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Catching Up With ... former Baltimore Colts LB Ray May

At 68, member of Super Bowl V championship team struggles with walking

By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

6:03 PM EDT, September 26, 2013

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Ray May doesn't go out much. It's hard to get around when both of your hips are shot, and your legs go numb, and you need a cane, maybe two, to walk.

Nine years of playing professional football wore him down. At 68, May — a starting linebacker on the Baltimore Colts' 1971 Super Bowl championship team — will need multiple surgeries to regain his footing.

"Hobbling everywhere you go is as demeaning as it gets," he said from his home in Los Angeles. "Right now, I'm fighting with the NFL [to help pay for] my hip replacements. I can't wait to feel whole again."

In his prime, May was a co-captain and mainstay on a team that preached defense. The 1971 Colts allowed the second fewest points in the NFL. In May's three years here (1970-72), Baltimore went 26-15-1 with seven shutouts.

Buffalo, especially, felt the Colts' wrath. In three successive meetings in 1971 and 1972, they blanked the Bills by a combined 84-0. The Colts would have had a fourth straight shutout, but Buffalo's O.J. Simpson scored a touchdown with 38 seconds left in a 35-7 rout on Dec. 3, 1972.

"We were all just doing our jobs," May said of those years when he played on a linebacking corps with 6-foot-7 Ted "The Mad Stork" Hendricks, a Hall of Famer, and Mike "Mad Dog" Curtis, an All-Pro middle linebacker.

"Ted was an octopus. He had arms long enough to reach over blockers and take down ball carriers," May said. "Mike just wanted to knock the crap out of you and, after every tackle, he had this John Wayne way of walking back to the huddle."

The best threesome ever? May, who could shed blocks with aplomb, won't say.

"So many great defenses have come along, but we were one of the good ones," he said.

A graduate of Southern California, May played three years for the Pittsburgh Steelers before being traded to the Colts prior to their championship season. The 1969 Steelers had lost 13 of 14 games, leaving May disconsolate.

"I came to Baltimore filled with self-doubts," he said. "I thought, 'I got traded from a last-place team so, holy shemaneez, how bad must I be?'

"Then Johnny Unitas took me aside and said, 'Y'know, Ray, we could have gotten any player on the Steelers, but we got you. Now prove to us that we took the right guy.' "

The words hit home, May said: "At that point, I'd have taken on King Kong and his cousin and whipped both of their butts."

Unitas, he said, seemed to always come through.

"At the Super Bowl, in pregame practice, I got my right hand caught in someone's chin strap and dislocated my ring finger," May said. "Well, John walked over and, without a word, grabbed my hand, twisted it and popped the finger back in place.

"I swear he knew everything that was happening on the field, all of the time. He had eyes in the back of his head."

Following the Colts' 16-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V, May took his $15,000 winnings, paid off the mortgage on his parents' house and bought a ranch for underprivileged kids in Kansas. He'd already opened his Pikesville home to several urban teens, for whom he served as guardian, tracking their studies and taking them to Colts games.

"They had nothing and they needed a chance," he said. "Once, I found [teammates] Bubba Smith and Roy Jefferson in the house, wrestling with the kids, who were small but raw-bone tough. Bubba [6-7, 265 pounds] kept hollering, 'Get 'em off me! Get 'em off me!'

"I'm thankful the players gave of themselves, and that the kids could feel that wholesomeness."

His community work earned May the Byron "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year award in 1971. May is one of two Baltimore players to have won it; the Ravens' Michael McCrary took honors in 2000.

Traded to Denver in 1973, May played three years with the Broncos and left football. Most recently, he worked 15 years for the firm that installed red-light cameras at intersections in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Retired since 2009, he lives with his daughter and four grandchildren.

"I try to stay active," he said. "I lift weights, but I can't do much with my lower extremities because there's no cartilage in my hips. I don't enjoy leaving the house because I'm a liability. Sometimes, going down stairs, I have to lift each leg with my hands.

"I know other players have the same problems, but it's hard knowing you busted your butt playing ball all your life, and this is what you get for it."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com