The leader, the
captain, the man, was a defensive end with brilliantined black hair, Gino
Marchetti, who, in the locker room before the games, paced and smoked like an
expectant bear. He fought the Germans on the Siegfried Line at 18, before he
went to the University of San Francisco. Gino's uniform number was 89. Six
lockers down--the Colts always dressed in sequence--sat Don Joyce (number 83),
who was a professional wrestler in the off-season, as was Eugene (Big Daddy)
Lipscomb (76), seven spaces farther along. Lipscomb, who never went to college,
learned some of his football at Camp Pendleton in the Marine Corps but most of
it from Marchetti. Another Marine, Artie Donovan (70), leaned over at his
locker taping magazines to his shins for body armor: Newsweek on the left leg,
TIME on the right, appropriately.
Artie was guard Alex Sandusky, number 68 ("Nobody had the guts to wear
69," Sandusky said primly), a 16th-round draft choice from Clarion (Pa.)
State Teachers College who would be sent into his first pro game in the middle
of the second quarter and start every game after that but one, for 13 years. A
postman's son, Sandusky had been an end when he boarded the plane that brought
him from the Pittsburgh airport to the Baltimore Colts. But during the ride he
met Notre Dame end Jim (Bucky) Mutscheller, yet another ex-Marine, and changed
positions. Alex figured Notre Dame trumped Clarion State in any competition for
employment. Also, Mutscheller, coming directly from Korea, had a look in his
eyes that could bore a hole in a vault.
L.G. Dupre and
Bert Rechichar (WRETCH-it-char, like gargling broken teeth), numbers 45 and 44,
sat side by side. As almost nobody knew, the L.G. stood for Louis George. A
happy-go-lucky halfback from Baylor, he came to be known as Long Gone Dupre.
Next to Night Train (Lane) in Detroit, Long Gone was the best nickname in the
NFL. "Back in Texas City," Dupre told Gene Gregston of the Fort Worth
Star-Telegram, "my daddy would take my brothers and me around from saloon
to saloon, pair us off against each other in bare-knuckle boxing matches and
pass the hat. Made a pretty good dollar too. That's why, when the fights break
out today, I'm the only one in the league throwing jabs." Rechichar, an
equally ready and even more willing defensive back from Belle Vernon, Pa.,
preferred to be called simply Forty-four. In fact, he insisted on it. In the
further cause of simplicity he addressed everyone he was still speaking to by
one name: Peas. On the road Rechichar required his roommates to keep the shower
running in the bathroom whenever he was out. If one of the coaches happened to
drop by the room, he was to be told, "Forty-four is taking a
cheek-by-jowl were numbers 36 and 35, middle linebacker Bill Pellington and
fullback Alan (the Horse) Ameche, the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 1955.
Pellington, a Navy vet and an ironworker who helped build the Tappan Zee Bridge
in New York, was the cruelest person and most wanton player on the team. He was
known for gritty feats such as playing for an extended time with a broken arm.
The truth was, long after the fracture had healed, he kept the cast for
purposes of knocking opponents unconscious.
Pellington," Colts halfback and end Alex Hawkins said, "should have
been thrown out of every game he ever played, and most of the practices."
In contrast Ameche was the smartest, nicest and most civilized member of the
team. He was a bridge player, an opera buff and a distant relative of the movie
actor who portrayed Alexander Graham Bell, Don Ameche.
Just a few more
players down sat the rookie quarterback, Johnny Unitas. "At Westminster,
Maryland, where we trained," Donovan said, "I liked to come to work
early. We had an assistant trainer named Dimitri Spassoff, a Bulgarian who used
to rub my feet and tell me humorous stories. I looked across the room, and here
was this new guy, this skinny little scarecrow, with a hot pack on his right
shoulder. 'Who the f--- is that?' I said. 'That's the new quarterback,'
Spassoff said. 'We got him from Pittsburgh, I think.' 'And he's already got a
bum shoulder?' I said. 'Christ, he'll never make it.'" John's new number
was 19. Though his college number, 16, was available, he took the jersey that
was handed him and said nothing. John was the third Colt to wear 19, and the
At the end of the
row sat number 14, quarterback George Shaw, the star of the team, the first
player picked in the 1955 draft and runner-up for NFL Rookie of the Year, whose
$18,000 salary was by far the highest in the room. After working out for coach
Weeb Ewbank, Unitas had signed a one-year contract for $7,000.
The first things
they noticed about each other were their hands. During a high school game in
Paris, Texas, Raymond Berry had badly broken the little finger of his left
hand, and it had been dislocated so many times since then that it no longer
worked with the others. Unitas had accidentally put a .38 slug through the
middle finger of his right hand while cleaning a pistol as a teenager. The
first time Unitas and Berry shook hands, a connection was made. It is not too
strong to say that they became a team within a team. "Raymond's hands
caught my attention even before we met," John told Cameron Snyder of the
Baltimore Sun. "All through the offensive meetings he would be squeezing a
pink blob of [ Silly Putty] in each fist, and he carried a football with him
everywhere he went, even to meals. You know, Raymond didn't catch that many
passes as a rookie starter the year before [13 in 12 games, none for
touchdowns], but he looked like a receiver to me."
Berry was a
details man, past the point of eccentricity. He searched and searched for just
the right pair of football pants, and when he found them, he never entrusted
them to the equipment men again. Raymond insisted on washing and ironing the
pants himself. To him, the fit was crucial. Berry carried a bathroom scale with
him on the road, to monitor his weight precisely. He scouted the sunlight at
various times of day. He had a pile of football shoes with all manner of
cleats, including an especially uncomfortable pair with longer mud cleats over
just the balls of the feet. As nearsighted as Mr. Magoo, Berry wore horn-rimmed
glasses off the field and contact lenses on it. They made him look startled.
But he could catch the football.
From the day they
met, Unitas and Berry regularly stayed after practice to pass and catch.
"When Weeb saw what we were doing," Berry said, "he told me
quietly, 'Keep working with this Unitas.' Looking back, I wonder if Weeb didn't