Ed Simonini, an undersized middle linebacker for the Baltimore Colts who led the team in tackles from 1977 to 1980, died Tuesday after a bout with cancer. He was 65.
Simonini’s death was announced by his family through the athletic department at Texas A&M, where he starred in college. His wife, Karen Simonini, declined to comment.
At 6 feet and 210 pounds, Simonini was taunted by opponents about his size. But he had a retort ready for those who challenged him.
“I’d roll with the punches and give it right back — on the field,” he told The Sun five years ago.
Simonini had enjoyed a decorated career with the Aggies. As a sophomore in 1973, he was named the Southwestern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. As a senior two years later, he became an All-American and was one of four finalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award, which honored the best defensive lineman or linebacker in college football.
Simonini was selected by the Colts in the third round of the 1976 NFL draft. The following season, he helped the franchise capture the AFC East championship and earn a berth in the playoffs, their last one in Baltimore.
Former Colts wide receiver Roger Carr recalled watching Simonini when the offense stood on the sideline and the defense was on the field.
“He played until the runner was down,” Carr said Wednesday. “He was there whether he was by himself or if it was two or three [tacklers]. He played until the whistle. I would just watch him because he was so competitive. He used to say, ‘We’ve got to have everybody around the ball on defense. When we play O.J. Simpson and the Buffalo Bills, the way you tackle O.J. Simpson is with eight or nine of us.’
“That’s the way he played. And for his size, that’s the way he needed to play. That’s the way undersized guys have to play to make it to the NFL. That’s what I remember about him.”
Simonini seemed to recognize that he joined the NFL at a time when he could fly under the prototypical requirements for a middle linebacker.
“I was really in the right place at the right time,” he told The Sun in 2014. “Nowadays, I probably would have played Division III and not been recruited by anybody.”
Carr said Simonini never carried himself as if he was better than anyone else. He remembered Simonini wearing a simple outfit of Colts or Texas A&M T-shirts, jeans and flip flops around the team’s complex, even in the winter.
“He was very unassuming,” Carr said. “You would probably see him on the street and not think he was the Southwest Conference’s Most Valuable Player on defense as a linebacker at Texas A&M or a starting linebacker with the Baltimore Colts. But he just gave us that explosiveness from a guy that was a little undersized.”
After six years with the Colts, Simonini requested his release from the franchise and played one more season for the New Orleans Saints. After his football career, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Johns Hopkins. He worked as an international business developer for a company that produced industrial-grade tools in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
He told The Sun that he lived abroad and traveled the world. But he appreciated his time in football.
“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.”
Simonini is survived by his wife of 41 years, Karen, children, Anna and Nick, grandson, Storm, and one sister and three brothers. Funeral services are pending.