Tackle who made daylight in '58

Unsung Colts lineman threw winning block in `Greatest Game Ever Played'

George Preas 1933-2007

February 27, 2007|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun Reporter

Preas, a lineman, helped blaze that trail — In a photo capturing the most famous moment of George Preas' football career, he's not even there. The picture, from 1958, shows Colts fullback Alan Ameche blasting through a hole for the winning touchdown in Baltimore's 23-17 sudden-death NFL championship victory.

Preas, a lineman, helped blaze that trail - though he's missing from the famous photo, having already done the work.

"That picture sums up George," teammate Alex Sandusky said. "He did a hell of a job for years and nobody knew it, except for the guys who played with him."

Preas, who spent his entire 11-year pro career with the Colts, died Saturday of complications from Parkinson's disease at a nursing home in his native Roanoke, Va. He was 73.

Quiet, intelligent and modest - teammates called him "George Priest" - he seldom got his due as the club's "other" tackle, opposite All-Pro Jim Parker.

"He [Preas] was the most underrated of our offensive linemen, but thank God for him," said Lenny Moore, the Colts' Hall of Fame running back. "I fed off of George and congratulated him whenever I scored a touchdown on [the right] side.

"He was a blessing to me."

A graduate of Virginia Tech, Preas was the team's fifth-round selection in the 1955 draft. He established himself quickly as a starter, though his 6-foot-2, 240-pound frame led the Colts to continually try to find someone bigger for the job.

"They were always looking to replace him," said Dick Szymanski, a center-linebacker who played with Preas for 10 years. "George wasn't as devastating a hitter as other linemen, but it makes no difference if you knock [a defender] on his butt or just move him out of the hole.

"The thing about George was that you could always count on him to not blow an assignment."

Or miss a game. In college, Preas set a Southern Conference record by playing in 40 consecutive games.

Even then, he was "a quiet guy who did his job and kept his mouth shut," said Buzz Nutter, a Colts center who played with Preas at Virginia Tech.

Stoic? With the Colts in 1957, Preas played against the San Francisco 49ers with a fever of 103, finally leaving at the two-minute mark - with torn knee ligaments.

"He's got more guts than is good for him," Colts coach Weeb Ewbank once said.

Preas earned two championship rings, helping the Colts to NFL titles in 1958 and '59. In the former, his block on New York Giants end Jim Katcavage helped spring Ameche for the winning score in what is known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

Afterward, the club presented Preas with its Unsung Hero award, an accolade he cherished to the end.

"He was a very sharp guy," said Jim Mutscheller, the Colts' tight end who played beside him for seven years. "He and I and our wives used to play bridge together in the evenings. George was good."

Sandusky, an All-Pro guard who also anchored the right side of the Colts' line, recalled Preas' painstaking preparation for a game.

"In team meetings, we had to take notes, and George's notebook was a masterpiece," Sandusky said. "I marveled at his handwriting. If they gave prizes for neatness, penmanship and organization, he'd have won, hands down."

In 1962, Preas lost his starting role to a bigger, younger tackle named Tom Gilburg. Nonplussed, Preas put on 10 pounds, muscled up and regained his job by midyear.

"George will get his man even if he has to bite him," Ewbank said.

Preas retired in 1965 and returned to his native Roanoke to run the Sealtest Milk franchise he had bought earlier. He also developed real estate and built a motor lodge in nearby Blacksburg, home to Virginia Tech.

In 1989, doctors diagnosed Parkinson's disease, a progressive brain disorder that causes a shuffling gait, trembling hands and impaired balance. There is no cure.

Preas is survived by his wife of 53 years, Betty Joyce; a son, George Jr., of Annapolis; and a daughter, Kelly, of Oslo, Norway.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Evergreen Burial Park in Roanoke, followed at 11 a.m. by a memorial service at Second Presbyterian Church.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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