At heart, he'll always be a big Baltimore kid

Pivec: Once a feisty city youth, the ex-NFL player and entrepreneur has grown into a true east-side success story.

February 09, 2004|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

The word went out that night on the streets of Highlandtown. There was fighting to do against a rival gang in Hamilton, and Dave Pivec's crew, the Falcons, in their turquoise jackets, suited up for battle.

Like blue-collar gladiators, they were armed with chains, trash can lids and fists, and with attitudes shaped by growing up in the neighborhoods of breweries, steel mills and shipyards. The year was 1955. Pivec was 12.

"It was something out of West Side Story, the other gang silhouetted atop a hill," Pivec remembers. "I was the youngest but they took me along because of my size. Well, we did battle and finally went home and all I could think about, be afraid about, was that I had missed my 11 o'clock curfew by a half an hour. My father would kill me.

"Some tough guy I was," he says with a half-smile.

Now -- after clawing his way up from his rugged East Baltimore youth to a Notre Dame football scholarship, to the National Football League and, finally, to millionaire businessman -- Pivec describes the night of the gang fight as his life's great turning point.

"I could have gone the other way, a bad way," he says, "but my instincts, my family and my ambitions took over."

Today, at 61, Pivec enjoys a comfortable life, head of a commercial enterprise that includes an advertising agency with the book for 136 Toyota dealerships, a Timonium restaurant and the sports bar next door. He is the principal owner of the Baltimore Bayhawks pro lacrosse team. He also owns a firm that designs Web sites, has a small limousine service and soon will open a deluxe car wash.

And, quietly, he contributes in a big way to a national program that helps abused and neglected children and to a local youth sports club.

Pivec remains a physically imposing man. But he is easygoing with the friends and the backslapping strangers at his bar. During football season, announcer Tom Matte hosts a show from Piv's Pub, with Ravens players as guests. During basketball season, University of Maryland fans flock to the bar for Gary Williams' radio show.

"This new generation of kids see someone who played in the NFL, but I pride myself on the measure of success I've had with my children, my close friends, helping others," Pivec says.

This part of the Pivec persona is rooted in his formative days of city life and sports, when racial and class discrimination were commonplace. He says he never wants to forget growing up one of seven siblings in that small rowhouse at 447 N. Luzerne Ave., the son of a father who toiled as a plumber and a devoted mother who wanted better lives for her children.

By age 8, Dave Pivec was becoming a giant among boys. He was so large that he played on the age 10-12 football team of the old Red Shield Boys Club on Clinton Street. And he excelled.

"Even as a kid, Dave was incredibly strong and gifted," said Ted Venetoulis, a teen leader at Red Shield and coach of the 10-12 team who became Baltimore County executive.

At nearby Lakewood Elementary School, Pivec and his friends played basketball, stick ball, curb ball night and day -- anything competitive, any link to the fantasyland of sport and more distance from the Falcons gang. From his freshman year at the old Patterson Park High School in Highlandtown, he played on the varsity football, basketball and baseball teams. Football coach Irv Biasi pushed Pivec and his teammates.

"He pretty much would not let us quit, drummed it into us that we only got what you deserved and that you earned your way to the top," Pivec said. "It make me develop this tremendous fear of failure, one that I still have."

When Pivec graduated in 1961 from the new Patterson High School on Kane Street, the yearbook was full of white faces. But through sports, Pivec had developed friendships with black athletes across the city.

One of them was Dunbar High School's Charlie Leach, a guard with a jump shot softer than cotton.

"Pivec was tough. We both had coaches who reflected strong discipline," said Leach. "Bill `Sugar' Cain was my coach, and he didn't put up with any foolishness from us either. That was Baltimore then, the times."

Maceo Dailey, now director of African-American Studies at the University of Texas -- El Paso, remembers Pivec for his athletic skills, but more so for an "eminent sense of fairness." Dailey, of Forest Park High School, and Pivec shared first team All-Maryland Scholastic Association honors in the early 1960s.

One night, Pivec drove to Delaware to watch Dailey's Baltimore Junior College team play. The team from Baltimore, especially the black players like Dailey, were subjected to ugly harassment from the bleachers.

"Dave came out of the stands and challenged all the hecklers to stop their behavior or fight him," Dailey said. "I admired him a great deal for that act of bravado. It was mind-boggling. There were 30 or 40 of them."

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