TOMMY'S TERRIBLE SURPRISE

Everyone knew that the Baltimore Colts' emergency quarterback, Tom Matte, was not a passer, but in the Playoff Bowl he threw long and he threw short and led the Colts to a remarkably one-sided victory
January 17, 1966

As everyone will agree, it is unnatural for Texans to be quiet and restrained, and equally unnatural for the third-string quarterback of the Baltimore Colts, Tom Matte, to throw passes. Last week in Miami the Dallas Cowboys worked diligently in preparation for their Playoff Bowl game with the Colts and, insulating themselves from Miami's fleshly attractions, hit the sack shortly after sundown. On Sunday, Matte, a French Canadian who is said to prefer ice hockey to football and whose education for replacing the injured Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo consisted of a spell as quarterback under Ohio State's Woody Hayes—the worst possible apprenticeship for a pro passer—reared back and passed the favored Cowboys to defeat. His statistics did not look like much—seven completions in 17 attempts—but two of those passes went for touchdowns and two others moved the Colts into position to score. When the Colts trotted into the dressing room after their 35-3 victory they were bragging that Matte could have shot down the Eastern Division champion Cleveland Browns.

It was the Colts who behaved like Texans should in the week before the game. Seven or eight of them rushed from practice each afternoon to the golf course, and right up to the eve of the game they played in the NFL golf tournament. The Cowboys left their clubs at home. The night before the game, Carroll Rosenbloom, owner of the Colts, gave a plush party for his players and their wives, and they were as relaxed and happy as they had been all week. The Cowboys went to bed early.

One of the most relaxed Colts was the stocky young Matte, who shot three rounds in the middle 80s in the golf tournament after spending mornings endeavoring to improve his long passing. In the pregame warmup he looked as if he needed another year or two of practice.

"I couldn't hit the side of a barn," he said after the game, nestling the trophy for the most valuable player in the crook of his arm. "Jimmy Orr told me I was making receivers obsolete, but I wasn't bothered."

Don Shula, the wise young coach of the Colts, had made a project of relaxing Matte and the rest of the team. "We worked in the morning, and they were on their own after that," Shula said. "They had just come off a terrible disappointment in losing to Green Bay in the playoff for the division championship, and they needed to rest. I didn't ask them to bear down until Friday."

Said a Baltimore veteran: "We were pretty loose."

The Cowboy owners, usually as Texan as Texans are supposed to be, were conspicuously absent. Bedford Wynne spent the week before the game at Bon Air, an island off the coast of Venezuela, with a group of 90 Dallas fans who had chartered a plane to go to the island, then fly to Miami the day before the game. Clint Murchison and the rest of the owners were scattered through the Bahamas.

True, there was one modest celebration on Friday afternoon. Twenty or 30 Texans cruised through the Inland Waterway on a 96-foot yacht, drinking cocktails and contemplating the imminent demise of the Colts, but even that party was a quiet one.

The liveliest member of the Cowboy team was Bob Hayes, the Olympic sprint champion, who was returning in glory to his home state as the best pass-catching rookie in the league. The ads for the game read "See the Dallas Cowboys, with the world's fastest human, Bob Hayes, against the Baltimore Colts."

Hayes was interviewed for radio, TV and the press and was both modest and articulate but, unfortunately for him and for his Miami admirers, the Colts had devised the world's stickiest coverage for him. "The quarterback has to have time to throw deep to a receiver like Hayes," said Corner Back Bobby Boyd. "We figured not to give Don Meredith enough time, by blitzing a lot more than we usually do. That left man-to-man coverage on Hayes but you notice they never hit him deep." Hayes caught four passes for a puny 24 yards.

For the most part, the Colt offense was Matte. Plainly he is too short to be a quarterback; he stands an even six feet and should not be able to see over the giants in the middle of the line. But Matte's seven completions gained 165 yards—a remarkable performance for a halfback.

Shula had designed many of the Colt patterns to make him feel at home. In previous years Matte had often thrown a halfback option pass, taking a pitchout from Unitas, swinging wide, then throwing or running, depending upon the reaction of the defense. "A lot of our passes today were the halfback option," he said. "The only difference was that I ran them from quarterback."

The first touchdown pass was to the little Colt flanker, Orr, on a pattern against Cornell Green, the Cowboy corner back. He started off inside and then broke back to the outside. He left Green hanging in midair, and though the pass was not of Unitas velocity it was good enough for a 15-yard score.

"There wasn't any pattern on the second pass," Orr said afterward. Orr is a slight, brown-haired young man with baggy eyes vaguely reminiscent of Dean Martin's. "This was a roll-out, with Tom coming out to the right. I went out and put a couple of moves on Green and looked around and Tom was still running so I did something else, and he hit me. That one was thrown as well as anyone could throw it. He had to lead me about four feet, and he did."

Running Back Jerry Hill carried the ball 18 times and gained 90 yards. He also caught a long pass from Matte which set up a Baltimore touchdown. The pass was good for 52 yards, and it was caught at the absolute outer fringe of the Matte range.

"We found out about it in practice," Hill said. "I mean the defense was covering me the way the Dallas defense would, and this pass was supposed to go to the sideline. You don't figure Tom to bomb you with a long pass. So once or twice in practice I tried the fake to the sideline and just went on deep and I was open. I tried it in the game, and it worked the same way. So I came back to the huddle and told Tom about it and he said all right, and I ran the fake and fly and it worked. But Tom said later he didn't remember me telling him about it."

"I knew he broke the pattern," Matte said, grinning. "I thought he was going to run the sideline, then I looked down field and heard him yelling, and I threw the ball as hard as I could."

Somehow, the whole Baltimore effort on this windy Miami afternoon had the same feeling of inspired improvisation as that play. Coming into the game, the Colts were convinced that they should have met Cleveland a week before in the championship game. Their game movies of the playoff with Green Bay show Don Chandler's score-tying field goal during regulation time missing the uprights by two feet.

"No way that could have been a field goal," one player said. "Look, in the movies you can see Don throw up his hands like a guy just missed a short putt. We know we should have played Cleveland. We would have beat them, too. Even with Tom at quarterback."

He stopped and grinned.

"Even?" he said. "Hell, we may have to put in a special Matte offense next year."

PHOTOArchitect of the Baltimore victory, Matte cocks his unexpectedly devastating passing arm.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)