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Three months shy of his 84th birthday, Gino Marchetti sees life as an all-out pass rush. Forget old age – he hurdles it as nimbly as he did all of those blockers before sacking the quarterback.
Gino Marchetti at his West Chester, Pa., home in 2003. (Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)
Marchetti walks up to three miles a day and bowls four times a week. In West Chester, Pa., where the Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer lives, they're still buzzing about the 299 game Marchetti rolled a couple of years ago, one pin shy of a perfect score.
This year, he took up painting – not with brush and palette, but with roller and paint tray. He painted the master bedroom, plus the homes of two of his seven children. Then, feeling restless, Marchetti built a cedar closet in the basement for his wife, Joan.
How long can he keep up the pace?
"As long as I'm breathing," he said. "Hell, I'll go on until I can't open my eyes any more, until I join (John) Unitas up there in the sky – I hope."
As a player, patience was not Marchetti's forte. Sundays found him prowling the Colts' dressing room, end to end, five hours before kickoff.
"I probably walked 30 miles before each game," he said.
The thought of facing "Gino The Giant" unnerved opponents too. Getting sacked by the 6-4, 245-pound Marchetti, Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne once said, was "like running into a tree trunk in the dark."
A coal miner's son, Marchetti rose to be captain of Baltimore's two-time world champions (1958-59) and one of the most feared pass rushers in NFL lore. In 1994, he was one of three defensive ends named to the league's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, alongside David (Deacon) Jones and Reggie White.
Marchetti played 12 years with the Colts and retired three times. Twice, the team persuaded him to come back. He bowed out for good in 1966 and moved to Pennsylvania to run his fast-food empire. He got rich – and very fat.
In the top photo of this scan, Gino Marchetti throws the 49ers' Y.A. Tittle for a loss. (Sun photo by Richard Stacks).
"I tried to eat and drink everything they were serving in Philadelphia," he said. A heart attack in 1981 spurred him to shed 85 pounds he'd gained since retirement.
Now 83, with six great-grandchildren, Marchetti's regimen includes brisk walks around the neighborhood.
"My wife wants me to walk with her, but she goes strolling along, looking at flowers," he said. "I tell her, 'This ain't walkin'. You've got to move."
Last summer, Marchetti began lifting weights at the local YMCA, an exercise that was frowned upon in Marchetti's day.
"Can you believe it? I never lifted in my life and now, at 83, I start this stuff," he said.
He tried golf once but gave it up.
"Once, in the 1950s, (teammates) Don Shula and Bill Pellington took me out to play golf for the first time," Marchetti said. "The first ball I hit must have gone 300 yards, straight as an arrow, and almost hit the green. But it took 10 putts to get it in.
"I never played much after that."
Bowling is more the style of the blue-collar Colt born in West Virginia. He carries a 175 average in his seniors league in Downingtown, where he flirted with that perfect game.
Marchetti rolled eight straight strikes before he sensed a hush in the house.
"I looked around and thought, 'Godalmighty, the whole bowling alley is watching me,' " he said. "My last ball hit the 1-3 pocket, a good hit, but when the 5-pin stayed up, I heard this big 'Awwwww.' "
Marchetti shrugged, as if he'd missed making a sack by a whisker.
2003 Sun photo by Lloyd Fox