When word of Tom Matte’s passing was announced last week by the Baltimore Ravens’ John Harbaugh, a coaching counterpart of his immediately came to mind.
As a kid growing up in Annapolis, just south of Charm City on the Chesapeake, Bill Belichick learned football through the lens of his father’s scouting eye, the books and cards he collected and the games he studied closely.
Navy on Saturdays. The Colts on Sundays.
So on Friday morning, a time reserved for Belichick’s final weekly pre-game media session, which he often turns into a football history lesson, I asked to hear some of his memories of the late Colt, Matte, a legendary figure in Baltimore.
The main stuff of that legend was made in 1965, when Matte, a former quarterback at Ohio State was asked by coach Don Shula to return under center after injuries to Johnny Unitas and backup Gary Cuozzo imperiled the Colts’ championship aspirations.
In running the Buckeyes’ ‘three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust’ offense under Woody Hayes, Matte was mostly a rusher and rarely a passer. With a squatty build and hands, as he described them, too small to easily grip the football, Matte was drafted in 1961 by Baltimore to be a running back.
But four years later, a December knee injury to Unitas and shoulder injury to Cuozzo led Shula to propose the temporary position switch.