INDIANAPOLIS – Fans who followed the first six seasons the Colts played in Indianapolis (1984-89) remember a number of players for different reasons. Many of those are recalled for outstanding play on the field. Perhaps no player is thought of more in that regard than Chris Hinton.
Hinton played six of his seven Colts seasons in Indianapolis. After earning rookie Pro Bowl honors in 1983, his first season in Indianapolis was shortened to six games by a broken leg. Hinton rebounded from the setback by earning Pro Bowl honors at left tackle annually during his last five seasons with the Colts.
Hinton was joined through his Colts years by some solid teammates on the offensive line. Center Ray Donaldson was a stellar performer who accompanied Hinton to Honolulu from 1986-89. Guard Ron Solt joined the duo in 1987 as the club had three Pro Bowl offensive linemen for the second time in team history. Other linemates like Ben Utt, Randy Dixon and Kevin Call toiled with the unit that opened holes for running backs like Randy McMillan, Eric Dickerson and Albert Bentley to attack defenses. The line stayed virtually intact, as did tight end Pat Beach, for many of those seasons, and Hinton remembers his comrades with affection.
"It was a nice mixture. You had guys like myself, Ron Solt and Ray Donaldson who had achieved some personal success," said Hinton. "Then you had, and I want to say it in a positive way, 'The Misfits.' You had Ben Utt, and I don't think there was ever a season where he thought he was going to make the team. I think every season the Colts had kind of written him out of the script, but he found a way to always be a part of it. The Kevin Call's and the Randy Dixon's just a great group of guys. … I remember that group when we left the facility after practice we were the most likely guys to be seen somewhere together out in Indianapolis. … We broke bread together and our families got a chance to get to know each other and our wives. It was just a good group of guys, humble guys who worked hard."
All position groups in the National Football League form bonds. Offensive linemen, arguably, might form the tightest bonds. Hinton worked for years with Donaldson, and he appreciated the approach and talent the standout center brought to the game.
"Well, he was special to me personally in a lot of different ways. One was the fact that he was my travelling roommate for my whole career there in Indianapolis, seven years. He was a guy who took me under his wing in the early days in Baltimore and his work ethic, I was always impressed with that," said Hinton. "He and Dwight Stephenson, who played at Alabama and the Miami Dolphins and was a Hall-of-Famer, they were the cutting edge, the new breed of centers. They were athletic guys who, in both cases, played other positions before center. He was a special guy, longevity, and probably one of the strongest sets of hands I had ever seen. If he grabbed a guy he was done, even the best of them."
Hinton performed at a high level at all times. He possessed tremendous physical gifts, and he applied those gifts in practice during the week and in every game.
"Chris was an animal," said former Colts defensive back Mike Prior. "He was a big guy who played from whistle-to-whistle, and maybe a little longer. Chris had that determination and fire in him that you see with the great ones. He would win his one-on-ones. The guy opposite him knew it was going to be a rough game because he was going against Chris. When you went against Chris, you really had to step up your game. He was not going to let down. Chris would get after guys. He got his assignments done. He was fiery. You could talk to him in the locker room and he was a quiet guy. You get him on the field and he'd get revved up. He got that fire in his eyes. He was not going to lose many battles, and it was individual battles along the line. He was going to keep coming after you."
Wide receiver Bill Brooks played on the same offense with Hinton for four years. Brooks noted Hinton's talents, natural ability and the regard teammates held for the Northwestern graduate.
"The Dancing Bear, Chris Hinton. Chris was a little different," said Brooks. "Chris was a very nice guy. He didn't have a mean streak unless you really did something bad to him, but he played hard. I think playing at the left tackle position is a tough position, it really it. It's one of the toughest positions in football. He did a good job of protecting the quarterback's backside and also making some holes for Albert (Bentley) and Eric (Dickerson) and at the time even George Wonsley or Randy McMillan. Chris did a great job in blocking. He was one of the leaders. He may not have been the captain, but he was one of the leaders of the team because people respected his play on the field and respected the things he had to say and how he prepared for the game."
Now two decades removed from his Indianapolis playing days, Hinton does recall what his teammates here meant to him.
"All in all, I had a great group of guys playing with me, whether it's Ray Donaldson who took me under his wing as an offensive lineman and great teammates like Duane Bickett and Eugene Daniel," said Hinton. "What's cool is when I do come across guys that I haven't seen or talked to in a long time, we kind of pick up where we left off and reminisce and talk about what's going on in our lives now. That is always cool."