Tom Matte’s Playbook Wristband

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The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.

Part of Don Shula’s success was adapting to each quarterback he coached—including the running back he was forced to play at quarterback. 

Shula’s 1965 Baltimore Colts improbably lost both starting quarterback Johnny Unitas and back-up Gary Cuozzo right before the climax of their season. For the regular-season finale, and the Western Conference playoff, Shula turned to a running back who had never been a signal caller in the pros: Tom Matte. Scrambling, Shula simplified the offense and gave Matte a makeshift plastic wristband with the Colts’ plays scrawled on a card underneath. Matte would have led his team to the NFL Championship Game that season were it not for a controversial fourth-quarter field goal by the Green Bay Packers—it appeared to sail wide of the upright—that gave Vince Lombardi’s squad the opportunity to win the conference playoff in overtime. 

Matte returned to his preferred position of running back for the rest of his 12-year career, but in his brief three-game stint as an NFL quarterback, he turned out to be a trailblazer. The wristband, a novelty when Matte wore it, is a common practice among full-time quarterbacks today.

— Jenny Vrentas

Photograph courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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