Pete Retzlaff, North Dakota-born NFL great, dies at 88

Pete Retzlaff.jpg
Pete and Patty Retzlaff stand outside their home near Gilbertsville, Pa., Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. Pete Retzlaff played high school football in his hometown of Ellendale, N.D., and at South Dakota State University in Brookings before a long career with the Philadelphia Eagles. He died Friday, April 10 at the age of 88. (Mike McFeely / Forum News Service)

Pete Retzlaff, one of the greatest athletes North Dakota has produced, died Friday, April 10. He was 88.

Retzlaff was born in Ellendale, N.D., and starred collegiately at South Dakota State. He was drafted in the 22nd round by the Detroit Lions in 1953 and, after serving two years in the U.S. Army, was claimed by the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was with the Eagles that Retzlaff became one of the best players in the NFL while redefining the tight end position. He was a co-captain of the 1960 NFL championship team, the last Philadelphia pro football team to win a title before the Eagles won the Super Bowl after the 2017 season.

"Pete was one of the first tight ends with enough versatility to be a receiver as well as a blocker. He changed the game because defenses had to alter their coverages to guard him," Eagles Hall of Fame linebacker Maxie Baughan said in a team press release.

Retzlaff made the Pro Bowl five times in 11 seasons with the Eagles. He retired following the 1966 season as the franchise's all-time leader in receptions (452) and receiving yards (7,412).


Retzlaff still ranks tied with Brent Celek for first in most seasons played by a tight end, second in receiving yards to Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Harold Carmichael, third in receptions behind Carmichael and Zach Ertz, and fifth in receiving touchdowns.

Retzlaff tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Raymond Berry for the NFL lead with 56 receptions in 1958. In 1960, Retzlaff led the Eagles with 46 receptions and averaged 18 yards per catch as Philadelphia won the NFL title.

In an epic NFL Championship win over Green Bay, Retzlaff's 41-yard reception resulted in a field goal that gave the Eagles a 10-6 lead late in the first half.

He's a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame and the team retired his No. 44 jersey.

Retzlaff also was a significant member of the NFL Players Association, fighting to help players get pension and health insurance benefits. He even served as the Eagles general manager for four years.

"That pretty much consisted of me trying to meet budget while paying the players as much as I possibly could," Retzlaff told Forum columnist Mike McFeely in a 2018 article.

According to the Eagles, Retzlaff is survived by his wife of 66 years, Patty, and four children.

"Pete was proud to have played his entire career in Philadelphia," the Retzlaff family said in a statement. "Our family can't thank the Eagles and the wonderful fans enough for their support that bolstered his playing years and beyond.


"Pete set lofty goals for himself. He believed in hard work, honesty, and always giving 100 percent effort. Throughout his life, he believed in giving back to the community as a thank you for what they gave to him. Thank you to all of Philadelphia."

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