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Catching Up With . . . Baltimore native and former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Collier

Stop by the Martin's Food Store in Hagerstown and you'll find him at his post. Mike Collier is a night manager, his job for 18 years.

It's the perfect role for the former Pittsburgh Steelers running back. He's used to bringing home the bacon.

Collier, who starred at Edmondson High and Morgan State, played on Pittsburgh's Super Bowl championship team in 1975-76. A rookie, he made the Steelers as a 14th round draft pick, scored a touchdown in his first game and even left his mark on Super Bowl X.

With Pittsburgh trailing the Dallas Cowboys, 10-9 in the fourth quarter, Collier raced 25 yards on a punt return to set up a field goal that gave the Steelers the lead for good. Pittsburgh won, 21-17.

That was the height of Collier's three-year NFL career, cut short by a rash of injuries. His framed Super Bowl jersey hangs in his Hagerstown home. Now 60, he appears at fundraisers, signs autographs for charities and speaks to youth groups throughout western Maryland, where the number of Steelers fans rivals that of the Ravens.

"It used to seem like a dream," Collier said of his time in the pros. "I realize that a lot of people would love to have been in my position. I thank God that He gave me the opportunity to be there."

Raised in west Baltimore, Collier attended Edmondson where, as a senior, he averaged 8-1/2 yards a carry, scored 72 points and made The Sun's 1970 All-Maryland Scholastic Association first team. He loved baseball too, but said he was forced to give up the sport after coaches saw his speed in football.

"The track coach, Art Milburn, told me I had to run track in spring," Collier said. "Well, I went out for baseball anyway, with my glove and cleats, but the baseball coach chased me off. 'Go run track,' he said. So I did.

"It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got my speed up and went from being a mediocre running back to one of the best in the state. I can't thank [those coaches] enough."

At Morgan State, he stood out enough to have been plucked by Pittsburgh's Super Bowl champions, albeit as the 364th player chosen.

"I remember sitting alone by the phone in our house on Harlem Avenue on the first day [of the draft], when no one called," Collier said. "I got upset, went out and got a little drunk."

On Day Two, the phone finally rang at 6 p.m.

"Is this Mike Collier?" a voice asked. "This is Art Rooney, Jr. of the Steelers. We've just selected you."

Collier dropped the phone and did a backflip over his bed.

"I was so excited that I ran down the middle of the street screaming, 'I've been drafted! I've been drafted!' " he said.

Despite long odds, he made the team, scored three times that season and helped Pittsburgh win its second straight title. Against Green Bay, Collier broke a 94-yard punt return — the only TD the Steelers scored in a 16-13 victory.

A favorite memory is the 28-10 win over Baltimore in the 1975 playoffs in which he carried once for 8 yards and returned a punt for 17. That was vindication enough for Collier, who felt the Colts had snubbed him during the draft.

"They never sent a scout to see me in college, though Morgan isn't a mile from Memorial Stadium," he said. "The Colts never gave me a chance. I would love to have stayed in Baltimore, but it worked out better for me."

Married and the father of three, Collier keeps his Super Bowl ring in a safe deposit box and participates in Steelers alumni functions. Despite his Baltimore roots, he'll pull for Pittsburgh against the Ravens on Sunday.

"They embraced me and called me 'Super Rookie' when I made the team," he said. "I'll always have a place in my heart for those guys."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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