Marchetti is the second-oldest living player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Nonetheless, twice a week, he bowls tenpins in a senior league near his home in Downingtown, Pa. A few years ago, he rolled a 299. Only a stubborn 5-pin stood between Marchetti and a perfect game.
"The last few frames, everyone in the place stopped and watched. I was more nervous than in the [Colts'] 1958 championship game," he said. Marchetti also played tennis until sidelined last year by the same ankle he broke in that title game 58 years ago.
That his competitive juices are still flowing might be cause for longevity.
"I feel good and can still do a lot of things," Marchetti said. "It's just that football isn't one of them."
While most media attention is paid to former athletes struggling with health problems, others find ways to stay active and fit. The transition from seasoned pro to average Joe is not an easy one, physically or psychologically, experts say.
"It's often challenging for athletes to maintain their health in retirement," said Dr. Jim Taylor, a sports psychologist in San Francisco. "There's a natural decrease in activity level. For athletes, imbalance is their life. They work out for hours a day; retirees don't. Chronic injuries from their playing days may limit one's ability to work out. Plus, 'unfortunate' eating habits continue in retirement, so that the number of calories burned changes drastically.
"Also, athletes who suffer unplanned retirements, due to injuries or roster cuts, face emotional challenges that can lead to increased drinking, binge eating and drug use."
Marchetti played 13 years with the Colts, retiring at 39 in 1966. Then, while managing his fast-food empire, he gained 80 pounds to peak at 325.
"I tried to eat and drink everything in the city of Baltimore," he said. "I really bloated up. It was fun after all those years of going to training camp and having to watch my diet."
A heart attack in 1981 changed his tune. Marchetti now weighs 245, nearly his playing weight.
"You may retire from the game, but not from taking care of yourself," said Jim Palmer.
Now 70, the Orioles' Hall of Fame pitcher lifts weights, bicycles, swims and hits golf balls for up to two hours a day at a driving range near his home in Palm Beach, Fla. Long a fitness buff, Palmer looks as if he could still pose for Jockey underwear as he did 30 years ago.
"People don't think I look 70, but I guess I was dealt a good hand," he said. "Part of it is genetics, though I don't really know what mine are because I was adopted. I could just sit around and read the paper, but I'm a Type A person and [exercise] has always been my lifestyle. I'm blessed I can still do it."
Johnny Egan reads the paper every morning, over coffee in a Houston Starbucks.
"First thing I do is check the obituaries," said Egan, 77, a point guard for the Baltimore Bullets from 1965 to 1968. "Last [year] we lost [former New York Knicks star] Anthony Mason, who was 48. Last September, it was [Hall of Famer] Moses Malone. He was 60. How does this happen to guys so young?"
Malone succumbed to heart disease. Mason, who'd ballooned to 350 pounds, had a heart attack.
Meanwhile, Egan purrs along. His 11-year NBA career ended before either of theirs had begun.
Each morning he slides out of bed, drops to the floor and does 60 pushups, 30 of them with his fingertips. That's followed by yoga exercises and a good breakfast. Sometimes, almost absently, he'll bounce a racquetball off the kitchen door with his right hand and catch it with his left. Then it's off to the local YMCA, where he holds basketball clinics and, when challenged, struts his stuff.
"I jack around with guys in the gym and we go one-on-one," said Egan, who averaged 7.8 points in the pros. "I say, 'You think you can beat me? Don't let the gray hair fool you.' I can still stand at halfcourt, throw the ball behind my back and make a basket, two out of 20 shots. At my age, I still love to win."
Few retired athletes are as attuned to good health as Lydell Mitchell, the Pro Bowl running back who led the Colts to three straight division titles (1975-1977). Now 66, Mitchell is national sales manager for Super Bakery, which markets nutritional snack foods to schools, colleges and the military.
In six years with the Colts, he gained 8,010 yards rushing and receiving, and took a pounding that now gives him pause.
"Our bodies aren't made to handle those collisions," said Mitchell, who lives in Reservoir Hill. "I remember loosening up with Johnny Unitas once before playing in a golf tournament, and laughing as he stood there all stiff. John said, 'Don't worry, you'll be like this one day.' He was right. We've gone through things that a normal person doesn't. Old injuries come back to get us."
At the same time, he said, retirement triggers a parting of muscle and mind.
"After all those years of working out, your head says you've got to push, push, push — but your body says it can't do that anymore. You can't feel guilty; you've got to find a happy medium. I don't run, but I stretch a lot and walk up to 3 miles a day — not hunched over, but standing straight and tall."
At 218 pounds, he is close to his playing weight (208). For Mitchell, no food is off the table.
"You are what you eat, but nothing is bad for you in moderation," he said. "Still, we can only do so much. [Palmer] is right, genes are so important. My mother is 90, so I hope mine come from that side of the family."