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Quiet giant
From NFL to Lake Lanier, Pete Case was known for humility
Pete Case, center, embraces daughter Lee Anne and son David after Lee Anne wins a state cross country title at Walton High in 1985. Pete died Dec. 18 following a nine-year NFL career and a variety of successful business ventures. - photo by Submitted
Pete Case represented a different time.

His was a day when multi-million dollar signing bonuses were unheard of and professional athletes supplemented their incomes with everyday jobs in the offseason, a period before ESPN or the internet turned the entertainment of sports into serious business with 24/7 coverage and analysis.

It was a time when guys put on the uniform because they wanted to play. They hoped to make a little money from it, but off the field they were just like the rest of us.

That was Pete Case.

“The biggest thing was that he never really talked about himself playing in the NFL,” son David Case said.

“He would never just come out and tell anybody that he did. ... It was almost like it was a secret. I never understood it as a kid, because to me, you’d just want to tell everybody.”

Pete Case died Dec. 18 at age  67, having suffered from lymphoma as well as liver and kidney ailments. He left behind three children and a brother, as well as a legacy of humility and understatement.

Born Ronald Lee Case in Columbus, Ohio in December 1940, the man nicknamed “Pete” spent nine seasons as an offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.

None of that legacy will jump out at visitors entering the lake house he left behind just east of Cumming, though. An avid outdoorsman, Pete seemed more interested in showcasing a mounted elk head he bagged out west and the head and torso of a massive tuna he reeled in from the Bahamas.

“Nobody really saw him as this superstar kind of guy, and he really played down his celebrity. ... It was hard for him to be in the spotlight, and act like he was this big NFL player,” said Lee Anne Rice, Pete’s oldest child.

To hear 69-year-old Bud Case describe his younger brother’s football career, Pete’s modesty masked some pretty impressive talent.

As a senior at Decatur High School, Pete was all-everything, receiving state, regional and All-American honors. He was named team captain in his senior year at the University of Georgia in 1961, and then the pros came calling.
With the pro football merger still a few years off, Pete was picked by teams from both major leagues in the 1962 draft.

The Eagles drafted him to play in the established NFL, while the Houston Oilers — representing the upstart American Football League — also used a draft pick to claim Pete.

Bud Case, who played with his brother in high school and preceded him onto the UGA program before injuries ended his career, recalls the scene when executives from both teams showed up at the family’s home to make their bids, simultaneously.

With one in the den and one in the back bedroom, the two higher-ups started working the family’s dual phone lines, looking for leverage to close a deal.

“They were bidding against each other, I’m telling you, and it really got hilarious,” said Bud Case, who insists that legendary Houston owner Bud Adams was so adamant that he could be heard on the other end of the line, shouting for the rep to offer Pete anything he wanted.

In the end, the more established NFL, with its retirement plan and superior health benefits, won out.

Pete spent three years with the Eagles, then was traded to the Giants, where he played six seasons before retiring.

His brother says Pete had been sidelined with an ankle injury, and chose to leave football rather than be forced to sit and watch from the bench any longer.

According to daughter Rice, his paycheck in his final season was $35,000 — which put him at the top of the pay scale for linemen in 1970.

After leaving football, he devoted his time to running the Brave Falcon, an Atlanta restaurant and pub Pete had started with three friends in the 1960s.

Named after the city’s brand-new baseball and football teams (the Braves moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966, while the Falcons joined the NFL as an expansion team the same year), the Brave Falcon embraced Atlanta’s newly minted status as a pro sports city and became a favorite watering hole for soldiers and athletes.

Former Braves announcer Skip Caray was a regular, while well-known football owners like the Giants’ Wellington Mara and George Halas of the Chicago Bears also had a drink at the Brave Falcon before business declined and the property was sold in the ‘70s.

Following the bar’s closure, Pete involved himself in a variety of business ventures before retiring to the home he had built in 1963 on Lake Lanier.

His health had been on the decline since he broke a hip in a fall four years ago, his children say.

Again and again, conversations with Pete’s friends and relatives turn to topics like his quiet demeanor, his humility and his integrity.

“Pete was a very honest man. A handshake meant more to him than if you wrote out a contract,” brother Bud said.
“He didn’t say too many words, but when he spoke, you listened, and he meant very word he said.”

That quiet demeanor and honest character made for an excellent confidante, according to Bill McKenny, Pete’s college teammate and best friend in later life.

“[I’ll miss] just being able to have somebody to confide in,” said McKenny, who played a year for Edmonton in the Canadian Football League.

“You could tell him something and it wouldn’t go any further. You felt you could tell him anything, so it’s going to be a big minus in my life, because he helped me through some rough times.”

Perhaps one story best illustrates Pete’s character.

While out fishing on Lake Lanier one day, Pete dove in to rescue a father and son from drowning. The father, Ray Lowry, had jumped in after his boy tumbled into the lake. Rough wind and waves had separated both from the boat, but Pete’s lifeguard training kicked in.

“If Pete had not been there, there is no question in my mind we would have drowned,” Lowry was quoted by Sports Illustrated in 1968.

Remarkable as the story was, though, you weren’t likely to hear Pete bring it up anytime in the 40 years since it happened.

“He would never tell people that or anything, but that was one of the coolest things about him. He’s going to do whatever it takes to help people,” said daughter Rice, who moved into Pete’s lake home along with her husband and children four years ago to care for her dad.

You equally weren’t likely to hear too much horn-blowing if you asked Pete about his pro football career.

He maintained an affection for the Giants to the end, and was especially fond of Mara, who died in 2005 after 46 years owning the team.

“He would tell you football stories, but they’d ... be football stories about the teamwork, about the companionship and about the players that he played with,” son David said.

“He was always a pretty big, intimidating figure, I guess, but once you got past [his size], you just figured out that he was just a big old teddy bear.”

The family has requested donations in Pete’s memory be made to the NFL United Way online at or to any local hospice.

E-mail BJ Corbitt at