Ex-Colts standout Randy McMillan, down and nearly out after a 2002 automobile accident, finally feels alive again

Comeback road in game of life

October 30, 2005|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

When he's finished, his clothes are usually soaked with sweat, and his muscles are on the brink of exhaustion, but more importantly, he feels something else. It's a feeling that disappeared after he was told to come to terms with the idea that he'd be paralyzed forever. It's a feeling that has since returned.

He feels alive.

On the days that Randy McMillan - a former NFL running back who grew up in Jarrettsville and was one of the last Baltimore Colts - struggles to climb the three flights of stairs to his third-floor apartment in Mount Washington, he feels, once again, alive.

And at the end of the day, lying in his bed, isn't that the least a man can ask for?

If, at some point during this article, you start to feel sorry for Randy McMillan, stop reading.

That's what he would prefer. He's not interested in pity. In fact, just thinking about it makes him uncomfortable. McMillan, 46, will point out that he's a grown man, one who made his own choices in life - some good, some not - and now he's the one who gets to live with them. Ask him, and he'll tell you that he's at peace with the way his life has unfolded.

He's a private man. Proud, too. He didn't seek out attention even when he was playing, when he was bowling over linebackers and making headlines, and things are no different now. But after some serious thought, he's ready to talk about what happened: two car accidents, one public, one private, each occurring more than a decade apart. Both threw his life into temporary chaos, and both left him with scars, but each one affected him differently. It's not an easy story to tell. Pain. Anger. Disappointment. Fear. It's all there, stronger in some places than in others. And he's still a little unsure about unearthing some of those memories. After all, how often does one spill his guts to a complete stranger, much less one with a tape recorder and notebook?

But every so often, when he's searching for the right phrase or the right description, McMillan will pause, spit some chewing tobacco into a plastic milk jug he keeps next to his chair, and break into a grin that puts the whole room at ease.

"I look at life and I laugh," says McMillan, who is thinner now than he was 20 years ago, but just as soft-spoken. "If you can't laugh at yourself, then something is wrong. Because life could be over tomorrow. You just don't know, do you?"

Part of Colts history

It's difficult, sometimes, to remember all the details of that last generation of Baltimore Colts, but easy to understand why. After the denial faded, along with the television images of Mayflower moving vans, this city had to force itself to forget, if only as a method of coping with Robert Irsay's betrayal. But McMillan was a part of that generation, a part of Baltimore's football history, even though most people have forgotten exactly what happened to him. He was a hometown kid, a 1977 graduate of North Harford High School who was living the dream, and he looked at times like he was on the verge of becoming an NFL star. People compared him to Earl Campbell, Jim Brown and Franco Harris, and did it with a straight face. For a kid who grew up on a five-acre farm in Harford County dreaming of becoming the next Tony Dorsett, it was hard to imagine a better life.

"I remember when I was a kid, my friends and I would go watch Colts training camp," McMillan says. "I told them, I'm going to be there someday, you'll see. My friends said, `OK, Randy, let's consider the facts. You live in Jarrettsville, Maryland, a town with one gas station. This ain't the place for NFL football players.'"

It doesn't matter where you come from, he told his friends. It's what you do. And in time, he proved that he was right. He didn't quite have the grades initially to get into a major college, but he dominated at Harford Community College for two years, and University of Pittsburgh coach Jackie Sherrill practically begged him to become a Panther. Oklahoma, Nebraska, Penn State wanted him, too, but when Sherrill introduced him to Dorsett, it was an easy decision.

"Tony Dorsett is the only reason I went to Pitt," McMillan says. "He was my idol."

McMillan didn't even get the ball much in college, especially after a brash, young quarterback named Dan Marino showed up on campus, but he was such a good athlete, by the time he was a senior, NFL teams were enamored by his potential. He was 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, and could run a 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds. He could easily dunk a basketball, even though his hands were too small to palm one. Dolphins coach Don Shula told McMillan at the Senior Bowl that if he was available when it was Miami's turn to draft in the first round, the club planned to grab him with the 13th pick. He showed up in New York for the 1981 draft, dreaming of sandy beaches, warm breezes and the beautiful women of South Beach.

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