March 06, 2015

Ed ''Big Mo'' Modzelewski, a former star fullback who led the University of Maryland to an unbeaten season in 1951 and later won an NFL championship with the Cleveland Browns, has died. He was 86.

Modzelewski died Saturday of congestive heart failure, his wife, Joanne, said. Services are pending at Greer's Funeral Home in Sedona, Arizona.

Modzelewski (pronounced Mo-juh-LESS-key) was born on Jan. 13, 1929, in West Natrona, Pennsylvania, where his Polish-born father was a coal miner.

He teamed up with his little brother, Dick, a defensive tackle nicknamed ''Little Mo,'' with the Terrapins and later squared off against him in the NFL when Ed's Browns faced Dick's New York Giants.

Ed Modzelewski was an All-American his senior year at Maryland and was named MVP of the Sugar Bowl when he ran for 153 yards as the Terrapins dominated top-ranked and previously undefeated Tennessee 28-13 on Jan. 1, 1952.

Pittsburgh drafted him with the sixth overall pick in 1952 back when the pay in pro football was minimal and drafting a player was no sure bet he'd play in the NFL. But Joanne Modzelewski said her husband told her he had spent a summer in college working with his dad in the coal mines ''and that was an incentive not to become a coal miner himself.''

So, Ed played a year for the Steelers before serving two years in the Air Force. Upon his discharge, he was traded to Cleveland, where he ran for 619 yards and six touchdowns in 1955 and the Browns went 9-2-1, beating the Los Angeles Rams 38-14 to repeat as NFL champions.

That turned out to be his best season. His days as a starter ended when Jim Brown joined the Browns in 1957.

Modzelewski retired after the 1959 season, having gained 1,292 yards and 11 touchdowns over his six-year pro career.

Ed and Dick later ran a steakhouse in Cleveland and a fast-food restaurant chain in the Midwest.

Ed retired to Arizona in 1982 and the following year married Joanne, his second wife.

''He was not only an outstanding athlete and restaurateur but also a wonderful husband and father and friend to many, many people,'' Joanne Modzelewski said Friday. ''He was a great outdoorsman and we have so many cliffs and hills around our home where he took family and friends on hikes. At first, they were all so frightened and now they are wonderful memories.

''Just about everyone who visited was from the city, business people or professionals, not outdoorsmen. And they'd say, `We can't do that.' And he'd say, `Sure, you can. I'll show you.' We called him `Our Fearless Leader.' It was absolutely awesome.''

Joanne said Ed always got a kick out of being ''Big Mo'' when his brother ''Little Mo,'' although two years younger, was much bigger, outweighing him in the NFL by more than 30 pounds.

''They joked about that a lot,'' she said.

Their brother Gene was a tackle at New Mexico State and was drafted by the Browns in 1966 but entered the Army and served in Vietnam, never playing in the NFL. He died in 2004.

Besides his wife and his brother Dick, Ed is survived by three sons and a daughter, two sisters and three grandchildren among other relatives.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton reported from Denver. Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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