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Obituary: Leo Skladany / Football standout and bar owner

Friday, March 21, 2003

By Ray Fittipaldo, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Leo Skladany, who blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to help the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Los Angeles Rams in the 1949 NFL championship game, died Tuesday in West Penn Hospital from complications from pneumonia. He was 75.

Mr. Skladany, of Baldwin Borough, scored the second touchdown in the 14-0 victory on a muddy field at L.A. Memorial Coliseum that had been soaked with 2 inches of rain in the hours before kickoff. The game-clinching score came in the third quarter when Los Angeles was forced to punt from deep in its own territory. The snap was high, and punter Bob Waterfield could not get the kick off before Mr. Skladany, who was playing in just his third game as a rookie, blocked it. He scooped up the ball at the 2 and went into the end zone.

Even though that would be his final game as a member of the Eagles, Mr. Skladany has a place in the hearts of Philadelphia sports enthusiasts. He and his wife traveled back to Philadelphia for the 40- and 50-year anniversaries of the '49 championship game and still receive autograph requests through the mail.

"At the 50-year anniversary, they were honored on the field [at Veterans Stadium]," said his wife, Mary Skladany. "At his speech at the banquet, he said he couldn't believe everyone still remembered him because he played there for such a short period of time. That one great thing he did in that game gave him his 15 minutes of fame."

Mr. Skladany, an offensive and defensive end who was 5 feet 11 and 210 pounds, was traded to the New York Giants the next season and played in four games before retiring.

He is part of a well-known clan that starred on the football field throughout the last century. His brother, Joseph "Muggsy" Skladany played for the University of Pittsburgh from 1931 to 1933. He was a consensus two-time All-American end in '32 and '33 and played one season for the Steelers. Mr. Skladany's nephew, Tom Skladany, was a punter for Ohio State and with the Detroit Lions for several seasons in the 1970s and '80s.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, Mr. Skladany graduated from Plymouth High School in Plymouth, Luzerne County, in 1945 and followed in his brother's footsteps to Pitt. He played four seasons for the Panthers and was selected for the East-West Shrine Game as a freshman and to the Blue-Gray all-star game as a senior.

"He was outstanding," said Lou "Bimbo" Cecconi, a quarterback and halfback from those Pitt teams. "He had strength. He was our punter, too, which showed his versatility. He was a good pass-catcher, and he was outstanding on defense. He played left end, which was where you put your best player in those days. He was an all-around player. You couldn't beat him."

After his brief NFL career, Mr. Skladany went into business with his brothers at a paper company in Pittsburgh and got into the insurance business for a while before opening Skladany's Bar on Brownsville Road in the 1970s. He ran the bar until he retired in '89 for health reasons.

Skladany's Bar made Mr. Skladany a fixture in Baldwin and South Park.

"He played golf at South Park for 40 or 50 years," Cecconi said. "Everyone knew him."

In his later years, Mr. Skladany suffered from diabetes and endured close to 60 operations. He lost sight in one eye, but he still played golf and remained active. He made a Pitt football golf outing with other players from his era in July.

"He'd hit the ball, I'd find it for him, then he'd hit it again," Cecconi said. "Boy, could he hit that sucker. He was so courageous. He never complained about his health."

In addition to his wife, Mr. Skladany is survived by a son, David Skladany of Baldwin, and a daughter, Mary Lou Traettino of Charlotte, N.C.; a brother, Edward Skladany of Piscataway, N.J.; and a sister Elizabeth Krivitski, also of Piscataway.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today at Griffith Mortuary, 5636 Brownsville Road, South Park. A blessing service will be held at noon tomorrow at the funeral home.

Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.

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