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, a former 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 the might he can muster.

It's a fight he's determined to win.

"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 hometown 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, "I was scared to death, thinking I would fall on my butt, screw up, blow routes and do everything wrong," McMillan said.

Sensing the rookie's jitters, Bert Jones sidled over.

"Calm down, kid," the quarterback said. "Just do what you do."

McMillan did.

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 5 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 had been weaned on the Colts in their heyday, who had attended John Carroll and North Harford High, and who had made All-American at Harford Community College before earning a scholarship to Pittsburgh.

"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, rushing for 1,700 yards while catching 89 passes for 750 more. The club moved to Indianapolis in 1984, where McMillan played three more years before a road accident in April 1987 cut short his career.

Walking across York Road, he was hit 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.

In December 2002, 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 such as Chris Hinton and Ray Donaldson who once carved holes for the 6-foot-1, 225-pound fullback with oaken thighs and 4.5-second 40-yard-dash speed.

The injury "has been an eye-opener for me," he said. "But I take on the challenge, and I've got friends."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad