Toni Linhart

Toni Linhart, Baltimore Colts Baltimore Sun photo, published June 28, 1980 (Baltimore Sun Photo Weyman Swagge / April 8, 2013)

The kick knifed through the thick fog and split the uprights at Memorial Stadium, giving the Colts a 10-7 victory in sudden-death overtime.

In a flash, fans swarmed the field. Down came the goal posts. Up went Toni Linhart, on someone's shoulders.

Linhart's 31-yard field goal defeated the rival Miami Dolphins late in 1975 and all but clinched Baltimore's first of three straight AFC East titles.

It was the kick of a lifetime for Linhart, who died Sunday morning of cancer, at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. He was 70.

One of only six Austrian-born NFL players, Anton Hans Jorg Linhart signed with the Colts in 1974 after one season with the New Orleans Saints and an 11-year soccer career in Europe. Then 32, he played nearly six years here and, for a time, gave the team a stability long missing in its kicking game. Linhart led the NFL in scoring (109 points) in 1976, when he made the first of two straight Pro Bowl appearances.

He didn't flaunt his success, players said.

"Toni was never flamboyant about his abilities," said Marty Domres, onetime Colts quarterback and the holder on Linhart's field goals and extra points. "He was low-key and understated about everything. I doubt that a lot of people even think of him when it comes to Colts' lore."

Linhart impressed teammates with his athleticism at a time when kickers weren't known as fitness buffs.

"He was great in soccer, tennis and skiing," said Bruce Laird, then the Colts' safety. "He was the first kicker I ever knew who was an athlete first."

At training camp at Goucher College, Domres said, Linhart set up his own drills to test his mettle.

"He developed exercises for himself using medicine balls and elastic bands," Domres said. "Toni was very methodical and organized — and way ahead of his time — in seeing his craft as a professional."

It was a strategy he'd long embraced, he once told The Sun:

"I learned when I was [trying out for the Austrian Olympic ski team], when it was me and the mountain and 50 other skiers, that they might be better than I. But if I was prepared, completely, I could win."

An avid runner, Linhart — an engineer by trade — created an exhaustive obstacle course through the woods on Goucher's campus and suggested that other Colts join in. Coach Ted Marchibroda agreed.

"We still haven't forgiven Toni for that," Laird said.

Linhart's fitness was legend. In 1978, in a publicized tuneup to the Preakness, Pimlico Race Course staged a two-legged match race between the Colts kicker and a jockey named Charley Cooke. Linhart surged to an early lead in the 1-3/16-mile event and won by 30 yards. His time: 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

"Toni was a strong competitor," said David Lee, his roommate and the Colts' punter. "Some mornings, at Goucher, he would play tennis before going to practice. If he was sick or injured, you never knew it. He just worked harder.

"He was also an encouraging guy. If I [shanked] a punt, he'd walk over and say, 'You'll get the next one.'

"He was tough, but also compassionate — and you don't see those two qualities in the same person too often."

By 1979, Linhart's accuracy waned and the crowds let him know it. He appeared nonplussed.