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Alex Sandusky, one of all-time great Baltimore Colts, dies at age 87

One of the most famous photographs in National Football League history shows fullback Alan Ameche crossing the goal line to score the winning touchdown for the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 championship.

Baltimore beat the New York Giants, 23-17, in overtime at Yankee Stadium in what became known as “the greatest game ever.”

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Alex Sandusky could pick himself out of the pile of bodies on the ground in the iconic image. As the starting right guard, Sandusky helped open the huge hole Ameche plunged through to give the Colts a memorable victory.

“That play was called ‘16 power’ and went off-tackle between me and George Preas,” Sandusky once told an interviewer.

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Colts players study in a dorm room at Western Maryland College, now McDaniel, in 1960. Alan Ameche, Jim Parker, Madison Nutter, George Preas, Alex Sandusky and Billy Pricer are shown.
Colts players study in a dorm room at Western Maryland College, now McDaniel, in 1960. Alan Ameche, Jim Parker, Madison Nutter, George Preas, Alex Sandusky and Billy Pricer are shown. (Photo courtesy of Trudy Snader , Carroll County Times)

Sandusky, a member of the Baltimore Colts Silver Anniversary Team, died early Tuesday morning. He was 87 years old and residing in assisted living in Louisville, Kentucky, family members said.

Sandusky played for the Colts from 1954 until his retirement following the 1966 season. He was a fixture along the offensive line, missing just one start in 166 games over 13 seasons while protecting quarterback Johnny Unitas and paving the way for tailback Lenny Moore.

Sandusky, who was 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds in his prime, routinely earned praise from opponents such as Detroit Lions All-Pro Alex Karras.

“Sandusky gives me more trouble than any other guard in the league,” Karras once told The Baltimore Sun. “He’s short and quick and he has great agility.”

Sandusky, who was the last surviving member of the starting offensive line from the Colts’ halcyon days of the 1950s, knew his primary job was to safeguard Unitas.

“You took pride in protecting John. Everyone was focused on that,” Sandusky told The Sun for a retrospective story in 2009. “Unitas was our bread-and-butter. When he called plays in the huddle, it was like a priest talking in church.”

Sandusky once described Unitas as “sacred” and noted coach Weeb Ewbank would “have your tail” if a defensive lineman so much as scratched the Hall of Fame quarterback.

Catching Up With ... former Colt Alex Sandusky

“It was almost a mortal sin to get beat by your man, if he then got to John,” Sandusky said. “I remember several games when (Unitas) played hurt and we made sure that he never got his knees dirty. We took immense pride in that.”

Sandusky, a 16th round draft choice out of Clarion State Teachers College, was named second team All-Pro twice and honorable mention three times. He received more votes than any other offensive lineman when the public selected the 50th anniversary “All-Time Colts” team in 1978.

Sandusky was once asked the secret to his success.

“Balance, technique and a little holding when the ref’s not looking,” he said with a chuckle.

On a more serious note, Sandusky credited bashing heads daily with a pair of future Hall of Famers for molding him into an All-Pro.

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“Practice regularly against Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti and you either learn how to do it or you get killed,” he said.

Sandusky routinely played injured, almost a requirement during an era when active rosters consisted of 33 players. It was assumed that separated shoulders and twisted ankles would not keep starters of the lineup.

“We never even thought about coming out of the game. You played as long as you could walk,” said Sandusky, who would pay the price for his durability and longevity. Later in life, he had a hip and both knees replaced.

“I’m reminded of pro football every time I move,” he said prior to his induction into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

Bob Vogel, who was a starting offensive tackle for the Colts from 1963 through 1972, admired the way Sandusky played the game.

“Alex may have been the smallest offensive guard in the NFL. Through being a tenacious competitor and using great technique, he did an exceptional job,” Vogel said. “Alex was extremely competitive. He played down to the nth degree of what he could bring to the field.”

Vogel said Sandusky was a man of few words, but had a subtle sense of humor.

“Alex really enjoyed hunting and his locker was right next to Jim Parker’s,” Vogel recalled. “On the way to practice one day, Alex went rabbit hunting. He killed a bunch of rabbits and hung one of them up in Parker’s locker. When Jim saw that bloody carcass, he slammed the door so hard he almost tipped over a whole row of lockers.”

After retiring from professional football, Sandusky became director of Waterway Improvement for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. For 24 years, he helped build launching ramps and marinas throughout the state. DNR commissioned an 80-foot icebreaker the M/V Sandusky.

Sandusky lived in the Whitehall community of Annapolis near the Bay Bridge for much of his retirement. He named the waterfront estate “Point After” and loved fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. He also was involved with numerous private business, owning Riviera Bowl in Pasadena for many years.

Sandusky moved to Key West, Florida, and lived in a home overlooking the Gulf of Mexico for many years. Always an avid outdoorsman, he kept a 26-foot fishing boat in the canal behind the house.

Photo courtesy of Doris Hull and Don Warner. The 1957 Baltimore Colts Christmas card featured a team photo taken at Western Maryland College, their training facility at that time. The team record was 7-5 and the Colts finished 3rd in the NFL's West Division that season. Front Row: Trainer Ed Block, 74-Ken Jackson, 82-Raymond Berry, 70-Art Donovan, 83-Don Joyce, 86-Ordell Braase, 61-Jack Patera, 84-Jim Mutscheller, 19-John Unitas, 67-Doug Eggers, 41-Ron Underwood, 20-Milt Davis, 66-Don Shinnick, 60-George Preas, 44-Beert Rechichor, Fred SchubachMiddle Row: Dick Spassoff, Charles Winner, 24-Lenny Moore, 14-George Shaw, 64-Steve Myhra, 36-Bill Pellington, 75-Gerald Petersen, 89-Gino Marchetti, 76-Gene Lipscomb, 55-Bill Dananhauer, 77-Jim Parker, 78-Dick Chorovich, 50-Madison Nutter, 87-Buddy Cruze, 65-Bill Koman, 72-Luke Owens, John Bridgers, Herman BallBack Row: Bob Shaw, 31-Billy Pricer, 45-L.G. Dupre, 63-Art Spinney, 21-Dick Nyers, 40-Jesse Thomas, 68-Alex Sandusky, 46-John Call, 18-Cotton Davidson, 35-Alan Ameche, 26-Royce Womble, 17-Andy Nelson, 27-Earl Girard, 25-Don Shula, 23-Carl Taseff, Coach Weeb Ewbank
Photo courtesy of Doris Hull and Don Warner. The 1957 Baltimore Colts Christmas card featured a team photo taken at Western Maryland College, their training facility at that time. The team record was 7-5 and the Colts finished 3rd in the NFL's West Division that season. Front Row: Trainer Ed Block, 74-Ken Jackson, 82-Raymond Berry, 70-Art Donovan, 83-Don Joyce, 86-Ordell Braase, 61-Jack Patera, 84-Jim Mutscheller, 19-John Unitas, 67-Doug Eggers, 41-Ron Underwood, 20-Milt Davis, 66-Don Shinnick, 60-George Preas, 44-Beert Rechichor, Fred SchubachMiddle Row: Dick Spassoff, Charles Winner, 24-Lenny Moore, 14-George Shaw, 64-Steve Myhra, 36-Bill Pellington, 75-Gerald Petersen, 89-Gino Marchetti, 76-Gene Lipscomb, 55-Bill Dananhauer, 77-Jim Parker, 78-Dick Chorovich, 50-Madison Nutter, 87-Buddy Cruze, 65-Bill Koman, 72-Luke Owens, John Bridgers, Herman BallBack Row: Bob Shaw, 31-Billy Pricer, 45-L.G. Dupre, 63-Art Spinney, 21-Dick Nyers, 40-Jesse Thomas, 68-Alex Sandusky, 46-John Call, 18-Cotton Davidson, 35-Alan Ameche, 26-Royce Womble, 17-Andy Nelson, 27-Earl Girard, 25-Don Shula, 23-Carl Taseff, Coach Weeb Ewbank (Carroll County Times)

Sandusky, a native of McKees Rock, Pennsylvania, once admitted the 1958 championship was not the greatest game he played in. However, he understood the reasons why it was so significant for the NFL.

“It was the first overtime game in the history of the league, it was on national television, and it was the first time anyone saw a team run a no-huddle offense,” Sandusky said. “We pioneered the two-minute drill in which Unitas would call signals at the line of scrimmage. That’s how we came back to tie and win that game.”

Sandusky, who was a member of the Clarion State football all-time team, was named All-American as an end as a junior and senior. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

Sandusky is survived by his wife of 65 years, Mary, along with four children — sons Vincent (Alma) of Great Falls, Virginia; Michael (Robin) of Charles City, Virginia; Stephen of Volcan, Costa Rica, and daughter Constance (Mark) of Louisville. He also had five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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