In an earlier article I explored the Raiders selection of Raymond Chester with the 24th pick of the NFL Draft. This series will continue to look at all four players that the Raiders took with that overall pick. This article is part two of that research.
“With the 24th pick of the 1975 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders select Neal Colzie, cornerback, Ohio State.”
Neal Colzie was a cornerback that was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft. He was born on February 28, 2021 in Fitzgerald, Georgia to his parents Thelma and Jim. His father was a Negro league baseball pitcher who went 4-2 as a starter for the Indianapolis Clowns. While attending Coral Gables High School, he caught the eye of Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes and he was immediately recruited to play college football there. During his years at Ohio State he intercepted 15 passes and returned 60 punts for 855 yards and two touchdowns. When he left Ohio State for the draft his 855 punt return yards were a school record.
At the time of his drafting the Raiders were thinning out at defensive back. Future Hall of Famer Willie Brown was beginning to show the effects of “father time” and owner Al Davis felt that the team needed to get younger at the position. He also may have had his eye on Colzie because of his speed and return capabilities, a talent that Al Davis felt was one of the most important aspects of professional football. By joining the Raiders, Colzie was going to play alongside some of the greatest and most famous defensive backs in football history.
After the draft both Colzie and the Raiders continued to thrive. Oakland finished the season 12-2 and lost the AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Colzie had a spectacular rookie campaign. First, he returned 48 punts for 655 yards and on opening day against the Miami Dolphins he registered his first career interception against future hall of famer Bob Griese. Oakland went on to beat the Dolphins by a score of 31-21. Neal went on to intercept three more passes in 1975 and he gained 38 yards off of his returns. He also forced four fumbles on the year and should have been voted defensive rookie of the year for his efforts.
In 1976 the Oakland Raiders were a team destined to win Super Bowl XI and Colzie was a part of the action in every game as a reserve defensive back and as a punt returner. During the Raider 13-1 record in 1976 Neal Colzie contributed 41 punt returns for 448 yards and 6 kickoff returns for 115 yards. On defense he forced 2 fumbles and recovered 1 fumble. During the 1976 postseason he returned 9 punts for 115 yards. This included 3 punt returns for 53 yards during the Raiders 24-21 playoff win over New England. In the AFC Championship Game he returned 2 punts for 19 yards and in Super Bowl XI he returned 4 punts for 43 yards during Oakland’s 33-14 triumph over the Minnesota Vikings. One of his punt returns set up a Raiders touchdown and another return set up a field goal by kicker Errol Mann.
The Raiders dominated the 1977 season but finished second to the Denver Broncos with an 11-3 record. Colzie once again contributed on both defense and special teams by adding 334 more punt return yards to his career totals and 3 more interceptions. The Raiders defeated the Baltimore Colts in the 1977 divisional playoffs and Colzie contributed 5 punt returns for 42 yards. One week later, Oakland was beaten by the Denver Broncos in the 1977 AFC Championship Game.
In 1978, Colzie intercepted 3 more passes and added 310 more yards to his punt return totals. The Raiders finished the season 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1971. Neal had several key moments that year in which he contributed to the Raiders success. On October 1, 2020 both the Raiders and the Bears ended a game deadlocked at 19-19. During the overtime period he intercepted a Bob Avellini pass on the Chicago 27-yard line, and he returned it to the three. A few plays later the Raiders scored on a short run to end the game with a 25-19 win. On November 13, 2020 he scored the first touchdown during a game against the Bengals by scooping up a fumble and returning it 32 yards for his first career touchdown. The Raiders went on to beat the Bengals by a score of 34-21.
After the season, Colzie’s contract expired and he was let go. He spent one year with the Miami Dolphins and then joined the Tampa Buccaneers until his retirement in 1983. He spent the remainder of his life living in Florida until his death (heart attack) on August 19, 2020 at the age of 47. He was survived by both of his children.
As of this writing, Neal Colzie ranks second to Tim Brown on the Raiders’ career punt returns list with 168 returns for 1,747 yards. He is also alongside just five other players to return 100 or more punts in Raiders history. He is the only Raiders player to register at least 100 punt returns but not score a punt return touchdown. During his first 13 games as a Raiders player he wore jersey #45 and for the remainder of his Raiders career he wore jersey #20.
His career stats for the silver and black are as follows:
- 56 games and 6 starts at cornerback.
- 168 punt returns for 1,747 yards with a career long of 64 yards and 10.4 yards per return.
- 7 kick returns for 130 yards.
- 18 postseason punt returns for 221 yards.
- 10 interceptions for 113 yards.
- 2 fumble recoveries for 32 yards and 1 touchdown.
Part III of this series is coming soon.