INDIANAPOLIS – Don Joyce was a stout defensive presence on outstanding Colts teams from 1954-60, playing on the line of units that featured some of the greatest talents in franchise history.
Joyce, a Colts defensive end from 1954-60, passed away on Sunday at the age of 82.
Joyce was a linemate of noteworthy performers like Gino Marchetti, Art Donovan and Gene Lipscomb, and he helped form one of the most stellar defenses of that particular NFL era.
Joyce, 6-3, 253, played collegiately at Tulane and with the Chicago Cardinals (1951-53) prior to joining the Colts. With the club in Baltimore, Joyce appeared in 81 regular-season games and his post-season appearances were in two of the most memorable games in club history.
Joyce started in the 1958 and 1959 NFL Championship games, both won by the Colts over the New York Giants. The Colts triumphed on December 28, 1958 over the Giants in overtime, 23-17, then took a second straight title the next year in Baltimore on December 27, 31-16.
Wide receiver Raymond Berry was a key figure on an offense that got a great deal of national headlines, but he knew how important the defense was to the club's success. Berry also gave a nod to how Joyce will be remembered by long-time Colts followers.
"I know he would be remembered well in Baltimore. He was such a popular player, very well known," said Berry. "He was a big part of our defense. In our championship years, the offensive players were aware that there was so much talk about our offense, but we knew the defense was always going to get us the ball. If we didn't get any first downs or scores, we knew the defense would get the ball back to us. Our defense was the backbone of our team. That's what we all knew. Don was one of our toughest guys."
Joyce was known throughout the league for his strength. He was a force with which opponents had a difficult time facing.
"He was one of the real laid-back types, except when he got on the football field," said Berry. "He was one of the toughest players that we had on our team. His size and strength was an unusual combination. He was very strong. He had a reputation for being the type that you could not block him or move him, you had to maneuver around him. You were not going to be running over him."
Joyce played alongside teammates who were multiple Pro Bowl selections (Marchetti and Donovan). Joyce made a Pro Bowl in 1958, joining Marchetti and Lispcomb as being voted into the game. The Colts did not have another pair of defensive ends voted into the Pro Bowl for another 51 years.
Berry remembers Joyce being a little quieter in nature off the field than on it, but he was one whom Colts players enjoyed.
"As a teammate, he really was more of an introvert," said Berry. "He was a team player. The guys on the team just loved Don Joyce. He was one of the most popular guys we had. He was the type of person teammates gravitated toward.
"When you look at those Colts teams, we had such a great camaraderie. It was people like Don who were just great team players (that made it that way). Guys were not selfish. They wanted to play football and play the best they could. Guys liked each other, and it was a great atmosphere for us all to experience pro football."
Joyce worked for the Colts for seven seasons as an area scout, leaving the team after the 1995 season. Former Colts assistant general manager Bob Terpening respected Joyce's efforts.
"Don was a good man who was a very intense competitor," said Terpening. "I don't think any opponent enjoyed facing him because he was so tough. Don fit the criteria as a lineman, and he had good strength. As a scout, he did complete and thorough work. I thought he had a good eye for talent, and he was a very good evaluator."
Dick Szymanski played on the Colts line from 1955 through 1968 before settling into the team's front office. Szymanski remembers joining a potent Colts defense when he came out of Notre Dame.
"Don was a tough player. They told me when he played high school football in Steubenville (Ohio), he was an all-state quarterback," said Szymanski. "The defensive line when I broke in in 1955 was the best defensive line in professional football. It was Tom Finnin, Art Donovan, Joe Campanella, Gino Marchetti and Don. It was a tough line that played within the rules. If you got rough with those guys, they made sure you paid the price. Two of those guys, Donovan and Marchetti, are Hall-of-Famers, but they all were tough players. To win championships, you have to have defense. It was a good defense that went with a good offense."
Bill Tobin was the club's vice president of football operations when Joyce was an area scout. Tobin remembers Joyce's contributions.
"Don was a real giant in the NFL in more ways than one," said Tobin. "He had a great personality and a great talent for finding players as a scout. I came into the league in 1971, and Don already was scouting with Minnesota. I first got acquainted with him when he was a BLESTO regional scout and I was with Chicago in 1975. He later became the national scout for BLESTO and did a great job. He picked out the best of the best. He had a knack for scouting. He didn't overwhelm you with his opinion, but you sure knew where he stood.
"When I got to Indianapolis in 1994, he was with the Colts. It was very comforting that he was in the organization. It was a big thrill to him that he played for the Colts then was able to work with the Colts. It was comforting to have him in the draft room on draft day. He could identify players, and he was a great person."
Tobin echoed Berry's opinion that Joyce was much different off the field than he was on it.
"He very much was a gentleman off the field," said Tobin. "You hear stories about him as a player, how determined and how vicious he was. As an individual off the field, he was very warm, very gracious, made great appearances on college campuses when he was scouting. I enjoyed knowing him for years. There are a lot of stories about Don, many of them about food. He was a great eater. He knew where all the best volume restaurants were, I'll put it that way."