BELTON, Texas (AP) -Mike Flynt suited up for Sul Ross State on Saturday, 37 years after he was supposed to start his senior season.
His first hit, however, will have to wait another week.
The 59-year-old linebacker remained on the sideline throughout his team's 55-14 loss to Division III powerhouse Mary Hardin-Baylor. Coach Steve Wright decided to play it safe in hopes of keeping Flynt healthy for the rest of the season, especially the home opener next weekend.
Leg and shoulder problems kept Flynt from even traveling to the first two games. He made this trip, and so did his wife and about 50 former teammates and other admirers, all hoping to see ``The Senior'' mix it up with kids one-third his age.
They weren't the only ones disappointed. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Mary Hardin-Baylor band chanted ``We want Mike Flynt!'' followed by ``49! 49!'' (his jersey number) and finally, ``Put Mike in!''
Flynt's fan club, who've dubbed themselves the ``Sul Ross Baby Boomers'' and wear buttons with a picture of him in uniform, joined the chants. Later, they started their own, merely shouting his last name.
``Because of the injuries, I'm not surprised,'' said Eileen Flynt, who drove seven hours from Alpine to watch her husband in uniform for the first time. They hadn't met back when he originally played for Sul Ross, in 1969 and '70.
Flynt was unavailable for comment after the game, but was all smiles as he greeted his wife and other visitors.
M, then sold the Powerbase, a piece of fitness equipment he invented. Along the way, he had three kids, became a grandfather and an AARP member.
His comeback began in June, when a friend suggested he was in good enough shape to give it another try. Once he learned he was eligible, Flynt convinced Wright - a coach eight years younger than the player - that he could still play.
``He's the only one I know who could do it,'' former teammate Terry Stuebing said.
While folks around the country have been impressed by Flynt's story, his comeback is best appreciated by Stuebing and others who played alongside Flynt when they had flat bellies and thick, dark hair.
They sure couldn't be out there now. Stuebing has titanium knees. David Shuler joked about triple-digit weight gain. ``Golf is about all I can handle,'' added Glenn McWhorter.
``Mike is an inspiration to everyone,'' McWhorter said. ``He's such a motivating, emotional guy. And the way he's taken those young guys under his wing, it doesn't matter if he plays or not. He's got a great heart. Your body will wear out, but what's inside will always be with you.''
Joe Priest, another former teammate, also has a good perspective because, like Flynt, he's been in the fitness industry nearly 40 years. Priest used to work with aerobics pioneer Kenneth Cooper and now teaches exercise physiology at Tarleton State.
``Mike Flynt is going to do more for health and fitness in 15 minutes than I've done in my whole life,'' Priest said. ``He represents what aging can be - you don't have to get old and dysfunctional.''
Randy Jackson, a friend since college, had a humorous spin: ``Every man over 50 owes something to Mike Flynt and George Strait. Mike Flynt shows you can still play after 50 and George Strait shows you can still be sexy.''
Alas, age does matter when it comes to recovery time. Muscle pulls that Flynt's teammates might get over in days could take him weeks.
Until now, Flynt had been amazingly healthy his entire life.
``No cold, no flu, nothing,'' said Eileen Flynt, his wife of 35 years. ``As he got older, he realized how fortunate and blessed he was and didn't take anything for granted.''
She said he's handled his down time ``impatiently.''
It only showed a little Saturday, when he'd shift from one end of the sideline pack to the other. Flynt offered encouragement to guys coming off the field, then wrapped an arm around star running back T.J. Barber in the closing minutes. At game's end, Flynt was among the first players to trot to midfield to shake hands with the opponent.
The one curious thing about Flynt's afternoon was that he almost never took off his helmet, despite temperatures in the mid-90s and a searing sun that kept his friends seeking refuge under umbrellas.
Then again, it sort of made sense. With the helmet on, Flynt looked just like everyone else. The 59-year-old grandpa was just another kid on the college team.
``He said when he's out there practicing, with his helmet and uniform on and not looking at any mirrors, it's like he stepped back in time,'' Eileen Flynt said. ``It's so awesome.''

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