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Catching Up With ... former Colt Joe Washington

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 happening 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 wore silver football shoes, the right color for a mercurial runner. Was there ever a seam so small that Joe Washington couldn’t sneak through it? For three years, he rallied Colts fans, feinting and dashing and dancing for yardage, a ray of hope on a team spinning in reverse.

"Yeah, they were lean times," Washington, 56, said of his hitch in Baltimore (1978-80). "But I never thought I had limits. I could get in and out of places that other guys couldn’t dream of.

"My feet had a mind of their own."

Getting Little Joe proved a bonanza for the Colts. Remember Washington’s debut on Monday Night Football? Acquired a month earlier from San Diego in a trade for Lydell Mitchell, he put on a show that made a believer of acerbic Howard Cosell.

In the fourth quarter of a game at New England, Washington scored three touchdowns – all by different means – to upset the Patriots, 34-27 in a driving rain in September, 1978.

First, he threw an option pass 54 yards to Roger Carr for a TD. Moments later, he caught a 23-yard scoring pass from Colts’ quarterback Bill Troup.

"That ball was right on the money," Washington recalled. "Ray Charles probably could have caught it."

Then, with 1:18 left in a tie game, the onetime Oklahoma All-American ran a kickoff back 90 yards to win it.

It’s a play he’ll never forget.

"I fielded the line drive kick on the short hop, grabbed that rascal and took off," said Washington, 5-10 and 175 pounds. "It was pouring rain, so everyone was running real tentative, except me.

"I found some room, made a cut, ducked a guy and found more room."

End of game. The Colts, who’d been shut out in their first two contests, 80-0, had knocked the socks off a national TV audience.

Even now, watching tapes of the game in his Lutherville home, Washington gets a kick out of hearing Cosell’s spiel on the Colts.

"Beforehand," he said, "Howard was critical, saying, ‘How could Baltimore have made this trade? Sure, Washington was good at Oklahoma, but what has he done in the NFL?’ "

Afterward, swept up in the Colts’ heroics, Cosell shouted, "What a night this has turned out to be!"

For Baltimore, Washington proved as versatile as a Swiss army knife. He gained nearly 4,000 yards for the Colts, rushing and receiving, and made the Pro Bowl in 1979 when he led the NFL with 82 receptions.

In 1981, however, upset with his diminished playing time, he was traded to Washington, where he earned a Super Bowl ring. He retired in 1985 after a 10-year career.

Today, Washington works for Wells Fargo as a financial advisor. He and Meadowlark, his wife of 33 years, have one daughter, Brandy, a former tennis champion at Park School who won the Association of Independent Schools title in 1998.

He cherished his time with the Colts, said Washington, because they were his team while growing up in Texas in the 1960s.

"They were the epitome of what the NFL was all about," he said. "In fourth grade, I won a local punt, pass and kick contest. First prize was a Colts jacket. I wore that thing forever and a day. I even wore it to bed. Still have it, too."

Lenny Moore, the team’s high-stepping running back, was Washington’s idol.

"He was the reason I wore No. 24 in high school and college," he said.

When Washington joined the Colts, Moore’s jersey had been retired.

"But Lenny asked me if I wanted to wear it anyway," said Washington, who respectfully declined. He wore No. 20 instead.

He still plays tennis and golf and, on occasion, throws the football with neighborhood kids.

"When I go, I want to have both of my knees and one tooth in my head that’s actually mine," said Washington. "That’s my bucket list."

Top photo: Baltimore Sun; Bottom photo: J. Pat Carter/Baltimore Sun/1979 

Comments

Yep, Joe was very exciting. That New england game was a doozy. Bill Troup? Can't say I ever heard of him. Joe was cool, remained local, and was always a good for our/his community. A true Baltimore Colt.

I remember that game. I think it was because of that game the NFL made tear away jerseys illegal.

Washington saw less playing time because the Colts drafted Curtis Dickey in the 1st round in 1980.

Joe,

You were FUN to watch. #20 on the Colts will always be connected to Joe Washington.

Good memories from those Oklahoma years too. All the best.

I remember mourning the trade of Lydell Mitchell for Joe Washington, a trade made largely because the Irsay/ Sysmanksi front office did not want to pay Mitchell what he was worth as one of the NFL's top running backs. But Joe Washington made a believer out of me, especially after that MNF game in 1978. He is one of many talented guys who wore #20 for the Colts in Baltimore, including the late dornerback Milt Davis, who intercepted 27 passes in just four seasons(1957-60) and All-Pro safety Jerry Logan (1963-72).

I agree with Ken - the mid 70's Colts lost team leaders like Lydell Mitchell, John Dutton, and Ray Chester due to Irsay's Salary Cap tactics before there really was an NFL Salary Cap. However, Joe emerged as our new star on Monday Night Football and was screwed when the Colts decided to draft a dud named Curtis Dickey to replace him after several productive years with the old Colts.

There was no RB more exciting to watch than Joe Washington. Ray Rice reminds me a little of Joe but Joe could also run back kickoffs, punts, throw from the option and was a better pass receiver. He had a right to be upset with his undeserved lack of playing time and it was difficult to see him in a Redskins jersey after leaving Baltimore. Another Irsay screwup. Curtis Dickey could run the sweep but not up the middle, couldn't catch, and also couldn't speak. I don't how he made it through College - well he majored in football.

It was great to read about Joe Washington and there are some amazing videos on YouTube of some of his Oklahoma runs.

I enjoyed following Joe's football career from beginning to end as a former classmate and fan from Port Arthur, Texas. Joe grew up in the small community of Lakeside Park and the entire city of Port Arthur is very proud of him. Thanks for allowing us to Catch Up on Joe.

He was best described as "smoke thru a keyhole"....I've never seen another MNF performance as outstanding and memorable...even to this day! I now live in Fiji and I keep telling all the top rugby players here about Joe! His work ethics even in college was awesome! Thanks 4 the memories, JOE! Moce mada! (So long )

You can hear Joe Washington every week on "Views from the Rough" he reviews the Ravens and Redskins, past game and give's an inside look into the upcoming weeks game for both teams. He also give a unigue look of the mental part of the golf game as it relates to golf.

Along for the ride every week Fmr MD Stan Gelbaugh appears and give an inside look to MD Football as well as his weekly "How to evalute and do business on the golf course" tip!
Go to and log on to www.viewsfromtherough.com

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