Between 2000 and 2012, the Baltimore Ravens won two Super Bowls on the strength of their defense.
Of course, Baltimore had great defenses and defenders well before the franchise became the Ravens.
Back when they were the Colts, Baltimore appeared in several championship games partly due to their menacing defensive players.
The roster in those days included names like Art Donovan, Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, Johnny Sample, and Gino Marchetti.
RIP Baltimore Colts great Gino Marchetti…Battle of the Bulge veteran…9-time All-Pro…NFL Champion…Hall of Famer…golden man of a golden age. pic.twitter.com/pyrCzFh4vF
— Russian Defense Policy (@russiandefpolic) April 30, 2019
For players like Marchetti, battling in the trenches was nothing new.
Before he played pro football, Marchetti fought in World War II and took part in the Battle of the Bulge while surviving in actual trenches.
Marchetti’s service to his country and to the Baltimore franchise paved the way for great accomplishments and accolades in his life.
This is the story of Gino Marchetti.
Late Start in Sports
Gino John Marchetti was born on January 2, 1927, in Smithers, West Virginia.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 2, 2015
Shortly after he was born, the Marchetti family moved to the other side of the country and settled in Antioch, California.
Unlike many pro athletes, Marchetti didn’t really have much interest in sports while growing up.
In fact, he didn’t play football until he was a student at Antioch High School.
While playing for the Panthers and head coach Jack Danilovich, Marchetti became the team’s MVP as a senior.
After he graduated in the spring of 1944, Marchetti could have pursued a college playing career.
However, World War II was still being fought and he wanted to do his part.
“Because the war was coming to an end, I could have probably stayed home, graduated [from high school] and never had to go,” remarked Marchetti years later. “But it was the best thing I ever did. It gave me the discipline that I needed in my life.”
With his mind made up, Marchetti joined the U.S. Army and made his way overseas.
Marchetti Experiences War at the Battle of the Bulge
After he finished basic training, Marchetti was shipped to Europe and was involved in one of Nazi Germany’s last attempts to turn the tide of the war.
His unit, Company I, 273rd Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division, was part of the American forces that took part in the Battle of the Bulge.
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) November 11, 2022
Located in the Ardennes forests between Luxembourg and Belgium, the battle took place for five weeks and resulted in mass casualties.
Marchetti’s initial recollections of entering the fray were that it was business as usual.
“When you’re in the Army marching to the front lines or wherever you are going, you never paid much attention to where you were at, or the name of the town,” he said in 2009. “It’s almost like I was sleepwalking for a year over there.”
In fact, Marchetti and his unit were so sleep-deprived that they found rest wherever they could.
“The first time I saw snow, I slept in it,” he said.
For a good portion of the battle, Marchetti was by the Siegfried Line located on the border of Germany.
German troops captured during the Battle of Medell, Belgium by the 82nd Airborne Division in the waning days of the Battle of the Bulge, Jan 29, 1945. The 82nd attacked the town with supporting armor and captured hundreds of exhausted German troops after a sharp fight. pic.twitter.com/d4v5B7ExrX
— John R Bruning (@JohnRBruning) February 11, 2023
One night, Marchetti and a buddy were on guard duty and decided to make a game of the shells sailing over their heads.
“We were having a good time,” Marchetti recalled. “You hear these shells go over and you can tell how far they’re going by the sound of the wind behind them. And we’d sit there and say, ‘That one’s way over there.’”
In fact, at one point, they could have been relieved by two other soldiers, but Marchetti and his friend were enjoying themselves too much and declined.
Only minutes later, the shelling got closer and the duo feared for their lives.
The danger was so close that Marchetti made himself a promise that day.
“If I ever get home, I’m going to live a different life.”
They called back to the soldiers and took them up on their offer to relieve them of their post.
Returning from War
While stationed in Europe, Marchetti witnessed death first-hand and some of the friends he made in the service didn’t return home.
When the war ended and Marchetti returned to the States, he was overwhelmed by the sight of the Statue of Liberty when his ship pulled into New York City harbor.
“You’re so happy to see New York City again, because when you got on the boat initially, you never really thought you’d get back,” recalled Marchetti. “When you did, you considered yourself one of the lucky ones.”
After returning to the Bay Area, Marchetti played one season of football at Modesto Junior College and then quit to work in his family’s bar.
Football remained in Marchetti’s blood, and when he wasn’t tending bar, he helped form the Antioch Hornets, a semi-pro ball team.
USF Comes Calling
Marchetti was at work one day when an assistant coach from the University of San Francisco walked in and asked for Marchetti.
Gino said, “That’s me,” and quickly dabbed out his cigarette.
The coach, USF Dons’ assistant Brad Lynn, asked the hulking Marchetti if he wanted to try out for the USF team.
Marchetti agreed and enrolled at the school.
When he arrived, Marchetti didn’t make the best first impression on Dons’ coach Joe Kuharich.
“I roared up on a big motorcycle, wearing heavy boots and a black leather jacket with fifteen zippers.”
When practice began in the stifling summer heat, Marchetti wanted to quit.
30. Gino Marchetti, defensive end – Texans (1952,) Colts (1953-1966.) San Francisco. pic.twitter.com/DsFxrOJ8Ai
— Hansen Hillmer (@HansenThrillmer) June 13, 2015
However, he had been through much worse in Europe, and quitting wasn’t in his blood.
“Those were two of the worst months of my life,” wrote Marchetti. “It was 113 degrees, and I kept saying, ‘I don’t need this.’ I was on the verge of quitting, but I didn’t—and as I look back on it, it was because of the training I received in the Army.”
Although the USF practices were brutal, Marchetti stuck it out and made the team.
He would soon find out his life was about to change.
The Dons Go Undefeated
While practicing that first season, Marchetti realized he was playing alongside some of the best athletes in college football.
He started three years for USF and developed into a nearly unstoppable force on both sides of the ball.
Marchetti’s development came at just the right time for both him and the program.
In 1951, the Dons included future NFL players Red Stephens, Bob St. Clair, Ollie Matson, and Burt Toler (who became an NFL referee).
This Month In History: May 9, 1928: Burl Toler was born in Memphis. The first African-American official in any major sport in the U.S., he defeated prejudice at each turn. In 1951, he starred for the legendary University of San Francisco Dons. pic.twitter.com/sS2w4RaGF3
— Fannie Lou Hamer's America (@FLHAmerica) May 13, 2018
After the first four games alone, USF was 4-0 and had outscored their opponents by a combined 135-16.
Marchetti was 6’4” and 240 pounds and Kuharich played him at defensive tackle.
As a captain for the team, Marchetti feasted on opposing quarterbacks and became an All-Coast and All-Catholic selection.
USF ended the ‘51 season with a perfect 9-0 record, blowing out all their opponents except one.
Remembering: 1951 San Francisco Dons. The Dons, 9-0, were led by the nation's leading rusher & scorer Ollie Matson (Photo). SF refused to accept the 1952 Orange Bowl bid because 2 African-American players were not invited. #CollegeFootball @elevenbravo138 @InsideHBCUFball pic.twitter.com/MYAzOiRt1J
— History of College Football (@HistColFootball) January 13, 2023
The Orange Bowl wanted to invite the Dons to play in their postseason game, but there was one condition.
Since USF was integrated, they would have to leave their Black players behind.
As a team captain, Marchetti spoke up.
“Forget it,” said Marchetti.
The decision was unanimous and the entire team decided to stay home.
From then on, the 1951 Dons called themselves “the Undefeated, Untied and Uninvited.”
Marchetti is Drafted by New York
Marchetti’s rise to prominence in pro football began with a mini odyssey.
With the 14th overall selection in the second round of the 1952 NFL Draft, the New York Yankees football team took Marchetti.
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) April 29, 2016
Before he could put on a New York uniform, the franchise relocated to Dallas and was named the Dallas Texans.
The Texans weren’t very good, even with Marchetti man-handling blockers, and finished the 1952 season with a 1-11 record.
After the season, the franchise folded and was bought by a group of owners in Baltimore and renamed the Colts.
Marchetti was moved to offensive tackle during Baltimore’s 3-9 inaugural season in 1953 and played so well that he was voted to the first 11 Pro Bowls.
Weeb Eubank took over as the Colts’ head coach in 1954 and had a better idea of where Marchetti should play.
“I think your future is as a defensive end,” Eubank said.
Marchetti was well-suited for intimidating opposing ball carriers and he put everything he had into the position.
In fact, believing that defensive linemen should be heavier than his 240 pounds, Marchetti would slip lead into his shorts before weigh-ins so he would appear heavier.
Happy birthday to Gino Marchetti, who would have turned 93 today if we hadn't lost him last year. He's the only player Jim Parker, a unanimous OT selection on the #NFL100 All-Time Team, couldn't block. pic.twitter.com/j96g0VXmyX
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) January 2, 2020
The Colts posted another 3-9 record in 1954 and then won five games each in 1955 and 1956.
Baltimore’s losing records hid the fact that the organization was building a good ball club.
Fullback Alan Ameche was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1955 and halfback/receiver Lenny Moore was the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1956.
When the 1957 season ended, the Colts were improving in all areas and won seven games.
Marchetti had been a first or second-team All-Pro for three years straight and was also selected to his third Pro Bowl.
“The Greatest Game Ever Played”
Coach Eubank had his players ready to become one of the premier teams in the NFL in 1958.
On offense, the Colts had the league’s number-one offense that averaged 31.8 points per game.
Quarterback Johnny Unitas led the group and he had weapons such as Moore, Ameche, receiver Ray Berry, and tight end Jim Mutscheller while Jim Parker and Fuzzy Thurston cleared lanes up front.
Weeb Ewbank having a laugh with Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb & Gino Marchetti. @Colts @ProFootballHOF @Super70sSports @Ol_TimeFootball @NFL_Journal @nflnetwork @BaxFootballGuru pic.twitter.com/b8IDqnAz9k
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) October 14, 2019
Baltimore began the season 9-1 before finishing out the year with two straight losses.
Then, for the first time in franchise history, the Colts went to the NFL Championship game where they faced the New York Giants.
Although Baltimore led 14-3 at halftime, the Giants came back and were ahead, 17-14, with under three minutes remaining.
Marchetti’s Game-Saving Tackle
New York had the ball and was driving with the hope of chewing up yardage and running out the clock.
Giants running back Frank Gifford took a handoff on third and four and looked like he was going to get a first down.
That’s when Marchetti intervened.
“Frank Gifford carried the ball, and I made the tackle,” recalled Marchetti. “As I made the tackle, Big Daddy, he dived on, and somehow my leg got twisted and he broke it. But he didn’t get the first down.”
Marchetti had broken his ankle and was finished for the day. However, his tackle saved the game as Gifford came up a yard short.
After several men helped carry Marchetti off the field, he waved off team doctors so he could watch the last few minutes on the sideline.
Gino Marchetti, a total bad-ass. Breaks his leg in the 1958 Championship Game, refuses to go to the locker room, so they laid him out on a stretcher in the mud, threw a coat and blanket over him and he laid on the sideline to watch the rest of the game. #NFL #badass #Colts pic.twitter.com/cF5SyrpXEj
— Dean Ruffner (@deanruffner) November 30, 2018
Unitas worked his magic and drove Baltimore down the field and they kicked a field goal to tie the game at 17-all at the end of regulation.
NFL rules at the time stated that a tie game would simply end in a tie.
Since this was the title game, the contest went into overtime for the first time in NFL postseason history.
At that point, to be on the safe side, Marchetti was taken into the locker room where he waited in silence to learn the outcome of the game.
What he didn’t see was Baltimore bully the Giants down to the New York one-yard line where Ameche punched it in for the game-winning touchdown with 6:45 remaining.
° 1958 NFL CHAMPIONSHIP °
~ "The Greatest Game Ever Played" ~
The NFL comes of age, thrust into the national spotlight as Johnny Unitas leads the #Baltimore Colts over the #Giants in the Yankee Stadium gloaming, 23-17 — the NFL's first "sudden-death" overtime game. pic.twitter.com/3w5yygiar7
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) December 28, 2022
After several agonizing minutes, Marchetti finally found out what happened.
“I was stretched out on the table when I heard the guys coming in,” Marchetti recalled. “I could tell they won, they were all whooping it up. Right then, that ankle stopped hurting!”
Baltimore Wins Again
There were several people inside and outside of the Colts organization that believed Marchetti’s injury meant the end of his career.
Instead, after multiple operations, he was back in time for the 1959 season and logged the first and only interception of his career.
Marchetti, by now considered the best defensive end in the game, was so adept at rushing the quarterback and stopping the run that he frequently battled two or three blockers at a time.
Of course, that meant that Donovan, Lipscomb, or one of his other teammates were free to terrorize the ball carrier.
Baltimore returned to face the Giants in the NFL Championship game after another 9-3 season in ‘59.
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) December 19, 2017
Both teams bruised and battered each other, and by the end of the third quarter, New York led 9-7.
Then, the fourth quarter began and the Colts ran away with it, outscoring the Giants 24-7 to win their second straight title, 31-16.
Although the NFL didn’t keep track of sacks until 1982, a recent effort by pro football researchers has unofficially awarded sacks to former players going back to 1960.
The research shows that Marchetti was a signal-callers worst nightmare, even though he was a decade into his career.
Lions QB Milt Plum (#16) passes Over Colts defenders Fred Miller (#76), Ordell Braase (#81) & Gino Marchetti (#89) in 1964. Also shown is Lions runner Nick Pietrosante (#33) in the center. pic.twitter.com/Ybr89A6JhD
— nflpastplayers (@nflpastplayers) February 4, 2023
From 1960-1963, Baltimore could do no better than finish third in the NFL Western Conference and miss the postseason each year.
At the same time, Marchetti had double-digit sacks nearly every season, including an NFL-best 11 in 1960.
He then had a combined 25 sacks and a safety in 1961 and 1962, followed by 8.5 sacks and a fumble recovery for a score in 1963.
In 1964, the Colts had a franchise-best 12-win season.
Marchetti had 11.5 sacks, was voted to his 11th Pro Bowl, and was given his ninth first-team All-Pro award.
Baltimore then faced the Cleveland Browns and the mighty Jim Brown in the NFL Championship game.
Embarrassingly, the Colts were never in it and lost 27-0.
Today marks 13 days until the Browns open their season at Carolina. QB Frank Ryan played for Cleveland from ‘62 through ‘68. Ryan tossed 3 TDs in the 1964 NFL Championship Game as the Browns beat the Colts 27-0. This was the last NFL title game shown in black-and-white. #Browns pic.twitter.com/PZHwvicOEt
— Johnstone (@JStoneTrivia86) August 29, 2022
Toward the end of the contest, Cleveland quarterback Frank Ryan was trying to run up the score on Baltimore and called a time-out.
Marchetti lost it and started to walk toward the Browns’ huddle.
“As Gino walked toward Ryan, Cleveland’s whole offensive line parted like the Red Sea,” Colts running back Tom Matte recalled. “Gino pointed his finger at Ryan and said, ‘I’ll get you for this.’”
After the 1964 championship game, Marchetti retired.
Two seasons later, the Colts were depleted by injuries and desperately trying to make the playoffs.
The team reached out to Marchetti and he returned to play the rest of the 1966 season.
He appeared in four games but Baltimore failed to reach the playoffs.
Marchetti then retired for good, officially ending his NFL career.
In 14 years, Marchetti had an unofficial 56 sacks, one interception, 13 fumble recoveries including two returned for scores, and a safety.
He was a two-time NFL champ, a nine-time first-team All-Pro, a second-team All-Pro once, an 11-time Pro Bowler, and an NFL sack leader once.
Gino Marchetti is one of the 7 DEs selected to the #NFL100 All-Time Team!
⭐ 11x Pro Bowler
⭐️ 2x NFL Champion (1958, 1959)
⭐ NFL 1950s All-Decade Team pic.twitter.com/10HYaNxBcV
— NFL (@NFL) November 30, 2019
In subsequent years, Marchetti became a member of the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team, and 50th, 75th, and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
He is in the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor and his number 89 has been retired by the organization.
During the same year that the Colts won the 1958 NFL Championship, Baltimore owner Carroll Rosenbloom loaned Marchetti some money and he partnered with Ameche to open a restaurant named Gino’s.
By the time he retired, one restaurant had turned into several and was the East Coast version of McDonald’s, selling 15-cent hamburgers.
In 1972, Marchetti was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Happy Birthday to HOF DE Gino Marchetti! Played 14 seasons for the Dallas Texans and the Baltimore Colts. Selected to 11 Pro Bowls and the @NFL 1950s All-Decade and 75th Anniversary All-Time Teams. 2x NFL Champion while with the Colts (1958, 1959). pic.twitter.com/cTc9z2Fxh9
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 2, 2018
Ten years later, Marchetti sold his burger chain to Marriott International for $48 million.
Although he could have retired and never worked another day in his life, Marchetti returned to the restaurant game in 2009 and opened Gino’s Burgers and Chicken.
Gino Marchetti of the Baltimore Colts pours a drink in the kitchen of his restaurant, Gino's Hamburgers, in 1964. pic.twitter.com/zOtngr396U
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) August 18, 2016
His restaurants can still be found in Maryland.
On April 29, 2019, Marchetti died due to complications from pneumonia. He was 93 years old.
Although the younger generation may not know Marchetti’s name, he is still considered one of the best defensive ends in NFL history.
“Marchetti was the best defensive end of his time, and today, and if there’s pro football a hundred years from now, he’ll still be the best damned defensive end in the world,” said Ameche.