He Put Best Foot Forward

The Toy Department Catching Up With ... Ex-colt David Lee

Former All-pro Punter Had A Penchant For Pinning In Opponents During 13-year Career

November 20, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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 (in 1966 and 1969) he won the NFL punting crown, and he helped 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 [bleep]ing 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 chronic fatigue syndrome disabled him at age 51.

"It's a flulike tiredness, kind of hard to explain," Lee said of the debilitating illness that affects more than 1 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 the New York Jets 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 1-yard line," he said. "And you know what? I was as proud of that one as I was of the 76-yarder."

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