By Mike Klingaman
The Baltimore Sun
3:31 PM PST, November 29, 2012
It was, Willie Richardson said, the perfect send-off.
Against Pittsburgh in 1971, the Colts' veteran caught two touchdown passes within two minutes to break open a 34-21 victory at Memorial Stadium.
They would be the final TDs in a nine-year career for Richardson, an All-Pro receiver. He'd been dealt to Pittsburgh in 1970 only to return, a year later, as a free agent — just in time to stomp the Steelers.
Released at season's end, he retired, a happy man.
"I never wanted to leave Baltimore in the first place," recalled Richardson, 73. "But to come back and have that kind of a game, in front of the Colts fans, was icing on the cake for me."
Nowadays, he is color commentator for football games at Jackson State, his alma mater. A seventh-round draft pick in 1963, Richardson had his best year in 1967, with a team-leading 63 receptions for 860 yards and 8 touchdowns.
One of those scores was a 23-yard catch from Johnny Unitas late in the game to defeat Green Bay, 13-10. It was the Colts' first victory over the Packers in six games, and Richardson celebrated the moment by heaving the ball into the upper deck at Memorial Stadium.
"I'd been a quarterback in high school, so I could throw," he said. "The fan who caught the ball had me sign it, too."
Alas, the Colts would finish 11-1-2 but fail to make the playoffs in 1967. Green Bay would win the Super Bowl.
A year later, Richardson starred in the Colts' march to the title game. He had six receptions in a playoff win over Minnesota, including a spectacular 38-yard diving catch between two Vikings defenders near the goal line. He caught six more, a team high, in the loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.
Richardson's stats in eight years with the Colts: 188 receptions for 2,883 yards and 24 touchdowns.
In hindsight, he said, he fed off of the talents of the team's veteran receivers.
"As a rookie, I saw that [Hall of Famer] Raymond Berry and Jimmy Orr never dropped balls in practice, much less in games," he said. "Miss one pass, and you felt like you didn't belong. Those guys raised the bar for the rest of us."
"From John, I learned toughness," he said. "He believed he could catch anything and run over anybody. He just would not go down."
Eventually, Richardson learned the source of Mackey's mettle:
"John was afraid of the worms in the ground."
In retirement, Richardson stayed in town for a time. He owned a liquor store in Pimlico, was sports director at Channel 45 and worked briefly as an assistant football coach at Johns Hopkins.
He returned to his native Mississippi in 1980 and worked 25 years for the state's tax division. Married 47 years, he lives in Jackson near his three children, six grandchildren and the golf course where he has a 4 handicap.
Recovered from a heart attack he suffered 20 years ago, Richardson said his health is good.
"I need to lose 30 pounds, and I've got arthritis, but I'm hanging in there," the two-time Pro Bowler said.
Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003, he now calls games for Jackson State, where he was a two-time small college All-American.
"Our season's not done yet," said Richardson, who'll work JSU's game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff for the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship on Dec. 8.
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