'Baby Face' Had Look Of A Winner

Catching Up With ... Rick Volk

January 01, 2010|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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 or her life in a segment called, "Catching Up With ..."

He arrived at Colts camp with the face of a high school freshman and the savvy of a seasoned pro. Never mind that Rick Volk looked like Opie Taylor and got carded in bars until he turned 30. He started every game at safety as a Baltimore rookie in 1967 and played in the first of three Pro Bowls en route to a stellar 12-year NFL career.

Agile and aggressive, Volk anchored the Colts' defense for nine seasons. Mostly, though, he's remembered for his role in the team's two Super Bowl appearances.

In the January 1971 game, he helped KO the Dallas Cowboys with a late interception. Two years earlier, during the loss to the New York Jets, Volk himself was knocked out - twice - and went into convulsions after the game.

"The team doctor kept me from swallowing my tongue," said Volk, 64. "He used to show me the bite marks on his hand to prove it."

Volk recovered, made All-Pro and started 62 consecutive games for the Colts. Nowadays, the one-time Michigan All-American lives in Glen Arm with Charlene, his wife of 43 years, and works as a manufacturer's rep for industrial products - a job Volk has held for 41 years.

Gone is the baby face that dogged him in football.

"The gray hair sort of ages me," he said. "I've had one hip replaced and will have the other done next month. I can still throw the football around with my [four] grandkids, but when they throw the ball back, it better be right on the money."

With the Colts, Volk intercepted 31 passes, including one against the Chicago Bears in his rookie year that he returned 94 yards for a touchdown.

"The only reason I scored was because [Chicago's] Gale Sayers was on the bench on that play, or he'd have caught me," Volk said.

His biggest swipe came in Super Bowl V, against Dallas. With eight minutes left and the Colts losing, 13-6, Volk picked off a pass by Craig Morton and raced 30 yards to the Cowboys' 3-yard line.

"I remember having to hurdle [6-foot-7 linebacker] Ted Hendricks on that play," he said. "Ted saw me coming and got down on all fours. I jumped right over him."

Two plays later, Baltimore tied the game and then won it on Jim O'Brien's last-second field goal.

The victory took some of the sting out of Baltimore's Super Bowl loss to New York in 1969. That one, said Volk, he won't forget, because there are parts that he can't remember.

Early on, while tackling Matt Snell, the Jets' 220-pound fullback, Volk banged his head into Snell's knee. The blow knocked him unconscious momentarily before Volk trotted off the field.

"After a couple of series, I went back in the game," he said. "But I wasn't right. I was slow reacting to plays, and it sort of contributed to some of the passes they were hitting on my side."

Late in the game, while recovering an onsides kick, Volk was bashed in the head again and crumpled to the ground. That night, he collapsed and began convulsing in the bathtub in his hotel room, where doctors intervened.

Hospitalized several days, Volk received a visit from Colts coach Don Shula and a floral arrangement from Joe Namath, the Jets' brash young quarterback.

To this day, Volk appreciates the gesture.

"Joe wasn't trying to rub it in or anything. He was just being nice," Volk said. "It was a pretty bouquet of flowers."

But nothing like the Super Bowl ring that Volk earned two years later.

"That's the biggest award you can get, a trophy that you wear all the time," he said. "Ask any NFL player if he'd rather have $80,000 cash or a Super Bowl ring. The ring always wins."

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