EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Dick Modzelewski, whose four-team, 14-year NFL career included an eight-year stint with the Giants during which he played in six NFL championship games, passed away Friday, Oct. 19 at his home in Eastlake, Ohio, about 19 miles northeast of Cleveland. He was 87.
Modzelewski played defensive tackle for the Giants from 1956-63. The Giants defeated the Chicago Bears in the championship game in his first season with the team, and played in the title game in 1958, '59, '61, '62 and '63. Modzelewski also played in two championship games with the Cleveland Browns, winning one.
Following his playing career, Modzelewski coached in the NFL for 22 years, including the 1978 season as the Giants' defensive coordinator.
When Modzelewski entered the NFL with Washington in 1953, each team played a 12-game schedule. That increased to 14 games in 1961. Modzelewski never missed a game in his career, playing in all 180 regular-season contests and eight championship games.
Richard Blair Modzelewski was born on Feb. 16, 1931 in West Natrona, Pa. He was known as "Little Mo." His older brother Ed, a teammate of his in college and briefly in the NFL, was "Big Mo."
Modzelewski was an all-state football player at Har-Brack High School in Brackenridge, Pa. before playing from 1949-52 at the University of Maryland, where he was a three-year starter on the defensive line. Modzelewski was an All-America defensive lineman in 1951 and '52 and won the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's best lineman, in 1952. The honor resulted in an invitation to the White House, where he had lunch with President Dwight Eisenhower.
Modzelewski was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and the National Polish Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
The Redskins selected Modzelewski on the second round of the 1953 NFL Draft. He played two seasons in Washington before being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Modzelewski was briefly reunited with his brother Ed, who played fullback for the team, before Ed was dealt to Cleveland.
After one year in Pittsburgh, Dick Modzelewski was again traded, this time twice in less than a week. The Steelers dealt him to the Detroit Lions, who three days later sent him to the Giants for another defensive tackle, Ray Krouse, his former teammate at Maryland.
In New York, the low-key Modzelewski joined a group of outstanding defensive players that included Pro Football Hall of Famers Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff and Emlen Tunnell. Modzelewski, Robustelli, Rosey Grier and Jim Katcavage formed what is still one of the greatest defensive lines in Giants history, a group that helped the Giants win six Eastern Conference titles in eight years.
On March 4, 1964, Modzelewski was traded to the Browns for tight end Bobby Crespino. Expected to be a backup, he joined the starting lineup when Frank Parker suffered an injury. Cleveland played in the championship game in each of Modzelewski's first two seasons with the team, beating Baltimore in 1964, 27-0, and losing the following season to Green Bay.
Modzelewski retired following the 1966 season. He was a scout for the Browns in 1967 before joining the coaching staff the following season. Modzelewski was the defensive line coach for eight years before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 1976. The following year, Forrest Gregg resigned with one game remaining and Modzelewski was the interim head coach for the finale (a 20-19 loss in Seattle than concluded a 6-8 season).
Modzelewski then coached with the Giants for a season before becoming the defensive line coach of the Cincinnati Bengals (1979-83) and Packers (1984-85, under Gregg) before spending two seasons as Green Bay's coordinator. He concluded his coaching career as the Lions' line coach in 1988-89.
Modzelewski was a resident of Lake County for 10 years, living in Willoughby before moving to Eastlake.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Dorothy Jane (nee Welsh) Modzelewski; children Mark R. Modzelewski, Laurie M. (Roger) Hardesty, Terry A. (Rhonda) Modzelewski and Amie M. Rodgers; grandchildren Kevan, Michelle, Krissy, Ashley, Stacee, T.J., Rhiannon, Wayne and Kent; great-grandchildren Ava, Emiliana, Benny, Bentley, Skye Marie and Mason; his sisters Florence (Richard) Nowicki and Betty Logan; sisters-in-law Barbara Modzelewski and Joanne Modzelewski; and many nieces and nephews. Modzelewski was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph J. and Martha M. (nee Gosciak) Modzelewski; brothers, Ralph, Ted, Joe, Ed and Gene; and brother-in-law, Ben Logan.
A funeral Mass for Modzelewski will be held on Friday, Oct. 26, at noon at St. John Vianney Church, 7575 Bellflower Road, Mentor, Ohio.