He was short, bald and not that fast. Looks be damned. Bobby Boyd, who intercepted 57 passes in his nine years in Baltimore, was probably the best cornerback the Colts ever had, teammates said.
“Bobby was a very smart player who knew the receivers’ moves before they even made them. The little son of a gun could figure it out,” former Colts running back Tom Matte said. “He had a great vision of the field. It was like having a Raymond Berry on defense.”
Boyd died Aug. 28 of bladder cancer in his hometown of Garland, Texas. He was 79.
A three-time All-Pro first-team selection, Boyd played for the Colts from 1960 through 1968. He captained the defense and anchored the backfield, helping the team to one NFL title (1968) and four division championships. Boyd’s nine interceptions in 1965 led the league, as did his interception return yardage (185) in 1964. He was named to the NFL 1960s All Decade Team.
His 57 interceptions rank 13th all time, though his career was the shortest of anyone on the list ahead of him. Had Boyd not retired, at 31, to help coach the Colts, he might have reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“It could have happened,” Rick Volk said. “He has the numbers to back it up.”
Volk, a rookie defensive back in 1967, recalled being drafted by the Colts and thumbing through a sports magazine to find pictures of the players.
“I saw this photo of Bobby, with that bald head, and thought, ‘Geez, if I can’t beat out that old man, I shouldn’t be playing,’ ” Volk said. “When I got to [training] camp, I realized that it’s not what you look like, but how you play. He didn’t have height or speed, but he had brains and heart.”
Boyd studied game films and knew the nuances of every quarterback the Colts played. He stole signals and, at 5 feet 10, would hide behind taller receivers, often popping up under their armpits to steal passes.
“That old bald head is as smart as they come,” teammate Alex Hawkins once said.
In 1967, in the Colts’ 38-31 win over Atlanta, Boyd picked off two passes, returning one 30 yards for a touchdown. The pass was intended for Hawkins, then with the Falcons. He broached Boyd after the game.
“How the heck did you do that?” Hawkins asked.
“You missed the [quarterback’s] check-off,” he said. “You were supposed to run an ‘out’ pattern, not an ‘in’ pattern.”
A 10th-round draft pick, Boyd starred at Oklahoma on offense and defense, quarterbacking the Sooners to Big Seven Conference championships in 1958 and 1959. Though he seldom passed in college, his arm gained notice in 1965, when injuries to quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo forced the Colts to play Matte under center, with Boyd as his backup. In practice, players teased Boyd, calling him “Y.A.” after Y.A. Tittle, former bald quarterback for the New York Giants.
Before a playoff game in Green Bay, Matte said, Boyd issued him a warning.
“Don’t try to come off the field,” he told Matte, “because I’ll push you back on.”
In a heartbreaker, the Colts lost to the Packers, 13-10.
Boyd retired after the 1968 season — and his third Pro Bowl appearance — to coach the team’s defensive backs, a job he held until 1972. A close friend of Unitas, he entered several business ventures with the quarterback, including The Golden Arm Restaurant in Towson, which the two started in 1968. An air freight and courier service, established in 1977, closed seven years later. Another Towson restaurant, Baby Doe’s Mining Co., opened briefly in 1981.
On his own, Boyd ran Hooligan’s, a bar-restaurant in Towson that opened in 1975. Eight years later, he left Baltimore and returned to Texas.
He never forgot his Colts career — nor the upset loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III, the last game in which he played.
"I had nightmares about it for a long time," Boyd told The Baltimore Sun in 2010. "Many a time, I'd wake up thinking, 'Why didn't we try this or that?' Then I'd get up, angry, drink a Coke, watch TV to calm down and then try to go back to sleep."
Eventually, he said, the dreams stopped, “but I'll be thinking about that game to the day I die.”