Not intimidating on the field, but he can quiet his classroom
His fifth-grade class at Landon Prep in Bethesda is among the school’s bestbehaved. How does teacher Doug Nettles keep the peace?
“A loud voice and mean looks,” said Nettles, a former Baltimore Colts cornerback. “When I walk into the room, everybody gets quiet. Kids say, ‘He’s mean and scary.’ Course, that didn’t always work on the football field. Being 6 feet and 175 pounds didn’t intimidate anyone.”
Teaching American history to 10-year-olds is a joy for Nettles, 65, the Colts’ fifth-round draft pick in 1974 who played five years in Baltimore.
“I like kids and helping to develop their minds,” he said. “My sisters used to say that I have an immature mind, so I figured I might as well work with people I can relate to.”
Forty years ago, Nettles played for the Colts team that won three straight AFCEast championships, from 1975 to 1977. They’d gone 2-12 his rookie year and started 1975 with four losses in five games.
En route to New York, to play the Jets, he kibitzed with George Kunz, the All-Pro tackle. “What do you think?” Kunz asked. “I think we can win this one — and the rest of them,” Nettles said.
That the Colts did, reeling off nine straight victories to finish 10-4. Afterward, Kunz approached him.
“Doug,” he said, “if you ever quit football, you can be a fortune teller.”
Nettles, from Vanderbilt, started 36 games, had five interceptions and proved to be a boon on Baltimore’s special Nettles teams, where he blocked four punts. Nettles never returned an interception for a score, a fact not lost on a student at Landon.
“One day, a kid brought in my Colts stats, held them up and said, ‘You never got a “pick six?” That is really unacceptable,’ ” Nettles said.
Divorced, he lives in Silver Spring and remains close with his daughter, Asia, who was a college track star at St. John’s. He’s in good shape despite having suffered four concussions in the pros.
“The first one was in Chicago, in 1975, where I tackled [Bears Hall of Fame running back] Walter Payton,” Nettles said. “The next thing I remember is sitting on the plane beside [defensive end] Fred Cook and saying, ‘When we get to Chicago, let’s get some pizza.’ And Fred said, ‘Doug, we’re on our way home — the game is over.’ ”
That same year, while in Denver for a preseason game, Nettles got to meet his biological father.
“My parents divorced when I was 1 and I hadn’t seen him since,” he said. “When I got there and he knocked on my hotel room door and I opened it, it was like looking in a mirror.”
After the game, Nettles and his dad had dinner and talked half the night.
“That was special, to be able to see him. Everyone wants to know a little about where they came from,” Nettles said.
After football, Nettles worked in pharmaceutical sales for nearly 20 years, then turned to teaching.
“My salary dropped from six figures to $30,000, but I enjoy helping kids learn to be respectful and responsible,” he said. For a couple more years, anyway. Then, he said, “I’ll move to Florida, play golf in the mornings and be a beach bum in the afternoons. I think I’ll be pretty good at it, too.”
Cornerback Doug Nettles tackles Patriots fullback Sam Cunningham (39) in the Colts’ 34-21 win at Memorial Stadium. Nettles played in Baltimore for five years.