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THE BALLAD of Big Daddy
William Nack
January 11, 1999
Big Daddy Lipscomb, whose size and speed revolutionized the defensive lineman's position in the late '50s, was a man of insatiable appetites: for women, liquor and, apparently, drugs
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January 11, 1999

The Ballad Of Big Daddy

Big Daddy Lipscomb, whose size and speed revolutionized the defensive lineman's position in the late '50s, was a man of insatiable appetites: for women, liquor and, apparently, drugs

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I tell you something true as life,
And, Big Daddy, you better be believin';
You lay that needle down right now,
Or your friends will all be grievin';
You lay that needle down, boy,
Or your women will be grieving'.

Unattributed verse as quoted in
The Saturday Evening Post, July 27, 1963

All day long, from 10 in the morning until 10 at night, the line of mourners stood four abreast along Madison Avenue in Baltimore. They had come from all over, thousands of them—black and white, young and old, men and women and children—and at times they reached such numbers that the line from the mean streets to the open steel-gray coffin extended more than two blocks. So many people, so many mournful faces. Cheek by jowl, for 12 hours, they filed into old Charlie Law's funeral home. In one door and out another. In one mood and out another. In one era and out another.

In all his years Lenny Moore had never witnessed a spectacle quite like it. "It was overwhelming," recalls the Baltimore Colts' Hall of Fame running back. "You'd have thought it was a big movie star in there. Or a head of state. Biggest thing I ever saw like that in this town."

It was more than 35 years ago, on Sunday, May 12, 1963, and Eugene (Big Daddy) Lipscomb, dressed in a white silk tie and midnight-blue suit, was lying handsomely in state, in an outsize casket rimmed in pillowy white. He looked larger in death than he had in life, all 6'6" and 306 pounds of him: larger than the legend he had spawned, with his size 56 suits and custom-made jockstraps; larger than the memories of his exploits on the football field, on which he nailed 225-pound fullbacks with one-arm tackles and chased down halfbacks; larger even than his ravenous appetites for women and whiskey.

Two days earlier, after a Thursday night of drinking and cavorting with two ladies of the night, Lipscomb had collapsed in the kitchen of a house on North Brice Street in southwestern Baltimore, the victim of an overdose of heroin. He was 31 years old, and the city's assistant medical examiner, Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker, found enough dope inside him to have killed five men. Lipscomb died in the ambulance bearing him to Lutheran Hospital.

He had lived his life in all the suburbs of chaos. He was survived by a 1963 yellow Cadillac convertible, at least one fiancée and three ex-wives, the second of whom he had married in Tijuana, Mexico, while he was still wed to the first. All over Pittsburgh, where he had played tire previous two years, the Steelers and their followers cried out the same lament. "The best man I ever saw at knocking people down," Pittsburgh coach Buddy Parker said.

Lipscomb, a three-time All-Pro defensive tackle, played 10 years in the NFL, including five memorable seasons with the Colts, from 1956 through '60. In his final game, the Pro Bowl in January '63, he was voted lineman of the game. He was widely perceived as a natural wonder, like the Painted Desert or the Devil's Anvil. He was, in fact, the prototype of the modern lineman, the first 300-pound Bunyan endowed not only with enormous power but also with the two qualities usually denied men of his size: agility and speed. His belly did not roll out of his pants. He was hard and trim, and the fastest interior lineman in tire league.

Gino Marchetti, the Colts' Hall of Fame defensive end, says he and his teammates used to call Lipscomb "our fourth linebacker. He was big, fast, strong and agile. Really, really great." In fact, Baltimore's defensive coach in Lipscomb's day, Charley Winner, considered changing Lipscomb's position. "I remember one game against Green Bay," Winner says. "They had a fast back named Tom Moore, and Big Daddy dropped off the line to cover a pass. He chased Moore for 40 yards and then knocked down the pass in the end zone. I wanted to make him a linebacker, but we couldn't replace him on the line."

He had huge arms and hands—when he was first spotted by the track coach at Camp Pendleton, where Lipscomb served in the Marine Corps from 1949 to '53, he was lifting a 41-pound piece of a cannon with his fingertips—and the wingspan of a pterodactyl, seven feet, which made him a fearsome pass and field goal blocker and a constricting tackier from sideline to sideline. "One of the best tacklers there ever was," Weeb Ewbank, the Colts' coach in the late '50s and early '60s, recalled shortly before he died in November. "When Big Daddy wrapped a guy up with those long arms, he stayed wrapped."

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