Proud Of Protecting Johnny U.

The Toy Department Catching Up With ... Ex-colt Alex Sandusky

November 12, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

He is 77, the last surviving offensive lineman from the Baltimore Colts' halcyon days of the 1950s. Half a century ago, guard Alex Sandusky made a living carving out daylight for runners named Lenny and L.G. and The Horse, and rebuffing assaults on a slope-shouldered young quarterback who had won the hearts of Colts fans.

It was Sandusky's job to safeguard John Unitas, which he did for more than a decade.

"You took pride in protecting John. Everyone was focused on that," said Sandusky, a Colt from 1954 through 1966. "Unitas was our bread and butter. When he called plays in the huddle, it was like a priest talking in church."

And woe to the lineman who missed a crucial block during the game.

"It was almost a mortal sin to get beat by your man, if he then got to John," Sandusky said.

"I remember several games when [Unitas] played hurt and we made sure that he never got his knees dirty. We took immense pride in that."

Crew-cut and rock-ribbed, Sandusky played 13 years in Baltimore, during which he missed one game because of injury. In 1962, he suffered two busted shoulders but kept on playing.

"I didn't learn they'd been broken until after I retired," said Sandusky, who was an All-Pro.

He quit in 1965 but was asked back by owner Carroll Rosenbloom, who loved Sandusky's work ethic. Colts opponents said they would rather he had stayed home.

"Sandusky gives me more trouble than any other guard in the league," groused Alex Karras, the Detroit Lions' All-Pro tackle. "He's short and quick, and he has great agility."

Sandusky's secret?

"Balance, technique and a little holding when the ref's not looking," he said.

That, and the fact that he bashed heads daily with two future Hall of Famers on defense.

"Practice regularly against Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti and you either learn how to do it or you get killed," he said.

After football, Sandusky - an avid fisherman - became director of waterway improvement for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. For 24 years, he helped build launching ramps and marinas throughout the state.

Sandusky now lives in Key West, Fla., in a home overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. He has a wife of 55 years, four children, five grandchildren and a 26-foot fishing boat in the canal behind the house.

It's hardly the rigorous lifestyle that greeted him on his arrival at training camp in Westminster in 1954.

"We were packed, six to a room, in the hot attic of a dorm," said Sandusky, a 16th-round draft pick from Clarion State (Pa.) Teachers College.

"There were no air conditioners or fans. We slept on Army cots with Army blankets. And practice was so tough, you thought you were training for the Marine Corps.

"But you know what? I wouldn't change a thing. Going to the pros and having the career I had in a town where a horse ran around on the field and the fans were the best - it's like winning the lottery."

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