Catching Up With ... Mike Barnes

Catching Up With ... Mike Barnes
Baltimore Colts defensive tackle Mike Barnes chases Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler in a 1975 game at Memorial Stadium. (Malcolm Emmons, US PRESSWIRE)

Baltimore's football teams haven't always lost on last-ditch field goals, as per the past two weeks. Sometimes, they've blocked those kicks.

In 1978, with eight seconds remaining and the Colts leading 7-6, Denver tried a field goal. But defensive tackle Mike Barnes crashed through the Broncos' line, leaped and slapped the ball with his right hand, saving the day against the defending AFC champions.


Thirty-four years later, Barnes recalls the play.

"I knew I was going to block the kick when we lined up," the one-time Pro Bowl lineman said. "The idea was to squeeze myself between [Denver's] guard and center and come in up the middle. Well, they came out of the huddle all spread out, which was like leaving the front door open."

Just then the Colts called time-out, in an effort to rattle the kicker. All it did was upset Barnes.

"I thought for sure that, this time, the Broncos would line up correctly. But they didn't," he said. "So it wasn't that hard for me to make my move and get the block."

His effort earned Barnes the Colts' player of the game award, a black-and-white TV set that teammates razzed him about afterward.

"I had back spasms and didn't play much that day," he said. "I'd come off the bench just for that kick, and a number of guys who'd played well all game let me hear about it.

"Winning that television was a very competitive thing. Imagine today's players, fighting over a TV."

Barnes had starred long before that. He was part of the Colts' celebrated "Sack Pack," the defensive line that led Baltimore to three straight AFC East championships (1975-77). Those teams won 31 of 42 regular-season games, but lost each year in the playoffs.

For three seasons, the foursome of Barnes, John Dutton, Fred Cook and Joe Ehrmann terrorized opposing quarterbacks. In 1975, they combined for 59 sacks, added 56 a year later and 47 after that.

In 1977, Barnes won the Mack Truck Bulldog Award as football's top defensive lineman, as voted by NFL offensive linemen.

"It wasn't just the Sack Pack," Barnes said of the Colts' success. "[QB] Bert Jones was putting points on the scoreboard, which allowed us to rush in and tee off on their passers."

The end was nigh. In 1978, Jones got hurt, and members of the Sack Pack began contract squabbles with Bob Irsay, the Colts' tightfisted owner.

"The Sack Pack should have run its course for 10 years," Barnes said.

Instead, one by one they disappeared, via trades or free agency until, in 1981, Barnes stood alone — a beacon for teams bent on revenge.


"The Sack Pack roughed up a few quarterbacks and ticked off a lot of players in our time, so it wasn't fun being the last one left, let me tell you," Barnes said. "There were games, against Buffalo and Kansas City, when one [opposing] player would stand me up, and another would try to take my knees out."

It needn't have gone that way, he said: "What happened to The Sack Pack? We worked for Irsay, who ran one of the worst organizations in the history of professional sports — so we went away."

A second-round draft pick from Miami, Barnes played nine years with the Colts, who released him in 1982. He retired soon after and launched a career in construction management, helping to design and build U.S. military command centers in Norfolk, Quantico (Va.) and San Diego.

Married and the father of three, he lives in Meadville, Pa. Self-employed, Barnes and his son, Michael Ryan, are designing the prototype for a mobile factory that would allow homes to be built of materials created on-site, thus cutting the cost of low-income housing.

"I'm very far removed from football, but I watch it now and then," said Barnes, who will turn 62 on Christmas Eve. "I'm happy for the Ravens; they seem like a first-class organization, like the old Colts of the 1960s."

Between those two eras, he said, came "the twilight zone" in which Barnes played.

"In that haze were some great times, and some very talented players," he said. "But you wonder how their careers might have gone, under different circumstances and in a more stable organization."