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Catching up with ... former Baltimore Colt Bob Van Duyne

Former Baltimore Colt Bob Van Duyne lives in a log house in the wilds of Idaho.

He lives in a log house in the wilds of Montana, where grizzlies roam, streams run clear and cell phones seldom work. That's fine with Bob Van Duyne.

"I'll die here," the onetime Colts' offensive lineman said. But not yet. There is game to hunt, firewood to split and more than one mountain to climb. Fit and hearty at 64, Van Duyne hiked 17 miles one day last week in the high country near his home outside Kila (pop. 352). In July, he trekked three days through Yellowstone National Park on a fishing trip while carrying a 60-pound pack. Next up: a 19-mile hike through the Grand Tetons in Wyoming that will take him to a dizzying 10,700 feet.

Clearly, Van Duyne still has his vigor. Three times on these jaunts, he has been charged by grizzlies – folks call him "the bear magnet" – who've come within 20 feet before retreating.

"You say, 'Hey, bear' – and they leave," he said.

Better he should face bears than a blitzing linebacker, Van Duyne said.

"At least the bears stopped."

For seven years, Van Duyne played for the Colts, at guard, tackle, center and even tight end. A 10th-round draft pick from Idaho, he arrived in 1974 and started the following year, the first of the team's three consecutive NFL division championships. His versatility kept Van Duyne around longer.

"My feet were fairly quick," he said. "I wasn't big [6-foot-4, 243 pounds], but back then they wanted the center and guards to stay small to run sweeps and traps. If we weighed in at more than 250 pounds, we got fined."

Nowadays, he follows the Ravens and, in 2011, attended their game in Seattle, his hometown. For Van Duyne, the Ravens' contest against Buffalo Sunday evoked memories of past Colts-Bills games.

"My rookie year, we were set to leave Buffalo [after a 6-0 loss] when we learned our charter plane had crashed," he said. The three crew members were killed. Players wanted to return by train but flew out the following day.

In 1977, again on the road, Van Duyne suffered broken ribs against the Bills. While on the mend, he was the target of locker room hijinks by quarterback Bert Jones and guard Robert Pratt.

"I was sitting there with my ribs taped when Robert came by pushing a laundry cart filled with dirty towels," Van Duyne said. "Well, he stopped beside me and Bert popped out and threatened to tap me with a drumstick covered with a 6-inch ball of tape on the end."

Van Duyne kept the drumstick with other mementoes, including his helmet, shoulder pads and – for reasons long forgotten – several miniature bars of soap inscribed, Baltimore Colts.

"The camaraderie on that team was special," he said. "We were family."

Once, unbeknownst to team officials, Van Duyne and Pratt took scuba diving lessons at a local quarry, where they proceeded to swim to the bottom and play poker with a deck of plastic cards. Another time, Jones, an avid outdoorsman, took Van Duyne deer hunting on the Eastern Shore. He fared badly.

"Afterward, Bert wrote on the back of my shirt, Van Duyne Missed A Buck At Point-Blank Range, and he hung the shirt on my locker," he said. "Then he told me, 'Miss again and I'll write it on your shorts.' I didn't miss."

In 1979 – again, before a Bills game – Colts fans presented Van Duyne with the team's 1978 Unsung Hero Award.

After football, he worked as a kitchen designer, most recently for Home Depot where he wore an orange apron until retiring last year. Married 27 years, Van Duyne shares his 10-acre spread with two dogs, several miniature horses, some chickens and the deer that frequent his front yard, as many as 26 at a time. Some years ago, he adopted a fawn that had been abandoned by its mother.

"I couldn't watch it die, so we fed it every four hours – and I had the 4 a.m. feeding," he said. "We named it Bucky before we checked the plumbing. Turned out to be a doe. I put a halter on it and walked it around our property, along with both dogs and our cat."

Eventually, he turned the deer loose. Van Duyne felt good about that.

"This place has helped me keep my sanity," he said. "When I do go, I want it to be either here or out on a hike. You've got to know when to take that last hike."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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