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Catching up with ... former Baltimore Colts DB Doug Nettles

Doug Nettles, shown with the Baltimore Colts in 1977.
Doug Nettles, shown with the Baltimore Colts in 1977. (Weyman Swagger / Baltimore Sun)

His fifth-grade class at Landon Prep in Bethesda is among the school's best-behaved. How does teacher Doug Nettles keep the peace?

"A loud voice and mean looks," said Nettles, former Baltimore Colts cornerback. "When I walk into the room, everybody gets quiet. Kids say, 'He's mean and scary.' Course, that didn't always work on the football field. Being 6 feet and 175 pounds didn't intimidate anyone."

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Teaching American history to 10-year-olds is a joy for Nettles, 65, the Colts' fifth-round draft pick in 1974 who played five years here.

"I like kids, and helping to develop their minds," he said. "My sisters used to say that I have an immature mind, so I figured I might as well work with people I can relate to."

Forty years ago, Nettles played for the Colts' team that won three straight AFC East championships (1975-77). They'd gone 2-12 his rookie year and started 1975 with four losses in five games. En route to New York, to play the Jets, he kibitzed with George Kunz, the All-Pro tackle.

"What do you think?" Kunz asked.

"I think we can win this one – and the rest of them," Nettles said.

That, the Colts did, reeling off nine straight victories to finish 10-4. Afterward, Kunz approached him.

"Doug," he said, "if you ever quit football, you can be a fortune teller."

Nettles, from Vanderbilt, started 36 games, had five interceptions and proved a boon on Baltimore's special teams, where he blocked four punts. One of them, against the Seattle Seahawks, bounced through the end zone for a safety despite a valiant chase by Nettles.

"I was on my hands and knees, trying to get it [for a touchdown]," he said. "If the ball had been round, I'd have had it."

Nettles never returned an interception for a touchdown, a fact not lost on a student at Landon.

"One day, a kid brought in my Colts' stats, held them up and said, 'You never got a 'pick six?' That is really unacceptable,'" Nettles said.

Divorced, he lives in Silver Spring and remains close with his daughter, Asia, who was a college track star at St. John's. He's in good shape despite having suffered four concussions in the pros.

"The first one was in Chicago, in 1975, where I tackled [Bears' Hall of Fame running back] Walter Payton," Nettles said. "The next thing I remember is sitting on the plane beside [defensive end] Fred Cook and saying, 'When we get to Chicago, let's get some pizza.' And Fred said, "Doug, we're on our way home – the game is over.'"

That same year, while in Denver for a preseason game, Nettles got to meet his biological father.

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"My parents divorced when I was 1 and I hadn't seen him since," he said. "He called from Denver, where he was a disc jockey and a big Broncos' fan, and asked if we could get together. When I got there and he knocked on my hotel room door; it was like looking in a mirror."

After the game, Nettles and his dad had dinner and talked half the night.

"That was special, to be able to see him. Everyone wants to know a little about where they came from," said Nettles, who is African American. "Last month, I had one of those ancestry DNA tests done and found out that I'm 40 percent Irish. I guess I'll have to start checking the 'other' box on those [application] forms."

After football, Nettles worked in pharmaceutical sales for nearly 20 years, then turned to teaching.

"My salary dropped from six figures to $30,000, but I enjoy helping kids learn to be respectful and responsible," he said. For a couple more years, anyway. Then, he said, "I'll move to Florida, play golf in the mornings and be a beach bum in the afternoons. I think I'll be pretty good at it, too."

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