When Tom Landry, the Giants’ former defensive back, became the team’s full-time defensive coordinator under Coach Jim Lee Howell in 1956, he oversaw an innovative alignment with four down linemen, three linebackers and the four defensive backs in place of the customary 5-2-4 system. The Giants’ line was backed by Sam Huff, the mobile and famously tough middle linebacker, who took the place of a burly middle guard used in the previously popular alignment, and who usually stopped the leading running backs of the time — though he was challenged especially by Cleveland’s Jim Brown.
Frank Gifford, the Giants’ Hall of Fame halfback, paid tribute to the defensive line in “The Whole Ten Yards” a memoir written with Harry Waters Jr., describing how “the Browns had an awesome offensive line but those four guys were able to neutralize it enough to allow Sam to become famous as The Man Who Stopped Jim Brown.”
In a 2015 interview, Dick Modzelewski recalled a particular Giants-Browns game when the two lines collided in the shadow of the Giants’ end zone and his brother Ed tried to bust through for a touchdown.
“In Cleveland Stadium, they had the ball on the 1- or 2-yard line and I tackled him for a loss,” he said. “He threw the football and hit me in the back of the helmet. After the game, we hugged each other.”
Dick Modzelewski became a Giant after two seasons for the Washington Redskins and another with the Steelers. After he played on the Giants team that defeated the Bears for the ’56 N.F.L. title, his Giants lost to the Baltimore Colts in the storied 1958 sudden-death overtime title game and the ’59 championship game. They were defeated three more times in title games of the early 1960s, twice by the Green Bay Packers and then by the Chicago Bears under Howell’s successor, Allie Sherman.
Modzelewski was traded to the Browns and Huff was dealt to the Redskins after the 1963 season. The Giants began to decline after that, but Modzelewski played on a 1964 N.F.L. championship team with Cleveland and was selected for the Pro Bowl that season.
Richard Blair Modzelewski was born on Feb. 16, 1931, in West Natrona, Pa., where his Polish immigrant father, Joseph, was a coal miner, and his mother, Martha (Gosciak) Modzelewski, was a homemaker.