He had a funny name, a Texas drawl and churning legs that chewed up yardage. Remember Norm Bulaich, the Baltimore Colts' star running back in their run to the January 1971 Super Bowl? He turns 65 on Christmas.
Bulaich can't believe it, either.
When he signed up for Medicare, he told the clerk: “I don't feel 65. Will you check it out?”
She did. He was.
The Colts' top draft choice 41 years ago, Bulaich caught on quick: He led Baltimore in rushing as a rookie. Bulaich (rhymes with goulash) sparkled in the playoffs, gaining 187 total yards in successive victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders. Then came Super Bowl V, where the Colts defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, on a field goal with five seconds left.
“I carried the ball twice, to run down the clock, right before Jim O'Brien's kick,” Bulaich said. “In the huddle, I got some dirty looks from our linemen, who worried that I would mess up.
“They said, ‘Don't fumble, Bulaich. Don't gain or lose any ground. Just move a little to the right.'”
Bulaich hung on to the ball and gained 3 yards, setting up the winning 32-yard kick.
Afterward, in the champions' locker room, the rookie thought, Hey, this wasn't that hard. We can do this every year.
“Obviously, that wasn't the case,” he said.
But Bulaich's best day was yet to come. In the Colts' 1971 season opener, against the New York Jets, he punished coach Weeb Ewbank's team for a club-record 198 yards in a 22-0 victory at Memorial Stadium. Moreover, he rushed 22 times with an ankle that he had sprained early in the game.
The Jets were stunned. One of Bulaich's runs was for a 67-yard touchdown.
“Nobody's ever run like that against this team, nobody,” New York quarterback Joe Namath said. “[Bulaich] didn't stop with second effort — hell, he went all the way to fourth, that's how hard he was running.”
His effort broke the Colts' previous single-game mark of 194 yards, set by Alan Ameche in 1955. Late in the game, with Bulaich closing in on the record, coach Don McCafferty pulled him aside.
“I'll give you two carries to break [Ameche's] mark, then I'm taking you out,” McCafferty said.
Bulaich nodded and plowed ahead.
His franchise record stood for 29 years, until 2000, when it was broken by Edgerrin James of the Indianapolis Colts.
“For that, the club held a ceremony, where I got to meet James,” Bulaich said. “I told him, ‘Edgerrin, that record was all I had left, and you took it away from me.'
“Do you know what he said? ‘I'm sorry, Mr. Bulaich.'”
Three years is all he spent in Baltimore. Slowed by pulled hamstrings, he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and, two years later, to the Miami Dolphins, where “Big Boo” was reunited with coach Don Shula, who had drafted him out of Texas Christian for the Colts. Bulaich retired in 1979 after taking a forearm to the face that broke his jaw in three places. He left, having rushed and caught passes for more than 5,100 yards.
Married 40 years, he lives in Hurst, Texas, and works as an executive for a waste management company. Bulaich has two children, four grandchildren, a 14 handicap in golf and good health. At 200 pounds, he's lighter than his playing weight (220). And he's free of the prostate cancer that rattled him five years ago.
Though he didn't play here long, Bulaich has fond remembrances of his time with the Colts.
“Are you kidding? Starting, as a rookie, in a lineup with [Johnny] Unitas, [John] Mackey, [Bill] Curry and [Tom] Matte? Oh, my gosh, I had to pinch myself,” he said. “I cherished the friendships with all of those guys. You couldn't have written a better script.
“It was a privilege for me to play in Baltimore. I wasn't a great player, but I hope I contributed to the sport.”
In his game room hangs a photograph of Unitas handing Big Boo the ball.
“I tell folks, ‘I'm number 36 in that picture. I'm nobody,” he said. “But that other guy, number 19? He's somebody.”
1971 Baltimore Sun photo of Norm Bulaich