Pete Duranko first became a Johnstown sports icon based on his success on the football field while playing for Johnstown Catholic High School, the University of Notre Dame and in the National Football League with the Denver Broncos.
The larger-than-life Duranko later became a national inspiration because of how he battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Duranko was diagnosed with ALS in 2000. He spoke in front of congressional representatives during the ALS Association’s National Advocacy Day activities. Duranko worked with the ALS Association’s Western Pennsylvania Chapter and served as honorary chairman of the chapter’s Walk to D’Feet ALS fund-raiser.
Duranko died in July 2011 at age 67.
"There is only one Pete Duranko," said Steve Smear, a Johnstown Catholic/Bishop McCort Catholic product who went on to play at Penn State University and in the Canadian Football League. "What an incredible person. He was always a hero for so many of us watching him play football, but when he got this terrible disease, he became more of a hero. To see the way he acted and the way he handled this illness was just incredible."
The Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame inducted Duranko in 2006, two years after he had entered the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame Western Chapter. The Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame welcomed Duranko into its Class of 1973.
Duranko was named a first-team All-American at Notre Dame as defensive lineman in 1966 by both the American Football Coaches Association and the United Press International. He played in what then was called “The Game of the Century” as Notre Dame and Michigan State, the top-two ranked teams in the national polls, played to a 10-10 tie in 1966.
Duranko spent eight seasons with the Denver Broncos from 1967 through 1974 and played in 98 games.
He started all 14 games in 1973, the Broncos' first winning season.
Duranko made a huge impression at Point Stadium and the surrounding football fields during his time at Johnstown Catholic for the 1959, '60 and '61 scholastic football seasons. He earned the nickname "Diesel" because of his ability to ramble through or over opposing defenders.
The Diesel still holds Johnstown Catholic records for career rushing yards with 3,234, and touchdowns, with 49. He is second in the record books with 302 career points at Johnstown Catholic, which now is known as Bishop McCort Catholic High School.
The Associated Press named Duranko to its all-state team in 1961, when the Crimson Crushers were undefeated in 10 games. He was selected to play in the prestigious Big 33 all-star football game following his senior season.
“For a guy who was as much a specimen as he was, he was a beautiful example of how people should live their lives, healthy or otherwise,” George Goeddeke, Duranko’s teammate at Notre Dame and with the Denver Broncos, said after Pete's death five years ago.
“The dignity, the character, the strength and no remorse. That was his station in life.
“I think the good Lord knew the message Pete could carry to all of us lesser mortals and the way he managed his ALS for years,” Goeddeke said.