flower for him. So Ordell will be rejoining so many of his great teammates. If God is a football fan, he has the makings of a great team. May they all rest in peace.
Bob Di Stefano, Abingdon