Catching Up With ... Former Colts middle linebacker Ed Simonini

Former Colts middle linebacker Ed Simonini hasn't attended an NFL game in more than 20 years.

Nearly 40 years later, the taunts still haunt Ed Simonini, the Colts' 6-foot middle linebacker.

"Guys would tease me, saying, 'Why don't you get up on your high heels?' Or: 'Can't you grow another inch?' "

Simonini's response?

"I'd roll with the punches and give it right back — on the field," he said.

That he did. From 1977 to 1980, Simonini led the Colts in tackles, helping them to the AFC East title, and their last playoff appearance, in 1977. He starred for three more seasons, the linchpin of a once-proud defense as the Colts' brass systematically drained the team and exiled most of the veterans.

Now 60, Simonini, armed with a master's degree in civil engineering, works as an international business developer for a firm that makes industrial-grade tools in Tulsa, Okla. He travels the world, spent 15 years in Latin America and said he hasn't attended an NFL game in more than 20 years.

"Football was a great time, but it's part of my past," he said. Though not forgotten.

"I still have my Colts helmet," he said. "When they released me [in 1982], I took the helmet with me to New Orleans, where the Saints put the fleur-de-lis emblem on it. I wore the same one in Miami when I was with the Dolphins, too.

"I liked that helmet. It was hard to find a comfortable one that wouldn't scramble your brains."

Smart and savvy, Simonini made up for what he lacked in size (210 pounds) with guts and guile. A third-round draft pick from Texas A&M, he was an All-American and one of four finalists for the 1975 Rotary Lombardi Award, given to the best defensive lineman or linebacker in college football. But he spent much of his seven-year NFL career defending his size, or lack thereof, and looking over his shoulder.

"The majority of fans in Baltimore respected my lunch-pail mindset to do the job," he said, even if he felt the coaches sometimes did not. Before the 1979 opener, coach Ted Marchibroda pulled Simonini aside and told him he'd lost his job to rookie Barry Krauss, the team's No. 1 pick. Krauss was 6 foot 3 and 245 pounds. Simonini was not.

"I told Ted he was wrong," Simonini said, and by midseason, he'd regained his spot. But in a game against New England, Marchibroda yanked him during a Patriots drive.

"That made me angry," Simonini said. "I wouldn't have minded if [Marchibroda] had replaced me after the ball changed hands, but he waited until New England had run an offensive play. I ran off the field and threw my helmet at him. I was going to go after him, but, luckily, another coach grabbed me and sat me down."

In hindsight, he said: "I wasn't very mature. Looking back, I understand Ted's intention wasn't to show me up; he was looking for someone bigger. Sure, there were some trying times, but I had the backing of my fellow players and a majority of the defensive coaches — and that, at least, kept me sane."

Simonini's best game: a 31-26 defeat of New England in 1979 in which he saved the day on the final two plays. With the Patriots threatening, Simonini sacked quarterback Steve Grogan on a rollout at the 2. Then he batted down a pass by Grogan to end the game.

"I jumped as high as I could, which isn't very high," Simonini told The Sun afterward. "He [Grogan] must have thrown it too low, don't you think?"

One game nags at him: the 37-31 overtime loss to Oakland in the 1977 playoffs. Late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders rallied for a field goal to tie it. On one passing play in that drive, Simonini made a stop.

Looking back, he said, he could have done more.

"I made the tackle instead of going for a fumble," he said. "I could have scraped the ball from behind, knocked it loose and prevented the field goal. I still kick myself about that."

In 1981, Simonini broke his collarbone, returned too soon and broke it again. The next year, with most of his old teammates gone and an obstinate first-year coach (Frank Kush), he asked for his release. He retired the next year.

"I was really in the right place at the right time," he said of his career. "Nowadays, I probably would have played Division III and not been recruited by anybody."

Married for 36 years and the father of two, Simonini stays in shape and weighs 180 pounds despite his newfound interest.

"My neighbor and I brew beer in my garage," he said. "We add orange peel, roasted pecans and, if I get wild, some oak-barrel, bourbon-soaked chips. Then, come evening, a bunch of us will sit out in the center court of our cul-de-sac, have homemade beer, chips and nuts, and talk about the day's business.

"I've had a pretty good life, and it's not over."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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