Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb - his life in Baltimore

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Eugene Allan Lipscomb was a much-loved defensive tackle who played for the Baltimore Colts during the team's glory days of 1956 through 1960. Said Hunter S. Thompson in an ESPN column, "Gene 'Big Daddy' Lipscomb was arguably the cruelest pass rusher in NFL history. He was a violent junkie who invented the dreaded roundhouse whack upside the head -- directly on the ear-hole of his victim's helmet -- that often burst both eardrums of any hapless offensive linemen he could reach. Big Daddy weighed 300 pounds and he really wanted to hurt people. And he did -- but he is not in the Hall of Fame."

Not only is he not in the NFL Hall of Fame but Eugene Lipscomb has nearly disappeared from the annals of Baltimore history.

Gene Lipscomb was born in Alabama in 1931, his father died early and his mother, Carrie, moved the family to Detroit when Gene was 3. When he turned 11 his mother was brutally stabbed to death on a Detroit street corner, Gene sound found himself living with his maternal grandparents and working the 12AM-8AM shift at a steel-pickling plant to pay for his room and board while he attended Miller high school. Even with a demanding work schedule the 6' 4" 220 pound boy found time to participate in the schools sports teams where he excelled due to his massive size. After high school he joined the Marines and was recruited to play on the football team at Camp Pendleton. Big Daddy never attended college and was recruited directly to Los Angeles Rams in 1953. With the Rams he was known for frequent fights with both opponents and teammates, the Rams quickly grew impatient with him and released him.

What Big Daddy needed was a new home where a rambunctious personality would be an attribute not a hindrance. Baltimore was only too ready to embrace him. The Colt's coach, Weeb Ewbank quickly paid the $100 claim fee and the rest becomes Colts football history. Big Daddy found a support system among friends, Lenny Moore, Johnny Sample, Milt Davis and Sherman Plunkett the sky became the limit. Back then there was not much formal coaching for the team and the veteran player such as Gino Marchetti, Artie Donovan and Don Joyce would share their tips and tricks with the new recruits. Lipscomb became a dominating defensive player who played on two Colts championship teams. Sports Illustrated William Nack wrote a lengthy piece about Big Daddy in 1999 with this quote, "He was, in fact, the prototype of the modern lineman, the first 300-pound Bunyan endowed not only with enormous power but also with the two qualities usually denied men of his size: agility and speed. His belly did not roll out of his pants. He was hard and trim, and the fastest interior lineman in the league."

Not only did Big Daddy play professional football with the Baltimore Colts but during the off-season he he would tour the Midwest and California with the United States Professional Wrestling association, under the name "Waffle Ear". Big Daddy also maintained his love of basketball and signed on with the Eastern Basketball League in January of 1961. This resulted in a legal mess. NFL players could not sign professional contracts with other leagues, especially ones that were rife with gambling scandals, like the EBL at the time. The EBL president sued Pete Rozelle in a $1 million defamation case. This most likely contributed to Big Daddy Lipscomb being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 1960 season. Big Daddy played 2 more seasons for the Pittsburgh but continued to make return visits to Baltimore.

During that era Baltimore was a segregated town. Although the Colts players behaved like a family on the field, off-field was a different story. The white players and black players became 2 separate and distinct cliques. Pennsylvania Avenue was a hotbed of entertainment for middle-class black Baltimoreans and Big Daddy enjoyed his fame and reverie at the jazz clubs that line the street along with fellow Colt's players Jim Parker, Luke Owens, Sherman Plunkett, Johnny Sample, Lenny Lyles, Jessie Thomas, Milt Davis and Buddy Young. Big Daddy could be spotted at the Sphinx, Comedy Club, Casino Bar and Avenue Bar. Off the avenue he could be found in Walbrook Junction at the Rail Inn or at the Uptown Bar at the corner of Monroe and Edmondson. He would imbibe heartily, his favorite and only drink of choice was Seagrams VO. Big Daddy also developed a reputation for being generous. He would buy groceries for those without food, and give money to those who had none. There was a tale of him buying shoes and clothing for a boy he had found barefoot.

When Mr. Lipscomb first came to Baltimore he lived at his own apartment on Baker Street near Poplar Grove, later he moved in with his 3rd wife, Cecelia Williams, to a place between Hilton at Ellamont Streets in Gwynn Oak. Finally, his marriage over, he moved in with Sherman Plunkett and his wife at Plunkett's large home at 3314 Elgin Avenue in Gwynn Oak. While on the road during football season the black team members would stay in hotels that were hospitable to African American football players, the white players would often stay at different lodgings. The late 50s was a time for separation by skin pigmentation.

Lipscomb's colleagues and fellow players knew something about Big Daddy that Colt's organization and fans did not. Big Daddy was a highly troubled man who had erratic mood swings. One day he would be everyone's favorite cut-up, comic and raconteur at team practice, another day he would appear scowling, sullen and unapproachable. At night at Plunkett's house he would place his bed up against the door so no one could get in. He'd tie Plunkett's giant dog to the foot of the bed to protect him. Big Daddy suffered bouts of insomnia. At the Colt's training camp at Western Maryland College he would pace the halls at night. Team player, Luke Owens, remembers that Big Daddy could often be found lamenting that it was a sad day while he sobbed. Lenny Moore would accompany Big Daddy out at night and once while both were in a cab Big Daddy burst into tears. Mr. Moore asked him what was wrong and Big Daddy replied, "Ah, the Daddy ain't right. The Daddy ain't right." Eugene Lipscomb also kept in his possession a passel of photographs from his mother's murder scene taken by a homicide photographer including gruesome photos of his mother's body, this may have been a clue as to what ailed Mr. Lipscomb. As a young man, Eugene Lipscomb's grandfather had once tied him to a bed, stripped him and beat him for stealing a bottle of whiskey. His grandfather, Charles Hoskins, did not believe in sparing the rod to spoil the child. The wounds of an emotionally brutal childhood sometimes last a long time.

This is probably why Eugene Lipscomb found alcohol so enticing and perhaps necessary to take the edge off. When the players went out of the town, many of them would head to the bar to loosen up and grease the social wheels with a beverage or two. While in Pittsburgh, quarterback Bobby Layne would buy his teammates a drink at the local watering hole after practice, but for Big Daddy he would buy him an entire bottle of VO. Big Daddy was also known to occasionally smoke some marijuana.

While with the Steelers, Big Daddy was just as popular in Pittsburgh as he was in Baltimore. At the end of the second season during the 63 Pro Bowl he had one of the greatest performances of his career: 11 tackles, two forced fumbles and one blocked pass.

After Big Daddy's second successful year with the Steelers he returned to Baltimore for the off season in 1963. He also returned to socializing in his old stomping ground of West Baltimore, hanging with his old friends and former Colts teammates and also began to recourt his exwife, Cecelia. One night in May he went out on the town after playing softball in the afternoon. He met up with a local man named Timothy Nathaniel Black, and they ended the evening at Mr. Black's home in the 400 block of North Brice Street. It was there that the 2 men shot up some heroin that they had purchased earlier on Pennsylvania Avenue with a homemade syringe. Soon after, Big Daddy fell to the floor while Mr. Black tried revive him by rubbing ice cubes on his skin and injecting him with salt water. The attempts at revival failed, Big Daddy died on May 10, 1963 at the age of 34.

Eugene Allen Lipscomb was laid out for viewing at the Charles Law Funeral Home at 802 Madison Street on May 12, 1963. Over 30,000 people came to say their goodbyes. Mr. Lipscomb was laid to rest at the Lincoln Memorial Park in Macomb County, Michigan.

Rudiger Breitenecker, who did the autopsy, found only four fresh needle marks on Lipscomb's body, accounting for the deadly heroin dose and the saline injections, and only one old one, which could have been left by "an old blood test". With only 4 fresh needle marks it was clear that Mr. Lipscomb was not a frequent heroin user. What the medical examiner also found surprised no one: a fatty liver. "If he hadn't died from heroin, he would have died from liver disease due to chronic alcoholism," Breitenecker says.

It was a well-known fact that Big Daddy was deathly afraid of needles and it was odd that the heroin injections were in his right arm. It would have been almost impossible for Big Daddy to inject himself on the right side, as he was right handed. The medical examiner deduced there was 5 times the amount of heroin in his body that would have killed just one man. In 1963 the potency of street-level heroin would vary greatly. It depended on how often the drug was cut and diluted, depending on how many hands the product was passed and each dealer's intended profit.

The untimely death of Mr. Lipscomb should have sounded some serious warning bells about what was to come in the years after the death of Big Daddy. Or perhaps, somebody should have noticed earlier when singer, Billie Holiday, died in 1959 due to complications associated with the use of heroin. America should have recognized that something was a bit awry with the returning veterans of the Viet Nam War during the 70s who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and found that heroin could diminish its side effects. Had the government crafted a successful solution for those who were desperate to self-medicate, anxious to find some relief for their depression, mania, ADD, OCD and general discontent the country might not have ever experienced the debilitating drug epidemic and the violence that came with it during the 70s, 80s, 90s, and continues well into this current millennium.

8 comments:

eleanore said...

I didn't know him, but the few guys I've known who went by the name Big Daddy were people well worth knowing...and I assume the same was true for Eugene. I look forward to the final version of this post (which you say is a "work in progress").

scott said...

Well done and I applaud your interest and investigation into the life of this troubled and gifted man.

lviti said...

A sobering story about one of the old Baltimore Colts powerhouses...I recall my father reading the news and feeling so bad about big Daddy's death, especially under these circumstances.

Rick said...

It's a good start.
A very interesting untold story.
Tell me more

Garland Smith said...

Was he a member of the Black Panther Party. I've heard accounts that he was murder due to his involvement in the BPP.

Cham said...

No, I've found no records or indication Mr. Lipscomb was involved with the Black Panthers.

Davan Mani said...

He was murdered but motive, I have no idea.

Lamaine Lipscomb said...

L.Lipscomb
Does he have family in the DMV area?