Pellington was intense warrior who paid his dues

April 27, 1994|By John Steadman

If a sculptor wanted to mold the face and physique of a football player, the perfect working model was Bill Pellington, who spent 12 impact years with the Baltimore Colts and distinguished himself with an intensity that earned respect and created intimidation.

Pellington epitomized the individual toughness the game demands -- not the cheers, the adulation and the so-called glamour, or taking bows.

The respect he gained came from more than his looks, the deep-set eyes, strongly structured jaw and thick neck fastened to a 6-foot-2, 238-pound frame that made him a force who quickly gained the attention of rival teams.

His death at age 66 came after almost five years of being a victim of Alzheimer's, a disease that had his wife, Mickey, two sons and a daughter caring at all times for his presence and welfare.

Pellington was a defensive captain of the Colts, a true warrior of the team's glorious past. When the ball was snapped, Pellington reacted with demonstrative zeal, either blitzing rival quarterbacks, punishing would-be receivers, filling the hole when the linemen in front of him were blocked or pursuing ball carriers to all sides of the field.

Football represented such a craving he was the only player in the 35-year history of the franchise who hitch-hiked to training camp, from his home in Ramsey, N.J., to the Colts' facility at Western Maryland College in 1953. Yes, the game meant that much to him.

"I'll never forget our first training camp," he was to say later. "It was a brutally hot summer. Most of the free agents were assigned rooms on the third floor of the college dormitory. There was no air conditioning. The slate roof overhead held the heat, even at night. All we could do was take cold showers, get in bed and hope sleep would overtake us."

Subsequently, every player on the entire floor was released until only Pellington remained. It was lonesome. Would he be next on the cut list? He had no one to talk to, unless it was the four walls, but they never answered back.

That's when he dropped down a flight and came in close touch with such veterans as Don Shula, Bert Rechichar, Tom Keane, Ray Pelfrey and Carl Taseff.

On a Saturday afternoon, the players got their first furlough from camp. They had two hours of leave-time. Pellington was thirsting for a glass of beer. He found a tavern near the railroad tracks, just off Main Street in Westminster.

"I had two or three drafts and when I came out of the place, guess what? As soon as I shut the door and hit the street I ran into two assistant coaches, Nick Wasylik and Ray Richards. They were walking by. I figured they'd go back to camp and put me on waivers."

But no. The coaches, especially Wasylik, recognized the raw talent Pellington represented. Two years later, Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, of the Los Angeles Rams, came to Baltimore to promote a movie and his conversation focused on Pellington.

"The first time I played against him, I thought he was a 'lamb,' " said Hirsch. "But then last year, he hit me with everything but a baseball bat as I came off the scrimmage line. He became a 'tiger' in one season. How could that have happened?"

After World War II and service in Panama, Pellington returned to civilian life and was waiting to enter Defiance College. His high school basketball coach, who had taken a job at Billings (Mont.) Polytechnic Institute, came east with a team comprised almost entirely of American Indians.

However, several of them were partaking of too much firewater. The coach recruited Pellington, John Ryan and Joseph Mullooly, gave them phony Indian names and let them play against Hofstra.

"Mullooly had too much of an Irish face to be an Indian but they called him 'Three Irons' and it was a riot," remembered Bill. "The team had a bear cub mascot that liked to eat basketballs, clawing the leather until the ball exploded. The coach, a great guy named George Fielding, got fired when he got back to Billings. The school president realized he used players who weren't even enrolled."

A void in Pellington's 12 years with the Colts is that he never once made the All-Pro team, even though worthy of the honor. He was, in the main, an outside linebacker, and middle linebackers such as Ray Nitschke, Bill George, Chuck Bednarik, Sam Huff and Joe Schmidt were usually picked -- which was grossly unfair.

But Bill Pellington never complained. He was a football player, never interested in personal promotion or self-aggrandizement.

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