The punt sails skyward, then falls toward the waiting arms of the Colts' kick returner as would-be tacklers close in. Does Alvin Haymond signal fair catch? Never. Instead, Haymond grabs the ball, feints left, darts right, eludes a wave of flailing arms and jitterbugs his way upfield for a healthy gain.
As he trots to the sideline at Memorial Stadium, Haymond passes quarterback Johnny Unitas. Though a man of few words, Unitas acknowledges the runback.
"Hey, man, good job," he says.
Time and again, that scene played out during Haymond's four years in Baltimore. From 1964 through 1967, the Colts went 42-11-3, in part because of his stellar work on special teams, or suicide squads. Twice, in 1965 and 1966, Haymond led the NFL on punt returns with 750 total yards. A threat on kickoffs as well, he averaged 30.7 yards per runback in 1965.
Fearless fielding punts, Haymond rarely called for a fair catch, gambling that his quickness would sidestep trouble.
"For the most part, with one or two moves, I could beat the guys who were right on top of me," he said. "Running that fast, they couldn't react fast enough to lay a hand on me. Sometimes it backfired and I got my bell rung just as I caught the ball. But, often, I gained enough yards to give the offense good field position."
Now 74, Haymond — a retired high school coach and athletic director — leads a quiet life in San Jose. The man who once galvanized Colts' fans with his daring moves enjoys fishing for large-mouth bass on the shimmering lakes of northern California. Football took its toll on No. 30, who has undergone knee and hip replacements as well as surgeries to his back, neck, shoulder, elbow, hand and wrist.
"I can't tell you how many times I've been cut up," he said. Yet he still works out daily and flirts with his playing weight of 195.
An 18th round draft pick from Southern, Haymond wowed the Colts' staff on his arrival to training camp in 1964.
"The first day, I ran 40 yards in 4.5 seconds," he said. "A coach asked, 'Can you do that again?' So I did."
In four years here, Haymond gained 2,074 yards on runbacks, but never scored.
"I got caught from behind a number of times," he said. "I didn't have the endurance to stretch it out."
As a defensive back, he had nine interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. Against Washington in 1965, Haymond stole a pass from the Redskins' Sonny Jurgensen and raced 30 yards to the end zone. There, he did something no NFL player had ever done. He spread his arms in celebration.
"Why? Jubilation, I guess," he said. "I just rolled the ball off my fingertips and threw my hands in the air as if to say, 'Look at me, y'all.'"
Coach Don Shula was not amused.
"What do you think you're doing?" he ranted on the sideline.
"I was happy, Coach," Haymond said.
Never again, Shula vowed.
"To him, it was unsportsmanlike conduct," Haymond said. "Today, nobody would think twice."
Dealt away in 1968, he continued to excel. With the Los Angeles Rams, he led the NFL in punt returns in 1969 and kickoff returns in 1970. Two years later, playing with Washington, Haymond reached the Super Bowl, then retired in 1974.
His best memories?
"The relationships with the players," he said. "With the Colts, we'd sing in the locker room — me, [running back] Tony Lorick and [receivers] Willie Richardson and Neal Petties. We'd break out into stuff by the Platters, the Temptations and the Miracles. We really harmonized. And when we sang, Unitas was the first person there to listen. He loved it, man."
Often, Unitas took part — in his own way.
"John would lip-sync the tunes we were singing, right along with us," Haymond said. "Watching him mouth the words to 'My Girl,' well, I just fell down laughing."