INDIANAPOLIS – Chris Hinton arrived in Indianapolis with the Colts in 1984. Hinton was starting his second NFL season, and it was the only one during his Colts career that did not end with a Pro Bowl nomination.
The Chicago native and Northwestern graduate played to a consistently elite level while with the club. Former teammates recall his outstanding natural ability, his determination to play from whistle-to-whistle and fiery on-field persona that differed from his disposition off the field.
Hinton was one of those rare athletes who could excel at two positions. Like former Colts offensive lineman and Hall-of-Famer Jim Parker, who made eight Pro Bowl appearances at two different positions, Hinton made six appearances at two different appearances. His first all-star honor came at guard after his 1983 rookie season. His final five consecutive appearances (1985-89) came at offensive tackle. Hinton noted how the positions fit his abilities.
"I would probably compare myself to more of a throwback. I was a physical, attacking offensive lineman. There was nothing passive about my game," said Hinton. "Sometimes I think playing guard my rookie year was a smart decision by the coaching staff because coming in right away and playing left tackle is always a challenge. Really, I think guard fit more my abilities, although I had a lot of success playing tackle. I think I was a better guard than tackle. It (guard) played more to my strengths of being an aggressive run blocker and the same (with) pass blocking. I made Pro Bowl at left guard, and in Atlanta I made All-Pro at right guard and made several Pro Bowls at left tackle. I think at tackle you have to be a little more patient. Sometimes aggressiveness is not necessarily a positive playing tackle. You have to be a little more passive. Where as at guard you can just let it rip."
Let it rip, he did, regardless of position. Hinton started 172 of 177 career appearances with the Colts, Atlanta and Minnesota from 1983-95. In addition to the Pro Bowl honors, he made All-Pro, All-NFL or All-Conference honors in eight of 13 seasons.
In three of his Colts seasons, Hinton and the offensive line blocked for Hall-of-Fame running back Eric Dickerson. Dickerson joined the Colts in October, 1987 in a three-team trade that also included the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo. Hinton enjoyed playing with a back as uniquely gifted as Dickerson.
"Probably the thing that people didn't appreciate about him was the fact that I will never forget," said Hinton. "The first thing you talk about Eric Dickerson everybody talks about was how beautiful he ran the ball. What impressed me was what he did between the tackles. People probably don't realize how hard of a runner he was and how physical of a runner he was. I will never forget it was a handoff (in his first Colts game against the Jets in 1987) and he ran through a guy and took a couple of pretty good hits. I thought, 'Let's go back to the huddle and it's second-and-seven or second-and-eight. You hear the announcer (say), 'Second-and-three.' I'm like, 'Man, he got seven yards on just a hard run.' As an offensive lineman, to have a running back who is willing to get the tough yards and able to get them (was impressive). As a teammate, I enjoyed playing with him. It's funny, I've watched professional football, college football all the way down to Pop Warner football. I'm always looking at kids running the football and you think that somebody might run as effortlessly as Eric did. But no, I still haven't seen anybody who ran the ball the way he did it."
Though Dickerson had some outstanding runs with the Colts, Hinton would differ than most people when selecting the one that had the biggest impact on him.
"Yeah, I would go back to the run he got seven yards (against the Jets in 1987). I mean there were some phenomenal runs he had as a Colt," said Hinton. "As a teammate, I will just never forget (him) taking on a couple of linebackers making a lot out of nothing. I think that is what really made him a great runner. You have guys who can scamper to the outside and guys who are tough between the tackles, but he did them both and did them both well."
NFL head coaches hope to have players as talented as Hinton. Hinton himself played for a handful of coaches during his career. Frank Kush was Hinton's coach his first two years. Rod Dowhower was Hinton's second coach, and Ron Meyer was the third coach Hinton played for in Indianapolis. Upon leaving the Colts for Atlanta (where he still resides), Hinton played for Jerry Glanville. He remembers breaking in under Kush, his time with Meyer and an anecdote involving Meyer and Glanville when the men were out of coaching.
"Frank Kush, I'm glad I played for him as a rookie. I say that because as a rookie you are just trying to fit in," said Hinton. "He was a hard-nosed coach who a lot of the older guys, the veterans, just couldn't grasp his way of coaching. … He was tough. I liked Ron (Meyer). He was a guy who I thought had a pulse of (the) evolving of players and how to treat players. I think he went out of his way to be a player's coach. I enjoyed playing for him. Funny story, I ran into him here in Atlanta at a Super Bowl party I think it was in 1993. I walked into the room and there were two of my former coaches, Ron Meyer and Jerry Glanville. I was like, 'Great, two of my former coaches.' Jerry Glanville's response was, 'Yeah, you are the reason we are both unemployed right now.' But I always got along with Ron."
Hinton finished his career with Minnesota in 1994 and 1995. The Vikings' defensive coordinator was Tony Dungy. Hinton's past with Dungy extended back to college, and Hinton later watched in admiration and respect as Dungy soared to head coaching greatness with Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.
"Tony and I have a lot of history. He recruited me out of high school to go to the University of Minnesota," said Hinton. "I first met Tony in 1978. To this day, he tells me that I'm the reason that he no longer coached at Minnesota because going to Northwestern, he couldn't live with the fact that he lost a recruiting battle to Northwestern. But having the opportunity to get to know him then, and actually he was the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings when I played my last couple of years, it kind of went full circle. I spent time with him in Indianapolis coming to games and just watching him from afar and what he did. I get chills just thinking about, number one, how great of a person he is and (he is) just as good of a coach. His calmness that he brought to the table as a head coach, I would have loved to have play for him."