Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb was one of the reasons why the Baltimore Colts rose to prominence in the late 1950s.
While Lipscomb was a reliable defensive tackle during his three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams from 1953 to 1955, his pro football career reached unprecedented heights with the Colts from 1956 to 1960.
When Lipscomb joined Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti on the Colts’ defensive line, he earned two Pro Bowl and two First-Team All-Pro selections.
The pinnacle of Lipscomb’s NFL career coincided with the Colts winning back-to-back NFL Championship titles in 1958 and 1959.
Truly, “Big Daddy” Lipscomb set the bar high for defensive linemen in the pre-1970s era.
Eugene Allen “Gene” Lipscomb was born in Uniontown, AL on August 9, 1931.
According to Sports Illustrated’s William Mack, Lipscomb was an only child who was born to a family of Alabama cotton pickers.
Regrettably, Lipscomb never knew his dad, who got sick and eventually passed away in a federal Civilian Conservation Corps camp.
His mother, Carrie Lipscomb, took her three-year-old boy to Detroit, MI in 1934. They eventually settled on the city’s East Side.
One of Eugene’s childhood friends, Charles Bailey, recalled Carrie’s fast and tough nature when her son was growing up in the Motor City.
Eugene’s world turned upside down when he was 11 years old in 1942. His mother’s boyfriend stabbed her 47 times at a bus stop. She tragically passed away on the street.
Eugene, nicknamed “Gene,” found out about the tragedy while he was preparing breakfast. A Detroit police officer went to his house and told him the grimmest news he had ever heard up to that point in his young life.
When Lipscomb became an orphan, he moved in with Carrie’s father, Charles Hoskins.
When Lipscomb played for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers in the early 1960s, his former Baltimore Colts teammate Luke Owens had lunch with him at a downtown restaurant in the Steel City.
Lipscomb shared stories about his childhood in Detroit. He told Owens his mother’s boyfriend murdered her in cold blood in 1942.
Owens couldn’t believe what he had just heard. Lipscomb pulled out his mother’s picture from a homicide photographer and showed it to Owens. The latter thought it was Lipscomb’s idea of a joke, but he was dead serious. Owens persuaded Lipscomb to show him more football photos instead.
August 9 – #OTD in 1931, Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb was born in Detroit, MI. Lipscomb played for the @RamsNFL from 1953-55, the @Colts from 1956-60 and the @steelers from 1961-62. (Photo Credit: Pro Football Hall of Fame) @RetiredNFLers @NFLRPA @NFLPAFmrPlayers @JimIrsay pic.twitter.com/c3V0Gf6ihk
— Ken Crippen (@KenCrippen) August 9, 2021
When Lipscomb was living with his grandfather, he washed dishes at a cafe, loaded trucks, and ran errands at a junkyard. He also operated a steel mill lift from midnight until 7 a.m. before going to school. That particular job lasted for a year.
Lipscomb didn’t have the luxury of enjoying his hard-earned money. He used his salary to buy his own clothes and pay rent to Hoskins.
Eugene Lipscomb grew to 6’4″ and weighed 220 pounds by the time he was a 12-year-old sixth grader. He became the butt of jokes because of his gargantuan size—his classmates constantly made fun of his tight-fitting clothes and special classroom desk, per Mack.
Whenever Lipscomb couldn’t spell easy words such as “apple,” his classmates would call him “Dumbo.” Lipscomb flew into a rage whenever he heard similar jeers and taunts as an adult.
Lipscomb had an up-and-down relationship with his maternal grandfather. He knew Hoskins loved him. However, they never had any intimate conversations.
Whenever Lipscomb acted up, Hoskins never told him what he did wrong or corrected him. Hoskins’ way of straightening his grandson out was by whipping him. He even once tied Lipscomb to a bed, stripped him, and smacked him for stealing one of his whiskey bottles.
Eugene Lipscomb attended Sidney D. Miller High School in Detroit, MI. He was a two-sport star who excelled in basketball and football.
Lipscomb’s athletic aspirations took a turn for the worse after an opposing coach caught him suiting up for semi-pro softball and basketball teams. Consequently, Miller High management suspended Lipscomb from all sports-related activities when he was a senior.
Lipscomb’s saving grace turned out to be his head football coach, Will Robinson. The latter advised him to drop out and sign up for the Marines in 1949.
18-year-old Eugene Lipscomb had become an immovable force on the gridiron by the time he joined the United States Marines.
Days With the U.S. Marine Corps
Eugene Lipscomb served in the United States Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, CA from 1949 to 1953.
Lipscomb married his first wife Ophelia when he was just 19 years old in 1950. She was older than him by six years. They welcomed their daughter Eugenia several months later.
They separated in 1954 and eventually divorced two years afterward. Lipscomb was in his first year with the NFL’s Baltimore Colts when he got divorced.
Lipscomb’s otherworldly strength was on full display while he was at Camp Pendleton. One day, a track coach saw Lipscomb, who had an incredible seven-foot wingspan, lift a 41-pound cannon piece with the tips of his fingers. Lipscomb also won a shot put title in the camp’s Second Marine Division.
Your @RamsNFL football card of the day.
1954 Team Issue Eugene ‘Big Daddy’ Lipscomb.
Only with Rams 3 seasons then became 2x all pro with Colts. Never played college ball, going from high school to the Marines to the NFL. pic.twitter.com/tppGB9viEy
— Rams Rewind (@RewindRams) September 7, 2021
Sure enough, Lipscomb put these assets to good use when he played football at Camp Pendleton.
The camp’s official newspaper, The Pendleton Scout, hailed Eugene Lipscomb as a top-notch end and one of the fastest men on the football team.
“The Marines turned his life around,” Lipscomb’s childhood friend Charles Bailey told Mack in January 1999. “He shed all that fat and got in shape and became a real man.”
It was only a matter of time before the defensive menace known as “Big Daddy” would terrorize offenses in the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The Los Angeles Rams signed Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb as an undrafted free agent prior to the 1953 NFL season.
Rams public relations director and future NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle scouted Lipscomb at Camp Pendleton, became impressed with his upside, and eventually offered him a pro football contract.
Although Lipscomb stood 6’6″ and weighed 284 pounds when he entered the NFL in 1953, he was still a raw football player who needed to sure up the fundamentals of defensive line play.
Lipscomb’s height—standing straight at the line of scrimmage—made him easy prey to opposing offensive linemen. Detroit Lions lineman Lou Creekmur knew that Lipscomb was so big that all he had to do was get under his arms and hands and he would fall over in an instant, per Sports Illustrated.
Creekmur also loved taunting Lipscomb whenever they lined up facing each other at the line of scrimmage.
Lipscomb had already earned the nickname “Big Daddy” from his Rams teammates at that point. Creekmur called him by that moniker and wanted to see what he was made of. Creekmur got Lipscomb so riled up that he swore that Lipscomb wanted to kill him after the snap.
Lipscomb once helped foil a Chicago Bears field goal in unusual fashion. In one of Bears kicker George Blanda’s field goal attempts, Rams safety Don Burroughs sat on Lipscomb’s shoulders and successfully blocked Blanda’s field goal try.
Moments later, Burroughs was still on Lipscomb’s shoulders as the latter ran down the field. Officials ruled Burroughs’ block on Blanda’s field goal attempt illegal.
— North Dallas Forty LosAngelesRams (@MattStaffordQB1) February 26, 2022
“Big Daddy” Lipscomb suited up in Rams blue and gold from 1953 to 1955. According to Mack, those were two of the most tumultuous years in his life.
It didn’t take long for Rams fullback Dan Towler—who let Lipscomb stay in his house—to discover there were two extreme sides to the young Rams defensive lineman’s personality.
Lipscomb could be a gentle giant to his friends and teammates. However, in Mack’s words, “The other, darker Lipscomb drank to excess, partied, and gambled to all hours, and tore up hotel rooms.”
Lipscomb’s road rage went on full display when a motorist cut off the vehicle he and Rams lineman Harry Thompson were riding in. Without warning, Lipscomb stuck his torso out of the passenger’s window and thrust his fist into the other driver’s window.
Thompson stopped the bleeding by using a makeshift tourniquet from a towel he had inside his vehicle. A remorseful Lipscomb told him he never should have done what he did.
Acts like that prompted Towler to label Lipscomb a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-type of personality who had no control over his fearsome alter ego.
Towler also told Mack in 1999 that Lipscomb regarded women as objects. Sometimes, Lipscomb asked his hotel roommate, Rams running back Tank Younger, to go away while he tried to flirt with one of the hotel maids and eventually become intimate with her.
Lipscomb also hung out with the wrong crowd. Younger told Sports Illustrated that Lipscomb’s social circle included uneducated “ghetto” people he related to.
Toward the end of Lipscomb’s third season with the Rams in 1950, he married for a second time. This time around he walked Houston, TX nurse Erma Jewel down the aisle in Tijuana, Mexico.
Unfortunately, there was one problem—Lipscomb hadn’t finalized his divorce from his first wife, Ophelia. An incensed Jewel, who claimed Lipscomb physically abused her thrice, filed for an annulment. Their marriage lasted less than nine months.
It wasn’t only Lipscomb’s martial life that fizzled out. The Rams’ patience wore thin with his scandalous behavior off the gridiron.
Lipscomb habitually stayed out late and slept in the backseat of Younger’s vehicle. He frequently dozed off at team meetings due to being hungover. Rams coaches tried to rouse him from his slumber by banging on metal drawers with a film canister.
Lipscomb denied taking catnaps during team meetings after he was awakened. He even insisted he had heard everything they talked about, per Sports Illustrated.
By then, Younger told Mack that the Rams had had enough of “Big Daddy” Lipscomb. They ultimately put him on waivers in the fall of 1956.
Los Angeles averaged seven wins per season during Lipscomb’s three-season tenure from 1953 to 1956. They made the postseason once during that time frame. They lost to Otto Graham’s Cleveland Browns in the 1955 NFL Championship Game in a lopsided fashion, 38-14.
It didn’t take long for Weeb Ewbank’s Baltimore Colts to sign Lipscomb for the princely sum of $100. He would eventually spend his best days on the pro gridiron in Charm City.
Lipscomb evolved into a first-rate defensive tackle when he played for the Colts, a team that had averaged just four wins per year since entering the NFL in 1953.
Guys like Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan taught fundamentals and shared their football knowledge with the 25-year-old Lipscomb. Marchetti told Sports Illustrated in 1999 that Lipscomb learned by watching the Colts defensive linemen go to work.
Lipscomb wasn’t an ordinary defensive lineman. The 6’6″, 284-lb. big man’s speed, agility, and power turned him into a pass rusher who was well ahead of his time.
In fact, his Colts teammate, 11-time Pro Bowl defensive end Gino Marchetti, dubbed him “our fourth linebacker” during his time in Baltimore from 1956 to 1960.
Colts defensive coach Charley Winner even thought about turning Lipscomb into a linebacker. In a game against the Green Bay Packers, Lipscomb dropped off the line of scrimmage and batted down a pass intended for running back Tom Moore. In order to cover the cat-quick Moore, Lipscomb had to run 40 yards.
Winner felt like he had just seen an athletic linebacker at work. Although the thought of converting Lipscomb to linebacker crossed his mind after he thwarted that Packers’ pass play, Winner ultimately decided to stick to the status quo—Lipscomb was an irreplaceable asset on the defensive line.
Lipscomb was a sure tackler. When he got his hands on an offensive player, they couldn’t move the sticks anymore.
“One of the best tacklers there ever was,” legendary Baltimore Colts head coach Weeb Ewbank told Sports Illustrated in January 1999. “When Big Daddy wrapped up a guy with those long arms, he stayed wrapped.”
Not only that, but Lipscomb’s incredible strength also allowed him to stop the ball carrier dead in his tracks.
For instance, Philadelphia Eagles fullback Clarence Peaks once received a handoff from the quarterback and tried to bust through a gap his offensive linemen had opened.
As soon as Peaks made his move, Lipscomb stuck his arm out and knocked Peaks backward. Colts Pro Bowl wide receiver Raymond Berry couldn’t believe what he had just seen from the sidelines.
Although Lipscomb was a menace to quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive linemen, he also had a soft side. He had a reputation for helping them back on their feet after he had obliterated them mere seconds earlier.
“Are you all right, Sweet Pea?” Lipscomb once asked Rams quarterback Billy Wade after he nearly flattened him during a pile-up (via Sports Illustrated).
An exasperated Art Donovan berated Lipscomb for giving offensive linemen a helping hand. Lipscomb told Donovan he didn’t want them thinking he was a mean guy.
Offensive linemen dreaded Lipscomb whacking the sides of their helmets near their ears, per ESPN’s Hunter S. Thompson (via SlamWrestling.net).
Lipscomb’s 137 tackles led Baltimore in the 1957 NFL season. He started commanding double teams in 1958, the year when he earned the first of his three Pro Bowl and first of his two First-Team All-Pro selections.
When “Big Daddy” Lipscomb first wore the Colts horseshoe in 1956, he was also courting a woman who would become his third wife, Cecelia. Around that time, court documents (via Sports Illustrated) showed he had also reconciled with his first wife, Ophelia, on a trip to California and they soon welcomed their second child, Raymond.
Lipscomb then moved in with Ophelia for several weeks. When their divorce was finalized, he left, called Cecelia, and asked her if she would welcome him back again.
Cecelia obliged and they got married in the fall of 1957. Their marriage lasted three years. Even after divorcing Lipscomb due to his marital indiscretions, she never found out about his past issues with his ex-wives until Mack told her in 1999.
To Lipscomb’s credit, Cecelia claimed he never laid a hand on her. She also said he was a good and generous provider.
Nonetheless, Lipscomb also lent a helping hand to the needy in the streets of Baltimore. He once gave his bed to a drunk homeless man lying on the snowy streets of Charm City.
Lipscomb also loved carrying children and kids on his shoulders while walking down Baltimore’s streets. One day while Lipscomb was driving, he saw a boy running barefoot on the streets. Lipscomb pulled over and took the boy and his mother to buy clothes and shoes at a nearby store.
Colts defensive back Johnny Sample told Mack some four decades later that Lipscomb did that three or four times. Sample thought Lipscomb genuinely cared for the less fortunate.
Although “Big Daddy” Lipscomb had a genuine side, he couldn’t exorcise several demons from his life: drugs, alcohol, and women.
Geraldine Young, the wife of Colts running back Buddy Young, told Mack in 1999 that Lipscomb always saw three or four women at a time. One of Lipscomb’s flings, a Canadian singer, made it to his wake a few minutes after the funeral had already ended in 1963.
Lipscomb also lived with anxieties his teammates never knew about. He lived with Colts tackle Sherman Plunkett in a Baltimore house. Before retiring for the night, Lipscomb slid his bed against the door to make sure nobody could enter the room. He also had a gun under his pillow for good measure.
“I don’t know what the hell he was scared of,” Colts defensive lineman Art Donovan told Sports Illustrated in 1999. “But he was scared to death of something.”
There were also times when “Big Daddy” showed his vulnerable and fragile side to his Colts teammates. He once broke down and cried for no reason in the back of a taxi seated right next to his teammate, Colts running back Lenny Moore.
Another Baltimore defensive lineman, Luke Owens, saw Lipscomb staring into the distance before crying in the Colts’ locker room on several occasions.
Lipscomb’s troubles occupied his mind well into his pro football career. It wasn’t unusual for him to pace the hallways during training camp at Western Maryland College late into the night.
Baltimore defensive end Ordell Braase recalled once seeing Lipscomb pace the halls at 4 a.m. The former thought the latter’s troubled childhood had taken a massive toll on his well-being when he played in the National Football League.
Despite Lipscomb’s troubles, he helped the Baltimore Colts win back-to-back NFL Championships in 1958 and 1959.
To the shock and bewilderment of Colts fans, the team traded Lipscomb and center Buzz Nutter to the Pittsburgh Steelers for wide receiver Jimmy Orr after Baltimore finished with a mediocre 6-6 win-loss record in 1960.
Baltimore defensive coach Charley Winner told Sports Illustrated some 39 years later that Lipscomb’s off-field problems were the reason why the Colts sent him to the Steelers.
According to Mack, Lipscomb habitually failed to make child support payments when he played for the Colts. He had to moonlight as a professional wrestler in the offseason to supplement his annual $14,000 income from the NFL.
However, Lipscomb claimed that he wrestled to help keep him in football shape in the offseason.
“I am in wrestling because I think it is good for football players,” Lipscomb told journalist Earle Yetter in 1961 (via SlamWrestling.net). “If I wrestle three or four nights a week during the offseason, I will not have much trouble getting down to my proper weight for the new season.”
Favorite thing I saw this week came at the Western PA Sports Museum at the @HistoryCenter. Pair of Big Daddy Lipscomb's shoes. One of football's first big men at a listed 6'6, 300. But he was a tremendous athlete. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/UScnR5b7bn
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) February 20, 2021
When Lipscomb joined Buddy Parker’s Pittsburgh Steelers in 1961, he regularly joined his teammates for drinks at the South Park Inn. While quarterback Bobby Layne bought beer for everybody, he purchased a bottle of whiskey for Lipscomb.
Lipscomb continued his hedonistic ways in the Steel City. One day, Pittsburgh defensive back Brady Keys drove by his house to pick him up before team practice. An astonished Keys saw a hungover Lipscomb with three or four women.
Big Daddy’s Tragic and Untimely Death
Sadly, Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb died on May 10, 1963. He was 31 years old.
Lipscomb spent that fateful Thursday evening drinking and carousing with two women. He passed out in the kitchen of a Baltimore house and eventually died while in transit to the hospital inside an ambulance.
According to Mack, Lipscomb’s cause of death was a heroin overdose. Baltimore assistant medical examiner Dr. Rudiger Breitnecker determined that Lipscomb’s heroin level was enough to have killed five males.
Breitenecker also told Sports Illustrated that had Lipscomb not succumbed to heroin, he would have died of a liver ailment due to chronic alcoholism.
Lipscomb didn’t drink heavily on the night he died. An autopsy that Mack obtained showed his blood alcohol level was .09.
Big Daddy Lipscomb: "I take the shortest route to the ball carrier and arrive in ill humor."
Big Daddy passed away in Baltimore 56 years ago today from an alleged heroin overdose, though some suspect foul play. pic.twitter.com/kujh9QyVEG
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) May 10, 2019
Thousands of mourners and well-wishers attended Lipscomb’s wake in Baltimore in the spring of 1963. The turnout was so massive that the line extended more than two blocks along Madison Avenue, per Sports Illustrated.
Lipscomb’s teammate, Colts running back Lenny Moore, compared Lipscomb’s wake to that of a big-name celebrity. He had never seen anything like it during his time in Baltimore.
“It was overwhelming,” Moore told Mack in January 1999. “You’d have thought it was a big movie star in there. Or a head of state. Biggest thing I ever saw like that in this town.”
When the funeral proceedings moved to Lipscomb’s hometown of Detroit, MI, an estimated 1,000 mourners attended.
Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers Legends team—a group that represented the franchise’s best players who played before the 1970s.