Pete Wysocki, 55, the Washington Redskins' tough-guy outside linebacker and special teams player whose aggressiveness on the field terrorized opponents and thrilled fans as well as legendary coach George Allen, died of cancer June 14 at his home in Vienna.
Mr. Wysocki, a barrel-chested man who could bench press 400 pounds, played on Redskins teams with such greats as linebacker Chris Hanburger, quarterback Joe Theismann and fullback John Riggins during a six-year career, from 1975 to 1980. He joined the team as a free agent after four years in the Canadian Football League and quickly emerged as an integral member of a storied corps of hard-charging young players on special teams, the units that on kickoffs sprint downfield toward the opposing team as it tries to run the ball in the other direction.
The special teams, with their smash-mouth attitude, were considered a bright spot in a run of otherwise unspectacular years in which the Redskins made it to the playoffs only once, in 1977.
"I try to stay just this side of being rabid," Mr. Wysocki said after a practice during his rookie year, when the Redskins finished with a disappointing 8-6 record. "You can't go nuts all the time. But there are times when you really have to put a lick into a guy. I'm not very careful, put it that way."
Eager to make an impression on coaches, the 6-foot-1, 233-pound Western Michigan University graduate played with a reckless abandon, which led dismayed teammates to call him "Suicidal Socker." He also demonstrated athleticism, speed, agility and a keen grasp of plays.
But it was his violent collisions with other players that made the highlight tapes aired on television sports broadcasts, and transformed him from unknown linebacker into one of the best special teams players in the National Football League. He was also a media darling and the team's resident comedian, quick with humorous sound bites in postgame interviews or wisecrack stories anytime a reporter was nearby.
During a practice in 1977, coach Allen jogged with Mr. Wysocki once around a track before a torrential downpour accompanied by lightning and thunder ended the workout. "You can run in lightning when you've got one of the apostles out there with you," Mr. Wysocki said at the time. "Hey, if the president asks you to play golf with him, you play golf with him."
He eventually became a starter, playing right linebacker against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Redskins' first home game in 1979 under coach Jack Pardee.
"The special teams were nice," he said around that time. "I loved them. I know that people got to know me that way and it helped my career, but I don't want to finish my career just as a special teamer."
He started at outside linebacker for two years before announcing his retirement before the 1981 season, at age 32. "You just don't want to stay too long at the dance," he said.
"I'd rather get out on my own terms," he added. "I don't like people remembering players who should have quit years ago."
The punishing hits over his professional football career took a toll on his body. He was slowed by chronic neck problems and a cracked vertebra.
Mr. Wysocki became an advertising salesman for WMAL-AM, enjoyed racing his BMW and Triumph motorcycles and pursued his interest in stand-up comedy and in painting, which he had studied in college. He organized charity golf tournaments, volunteered at soup kitchens, dabbled in commercial real estate and showed bulldogs.
"He was not an overachiever; he was an achiever," said his son, Bannon Wysocki. "Off the field, he was a totally different person."
In 1999, he was told he had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. After intensive chemotherapy, he spoke publicly about his illness, addressing gatherings of the Leukemia Society and other organizations that raise money for research.
Mr. Wysocki was a native of Detroit who weighed what he called a measly 200 pounds while playing football at Western Michigan. With little interest from the NFL, he tried his hand in Canada, where he made the all-pro squad in Saskatchewan.
His marriages to Sylva Wysocki and Elizabeth Pierce ended in divorce.
Survivors include his companion, Gretchen M. Thompson, and son, both of Vienna; and a grandson.