Except for the television cameras peering over the balcony of the Colesville Baptist Church, the memorial service yesterday for former Redskin Harold McLinton could have been for any other husband and father who died too young.
The 700 friends, family members and current and former Redskins, including Coach Jack Pardee and his predecessor, George Allen, gathered in the church in Silver Spring heard McLinton eulogized as a man who was special because he cared about those who were not.
The Rev. Tom Skinner, the former team chaplain, said, "Harold died on his way from helping somebody. He felt the brothers at Lorton (Reformatory) needed to be touched . . . that they needed to know that beyond the prison walls, there was someone who cared. One can always ask, what if he hadn't done that. . . what if he had been home. But because Harold cared, his death came caring."
McLinton, 33, died Friday, 30 days after he was struck in a hit-and-run accident on I-295. He was returning from a speaking engagement at Lorton.
The funeral is scheduled at 1 p.m. today at the Union Baptist Church in Atlanta, where McLinton grew up and will be buried.
As Skinner spoke, a baby wailed. He seemed to be crying for everyone.
The hour-long service was attended by perhaps 20 current Redskins, and as many former ones, including Mike Bass, Charley Taylor, Ted Vactor, Chris Hanburger, Ray Schoenke, Bill Brundige, Mike Curtis, Ron McDole, Roy Jefferson, Frank Grant and Jerry Smith, as well as former assistant coach Ted Marchibroda.
Former Redskin Brig Owens, and safety Ken Houston, were among the pallbearers, as well as the speakers. The two men, perhaps McLinton's closest friends in football, sat on the pulpit facing McLinton's wife Agnes and sons Kevin and Darren, and wiped away tears with white-gloved hands.
Owens began by reading a letter from President Carter, then recalled McLinton's rookie year with the Redskins in 1969. "He had his head shaved then," Owens said. "He was big and he could run. And Teddy Vactor said, 'Hey, he can play.'"
And, Owens said, he helped others get their chance to do the same. During Allen's years as coach, the Redskins held minitryout camps, for those "who dreamed of sometime making a ballclub," Owens recalled. "Harold provided the airfare and expense money to help make that dream become a reality for a young man named Herb Mul-Key. . . That's the kind of person Harold was."
"Harold used to always invite me to his Monday night radio show but he never let me talk," Houston said. "I'm sure he'd be pleased that I'm getting a chance to talk now."
Houston recalled his friend's sense of humor and emulated it. "What makes this really difficult," he said, "is that there is so much to say. I could go on forever . . . or at least all day."
When the service ended at about 12:30, Agnes McLinton took her sons by the hand, and followed their father's casket out of the church. As the family made its exit, one of the boys raised his hand and waved goodbye.
At a press conference later in the afternoon, attended by many of McLinton's former teammates, Allen announced the formation of a trust fund for the family, part of which will be used to send McLinton's sons to college. Allen said that a "modest goal of $225,000" had been established but that he hoped "it could be reset within a week."
Owens, who will be a trustee of the fund, along with Allen and a member of McLinton's family, said, "The coach always said to pick a goal. He never had a problem reaching most of them."
Owens said that a deduction will be made from the salary of each player in the NFL, and that the Redskins players and front office personnel had already donated $6,000. The organization, he said, has contributed $5,000.
Members of the public may send their donations to the National Savings and Trust, Washington, D.C. 20005.