He arrived in Baltimore in 1979, a graying quarterback with scarred knees and muted expectations. A second-stringer, the Colts’ Greg Landry would be.
So what happened? Starter Bert Jones got hurt, Landry took the reins and the man his teammates called “Pops” passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in his most prolific NFL season.
“I threw more that year [457 attempts] than ever,” Landry, 70, said from his home in Troy, Mich. “With the Colts, I knew I could still contribute, but that I probably wouldn’t play much because of Bert [the 1976 NFL Most Valuable Player].”
When Jones went down with a shoulder injury, Landry stepped up, ran the offense and threw for 2,932 yards — more than he had with the Detroit Lions in either 1971, when he made the Pro Bowl, or 1976, when he was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
“I guess, after 11 years, I still had a lot of energy in me,” he said.
Alas, Landry’s work didn’t translate to wins. The Colts went 5-11. One pulsing victory: a 38-28 comeback over Cincinnati in which Landry replaced Jones in the second quarter and threw two touchdown passes in the second half, to Don McCauley and Reese McCall, to beat the Bengals at Memorial Stadium.
A back-up for most of 1980, Landry started one game, in December, against AFC East-leading Buffalo. Before a jubilant, if modest home crowd (36,184), he passed for one touchdown and ran for another — a 6-yard quarterback sneak that surprised the Bills — in a 28-24 victory.
Acquired from Detroit for three draft picks (third-, fourth- and fifth-round), Landry had lost his job with the Lions after 11 years there. He asked to be traded and the Colts took note.
“We needed maturity, and Landry fills that need,” Coach Ted Marchibroda said then.
“I think the players accepted me for the career that I’d had,” said Landry, who passed for more than 16,000 yards and 98 touchdowns in his career. “I loved Baltimore; the stadium had real dirt and the Inner Harbor was new.”
He spent three years here until released abruptly before the 1982 season by new coach Frank Kush.
“He [Kush] called me into his office and said, ‘Greg, I’m letting you go,’ ” Landry recalled. The quarterback was stunned. His departure left the Colts with four signal-callers who had a total of one NFL start between them.
“You don’t have any quarterbacks,” Landry said.
“Well, we’ll win,” Kush replied.
The Colts went 0-8-1 in that strike-shortened season.
Landry spent several years in the short-lived United States Football League, then played briefly for the Chicago Bears in 1984. At 38, he engineered a 30-13 win over Detroit in his final appearance, passing for one score and rushing for another.
“I thought that was a good way to go out,” he said.
Coaching beckoned. For 11 years, Landry worked with several NFL teams and the University of Illinois before bowing out. For 21 years, he has been a manufacturer’s rep for a firm that sells plastic parts to the auto industry.
Married to his college sweetheart at Massachusetts, he spends his spare time playing golf and spoiling their offspring. A son, Joe, played lacrosse at Loyola Maryland. A 6-foot-4 midfielder, he graduated in 2008. His father attended nearly every game.
“We have 12 grandchildren and when they visit, they go into the basement, drag out all of my old helmets, from the Colts, Lions and Bears, put them on and go outside and play with the game balls I was given,” Landry said.
Pops does not join in.
“I’m trying to teach the 11-year-old how to pass, but I don’t throw it as well as I used to,” he said. “They all look at me, like, ‘Do we want to listen to this guy or not?’ ”