He hailed from little Williams College, where football was an afterthought and the team was called the Purple Cows. But Jack Maitland played big and the Colts took a shine to the Division III running back, selecting him in the 16th round of the 1970 NFL draft.
Sure enough, Maitland made the team, started several games, scored a couple of touchdowns and helped the Colts (11-2-1) win the Super Bowl.
“Having come from a dinky little school, and made the pros, is something I’m pretty proud of,” said Maitland, 69, of Pompano Beach, Fla. “I’m humbled and appreciative of what little I was able to accomplish.”
The first Williams player ever drafted, Maitland proved himself early on. On his first carry, in the Colts’ second game of the season, he rushed for 16 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs on “Monday Night Football.” As a rookie, he was the team’s third-leading runner (209 yards and a touchdown) and caught nine passes for 67 yards and a score.
Time and again, Maitland filled in for injured stars such as Tom Matte and Norm Bulaich. In a 24-20 win at Houston, Maitland scored the Colts’ first touchdown on a 2-yard run.
“The bigger thrill for me was standing in the huddle, hands on knees, bent over and looking into the eyes of Johnny Unitas and thinking, holy crap, that’s Johnny Unitas — and he called my number!” Maitland said.
Two weeks later, in a 27-3 victory over the then-Boston Patriots, Maitland again scored the first touchdown on a 5-yard swing pass from Unitas.
“The man was my idol growing up,” he said of the Hall of Fame quarterback. “When I think of the number of touchdown passes he threw , it’s kind of cool to know that, if not for me, it might have been one less.”
A third-team Little All-American at Williams, Maitland had trouble convincing pro scouts of his interest in football, having played at a Massachusetts school better known for Rhodes scholars (35) than athletes.
“Several NFL teams called and asked if i’d be interested in playing, if drafted. I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ Then, around the 13th round, I got a call from the Minnesota Vikings saying, ‘Congratulations, we drafted you.’ Then I heard laughter. It was a buddy of mine, playing a prank.”
Later, the phone rang again. It was Upton Bell, personnel director of the Colts. Or so the caller said.
“I wasn’t sure whether to tell him to go to hell or not,” Maitland said.
Even after he made the team, his past seemed to puzzle some.
“John Idzik, the backfield coach, always got my name confused with my school,” he said. “He kept calling me John Williams from Maitland College.”
Nonetheless, the Colts embraced him. Before Super Bowl V in Miami, Maitland and several teammates — including roommate Jim O’Brien, who’d kick the game-winning field goal — went deep-sea fishing and caught a mako shark.
He made the team again in 1971 only to learn, at the end of training camp, that the Colts had acquired running back Charlie Pittman (Edmondson) from the St. Louis Cardinals. Maitland was cut the next day. He spent two seasons with New England, then quit to start an advertising agency.
Now retired, he lives not far from his father, Vic Maitland, 96, himself a fifth-round NFL draft pick of the 1944 New York Giants and the first full-time executive director of the NFL Alumni Association. Married 42 years, the younger Maitland teaches a class in spinning (stationary cycling) and attends his grandchildren’s football games. They, too, have the sport in their blood, he said.