Baltimore Colts RB/fill-in QB Tom Matte, dead at age 82

Nov 2, 2021, 10:35 PM | Updated: Nov 3, 2021, 3:08 pm

FILE - Van C. Kussrow, left, from the Orange Bowl Committee, presents Baltimore Colts quarterback Tom Matte with the Most Valuable Player trophy after the Colts defeated the Dallas Cowboys 53-3 on Jan. 9, 1966, in Miami. Matte, who spent his entire 12-year NFL career as a gritty running back for the Baltimore Colts _ except for a star turn for three games in 1965 as their quarterback _ has died. He was 82. The Baltimore Ravens confirmed Matte's death during coach John Harbaugh's news conference Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. No details were provided.(AP Photo/File)

(AP Photo/File)

Tom Matte, who spent his entire 12-year NFL career as a gritty running back for the Baltimore Colts — except for a star turn for three games in 1965 as their quarterback — has died. He was 82.

The Baltimore Ravens confirmed Matte’s death during coach John Harbaugh’s news conference Wednesday. No details were provided.

“I just want to start off with condolences to the Matte family. Tom Matte passed away,” Harbaugh said. “We have a special bond. My mom and Tom Matte went to high school together.”

After scoring three touchdowns to carry Baltimore past Cleveland in the 1968 NFL championship game, Matte became the first player to top the 100-yard rushing mark in a Super Bowl, totaling 116 yards in a huge upset loss to Joe Namath and the New York Jets. He earned a championship ring with the 1970 Colts despite being sidelined with an injury for most of the season.

Although he rushed for 4,646 yards, caught 249 passes for 2,869 yards and scored 57 touchdowns, Matte spent most of his time with the Colts operating in the shadow of future Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry and John Mackey.

“I was sort of the jack of all trades and master of none,” Matte said. “I wasn’t the superstar by no means.”

Matte was drafted seventh overall by Baltimore in 1961 after showing more prowess at running than passing as Ohio State’s quarterback in the single-wing offense run by coach Woody Hayes. The Colts had Unitas throwing the ball, so Matte’s job during his first five NFL seasons mostly involved taking handoffs and catching short passes.

Late in the 1965 season, however, Matte was called upon to show his skill running the offense following injuries to Unitas and backup quarterback Gary Cuozzo.

Wearing his customary No. 41 jersey and making calls in the huddle off a wristband that listed the plays — an accessory that still resides in the NFL Hall of Fame but was unusual for that era — Matte helped the Colts beat the Rams 20-17 in the season finale. Matte threw only two passes, both incomplete, but rushed for 99 yards on 16 carries to thrust Baltimore into a tie for first place with the Green Bay Packers in the Western Division.

In the playoff at Green Bay to decide which team would advance to the NFL championship game, Matte completed 5 of 12 passes for 40 yards and ran for 57 yards on 17 carries in a 13-10 loss. The Packers forced overtime with a field goal late in the fourth quarter, a kick the Colts contended sailed wide of the uprights.

“Think about it,” Berry said. “We came within a whisker of playing for the world championship with Tom Matte at quarterback. That’s one of the darnedest things to happen in the history of football.”

Matte closed the season by earning MVP honors in the now defunct Playoff Bowl, a matchup between the second-place teams from each conference. Matte orchestrated a 35-3 rout of Dallas, throwing for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

Previously as a pro, Matte had occasionally displayed his skill as a passer after taking a pitch. Against Dallas, he made things happen after taking the snap from center.

“A lot of our passes today were the halfback option,” he said after the game. “The only difference was that I ran them from quarterback.”

The 6-foot, 214-pound Matte was a grinder as a running back. His straight-ahead, bullish style didn’t register many style points and earned him the nickname “Garbage Can.” Though he never had a 1,000-yard season, Matte rushed for 909 yards with 11 touchdowns in 1969, a 14-game season, in addition to catching 43 passes for 513 yards and two scores.

Thomas Roland Matte was born in Pittsburgh on June 14, 1939. His father played hockey for the Detroit Cougars, who eventually evolved into the Red Wings.

Matte loved hockey but earned accolades at Ohio State for football. He preferred being a running back, but in the 1959 opener against Duke, Matte took over at quarterback after the starter was injured and the backup failed to move the team.

The Buckeyes trailed 13-7 before Matte capped a 63-yard drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass in the waning minutes for a 14-13 victory.

Recalling the moment Hayes asked him to play quarterback, Matte initially refused.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to play quarterback.’ I had small hands and throwing a spiral was hard enough for me to do,” Matte said. “He says, ‘Well, we don’t like to throw the ball anyway.’ We always had that theme of three yards and a cloud of dust.”

Matte went 28 for 51 that season, throwing for 439 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 190 yards and a score.

Hayes was so impressed, he made Matte the starter in 1960, and the senior responded by leading Ohio State to a 7-2 record. On the day of the 1961 NFL draft, however, the Colts made it clear that he was done as a quarterback — except in case of emergency.

Matte was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1968 and 1969. He ended his career following a 1972 season in which he played in only six games.

After his retirement, Matte was a color analyst for Baltimore Ravens radio broadcasts from 1996 to 2005.

“Tom was one of this community’s heroes,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said in a statement. “I remember being so excited to meet him at Colts training camp when I was a kid. 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.”

___

More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles, left, talks with line judge Mark Stewart during the second ...
Associated Press

Analysis: Aggressive coaching paid off Sunday in NFL

With the ball in Tom Brady’s hands, Todd Bowles played it safe and lost. Doug Pederson and Brandon Staley went for broke and celebrated wins. Aggressive coaching paid off Sunday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 23-17 at Cleveland in overtime in a game that Brady had a chance to win in regulation with another one […]
1 day ago
France's Kylian Mbappe celebrates with teammate Theo Hernandez after scoring his side's opening goa...
Associated Press

Theo Hernandez wants to win World Cup for France and brother

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Theo Hernandez wants to win the World Cup for France. And for his big brother. Lucas Hernandez was in tears when he ruptured the ACL in his right knee early in France’s 4-1 win against Australia last week. His brother Theo replaced him at left back in a straight swap, even […]
1 day ago
Spectators leave the stands before the end of the second half of the World Cup group E soccer match...
Associated Press

World Cup TV pundit under fire for disparaging Qatari attire

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Former Germany forward Sandro Wagner is under fire for a disparaging remark he made about Qatari men’s traditional attire while commentating for TV during Germany and Spain’s World Cup match on Sunday. Wagner was commentating on the teams’ 1-1 draw for German broadcaster ZDF when he said in the 79th minute […]
1 day ago
Ecuador's Enner Valencia is attended by medical personnel during the World Cup group A soccer match...
Associated Press

Ecuador frets over Valencia ahead of Senegal at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Enner Valencia has scored Ecuador’s last six World Cup goals so there’s no understating how worried his country is after he was carried off the field on a stretcher against the Netherlands . Ecuador hopes that the 33-year-old striker’s troublesome knees are OK for a decisive final group match against Senegal […]
1 day ago
Germany's head coach Hansi Flick attends a news conference on the eve of the group E World Cup socc...
Associated Press

FIFA charges Germany for no player at news conference

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Germany was charged in a disciplinary case by FIFA on Monday, though not for its players’ “hands covering mouths” protest before playing a World Cup game last week. FIFA said it opened a case against the German soccer federation for not bringing players to its mandatory news conferences one day before […]
1 day ago
Head coach Gregg Berhalter of the United States walks on the pitch during an official training sess...
Associated Press

US has clear World Cup task against Iran: win or go home

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The task is clear for the United States: beat Iran in a politically charged World Cup match or go home. U.S. players have been praised as the best generation of American soccer. But they finished third behind Canada and Mexico in World Cup qualifying and now face a must-win final group-stage […]
1 day ago
Baltimore Colts RB/fill-in QB Tom Matte, dead at age 82