Former Colts tight end Tom Mitchell dies at age 72

Tom Mitchell, a rugged tight end who helped the Colts win Super Bowl V in the 1970 season, died of cancer Sunday night at his home in Cape Coral, Fla. He was 72.

"Tom was a tremendous route-runner with fly-trap hands who wanted to win and who took no prisoners," said Bruce Laird, a Colts defensive back who played with Mitchell for two years.

Combative and fiercely competitive, Mitchell played six years in Baltimore (1968 through 1973), during which he made 133 receptions for 1,786 yards and 19 touchdowns. A backup to Hall of Famer John Mackey early on, Mitchell blossomed in 1971, and the next year caught a career-high 40 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns.

In 1973, after having been ejected from back-to-back preseason games for fighting, he was named co-captain of the Colts along with Mike Curtis, the feisty All-Pro linebacker with whom Mitchell often went at it in practice.

"They fought at least twice every training camp," Laird said. "Mike was intimidating, but Tom took nothing off of anyone. He held his own in those battles, for sure."

In the heat of one battle, one player chomped down on the other, former Colts back Sam Havrilak recalled.

"I don't remember who bit who, but somebody lost a cap off his front tooth," said Havrilak, now a dentist in Parkville.

A 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, Mitchell attended Bucknell, as did Havrilak.

"Though he came from a small school, Tom could have played for any Division I college in the country," Havrilak said. "I remember a game against Temple, our rival, where he caught passes for more than 230 yards. He seemed to be a man among boys. He caught one touchdown pass where he lost his shoe on the 20-yard line, was hit several times, got turned around and ran the last 5 yards backwards, into the end zone."

Originally signed by the Oakland Raiders, who made him their third-round pick in the 1966 American Football League draft, Mitchell played one year. He signed with the Colts and spent the 1967 season on their band squad before making the roster.

Mitchell's style of play was much like that of former Ravens tight end Todd Heap, Havrilak said.

"Neither was afraid to give up his body to make a catch," he said. "He'd go over the middle and take the hit. Tom was extremely bright and quick-witted, once you knew him. Those who didn't cited an abrasive personality, but he just had a very large mean streak on the field."

In 1974, as part of general manager Joe Thomas' purge of Colts veterans, Mitchell was dealt to the San Francisco 49ers, with whom he played for four more seasons. Before leaving Baltimore, he opened a golf facility in Reisterstown. Established in 1972, off Route 140, it included a driving range, miniature golf course and a par-61 executive course. Mitchell sold it years later.

"Tom knew Interstate 795 was going to go through there, so he bought 53 acres and built the thing," Havrilak said. "He was smart — and he loved golf."

Mitchell is survived by his wife of 22 years, Patricia Mitchell; three daughters (Christy Schiano, of Columbus, Ohio, Bartley Dutton, of Denver, Colo., and Sara Pittman, of Cocoa Beach, Fla.); a son, Tom, of Encinitas, Cal.; and seven grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks friends to make donations to their local humane society.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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