By Patrick Saunders
The Denver Post
Posted: 07/10/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Former Broncos and Notre Dame defensive lineman Pete Duranko died Friday after a long, brave and public battle with Lou Gehrig 's disease. Duranko, 67, died in Johnstown, Pa., his hometown.
In 2000, Duranko was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. After his diagnosis, he became a national spokesman and fund-raiser in the fight against ALS.
"Pete was such a fighter. ... I've never seen anybody fight so much in my whole life," said his wife, Janet, who was married to Duranko for 43 years. "Just last Friday he attended his high school reunion. But it was a blessing that he passed, because it was getting very hard at the end. He spent a lot of time over the last six months in hospice care."
Duranko was a star football player, wrestler and basketball player in Johnstown.
"Pete had a heart of gold," recalled longtime friend David Audi of Highlands Ranch, who grew up with Duranko in Johnstown. "He was the big, huge man, a man among boys in high school. But he would give you the shirt off his back. He was an amazing person."
Duranko attended Johnstown Catholic High School, now Bishop McCort. In high school, he earned the nickname "Diesel Duranko" for his bruising running style as a fullback.
He played defensive end at Notre Dame, where he was an All-American on the Fighting Irish's 1966 national championship team. Although he was a lineman, Duranko was a very agile athlete. He wowed his Notre Dame teammates by walking on his hands across the practice field.
Duranko, listed at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, played defensive end for eight seasons with the Broncos, from 1967-74. Duranko played in 98 games with the Broncos, including 76 starts. He started all 14 games in 1973, helping the Broncos to their first winning season.
Duranko is survived by Janet and sons Greg and Nick. His first grandson, Alexander Peter, was born in 2008.
After his football career, Duranko earned his master's degree at St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa., and became a steel company executive.
After he was diagnosed with ALS, he remained an active and vibrant spokesman in the fight against the disease. In 2003, during a charity golf tournament to raise funds for the ALS Association Rocky Mountain Chapter, Duranko talked about his illness.
"I couldn't believe how often he would go to events and speak about his disease," Audi said. "Peter really wanted to find a way to help people."
Duranko once said it was not the big picture — the dying — that bothered him so much. It was the little things that came with the disease.
"You know one of those little coffee creamers? It takes me an hour to open one of those things," Duranko told The Denver Post. "I look pretty strong up here in the shoulders, but my fingers, I have no strength here. I was in the hotel room trying to open that little ketchup bottle, you know with that annoying plastic around the top. You know, the one you get from room service? It takes me forever to open it, and the food gets cold. But I'll eat it anyway. So, yeah, I'll get mad, but then I finally laugh. I mean, what else am I going to do?"
Duranko then answered his own question: "I'll keep living every day."
Patrick Saunders: 303-954-1720 or [email protected]
I was not as yet a die hard Bronco fan during Pete's years with the team but the fact the he played every game during our first winning season is good reason to commemorate the man, although after reading his bio, that was one of his lesser accomplishments. I pray Pete finds peace and rest in his eternal home. A prayer for comfort and peace for his family as well.