Catching Up With ex-Colt Don McCauley

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He was a first-round draft pick in 1971, a rugged tailback from North Carolina who looked a little like Robert Redford and ran a lot like Tom Matte.

For the next 11 years, Don McCauley would serve the Baltimore Colts as an unassuming role player with a healthy work ethic and a me-last mindset. At a funky time in Baltimore football history – he played for seven different head coaches – McCauley was the quintessential Colt, a throwback who seldom griped or put himself above the team.

A money-grubbing No. 1 draft choice he was not, despite having smashed O.J. Simpson’s single-season NCAA rushing record.

"I loved football so much that I would have played for nothing," said McCauley, who signed for a $47,500 bonus. "Nowadays that’s less than what the guy holding the chains on the sidelines makes."

He retired in 1982, having gained more than 5,600 yards and scored 58 touchdowns, gaudy numbers for a guy who spent his life shuffling from tailback to fullback and often not starting at all.

Today, McCauley works for his alma mater, raising funds for the athletic department at the University of North Carolina. Married 33 years and the father of three, he turns 60 next month in pretty good shape – the upshot of having ridden the bench.

"Knees and hips? They’re fine," he said. "Playing part-time kept me healthy."

The Colts chose McCauley with the compensatory draft pick they received from Miami after the Dolphins swiped coach Don Shula who, in 1970, was still under contract with Baltimore.

"Two years later he (Shula) goes 17-0 with Miami and wins the Super Bowl," McCauley said. "So I still ask people, who got the better deal out of that?"

As a rookie, he recalls lining up in the Colts huddle in awe of the Super Bowl champions and quarterback John Unitas.

"I looked over and saw those high tops and those little skinny legs of his and thought, ‘He’s a god,’ " McCauley said.

In training camp, as part of his rookie hazing, McCauley was told to approach the aging Unitas at a team meeting and greet him thusly:

"Hello, Mr. Unitas, my name is Don McCauley. I’m really looking forward to meeting your son."

The rookie cringed under Unitas’ icy stare.

"I wanted to run home," McCauley said. "But when Unitas knew he had me, he broke into a laugh."

A couple of years later, Unitas and most other Colts veterans were gone.

"From my first year to the fourth, the team was completely dismantled," McCauley said. "I was the only one left. Those were itchy times; I kept my bags packed for 11 years."

He retired in the summer of 1982, following a 2-14 season in which attendance slowed to a trickle.

"People in the stands wore paper bags over their heads, and it upset me so much that my teammates thought that was funny," McCauley said. "I thought back to the Colts’ glory days and decided, ‘This team doesn’t have the right chemistry – I’m out of here.’ "

He still misses Baltimore.

"It was never snobbish," he said. "The people were down-to-earth. And let’s not forget the steamed crabs. That’s still my favorite food."

Top photo: Ralph Robinson / Sun; Action photo: Irving Phillips / Sun

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