Each week in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called, "Catching Up With ..." Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ... "
For five years he manned the trenches for Baltimore, stalking quarterbacks and dropping ball carriers in their tracks. During the 1970s, few players could stuff the run like John Dutton, the Colts’ 6-foot-7, 290-pound All Pro defensive end.
So what does Dutton do now?
He sells stop signs.
He used to be one.
A member of Baltimore’s celebrated "Sack Pack," Dutton helped the Colts to three straight American Football Conference East championships (1975-77).
Driven by their young front four – Dutton, Fred Cook, Joe Ehrmann and Mike Barnes – those Colts won 31 of 42 regular-season games, but lost each year in the playoffs.
"What chemistry we had," said Dutton, 58, who owns a sign-making company in Dallas. "All four of us were tough to block, and quarterbacks couldn’t just sit in the pocket. One of us was always breaking free to make a sack."
Too often, it was Dutton, a first-round draft pick from Nebraska who had a career-high 17 sacks in 1975, his second year in the pros. Three times, he nailed Kansas City’s Len Dawson in a 28-14 victory. The game ball sits on a shelf in Dutton’s den, beside his battle-scarred Colts helmet and three Pro Bowl trophies.
"Once, at Memorial Stadium, I got to [Miami’s] Bob Griese as he started to throw," Dutton said. "I slammed him with one hand, grabbed his shoulder pad and just kept running."
The hit turned Griese topsy-turvy.
"His feet flipped straight up in the air and he landed on his head," Dutton said. "But he got up and kept playing."
Off the field, Dutton’s Colts’ career stalled. By 1977, contract talks with Bob Irsay, the tight-fisted owner, turned ugly. Twice, Dutton sat out much of training camp before he was finally traded to Dallas in 1979 for a first and second-round draft pick.
To Dutton’s chagrin, the squabble was played out in the press, angering Colts fans who booed him during one of his final games in Baltimore. Dutton’s response? An obscene gesture to the crowd.
"It was a childish thing to do," he said, in retrospect. "But I knew I wasn’t coming back, and I just got tired of the boos. I’d given 100 percent on every play.
"I had no trouble with the team or the town. All of the hassles were on the business side of it."
Dutton played nine more years in Dallas, retired there and started a business manufacturing and installing traffic signs for the city. Last week, on the job, he fell off a ladder, separating the tricep muscle from his elbow.
"Can you believe it?" Dutton said. "Twenty years of football with no serious injuries ... and now this."
Otherwise, he’s a strapping, 280-pound family man. Married 34 years, Dutton has three children and a 9-month-old grandson who was born on his birthday (Feb. 6).
A staunch outdoorsman, he goes fishing in Canada for pike and walleye, and hunting in Nebraska for pheasant and quail. Several years ago, he returned to Baltimore with his son, Bridger, who attended a summer lacrosse camp at Goucher College – the site of the Colts’ training camp when Dutton played here.
"It doesn’t seem that long ago," he said of his football career. "Tell you what, I’m tired of listening to people say that guys who played back then couldn’t have made it in the pros now. You hear that crap all the time.
"In college, I was 6 feet 7 and 270 pounds, and I ran a 4.7. I think I could have played today."
Baltimore Sun file photos