Looking Ahead, Looking Back

Billy Ray Smith, Johnny Unitas, Don Shinnick, Jim Parker -- one by one, the guys who helped make me become a Colt's fan are disappearing on me. They were larger than life. I was in awe of these players.

They wore that perfect blue and white uniform. I was them in my little backyard, battling Lombardi's Packers every autumn afternoon after school. And now they are gone. Gone, but not forgotten, by me, anyway.

Training camp starts this week and the time has come to look forward to what may be. It's time to talk about Manning and James, Freeney and Sanders; time to think about Sunday evening, September 11th, the season opener in Baltimore.

I know that it's time. But the recent death of former Baltimore Colt Jim Parker had me taking a look back -- one last look back to a time when only the game mattered, when those players truly seemed larger than life, when it really was magical.

And believe me, it was magical.

I am not a collector. I never went out of my way to get autographs. I do have one item that I cherish though. My 8x10 black and white autographed picture of Johnny U.

Yes, it's just a picture, but it represents so much more. It represents 41 years of unconditional loyalty to a ball club. 4 decades of emotional investment that sometimes didn't pay much in the way of dividends; 4 decades that changed my life; 41 years that I wouldn't change even if I could.

My younger brother and I received an inexpensive 8 -millimeter projector one Christmas when we were kids. It came with a few highlight films of some of the NFL teams. We watched that 5 minute clip of the Colts over and over, never growing tired of it. There was this one over the shoulder catch by Jimmy Orr that I still remember to this day.

Defensive tackle Billy Ray Smith was a favorite of mine. Maybe it was the name. I didn't know too many "Billy Rays" growing up in Jersey. Actually, Smith's facial features were strikingly similar to my dad's. That was all it took. I was a big fan of #74, Billy Ray Smith, growing up.

I did track him down years later. I was able to get his phone number from his son who played for the Chargers a few years ago.

I gave Billy Ray a call, and we talked for quite awhile about the good old days. He mailed me a picture and wrote "thanks for remembering the old timers" on it. It was good to talk to him. It was sad to hear the news of his passing not to long after that. Very sad.

When the Ravens were in town last year to play the Colts I was able to get another one of my favorites, Tom Matte to call in to our radio show and preview that evening's game. Matte is a part of the Raven's radio broadcasting team, still living in Baltimore, a city that became home for many former Colts once their playing days had passed them by. We eventually got around to discussing his days as a Colt, and it seemed like he enjoyed talking about it. I know that I sure as heck did.

I am where I am because of where I have gone. That team has touched my life in a variety of ways. And yes, I like looking back. It seemed simpler then. Those names are still magical. Boyd, Orr, Logan, Berry, Mackey, Volk, Lyles, Braase, Vogel. I remember them all -- a part of my childhood, a part of my life. I carry it with me.

But the time has come to look ahead. Terre Haute is in sight and we will be out there Saturday to watch our team.

And some little boy sitting in the stands will look back one day and remember the names that are magical to him -- Manning and James, Freeney and Sanders...

Email me at cima19@aol.com. I always welcome your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

You can listen to Jersey Johnny talk about the Colts and sports from 6-8 pm Sunday nights. Click this link to his page at WIBC and bookmark it as you can listen to his broadcast through WIBC's website.

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