Harold McLinton, former middle linebacker of the Washington Redskins, died yesterday at the Washington Hospital Center of complications from massive injuries 30 days after he was struck by an auto on Interstate 295. The driver fled the scene and turned himself in to authorities the next day.
McLinton was 33 years old. He is survived by his wife, Agnes, and two sons, Kevin and Darren.
During his 10 years with the Redskins, McLinton became known as an athlete who "always played hurt." His teammates called him "Tank" because of the bandages and padded armor he wore on the football field.
But, at the end, his body could not withstand the impact of the overwhelming injuries he sustained Oct. 1 when he was hit while standing on the shoulder of the road as he reportedly asked directions of an acquaintance in another parked car.
According to a statement released by the hospital, McLinton died at 5:28 p.m. in the surgical intensive care unit. Physicians said death was caused by "the failure of major organ systems as a complication of his injuries."
McLinton underwent 19 hours of surgery the night of the accident. Four days later, surgeons amputated his left leg at the knee.
Last week, physicians upgraded his condition to very serious. "There were slight signs of improvement every day," said a hospital spokesman. "But we didn't want to get everyone's hopes up."
On Wednesday, he was returned to the critical list, suffering a deterioration of lung function and showing signs of a general infection. He required increased support from a respirator.
McLinton, a native of Atlanta, was a sixth-round draft choice in 1969 out of Southern University. He became a full-time starter in 1974 and played for the Redskins until he was cut in training camp five years later by his former teammate and then coach, Jack Pardee.
McLinton was a youth services specialist for Metro.
After hearing of McLinton's death, Pardee said, "You took him for granted. But the way the people rallied for him after the accident showed the respect they had for him. As a player, he was so unselfish. He played to win. He did whatever the team needed. He would fit the role he had to play . . . He's a guy you'd like to work with no matter what the job."
"He was respected by young and old, white and black," Redskins safety Mark Murphy said, "and I think he enjoyed playing that role."
While McLinton remained semiconscious and in critical condition, more than 1,500 friends and fans went to area hospitals and donated more blood than McLinton could use. The outpouring of concern and affection moved many, including some of his former teammates.
Before his death, former teammate Brig Owens recalled that he was "the type of guy who spent Christmas playing Santa Claus down at D.C. Village."
Redskins defensive tackle Diron Talbert said after the accident, "He used to help out kids in the District. The Tastykake company would bring these Tastykakes out for the players. Harold would fill up his trunk with Tastykakes and Cokes and take them over to the kids."
The response to McLinton's accident had something to do with the type of athlete he was, the players said. He was not a natural.
When McLinton was cut from the team in 1979, Washington Post columnist Ken Denlinger wrote, "It was a frustrating fact of life for McLinton that during his 10 pro years, the Redskins were actively trying to find his replacement."
Fans identified with him. Three weeks ago, as he and 500 others flocked to the hospital center to give blood, offensive guard Dan Nugent surveyed the crowd. "The fact that he isn't an active player, that he wasn't an all-pro, makes this even more impressive," he said.
Strong safety Ken Houston, who announced his retirement yesterday, the day his close friend died, once said, "He was very friendly, very outgoing. You'd never expect him to be the man in the violent world of middle linebacker."