Tom Matte, former Baltimore Colt who starred in NFL playoffs as running back and emergency quarterback, dies
from Mike Klingaman and Edward Lee, with the Baltimore Sun….CLICK HERE
Tom Matte, the former Baltimore Colts running back and emergency quarterback, died last Tuesday November 2, due to complications from leukemia…Matte passed in Ruxton, Maryland…He was 82 years old, and Mr. Tom Matte was loved and revered by the fans of the Baltimore Colts…They loved Mr. Matte just as much as they did Johnny Unitas….Mr. Matte was the man, and the people who knew him best, referred to him as Mr. Matte…
Here we go with Mike Klingaman and Edward Lee, and the life and times of Mr. Tom Matte in Baltimore, and with the Baltimore Colts….from The Baltimore Sun….
Veteran Fox 45 sportscaster Bruce Cunningham credited Mr. Matte with helping him get familiar with Baltimore and the sports figures who populated the city after Cunningham arrived from Yorktown, Virginia. Mr. Cunningham, who worked with Mr. Matte on television and in radio for more than a dozen years, said Mr. Matte embodied happiness.
“Tom Matte is the only one of those they ever made,” he said. “I’ve never met anyone like him. You couldn’t be within five feet of Tom Matte and not smile. He was just that guy. He just bounced through life, and he knew that he lived a charmed life, and he loved the fact that he lived a charmed life. Everywhere he went, there were hundreds of fans in his wake. He was just that guy.”
Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti called Mr. Matte a community hero.
“I remember being so excited to meet him at Colts training camp when I was a kid,” Mr. Bisciotti said. “The way he embraced us was truly special. Many years later, when the Ravens came to Baltimore in 1996, it was amazing to then see our team embrace him.”
The older of two sons raised by the former Dorothy Stevens, a secretary, and Joseph Roland Matte, a professional ice hockey player, Mr. Matte grew up in Cleveland Heights, a tough neighborhood in Cleveland that shaped his persona.
“He had to fight his way to school and fight his way home every day,” said his son, Roland Thomas Matte. “That must have deepened his resolve, I guess, because not much fazed the guy. As far as his determination, if he said he was going to do something, he followed through.”
Mr. Matte was the Colts’ No. 1 draft pick in 1961 as a stubby 6-foot-1, 192-pound back from Ohio State. He cowed no one with his choirboy countenance, high-pitched voice and hippety-hop running style where he picked his way through traffic as if playing a game of “Frogger.” Plus, he giggled a lot.
Alex Karras, the outspoken defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, called Mr. Matte “a garbage can runner.”
Yet the Colts’ versatile halfback piled up 8,882 all-purpose yards, scored 57 touchdowns, made the Pro Bowl twice, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and earned a Super Bowl ring.
In 1969, his best year, Mr. Matte led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,422) and rushing touchdowns (11) and made first-team All-Pro.
“I’m an average ballplayer with average speed and average skills,” he once said. “I was clocked at 5.8 [seconds] for the 50-yard sprint and I’m not ashamed of it. I slide for my yardage, but I get the job done.”
He is best remembered for his time at quarterback late in 1965, when the playoff-hopeful Colts lost both Johnny Unitas and his backup, Gary Cuozzo, to injuries on successive weeks. In went Mr. Matte, who hadn’t taken a snap since college. First, while wearing a wristband “cheat sheet” listing plays for a streamlined offense, he led Baltimore to a 20-17 upset of the Los Angeles Rams, rushing for 99 yards. Then, in a playoff for the Western Conference championship, Mr. Matte led the Colts (10-3-1) against the favored Green Bay Packers.
Teammates dubbed him “The Arm.” America took note. Walter Cronkite interviewed the “instant quarterback” on the CBS Evening News. Telegrams poured in.
“Most of them said stuff like, ‘You’re proving that someone who doesn’t even know what he’s doing can go out there and get the job done,’” Matte told The Sun in a 2005 interview. “I was like the guy on the street, a no-name coming in as quarterback for the Colts. It’s the impossible dream — and they lived it through me. When you think about it, that playoff with the Packers was probably the first fantasy football game.”
Green Bay won, 13-10, in overtime. Mr. Matte completed five of 12 passes for 40 yards and rushed for 57 more.
“He didn’t botch a handoff or muff a signal all day,” Colts coach Don Shula said afterward.
The Packers went on to win the NFL title; the Colts flew home where it took Mr. Matte 25 minutes to press through an airport crowd that finally hoisted him on their shoulders and carried him out.
“The fans just about tore the clothes off my back while they passed me down the aisle on top of their shoulders,” he said. “But how could I complain?”
Two weeks later, in the now-defunct Playoff Bowl between league runners-up, the Colts played the Dallas Cowboys. Mr. Shula put the team on notice.
“I’m going to put a lot of pressure on you guys,” the coach said. “I’m going to let Matte throw the ball, and I don’t know what will happen.”
Mr. Matte passed for 165 yards and two scores in a 35-3 rout of Dallas and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. He never played quarterback again.
The Maryland General Assembly adopted a resolution hailing Mr. Matte for his efforts; the U.S. Army sent him overseas to tour its military bases and inspire the troops. The wristband? It’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Big games brought out the best in Mr. Matte. In the 1968 NFL championship, his three touchdowns tied a title game record. Two weeks later, in Super Bowl III, the Colts were upset by the New York Jets, 16-7 — a game in which Mr. Matte rushed for 116 yards and averaged 10.5 yards a carry, a Super Bowl record.