The kid's name was Chase, and the driver knew he'd be trouble from the second he set foot on the school bus.
"He was a sixth-grader, a little rebel," said Eddie Hinton, aka "Mr. Eddie" to the children. "I decided to try and change that."
One morning, as Chase climbed aboard, Hinton declared, "I'm going to make you my friend."
Chase shrugged and moved on.
"When he sat down, the kid next to him whispered, 'You know, Mr. Eddie played in the Super Bowl,' " Hinton said. Chase glanced first at the aging driver, then at the 1970 championship ring on his hand.
At that point, Hinton said, "Chase's whole attitude changed."
At 65, and living in Spring Branch, Texas, this is Hinton's calling — to help troubled youths navigate life's highways, the onetime Colts' wide receiver said. After six years in the NFL, and a career as a homebuilder, Hinton last year chose to go another route.
"I had retired, but then I asked myself, 'What have you done to make a difference in anyone's life but your own?' " he said. "So many kids today come from broken homes. I thought that maybe I could make a difference in their lives."
So he took a job driving a school bus.
"It's better than sitting at home, doing 'honeydo's' and watching 'Judge Judy,' " he said.
A fleet, first-round draft pick from Oklahoma, Hinton played four years in Baltimore (1969-72) and caught 96 passes and nine touchdowns. He had 11 receptions, a career-high, in a 44-24 loss to Kansas City's defending Super Bowl champions in 1970. It was the second Monday Night Football game ever played and one of two losses the Colts suffered that season in their own Super Bowl run.
Two years later, Hinton made history by nabbing the last TD pass that 39-year-old Johnny Unitas threw for Baltimore. With the Colts leading Buffalo, 28-0, and the Memorial Stadium crowd chanting his name, Unitas came off the bench and called Hinton's number.
"In the huddle, he says, 'I'm gonna throw the crossing pattern to you,' " Hinton remembered. "I'm thinking, Oh, man — here's a guy who I still called 'Mr. Unitas,' a guy who has thrown to (Raymond) Berry and (John) Mackeys and (Jimmy) Orr, and he has the confidence to call on me at a crucial time like this? What an honor."
Unitas took the snap and launched a wobbly pass in Hinton's direction.
"I saw it coming and thought, 'Ohmygosh, it's going to be intercepted.' I couldn't allow that to happen," Hinton said. "I came back for the ball, reached over my shoulder and snatched it (at the Bills' 40-yard line). Then I reversed field and just kept running. It was like I was walking on air and nobody could touch me. But I felt like I had to score for (Unitas)."
The touchdown, with some nifty broken-field running, covered 63 yards. The crowd went nuts.
The play was payback for the times Unitas had bailed him out, Hinton said. Like the 1970 game against the Chicago Bears when — on the Colts' winning drive in the fourth quarter — Hinton dropped two passes.
"Now, it's fourth down, and I'm going back to the huddle, thinking, 'God, please kill me now — just stop my heart,' " he said. "But John looks at me and says, 'Hinton, give me 5 yards on an out route.' He throws the ball, I catch it one-handed and we go in to score.
"In the locker room, as he's walking into the shower, I go up to John with tears in my eyes. I say, 'Why did you call on me the third time?'
"Because I knew you'd catch the m------."
Today. Hinton lives on a three-acre spread with his wife and a menagerie that includes Heidi the dog, Willie the cat and three horses named Mr. Sandman, Mr. Moonshine and Ray.
"I've always loved horses," he said. "I remember, in high school, how the Colts' helmet caught my eye."
Though 30 pounds over his playing weight ("I seem to pick up a pound every year") he's otherwise healthy.
"Still got all of my teeth and hair," Hinton said. "There's one spot of gray on my mustache , but I use a Sharpie to touch it up from time to time.
"I've been truly blessed. People still send letters, wanting autographs. It was almost like a fantasy that I got to play in the NFL, to be part of that arena and to play with the legends like Unitas, Mackey, (Tom) Matte and (Rick) Volk."
No fantasy, that. The Super Bowl ring that catches kids' eyes, on the school bus, reminds Mr. Eddie of that.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun