He was “the other” defensive end for the Baltimore Colts in their heyday, the guy overshadowed by Hall of Fame-bound Gino “The Giant” Marchetti. But Ordell Braase was a star in his own right and, for 12 seasons, a pillar on a Colts team that won three NFL championships on his watch.
Braase died Monday morning at a nursing center near his home in Bradenton, Fla. He was 87 and had battled Alzheimer’s disease since 2012.
“He went peacefully,” said DeAnne Robinson, Braase’s partner for 20 years.
For years, as a player, obscurity seemed Braase’s mantra. A 14th-round draft pick in 1954 from South Dakota, he served in the Army before joining Baltimore in 1957. Soft-spoken and reserved, Braase (pronounced Bray-see) made the team, though Colts fans struggled with his surname. Teammates knew it, though.
“He was intense, a real hard worker in practice,” said Andy Nelson, 85, a defensive back who was also a rookie in 1957. “Ordell was quiet; he stayed in the back at parties. But he did his job and was a better player than they gave him credit for. He tried to live up to Gino’s performance — and wasn’t too far behind him.”
Braase (6 feet 4, 245 pounds) played on both of the Colts’ title teams in 1958 and 1959 and forged a name as a pass rusher, having learned from the master.
“Gino was my hero, the greatest defensive end who ever played,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 2012. “From him, I learned that if you want to stay around, you darn well better get in the passer’s face.”
Not until Marchetti retired in 1966 did Braase receive his due. He made the Pro Bowl in two of his last three years, retiring in 1968 after leading the Colts to another NFL title. That championship game, a 34-0 victory over Cleveland on Dec. 29, 1968, was perhaps Braase’s best. Three times, he sacked Browns quarterback Bill Nelson, and he helped hold Leroy Kelly, their stellar running back from Morgan State, to 28 rushing yards.
Years later, Braase downplayed his role in that shutout.
“Sometimes, you get too much credit,” he told The Sun in 2012. “But as the game went on, I thought, ‘Hey, this is all right. I wish I could do this every Sunday.’ ”
His last game was the 16-7 Super Bowl loss to the New York Jets on Jan. 12, 1969.
“I’d like to have gone out a winner,” he once said. “I just know I’m very thankful for those 12 years in Baltimore.”
He was one of three Colts to have played on the city’s first three NFL championship teams. (The others were quarterback Johnny Unitas and linebacker Don Shinnick). From 1964 to 1967, Braase served as president of the NFL Players Association.
Braase found greater celebrity in retirement. He owned a restaurant in Timonium, The Flaming Pit, from which, on game days, he and Colts great Art Donovan broadcast a radio call-in talk show, “Braase, Donovan and Fans.”
Learning of Braase’s death Monday, Marchetti paid homage.
“Braase had a lot of ability and, as soon as I left the Colts, he took over. I was awful proud of him,” said Marchetti, 93. “Years ago, over a couple of beers, I told him, ‘I feel bad that I got the publicity when you should have — but then you became the man, and you were damn good at it, so feel proud.’ ”
“He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘I love to hear things like that,’ ” Marchetti said.
Braase is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth Hopkins of Darlington; sons Thomas Braase of Cockeysville, Jonathan Braase of Castle Rock, Col., and Andrew Braase of Elkton; and six grandchildren. His wife, Janice, died in 1997. Funeral services are incomplete.