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Catching up with ... former Colts linebacker Tom MacLeod

Tom MacLeod wasn't the big name of a trade by the Colts in 1974, but soon made a name for himself.

Quick, now: What Baltimore Colt player holds the team record for most tackles in a game? Gino Marchetti? Mike Curtis? Or an oft-forgotten linebacker named Tom MacLeod?

In just his second game as a Colt in 1974, MacLeod made 20 tackles — 11 unassisted — in a 20-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The NFL record is 25 tackles.

It was a stellar start for MacLeod and a plus for fans at odds with the deal that had brought him here that summer. Baltimore obtained MacLeod from the Packers for Ted Hendricks, their disgruntled Hall of Fame-bound linebacker who'd promised to jump to the World Football League to escape the woebegone (2-12) 1974 Colts.

Few in town had heard of MacLeod, who'd started every game as a rookie for Green Bay the year before.

MacLeod proved a boon for the Colts, helping them win their division in 1975 when he had 98 tackles and was named All-AFC. Sidelined the next year by a torn Achilles tendon, he returned in 1977 to lead another playoff charge. Nagged by the bad heel, however, the 27-year-old MacLeod walked away from football after 1978.

"I'd come back from the injury in great shape, looking like Hercules, but I'd lost a step. It was grim," he said. In hindsight, he said, his brief run was "a lucky break. A long career in the NFL is not good for your health."

So, MacLeod became a firefighter. In 20 years, he saw it all.

"Once I had to do CPR on an infant, and that got to me," he said. "The child died. A lot of things aren't fair, but that's not fair at all."

Retired now, he and his wife, Faye, live near Spokane, Wash., where MacLeod, 64, spent Christmas zipping down the snow-packed slopes.

"Nothing daredevil, though," he said. "With age comes wisdom."

Come spring, he'll hop on his road bike, having pedaled 4,000 miles last year. MacLeod will be the one wearing two lights and a reflective vest.

"Bicycle people look down on me because I don't have 'the Nike look,' but I don't care," he said. "I don't want to get hit by a damn bus."

At other times you'll find him climbing the pine trees on his 17-acre homestead to shear off dead branches.

"Eighty feet is as high as I'll go," MacLeod said. "Height is what makes it fun; I want my heart to go pitter-patter."

His time spent in Baltimore seems ages ago. It didn't start well.

"The trade broke my heart, to be honest," said MacLeod, who'd grown up in Proctor, Minn., and attended the University of Minnesota. "When I got here, I was even less happy. I walked into [general manager] Joe Thomas' office an emotional mess and said, 'I quit.' Thomas almost had a heart attack. I mean, the poor guy had traded Hendricks for someone nobody had heard of. I'm sure the Colts thought I was crazy."

A week later, MacLeod was back in training camp.

"A football player is a football player," he said, and proved it, carrying the defense in the loss to Green Bay.

"I hurt my ankle real bad in that game, but I wasn't coming out," he said. "I was tired of having people say, 'Who the hell is this guy?' "

Colts fans took notice of the outside linebacker who could fend off tight ends and stuff tailbacks at the line.

"I was good against the run and, in that era, the running game was what it was all about," he said. But 1974 proved a hellish year.

"When Thomas became coach (after an 0-3 start) he said, 'Football is a simple game so we're going to make this easy.' We had, like, eight offensive plays, which made for a long season filled with three-and-outs."

A year later, under new coach Ted Marchibroda, Baltimore won the first of three straight division titles.

"In 1975, we got on a roll and the whole town was energized," MacLeod said. "Going from 2-12 to 10-4 was the highlight of my short career."

At 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, MacLeod is 30 pounds lighter than his playing weight. Despite the active lifestyle, he knows his limitations.

"Yesterday I was in the gym, doing stretching exercises, and saw a basketball on the floor. I thought, 'Can I still shoot?' Well, I know I can't, so I just let it lay there," he said. "You can only take so much humbling."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikeKlingaman

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