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Catching Up With ... former Colt David Lee

 Each week in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore 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 had one of the shortest names of anyone to play for the Baltimore Colts – and one of the longest careers here.

For 13 years, David Lee punted for the Colts, sending spirals airborne and often pinning opponents near their goal line. Twice, he won the NFL punting crown (1966 and 1969) while helping Baltimore to six division titles and a Super Bowl victory.

Lee retired in 1978, having punted 838 times for more than 34,000 yards, or nearly 20 miles. But it was one lousy kick, early in his career, that the All Pro remembers most.

"I shanked a punt, stormed off the field, tore off my helmet and started to swing at the water cooler," Lee said.

Then John Unitas tapped his 6-foot-4 teammate on the shoulder.

"You’ve got to forget about that (bleeping) kick," the Colts’ quarterback said, "because you may have to do it again in five minutes."

Lee nodded and cooled off.

"At that moment, I knew what made John tick – bad plays never affected him," he said. "I never forgot."

Now 66, Lee lives in Bossier City, La., near his hometown of Shreveport, with Sandra, his wife of 45 years. After football, he worked there for General Motors as a floor supervisor in a Chevy Blazer plant until disabled at age 51 by chronic fatigue syndrome.

"It’s a flu-like tiredness, kind of hard to explain," Lee said of the debilitating illness that affects more than one million Americans. "My day starts around noon. If I walk for 30 minutes, I’m (exhausted) for two days.

"I get tired just standing on my feet. So far this year, I’ve had three days where I’ve actually felt good."

Lee is also hobbled by a bum knee, a bad back and a hip that has been replaced – all due to football, he said.

"I’d been punting since sixth grade, sometimes as often as 200 times a day," said Lee, a graduate of Louisiana Tech. "It’s hard to stop (practicing) when you’re going good. Kick it right and, when you lift your head, you see the ball at its pinnacle. It’s like hitting a great golf drive."

In Lee’s home, there’s a cherished keepsake on a shelf beside his recliner – a game ball from a Colts’ victory over New York in 1975. That day, Lee rocked the Jets with punts of 62 and 55 yards. Neither was returned.

"The longest one I ever kicked was 76 yards, in Yankee Stadium," he said. Another time, Lee was summoned to punt amid swirling winds and rain, in the open end of Memorial Stadium, from the other team’s 25-yard line. The result?

"I dropped it on the one-yard line," he said. "And you know what? I was as proud of that one as I was of the 76-yarder."

Comments

YES,THE COLTS are back. colts45-10. WHAT RAVEN DEFENSE? they have lots of EXCUSES THATS ALL . RAY LEWIS HE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT CHEAP HITS

I wish David Lee luck with his illness. He is witness to the fact that even professional athletes can come down with this devastating illness (that has such a demeaning name). I know of triathletes and professionals who have competed in Ironmen events who've fallen prey to this misunderstood illness which has such has such high disability rates yet has been almost completely ignored by the federal government. Thanks to David for telling his story.

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