Dick Szymanski, Colts Pro Bowler who later became team’s G.M., dies at 89

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Dick Szymanski, who played both center and middle linebacker for the Colts and would later become the team’s General Manager, has died at the age of 89.

Colts owner Jim Irsay announced Szymanski’s death.

“Rest In Peace, Dick Szymanski,” Irsay wrote on Twitter. “A 13-year great of the Baltimore Colts, ‘Sizzy’ played both center AND linebacker during his playing career; and then worked his way up from scout to GM. One of the last remaining links to the ‘old guard’ of the NFL. My condolences to his family.”

Szymanski played his college football at Notre Dame and was the 16th overall pick in the 1955 NFL draft. He was selected as a Pro Bowler in his rookie year but then missed the 1956 season after he was drafted into the Army. He returned in 1957 and played through the 1968 season, retiring after Super Bowl III.

He then began working in the Colts’ front office, serving as G.M. from 1977 to 1982.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Colts had what many considered the best group of linebackers in the NFL with Szymanski, Don Shinnick and Bill Pellington.

We were a good trio,” Szymanski recalled to the Baltimore Sun in 2016. “Pellington was rough, tough and mean. A wide receiver who got close to him would get clotheslined, which was then a legal hit.”

Teammate Art Donovan recalled in his autobiography how tough it was going against Szymanski in practice, illustrating the point with a story about Szymanski refusing to admit how badly he’d injured his knee in a game against the Chicago Bears.

“We were coming out of the locker room at Wrigley to get on the team bus and I offered him a hand,” Donovan wrote. “I think I asked him if I could carry his shoulder bag or something innocuous like that. At any rate, he got all indignant, yelling at me, ‘Don’t you worry about me, Fatso, I’m just fine! I’ll be seeing you in practice Tuesday and I’ll be kicking your ass!’ Yet whenever that bus hit a bump on the way to the airport, I noticed old Syzzie was squirming in pain. In those days, you just didn’t want to show it.”

The pain did take a toll, although Szymanski remained healthy into his 80s, even as he outlived most of his old teammates.

“How many broken bones have I had? Don’t ask,” he said. “Despite all of the football injuries, I can walk. Must be my genes. What depresses me more than anything is when I get a phone call, or read in the paper that one of my teammates has passed away. You’d think you’d get over it, but you don’t.”

4 responses to “Dick Szymanski, Colts Pro Bowler who later became team’s G.M., dies at 89

  1. This man was part of the team that first attracted me to the nfl: the Baltimore/Johnny Unitas Colts, the most prolific and entertaining nfl team of the late ’50’s and ’60’s. So many All-stars and eventual HOF’ers, far too many to cite here. RIP Sizzy.

  2. Szymanski was an all-timer, and those Colts defenses might have been the best of all time. Marchetti had more sacks than Deacon, Big Daddy Lipscomb was a giant even by today’s standards, great linebackers as mentioned, and Lenny Lyles was a borderline HOF D-back and the fastest man in football. The game then barely bears any resemblance to the one they play today, where the use of ones arms when tackling is a foreign concept, and D-backs can’t touch the WR much less bump-and-run them all the way down the field, but that Colts defense was the best of their era, by far. They also of course had one of the all-time offenses, with Lenny Moore the prototype for modern backs, Ray Berry, John Unitas, and the greatest offensive lineman ever in Jim Parker… Those men played for working man’s wages, with none of the advantages of today’s players, but no one ever played the game better or with more passion and pride.

  3. The Packer teams of those years had some great players too. Point is their were a lot of great players back then, a lot. Just the rules, style of play, and equipment made them man among men.

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