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Catching Up With ex-Colt Don McCauley

Each Tuesday in the Toy Department, veteran Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's going on in his/her life in a segment called "Catching Up With ..." Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With . . . "

He was a first-round draft pick in 1971, a rugged tailback from North Carolina who looked a little like Robert Redford and ran a lot like Tom Matte.

For the next 11 years, Don McCauley would serve the Baltimore Colts as an unassuming role player with a healthy work ethic and a me-last mindset. At a funky time in Baltimore football history – he played for seven different head coaches – McCauley was the quintessential Colt, a throwback who seldom griped or put himself above the team.

A money-grubbing No. 1 draft choice he was not, despite having smashed O.J. Simpson’s single-season NCAA rushing record.

"I loved football so much that I would have played for nothing," said McCauley, who signed for a $47,500 bonus. "Nowadays that’s less than what the guy holding the chains on the sidelines makes."

He retired in 1982, having gained more than 5,600 yards and scored 58 touchdowns, gaudy numbers for a guy who spent his life shuffling from tailback to fullback and often not starting at all.

Today, McCauley works for his alma mater, raising funds for the athletic department at the University of North Carolina. Married 33 years and the father of three, he turns 60 next month in pretty good shape – the upshot of having ridden the bench.

"Knees and hips? They’re fine," he said. "Playing part-time kept me healthy."

The Colts chose McCauley with the compensatory draft pick they received from Miami after the Dolphins swiped coach Don Shula who, in 1970, was still under contract with Baltimore.

"Two years later he (Shula) goes 17-0 with Miami and wins the Super Bowl," McCauley said. "So I still ask people, who got the better deal out of that?"

As a rookie, he recalls lining up in the Colts huddle in awe of the Super Bowl champions and quarterback John Unitas.

"I looked over and saw those high tops and those little skinny legs of his and thought, ‘He’s a god,’ " McCauley said.

In training camp, as part of his rookie hazing, McCauley was told to approach the aging Unitas at a team meeting and greet him thusly:

"Hello, Mr. Unitas, my name is Don McCauley. I’m really looking forward to meeting your son."

The rookie cringed under Unitas’ icy stare.

"I wanted to run home," McCauley said. "But when Unitas knew he had me, he broke into a laugh."

A couple of years later, Unitas and most other Colts veterans were gone.

"From my first year to the fourth, the team was completely dismantled," McCauley said. "I was the only one left. Those were itchy times; I kept my bags packed for 11 years."

He retired in the summer of 1982, following a 2-14 season in which attendance slowed to a trickle.

"People in the stands wore paper bags over their heads, and it upset me so much that my teammates thought that was funny," McCauley said. "I thought back to the Colts’ glory days and decided, ‘This team doesn’t have the right chemistry – I’m out of here.’ "

He still misses Baltimore.

"It was never snobbish," he said. "The people were down-to-earth. And let’s not forget the steamed crabs. That’s still my favorite food."

Top photo: Ralph Robinson / Sun; Action photo: Irving Phillips / Sun

Comments

McCauley for Shula. Boy did we get the best of that trade. Don forever will be known as the BEST 3rd down back in football. Everyone knew he get the ball on 3rd down and still he'd pick up the 1st down. Great story of a true and still greatly appreciated, PRO.

These Catching Up With stories are priceless. Keep them coming.

McCauley was awesome, he willed it through on almost every 3rd down it seamed at least. Thanks for everything Don

Ah, 3rd Down Don, thanks for bringing that era back for a brief moment. I lived through the pain of seeing the team dismantled, and it hurt, but McCauley was the one bright spot for many of those years.

Those were the days: Hey diddle diddle Liddell up the middle and 3rd down Don!!! There will be NOT ONE PERSON in Baltimore who will not be happy that old #23 is doing well!

I did a toys for tots commercial with Johnny Unitas and Don McCauley it was about 1979 when I lived in Baltimore. My dad was a Marine and I got a opportunity to shoot the commercial, I have a picture and autograph of this event, I'll never forget the experience it was fun and memorable. Tracie B

What a player . . . I use to watch him through the fence in Chapel Hill when I couldn't get a ticket. He is and will always be my favorite sports hero . . . even more so than the other number 23 (Michael Jordan). Just like the article said . . . never complained and just did his job. The NFL needs more like him. What a nice person also . . .

I met Don today. Great guy and he still loves B-more.

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