Catching up with former Baltimore Colts defensive end Ordell Braase

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He's 80 now, and slightly bent, as if preparing to set in a three-point stance. Three hip replacements, plus a new knee, will do that to a man.

Not that Ordell Braase is complaining.

"Physically, I'm in pretty good shape," said Braase, longtime defensive end for the Baltimore Colts. "Mentally? Well . . . it's getting a little cramped up there."

The years haven't fogged his recollections of the 1968 NFL championship, a 34-0 shutout before a crowd of 80,628 in Cleveland. Braase did his part, plowing through the Browns to register three sacks and stop Leroy Kelly, their storied running back, in his tracks. Kelly, from Morgan State, gained just 28 yards in the title game. It was the fourth shutout that year for the Colts, whose 144 points allowed had set an NFL record.

Not that Braase is bragging.

"Sometimes, you get too much credit," the two-time Pro Bowl player said of his play that day. "For some reason, the way Cleveland's defense was set up, I had little opposition. I had a clear shot at their quarterback (Bill Nelsen) on almost every play.

"As the game went on, I thought, 'Hey, this is all right. I wish I could do this every Sunday.' "

The victory avenged both Baltimore's earlier 30-20 loss to the Browns, the only blemish on their 13-1 season, and the 1964 championship, a 27-0 Cleveland upset. The win also sent the Colts, clear favorites, into Super Bowl III.

"That game was not so happy," Braase said of the 16-7 loss to the New York Jets. "It just shows that you can't rubber stamp these games; every one of them is up for grabs."

A 12-year veteran, Braase retired soon after — one of only three Colts, along with quarterback Johnny Unitas and linebacker Don Shinnick, to have played in the club's first three NFL championships (1958 and 1959 were the others).

"I'd like to have gone out a winner, but when your time comes, you recognize it and there's no sense hanging around," said Braase, a 14th round draft pick from South Dakota who broke in with the Colts in 1957.

"I still run into people who ask, 'How in the world could they ever have drafted someone from South Dakota back then?' I can't answer that. I just know I'm very thankful for those 12 years in Baltimore."

Much of his career, Braase was the Colts' "other" defensive end, overshadowed by his mentor, Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti. Not until Marchetti retired did Braase earn All-Pro honors, in 1966 and 1967.

No matter, he said.

"Gino was my hero, the greatest defensive end who ever played," Braase said. "He amazed me. From him, I learned that if you want to stay around, you darn well better get in the passer's face. Otherwise, it doesn't take too much of a quarterback to move the ball downfield."

For three years, Braase also served as head of the NFL Players Association, the third president of the then-fledgling organization, from 1964 to 1967.

"We made some inroads, but nothing really significant like today," he said. "Back then, (Commissioner) Pete Rozelle didn't give a damn what happened to retirees."

Braase hung around. He opened a restaurant in Timonium, The Flaming Pit, from which he and Colts' Hall of Famer Art Donovan broadcast a popular game-day radio show, "Braase, Donovan and Fans." On the air, Braase played straight man to Donovan's comic story-telling.

"Good gracious, you don't go head-to-head with Artie," he said. "I'd throw him a line and let him run with it. We didn't need dialogue; Artie had his own."

Nowadays, Braase spends his summers in Towson and winters in Bradenton, Fla. His wife, Janice, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in 1997.

"I walk 45 minutes a day, try to stay out of trouble and make sure no one runs me over at street crossings," he said.

He still wears the gold watch that Colts players received for defeating Cleveland in the 1968 title game. The timepiece is inscribed with Braase's initials and his jersey number (81).

"The watch works fine," he said. "It's one of those that, when you move, it winds itself. So I better keep moving."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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