Each week in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called, "Catching Up With ..." . Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ..."
He'll be 51 next week, but the gift that Randy McMillan wants most, no one else can bestow.
"I want to be able to walk under my own power," .said McMillan, one-time fullback for the Baltimore Colts. "Maybe not 100 percent. But doctors say I'm capable, and I've got to be able to do that."
Injured seven years ago in a car crash that damaged his spine, McMillan – the Colts' No. 1 draft pick in 1981 – uses crutches to get around his condo in Towson. Next month, he'll receive steroid injections in an effort to kick-start the healing process that has slowed of late.
Meanwhile, McMillan works to strengthen his legs, inching his way along neighborhood streets with all of the might he can muster.
It's a fight he's determined to win.
2005 Sun file photo by Andre F. Chung
"If I can go from being a kid in Jarrettsville, growing up to make it in the NFL, then I can do this," McMillan said.
Make it in the pros, he did. Baltimore fans embraced their home-town hero after McMillan's auspicious debut. He rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-28 upset of New England, a feat reminiscent of a punishing fullback of yore, the Colts' Alan (The Horse) Ameche.
Before the game, McMillan said, "I was scared to death thinking I would fall on my butt, screw up, blow routes and do everything wrong."
Sensing the rookie's jitters, Bert Jones sidled over.
"Calm down, kid," the quarterback said. "Just do what you do."
The Colts floundered from there, losing 14 in a row.
"The second week, against Buffalo, I got hammered," he said. "My first carry, I got the ball only to have my own lineman jammed back five yards in my face."
The next year was worse. In strike-shortened 1982, the club went 0-8-1, to McMillan's chagrin. Here was a player who'd been weaned on the Colts in their heyday, who'd attended John Carroll and North Harford High, and who'd made All-American at Harford Community College before earning a scholarship to Pitt.
"That year (1982) was chaos, a joke," McMillan said. "We looked like a high school team. We had players starting who'd been cut by other clubs. Guys really didn't care if we won or lost, and baby, it showed on the field."
He had three decent seasons in Baltimore, gaining 1,700 yards rushing while catching 89 passes for 750 more. Then, in 1984, the club moved to Indianapolis, where McMillan played three more years before a road accident in April, 1987 cut short his career.
Walking across York Road, he was struck by a car, shattering his left leg in two places. When two comebacks failed, McMillan took a job managing a health club in White Marsh.
Then came the second accident, in December, 2002, when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car into a guardrail, bruising his spinal cord.
Recovery has been slow, in fits and starts, but McMillan remains hopeful. He's OK financially, with an NFL pension and an annuity from the Colts.
Between walks, he chats online with old teammates, linemen like Chris Hinton and Ray Donaldson who once carved holes for the 6-1, 225-pound fullback with oaken thighs and 4.5 speed.
"It (the injury) has been an eye-opener for me," he said. "But I take on the challenge – and I've got friends."
Bottom photos: Sun archives