Emergency Quarterback Tom Matte for Baltimore Colts dies at 82

Tom Matte is a short midfielder for the Baltimore Colts who stepped in as a quarterback late in the 1965 season. Johnny Unitas and his backup, Gary Cuozzo, injured and nearly taking the team to the NFL championship game, died Tuesday at his home in Towson, Md. He was 82 years old.

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh announced his death.

Matte was a solid, reliable and productive runner for the Colts for 12 seasons. But the quarterback was no stranger to playing. He played that position at Ohio State University, but didn’t pass often in Coach Woody Hayes’ running-focused offense. And with Unitas, a future Hall of FamerAs quarterback for the Colts, Matte didn’t have to worry about anything other than takedowns and catching passes.

Matte also knew he was physically limited as a quarterback.

“My hands are too small” Matt told PressBox, a Maryland sports media company, in 2020. “I couldn’t even put my hand around the ball. Unitas almost surrounded the ball so he would always throw that wonderful spiral.”

But in consecutive weeks in December, Unitas tore his right knee and Cuozzo split his left shoulder, laying the groundwork for Matte to become an enduring favorite among Colts fans. In a game on December 18, 1965, he and journeyman Ed Brown shared quarterback duties and led the Colts to a 20-17 win on the Los Angeles Rams.

Matte didn’t complete any passes, but led the team to rush for 99 yards.

“We had drawn our complex offense, but the Rams didn’t know that,” said Colts coach Don Shula. He told The Baltimore Sun in 2005. “So Tom plays a complex game trick and then manages the ball on his own.”

Matte wore a vinyl bracelet with all the games written in lowercase by his wife, Judy, to remember what to look for.

The next game was for the Western Conference championship. It’s between the Colts and Green Bay Packers to determine which team will play the Eastern Conference champion for the NFL title. Matte rushes the team with 57 yards again, and completed five passes for 40 yards. But the Packers tied the game with a shaky, controversial field goal in regulation and won 13-10 in overtime.

“Everyone in the country knew this winning attempt would have been impossible without their support with Unitas and Matte,” Upton Bell, the Colts’ casting personnel director at the time, said in an email, “but we won and then we lost. in a blown call.”

Matte found solace after the game and ripped off his wristband, which was taken by a Baltimore sportswriter, John Steadman. Now, an accessory born out of necessity that has become commonplace in the NFL, is showcased in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

The Colts were greeted at Baltimore’s Friendship Airport by a large number of adoring fans. Some lifted Matte onto their shoulders, not triumphantly, but at least in admiration for his work as an emergency quarterback.

Thomas Roland Matte was born on June 14, 1939, in Pittsburgh. His father, Roland, was a longtime amateur hockey player and spent brief terms in the NHL with the Detroit Cougars (now the Red Wings) and Chicago Blackhawks.

Matte was running at Ohio State until 1959, when he played the occasional quarterback. In 1960, doing well enough was the anthem (737 yards passed and 682 rushed) be Voted All-American and finish seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting.

He was selected by the Colts in the first round of the 1961 NFL draft and over 12 seasons. He ran for 4,646 yards and scored 45 goals. He also caught 249 passes for 2,869 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had his best season in 1969, rushing for the most 11 touchdowns in the league and stacking 909 yards, third behind Gale Sayers and Calvin Hill.

Matte earned the nickname Old Garbage Can from Detroit Lions defender Alex Karras for his tough running style.

On January 12, 1969, in Super Bowl III between the Colts and Jets, Matte had one of his best plays ever, rushing for 116 yards (half his second-quarter run) in 11 posts. But the favorite Colts lost in a stunning 16-7 loss.

Matte was traded to the San Diego Chargers in early 1973, but chose to retire. Eleven years later, Colts owner Robert Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis. The relocation angered fans and many players, including Matte, who told The Sun in 1984: “Bob Irsay, you’re out of your mind. You’re bad for the city. He broke a great football tradition.”

Matte would later work as a radio analyst for the Baltimore Ravens, the new NFL franchise that replaced the Colts from 1996 to 2005.

He was survived by his wife. Full information about the survivors was not immediately available.

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