Bert Rechichar, one of the all-time Tennessee football greats on one of the all-time best teams, is dead at 89. He was wingback, safety and captain of the 1951 Volunteers.
Through the decades, Albert Daniel Rechichar said he was from Belle Vernon, Pa. The rural community of Rostraver Township claims him. He died on Friday after several years of poor health. Funeral services will be Monday evening.
Rechichar, 6-1 and 205, did some of everything for the Vols. He blocked like a guard, ran reverses, caught passes, intercepted passes, returned kicks and kicked a few extra points and two field goals. He remains in the Tennessee record book. He returned a punt 100 yards against Washington and Lee in 1950.
Instead of congratulations, his coach, Robert R. Neyland, said the goal-line was no place to be fielding a punt, that he shouldn’t have been anywhere near the ball.
Bert earned big headlines in his second season in the National Football League, 1953 with the Baltimore Colts. With four seconds remaining in the first half against the Chicago Bears, the big defensive back was on his way to the dressing room when summoned for a nothing-to-lose, far-out field-goal attempt, first of his pro career.
Bert wasn’t too excited about the opportunity. He told the holder, Tom Keane, to “get the ball down and let’s get on with it, I got to go to the bathroom.”
The kick was good from a record 56 yards.
At Tennessee, Rechichar was regarded as a really rugged guy.
“He was a little bit different, a cowboy at heart, a man who wanted to do things his own way,” said former tackle Jim Haslam.
“Everybody respected him. Bert was really tough and he was the best athlete on our team. He could do most everything. He was our best pass receiver. He was a very good blocker. He was a great defensive back. He kicked some extra points and two field goals.
“He was the 10th pick in the 1952 NFL draft. To give you some idea of what the 10th pick meant in ability, Doug Atkins was the 11th pick the next year.”
Rechichar spent seven of his 10 pro years in Baltimore and was a part of two championship teams. He also played for the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.
As Haslam said, he could do almost everything. Despite having only one eye that functioned properly, Bert played professional baseball, 1952 and 1953, with Reading in the Eastern League and Spartanburg and Rock Hill in the Tri-State League.
He was centerfielder on a Tennessee team that made it to the finals of the College World Series.
Rechichar was more prominent in Tennessee football fame. The 1951 team went 10-0 and won the national championship. Tailback Hank Lauricella was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Lauricella, defensive end Doug Atkins and guard John Michels are in the College Hall of Fame.
Pug Pearman and Ted Daffer made one all-America team or another. Rechichar was all-SEC.
When asked for his favorite memory of Rechichar, Haslam was quick to pick the 1950 Kentucky snow game in Knoxville.
“We ran 17, what you would call a post play down the middle. Hank threw to Bert for the only touchdown, 25 or 30 yards.”
Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org