NOVEMBER 7, 1955
Bob Pellegrini needs a nine, and he needs it badly. He's standing at a craps table at the Showboat casino in Atlantic City with several hundred dollars at risk. The shooter tosses the dice and rolls a five and a four. The table goes wild, and the 67-year-old Pellegrini starts shaking hands as if he's just added a fourth grandchild. In 25 minutes the former Maryland offensive lineman and NFL linebacker turned a $600 bankroll into $3,910 and made a whole lot of new friends. He tips the attendants $100 and then turns to a stranger who has been watching the action. "Take this," a smiling Pellegrini says to the man, shoving five $20 bills into his shirt pocket. "If you don't want it, throw it in the trash."
Such behavior may seem odd, but Pellegrini has spent much of his life making people happy. At Maryland he was moved from quarterback to guard and then center and helped the Terps to two 10-1 seasons. As a 6'3", 225-pound senior he was an All-America center and made SI's cover as part of a story on the nation's best linemen. His nine years with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins brought out the scrappy coal miner's son in him; he became known more for his fighting than for his blocking. "I decked Big Daddy Lipscomb," he says of the great 6'6", 300-pound defensive tackle. "He was afraid of my ass."
The father of three then spent over a decade doing everything from owning an Italian restaurant in Williamsport, Pa., to selling nonalcoholic beer in Saudi Arabia. A dinner with former big leaguer Al Rosen, who was working at an Atlantic City casino, led to Pellegrini's becoming an executive host at some of that city's top casinos. Until retiring in June, he spent 23 years working days and nights to entice high rollers to stay and gamble at his bosses' casinos. He attended to their every need, from hiring limos to babysitting their kids. He was so good that in 1986 casino moguls Donald Trump and Steve Wynn got into a bidding war for his services. It was a Wynn-win situation: Steve got his man, and Pellegrini got $250,000 a year, double what he had been making.
Pellegrini now lives in Ocean City, N.J., with his wife, Dolly. He retired in part because the long hours were taking a toll. (He had a heart attack in 1986 and a quadruple bypass in '98.) "I caused a lot of my health problems by working too hard," he says. "Maybe I could've done it another way, but that's what I knew."