Pro football player kept family at center of life
When one would hear that unmistakable, roaring laugh, it was apparent that Frank Marchlewski was nearby.
Marchlewski, a 1960 Plum High graduate who played football for the University of Minnesota and three National Football League teams over a six-year professional career, died Thursday in West Penn Hospital, Pittsburgh, from heart problems. He was 73.
He earned numerous accolades during his playing career and was part of a historic NFL game during the 1969 season.
“Frank always made you feel welcome,” said John Husar, his brother-in-law. “I never really saw him mad. He was like a gentle giant with a big smile.”
Marchlewski began his athletic climb at Plum High School, where he lettered in four sports.
He kicked the first field goal in school history at Freeport in 1958 and was a key member of the Mustangs' 6-2-1 team in 1959. After that season, Marchlewski was named all-WPIAL first team lineman, WPIAL Class A MVP lineman and 1st team lineman for the Valley Daily News all-district team.
Marchlewski, who grew up in the Logans Ferry Heights section of Plum, also lettered in baseball, basketball and track. He was named to the Jaycees all-star basketball game in 1960 the forerunner of today's A-K Cager Classic.
But Marchlewski's focus was on football. His play caught the eye of University of Minnesota coach Murray Warmath.
“He was all set to go to West Virginia,” said former Plum teammate Len Waitkus. “I asked team member Jim Olivo one day where Frank was, and he told me, ‘He left for Minnesota last night.' ”
Marchlewski lettered three seasons at Minnesota, but since freshmen were ineligible to play at the time, he missed out on playing in the 1961 Rose Bowl for the Golden Gophers.
“He was a very enjoyable guy to be with,” said former Plum teammate Sam Wehn, who lives in Florida. “He's the type of guy you could contact after not seeing him for a while, then pick up where the last conversation left off. It was a joy to talk to him.”
Warmath thought enough of him to name him Minnesota's top center during the 1960s.
Drafted by the L.A. Rams
In the 1965 NFL draft, Marchlewski was taken by the Los Angeles Rams, the 60th player drafted overall. He joined fellow Western Pennsylvanians Joe Namath (Beaver Falls), Jim Nance (Indiana Area) and Bo Scott (Connellsville) in the ‘65 draft.
He played for Atlanta briefly before returning to the Rams and playing on the 1969 team that started out 11-0 under coach George Allen.
The Rams were eliminated in the playoffs by the Vikings. But on Jan. 11, 1970, Marchlewski and the Rams played in the NFL Playoff Bowl in Miami, a consolation-type game that funded the players' pension.
It was the last “pure” National Football League game. After the Vikings advanced to the Super Bowl against the American Football League's Kansas City Chiefs, the leagues merged into the present NFL.
The Lower Burrell resident played a final pro season in 1970 in Buffalo, where he blocked for second-year running back O.J. Simpson.
“They played the Steelers in Three Rivers Stadium that year,” Husar recalled. “He held his own against Mean Joe Greene.”
But the Bills drafted Bruce Jarvis in 1971, and Marchlewski was the final cut. He quickly took a sales job for Genessee Brewing Co.
When Jarvis suffered a knee injury early in the season, the Bills called Marchlewski back, but he declined.
“They wanted him back, but he put his family before his football career,” Husar said. “Genessee was the perfect job for him.”
A number of local ex-beer distributor owners were among the many in line Tuesday at the Ross G. Walker Funeral Home in New Kensington.
He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Letitia Trzeciak Marchlewski and sons, Scott and Chad, both of Lower Burrell.
A prayer service was held Wednesday morning at the funeral home, followed by a funeral Mass at St. Mary of Czestockowa Roman Catholic Church, New Kensington.
Internment is at St. Mary Cemetery, Lower Burrell.
George Guido is a freelance writer.