Colts' Preas was a quiet catalyst of victory in '58

November 15, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

Most of the time, George Preas' methodical football effectiveness graded to such high professional proficiency that the quality of the performance simply became the expected. It was a given, a standard marked by excellence.

This was a quiet soldier on the front line of battle whose abilities were much respected. He was a winner, functioning in the almost faceless anonymity of being an offensive right tackle.

Preas, only a yard away and ready to spring out of a three-point stance, was instrumental in the 1958 world-champion Baltimore Colts prevailing in what became the game of their lives. This week, 40 years later, he'll be apart of the anniversary reunion celebration, a time of distinction and honor.

The Colts beat the New York Giants in the first overtime the NFL ever knew. Preas was the driving force, the lead blocker who created the necessary empty space for Alan "The Horse" Ameche to follow on his climactic touchdown plunge for the score that trumpeted a jubilant and historic afternoon. It was Preas who took down the Giants' end, Jim Kat- cavage, to provide the vast hole for Ameche, aided and abetted by clearing blocks from Jim Mutscheller and Lenny Moore.

What resulted was one of pro football's most celebrated events. Baltimore won in what was euphemistically referred to as "sudden death." Preas was the catalyst who made it happen as Mutscheller quickly cleared out Cliff Livingston and Moore deposited Emlen Tunnell to Yankee Stadium's rutted turf.

The play was "16 power," meaning the man designated as No. 1 in the Colts' system, the fullback, who was Ameche, hit the No. 6 hole, where right tackle Preas was in control. Mutscheller explained how it all came about, describing the way the Colts' line "blocked down" on the Giants as quarterback John Unitas let them presume they were going up the middle on the short-yardage effort.

"In the third period," Mutscheller recalled, "we had been turned back at the goal line on four downs. The Giants assumed we were going to do the same in overtime and jammed the middle. But it was off-tackle, instead. We blocked down to prevent penetration. Alex Sandusky and George Preas, on the right side, blocked to their inside, and this provided the opening for Ameche to score."

Coach Weeb Ewbank rated Preas as the league's second-best offensive tackle, meaning the only man ahead of him played on the opposite side of the same Colts' line, a college and pro football hall of famer named Jim Parker. For Preas to be so highly evaluated was rich praise.

In a subsequent year, Ewbank's successor, coach Don Shula, said Preas knew more about the technique of line play than any player in the league. Eleven years a Colt, Preas always contributed in a modest, unobtrusive way -- matching the mild, reticent manner in which he carried himself.

After Preas took off the helmet and pads, he became an exceptional success story in another field, going back to his native Roanoke, Va., where he made an imposing mark as a business leader. First, he bought a Sealtest dairy franchise. Then he built the Red Lion Inn (now affiliated with Best Western) in nearby Blacksburg, where he started 41 straight games for Virginia Tech before the Colts took him in the 1955 draft's fifth round.

The Colts of 1958 were a talented, resourceful team, with all the weapons. But when it came to picking the most effective but least publicized, Preas was the player who received the Charles P. McCormick Unsung Hero Trophy -- still one of his most prized possessions, because a vote of teammates got him the honor.

In Roanoke, the cerebral qualities of Preas took him to the pinnacle of the competitive commercial world. He created an antique English motif at the Red Lion Inn; sketched out and built an upgraded shopping plaza known as Piccadilly Square, modeled after buildings he had seen on trips to England; erected a terraced professional center for doctors and lawyers that resembled an Old World plaza, and put up the Liberty Mutual Building.

He bought real estate, developed property, sold the dairy to a conglomerate and formed a management company for his other holdings. All this from a quiet, friendly man who is part architect, builder, entrepreneur and a practical visionary -- but, true to his nature, the last to extol his accomplishments. Preas epitomizes how intelligence and hard work correlate to progress almost every time.

The highest salary he made with the Colts came in his final, 11th season of 1965, when he was paid $15,000. His wife, B.J., says his creativity reflects the wisdom of a man many of his friends fondly call "Quiet George." A son, George Jr., or "Geep," lives in Annapolis and is a USAirways pilot; a daughter, Kelly, directs a Montessori school in Oslo, Norway. George and B.J. Preas have a second home on Spa Creek in Annapolis to be near their son and the friendships forged in the Colts' glory days.

For the last nine years, Preas, now 65, has fought Parkinson's disease, a degenerative nervous-system disorder, and undergone the Pallidotomy procedure to reduce its symptoms. He takes 22 pills a day and battles the fatigue of the illness with typical resolve.

He'll be in Baltimore with wife and family for the 40th anniversary festivities. About the Colts, he says: "We proved something. The whole world didn't think we were that good, and the championship is a moment I can't forget."

George Preas, a silent type, never created even a vestige of commotion or dealt in self-aggrandizement. But he helped elevate a football team four decades ago to a classic victory and an epic experience in helping execute the play known as "16-power" with textbook precision.

That final Preas thrust determined the bottom line. Baltimore 23, New York 17. World champions.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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