In the 11 days starting Jan. 22 Joe Thomas, the general manager of the Baltimore Colts, made eight trades and took 17 players in the NFL draft. On the 12th day he rested. Unlike God, he wasn't tired. Joe Thomas had the flu.
But he was raring to go. "We'll let the smoke clear and regroup," he said. "We'll get new faces in here. Otherwise, it gets too dull. But I don't make spur-of-the-moment trades. I get up at two a.m. and mull them over in advance."
Indeed, the regrouping of the Colts began last summer, when Thomas watched Baltimore in the preseason and decided that Karl Douglas, the backup quarterback, "didn't fill the bill." So Thomas got Marty Domres from San Diego. Johnny Unitas didn't please Thomas, either. "He wasn't throwing upheld well," he noted. "He wasn't throwing the sideline patterns well."
When the season began, the Colts dropped six of their first seven games. The crusher was a 21-0 loss to Dallas. "We were behind 14-0 with 12 minutes to play," Thomas recalls, "and people were booing and walking out. I could have thrown up my hands and said, 'Hey, wait a minute, I just got here. Give us time. After the season is over we'll sit back and take stock.' If I had done that, I'd have wasted the entire year. We can't accomplish anything wallowing around at .500. We don't make the playoffs, we don't find out about young players and we don't get anything in the draft."
February 12, 1973
Baltimore ended up 5-9, but found a capable quarterback in Domres, who replaced Unitas, a fine runner in Don McCauley, who filled in for the injured Tom Matte, and a promising runner in Lydell Mitchell, a taxi-squadder.
Unitas, 39, was traded first, going to San Diego for "future considerations." Two days later, on Jan. 24, Thomas unloaded Matte, 33, to the Chargers for an eighth-round draft choice. "Our future was with younger guys," explains Thomas. "Take Green Bay. They made the playoffs, but how many of those guys were on their great teams? Two. A team mushrooms together, wins together and fades together."
On Jan. 25 the Colts acquired Center Fred Hoaglin from Cleveland for a third-round pick. This meant that the incumbent center, Bill Curry, was outward bound, and on Jan. 29 he went to Houston for Guard Tom Regner and a third-round choice. Curry is a superb player, but he had led the anti-Thomas clique. "Cliques aren't good," says Thomas. "I was breaking up a nice old nest."
There were two more deals on the 29th, Thomas trading Defensive Lineman Billy Newsome and a fourth-round pick to New Orleans for its No. 1 choice and sending injury-prone Norm Bulaich to Philadelphia for two draft picks.
The Newsome deal turned out better than expected. Thomas thought that Houston, which had first choice in the draft, would take Bert Jones, the highly touted LSU quarterback, in which case Baltimore would take Purdue Defensive Tackle Dave Butz. Instead Houston went for John Matuszak, a defensive lineman from Tampa. "And that left the door open for Jones," says Thomas, "the plum of the draft. He's as good as any in a long time."
On Jan. 30 Thomas got Kicker George Hunt from Cleveland for a fourth-round choice and two days later sent veteran Safety Jerry Logan to L.A. for an undisclosed pick. "I went to the Bible, and it said be submissive to your bosses," said Logan. "I believe in the Bible."
And Joe Thomas believes he has done the right thing, even if, as he told Unitas before trading him, it means "I have to step on somebody's toes, hurt somebody's feelings, I've got to think first of the football club."