Pro Football Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti, a captain of the two-time world champion Baltimore Colts teams in 1958 and 1959 and one of the greatest defensive ends in NFL history, died Monday at the age of 93.
"Rest in peace, Gino Marchetti," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay wrote today on Twitter. "The son of immigrants — and a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge against the Nazis — Marchetti was one of the greatest to play the game, Gino was a player who helped turn the nation's attention toward the 'new sport' on television."
Marchetti — who played for the Colts from 1953 to 1964 and then again in 1966 — was considered by many as the greatest end in league history, and he was voted to the NFL's 50th Anniversary Team in 1969 and 75th Anniversary Team in 1994.
He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972, and his jersey number, 89, is one of eight retired by the Colts.
An All-NFL selection nine consecutive years and 11-time Pro Bowler, Marchetti "dominated the football field during his career in the 1950s and '60s as a leader of the great Baltimore Colts teams of that era," according to this post written today by the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
"His ferocious style of play defined the character of a man who possessed a strong desire to succeed, passion, and determination that made him a great teammate," Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker commented. "Those same traits made him a highly successful business leader after his playing days. The legacy of Gino Marchetti's well-lived life will forever be preserved in Canton, Ohio to serve as inspiration to future generations of fans."
Ernest Marchetti had the somewhat normal parental fear that his son, Gino, might get hurt playing football. The protective parent advised him to "stay out of the other boys' way so that they won't hurt you."
Although every quarterback who played in the National Football League in the 1950s and early '60s wishes Gino had listened to his father, the 6-4, 244-pound end had not listened to his father.
Gino wound up, instead, as one of the game's greatest and most feared defensive ends to play pro football. Marchetti, who played 13 brilliant seasons with the Colts after one season with the Dallas Texans, was a brilliant all-around defender. He was adept at stopping the running play, but best known for his vicious pass rushing techniques.
He was known for clean, but very hard play and he was a particular terror on third-down, obvious passing situations. When opponents double-teamed him, or sometimes even triple-teamed him, that tactic only served to make the rest of the Colts rush line more effective.
Ironically, Gino suffered the most serious injury of his career — a broken leg — in the Colts' famous overtime victory in the 1958 NFL Championship Game that was labeled "The Greatest Game Ever Played," at a time when his parents were watching him on television for the first time. Marchetti made a key stop that ended a New York Giants' drive and gave the Colts a chance to tie the game in regulation time. Many thought this serious injury would prematurely end Gino's shining career.
As it turned out, all it really did was prevent him from playing in a then-record eleventh consecutive Pro Bowl. Gino had already been selected for the postseason classic but he had to miss the game, the only gap in a string of Pro Bowl appearances from 1955 through 1965. Marchetti enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating high school in the fall of 1944 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a machine gunner Company I, 273rd Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division.
The former defensive end had much success in business off the football field. He, along with his teammates, opened a hamburger restaurant in 1957 which later became known as Gino's Drive In. The company continued to open restaurants in the United States. By 1978, there were 359 stores. Eventually he sold his company to Marriott Corporation.
Gino's was distinguished for its philanthropic efforts, aimed at helping young people. Executives of the company supported many educational, cultural, recreational and athletic projects.