Willie Richardson, an all-pro receiver who helped the Baltimore Colts reach their first Super Bowl, died Feb. 8 at his home in Jackson, Miss. He was 76.
Hinds County coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart confirmed the death to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Mississippi. The cause was not immediately known.
Mr. Richardson made a team-high combined 100 receptions in 1967 and 1968, when Baltimore went 24-2-2. He made the Pro Bowl both years. In Super Bowl III — an upset loss to the New York Jets — he was one of the few Colts who stood out, with six catches for 58 yards in a 16-7 defeat.
The Colts’ seventh-round draft pick in 1963 out of Jackson State, Mr. Richardson played behind all-pros Raymond Berry and Jimmy Orr until 1967, when injuries sidelined Orr. Mr. Richardson stepped in and caught 63 passes for 860 yards and eight touchdowns as the Colts went 11-1-2 but failed to make the playoffs.
Orr did color commentary for a local radio station that season and approached Mr. Richardson after his 11 receptions fueled a 38-6 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I asked Willie, ‘Are you trying to take my job?’ ” Orr recalled. “Darned if he didn’t. When I came back the next year, I had to move from the left side to the right.”
Orr said he spoke to Mr. Richardson three days before he died.
“Willie was supposed to join me for a golf tournament in Biloxi, Mississippi,” Orr said. “He called and said, ‘Tell them my wife is sick and I can’t come.’ . . . Three days later, he was gone.”
Willie Louis Richardson Jr. was born Nov. 17, 1939, in Clarksdale, Miss. His father was a Baptist minister, and the family later moved to Greenville, Miss.
At Jackson State, Mr. Richardson was a two-time small college all-American.
“A lot of people who came from ‘minor’ colleges were [intimidated] by playing with the likes of Johnny Unitas and Gino Marchetti — but Willie represented himself extremely well,” said Roy Hilton, a Baltimore Colts defensive end who played at Jackson State. “It took him awhile to learn the Colts’ pass patterns, but, by the time I got there, he’d gone from a green rookie to a crafty veteran. Not too shabby.”
Mr. Richardson played eight of his nine years in the National Football League with the Colts. After a year with the Miami Dolphins, he returned to Baltimore for his final season in 1971.
“As a rookie, I saw that [Hall of Famer] Raymond Berry and Jimmy Orr never dropped balls in practice, much less in games,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 2012. “Miss one pass and you felt like you didn’t belong. Those guys raised the bar for the rest of us.”
In that interview, Mr. Richardson recalled his reaction to catching a 23-yard touchdown pass from Unitas in 1970 to defeat the Green Bay Packers, then the Colts’ nemesis, 13-10. Richardson celebrated by throwing the football 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.”
Mr. Richards retired with 195 receptions and 25 touchdowns. Three of his brothers, Gloster Richardson, Tom Richardson and Ernie Richardson, also played in the NFL.
After his retirement from football, Mr. Richardson remained in Baltimore to run a liquor store that he owned. He also served as sports director at Channel 45 and coached football briefly at Johns Hopkins.
In 1980, he moved to his native Mississippi and worked 25 years for the state’s tax division. He was also part-owner of a country club and spent several years as color analyst for football games at Jackson State. In 2003, he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Earline Richardson; three children; three brothers; a sister; and six grandchilren.
Matt Schudel of The Washington Post contributed to this report.
Read more Washington Post obituaries :