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Catching Up With ... Dick Bielski

The Baltimore Sun
East Baltimore native tells of being steered by his mother to spurn USC and star at Maryland

He grew up in East Baltimore during the 1940s, a chunky Polish kid who used to bound down the marble steps of his family's home on Madeira Street and race the one-half block to Patterson Park to play pick-up football games until dark.

"If I was there alone, I'd take the ball, kick and chase after it," Dick Bielski said.

Practice served him well. A fullback and kicker, Bielski starred at Patterson Park High, blossomed at Maryland — then a national power — and made the pros as a first-round draft pick, finally ending a nine-year NFL career with his hometown Colts.

"I can't [complain] about anything," said Bielski, 82, of Towson. He also has a ring from the Colts' 1970 Super Bowl champions, having served the team as assistant coach for 14 years.

Not a bad career for one who had to be talked into playing high school ball.

"Irv Biasi [Patterson's coach] stopped me in the hallway one day and said, 'How come you're not out for football?'" Bielski recalled. "I told him I worked at Phil's Bakery, on Gough Street, after school. So he got my work hours changed.

"After that, I'd get up at 4:30 every morning, load the truck and deliver buns and bread to Curtis Bay and Locust Point. Then I'd go to school and then to practice. I barely had time to brush my teeth. But if Irv hadn't made me play, God knows where I would have been. That man molded my life."

At Patterson, Bielski led a team that won 29 straight, trampling City and Poly and whoever else would face the Clippers. The 1948 team was unscored on.

"We beat Petersburg (Va.) and New Rochelle (N.Y.) because few schools here would play us," he said. "We had Greeks from Highlandtown, Italians from Little Italy and Polish kids from Holy Rosary Parish. We just did what our fathers and uncles had done before. To us, football was almost a job we did for the chance to go to school."

As a senior, Bielski led the Maryland Scholastic Association in scoring (63 points) and made The Sun's All-Scholastic Team. Southern California and Maryland, among others, dangled scholarships.

"I was going to USC," he said. "They had come to Baltimore to play Navy, and I was impressed by these big suntanned players in their burgundy blazers. Then [Maryland coach] Jim Tatum came to our house and told my mother that if I went to California, I'd get involved with all of those starlets.

"When he left, mom said, 'You're going to Maryland.'"

There, Bielski helped the Terps to 35 victories in 41 games, a national championship in 1953 and a Sugar Bowl victory in his freshman year (1951). Prior to that game, a 28-13 win over Tennessee in Biloxi, Miss., Bielski made headlines of a different sort.

"A bunch of us went deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico in a converted PT boat, and I caught a 50-pound red drum," he said. "Well, I had my picture taken holding the fish and it made the Baltimore papers. My girlfriend got mad because, in the photo, I was wearing the cashmere sweater she'd just bought me for Christmas."

As a senior co-captain, Bielski contracted pneumonia and was laid up for two weeks at University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore. He didn't miss a game.

"Coach Tatum sent an ambulance to take me to Byrd Stadium, where I put on my uniform and kicked for the team," he said. "Then it was back to the hospital."

The ninth player chosen in the 1955 draft, Bielski played five years with the Philadelphia Eagles, who converted him to tight end, and two with the fledgling Dallas Cowboys, where he made the Pro Bowl in 1961 and caught a touchdown pass. Acquired by the Colts the next year, he caught 15 passes — two for TDs — and made 11 of 25 field goal attempts, four of them against the champion Green Bay Packers.

"I was delighted to come home," he said. "My first pre-season game, I caught three passes against Pittsburgh, though I'd only been here three days and didn't know what the hell the plays were. Johnny Unitas made it easy. He'd point to me and say, '15 [yards] and hook,' or '12 and in.'

"The game's not that complicated when you play with a guy like Unitas."

Now retired, Bielski and his wife Jo have been married 62 years. Two sons, Randy and Rick, played football at Towson and earned NFL tryouts. He has had both knees replaced ("My kicking leg went first") and fights arthitis but says he's "a helluva lot better off than some of my compatriots."

In hindsight, he said, "I'm thankful my career ended locally. I remember the 1970 Super Bowl, which came down to rookie Jim O'Brien's field goal. I coached the kickers, and when Jim lined up for the [32-yard] kick, I leaned over to [assistant coach] Bobby Boyd in the press box and said, 'This is a lock, we are champions!'

"Bobby went nuts; he couldn't believe I'd said that. But when the kick sailed through, I got a hug."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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