In Super Bowl V, Baltimore Colts defensive end Roy Hilton played the game of his life: four tackles, two sacks and a fearsome fourth-quarter rush of the Dallas Cowboys quarterback that forced a hurried pass, a Colts interception and the tying touchdown.
After the game, celebrating a 16-13 victory in Baltimore’s locker room, head coach Don McCafferty approached Hilton, embraced the leggy defensive end and whispered, “Thanks.”
“That [moment] was the highlight of my entire career,” Hilton said later.
An 11-year NFL veteran, Roy Lee Hilton died Sunday at Gilchrist Center Towson. The Randallstown resident, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, was 75. Hilton played for the Colts from 1965 to 1973.
“He didn’t go easily. Roy held on for a long, long time,” said Marie Hilton, his wife of 53 years. She called him “a good guy, in his way, and a very giving person.” A grandson, Brandon Copeland, attended Gilman and is now a linebacker for the New York Jets.
“Roy was a dear, dear friend,” said Lenny Moore, 85, the Colts’ Hall of Fame running back and wide receiver who played with Hilton for the latter’s first three years in the NFL. “All our lives, we could talk and relate. You could trust him, on and off the field. He was a beautiful guy who took care of business; I’m still going through the loss.”
In a statement, the Ravens mourned the passing of Hilton, “a mainstay on a defense that helped the Colts earn two Super Bowl appearances … We remember Roy for the lasting contributions he made to Baltimore’s rich football history, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family.”
Hilton parlayed his humble beginnings — picking cotton as a kid in Hazlehurst, Miss. — into a pro football career. At 6 feet 6 and 240 pounds, he starred at Jackson State and was selected by the Colts in the 15th round of the 1965 draft (No. 210 overall). Four years later, he became a starter but was overshadowed by the Colts’ other defensive end, Bubba Smith (6-7 and 265 pounds), the No. 1 pick overall in the 1967 NFL draft.
Teammates admired Hilton for his work ethic and consistency, traits they said Smith sometimes lacked.
“I saw Roy last year, walked up and gave him a big hug,” said Bob Vogel, the Colts’ All-Pro offensive tackle who squared off against Hilton in practice. “I said, ‘I want to thank you for playing a part in whatever success I had. As the league’s smallest tackle, my technique had to be good, and I attribute that to you. You stayed out there and worked with me, and I am grateful.’ ”
Sheepishly, Hilton returned the hug.
“Glad I could help,” he said.
Hilton peaked in the playoffs in 1970, totaling 4 ½ sacks as the Colts ran the table. In the Super Bowl, he harried Dallas quarterback Craig Morton all day. With 8 ½ minutes to play and the the Cowboys leading 13-6, Hilton dismissed All-Pro tackle Ralph Neely with a head slap and charged Morton, who threw a rainbow pass over Hilton’s outstretched arms. The ball grazed a receiver’s fingertips and was nabbed by safety Rick Volk, who returned it 30 yards to Dallas’ 3-yard line. Two plays later, the Colts tied the game before winning on Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal with 9 seconds left.
Retiring in 1975, Hilton settled in Baltimore and worked as a security officer at Johns Hopkins University, a job he held for 20 years. In 2011, having dealt with three knee replacements plus gout and arthritis, he reminisced with a Baltimore Sun reporter.
“I’ve been blessed,” said Hilton who, despite multiple aches, took brisk walks daily. "When I go out in the rain, my wife tells me what a goof I am. I may drop dead, working out, but I feel like I've got to do it."
A public viewing for Hilton will be held Saturday, Jan. 12, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Vaughn Greene Funeral Home, 8728 Liberty Road in Randallstown. A wake is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 14, at 10 a.m. there, with the funeral to follow.