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Lions Hall of Famer Creekmur dies

Lions Hall of Famer Lou Creekmur, the anchor of the offensive line for three NFL championships in the 1950s, died at University Hospital in Tamarac, Fla., Sunday evening.

Creekmur was 82, and had been in failing health for several years.

The Lions' second-round pick in the 1950 draft out of William and Mary College, the overaged Creekmur — he'd served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1945-46) in Berlin before returning to school for his final three years — was an immediate starter on the line. He'd earn a Pro Bowl berth his rookie season, and the first of six selections to the All-NFL team (two as a guard, four as a tackle) just a year later.

With Creekmur on the line, the Lions would win titles in 1952, 1953 and 1957.

"Bobby (Layne) had a nickname for everyone, and Lou's was 'The Spirit,' " said teammate Yale Lary, referring to Creekmur's No. 76 jersey as well as his tenacity. "That group in the '50s was special and I don't think will ever be equaled. Lou was a real team player and an important part of those teams."

In all, Creekmur registered eight consecutive Pro Bowl selections in his 10-year career. However, he'd have to wait 32 years after retirement to earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996, joining Lion teammates Bobby Layne, Jack Christiansen, Joe Schmidt, Frank Gatski, Doak Walker, John Henry Johnson and Lary as an enshrinee in Canton.

"Lou always will be remembered as one of the true standout players in Lions history," Lions president Tom Lewand said in a release on Monday. "Offensive linemen often don't get the credit they deserve and, until his induction into the Hall of Fame, that certainly was the case with Lou. If you look at the number of All-NFL and Pro Bowl teams he was selected to, and at the success of the Lions teams when he played, you know that Lou was one of the all-time great linemen in NFL history."

In an era before left tackle was a glamor position, Creekmur — who played at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, and was nicknamed "The Smiling Assassin" — was a master at protecting his quarterback, Layne. He knew the consequences, if he hadn't. Layne was notorious for calling out a teammate who missed an assignment.

"It was so embarrassing that we all made a pact that we would never miss a block that would ever disturb Bobby Layne," Creekmur was quoted by biographer Don Smith in 1996. "I'll tell you, the treatment he (Layne) gave us off the field couldn't have been better. ... It sounds funny to say this, but the whole team showed such a love and respect for each other, we would break our backs for each other. We were a lot of rabble-rousers. We lived high on the hog, but on Sunday we were dedicated."

Often bounced from tackle to guard — and even given the assignment of starting at defensive guard in 1955, when the Lions started 0-6 after the retirement of Les Bingaman — Creekmur never made the money that today's star linemen rake in.

He admitted his low salary — at its highest, $1,000 per game — was a key factor in his short-lived retirement after the 1958 season, especially when his starting salary as a terminal manager for the Saginaw Transfer Company, a Detroit-area trucking company, paid him $15,000 a year. By Week 5 of the following season, Lions coach George Wilson had convinced Creekmur to come back to the team. Creekmur signed a contract with the team on Wednesday, practiced Thursday, flew to Los Angeles on Saturday and started against the Rams on Sunday. Playing out the rest of that season earned Creekmur eligibility for the NFL Players pension.

In addition to his enshrinement in Canton, Creekmur is also a member of the state halls of fame for Michigan, Virginia and his native New Jersey, the William and Mary Athletic Hall of Fame and the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. He was also selected to the Lions' All-75th Anniversary team last year.

Survived by his wife of 33 years, Caroline, as well as a daughter, two sons, two stepdaughters and nine grandchildren, Creekmur will be remembered in a memorial ceremony at a later date. Memorial donations can be made in Creekmur's name to the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County/Reitman Unit (3025 W. Broward Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33312).


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