Catching Up With ... Former Colt Jim Mutscheller
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Leafing though his mail on Monday, Jim Mutscheller assumed it was just another autograph request – until he examined the postmark.
The letter was from Czechoslovakia. In his best English, the writer asked Mutscheller, 79, to sign two bubble-gum cards of the Baltimore Colts tight end in his heyday.
Mutscheller complied and sent the football cards back around the world.
"In all these years, this is the first time I ever got (fan mail) from a foreign country," he said. "I thought, ‘Man, I’m really getting popular.’ "
1961 Baltimore Sun file photo
Has it been 50 years since he helped the Colts to their second straight world title? In 1959, when most NFL tight ends were more brawn than hands, Mutscheller caught 44 passes for 700 yards and eight touchdowns. And in Baltimore’s 31-16 championship victory over the New York Giants, no one had more receptions than Mutscheller, a solid if slow-footed pass threat who made up in grit what he lacked in speed.
As a blocker, he had few peers. Twice, in eight seasons with the Colts, he won the club’s Lineman of the Year award, eclipsing such players as Hall of Famers Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti.
Remember the 1958 championship game and the classic photo of the Colts’ Alan Ameche busting into the end zone for the game-winning TD? Though you don’t see him, Mutscheller helped lead the way.
"I caught (New York Giants’ linebacker) Cliff Livingston just right and drove us both out of the picture," he said.
That game was perhaps his finest. Among his three receptions was a third-quarter grab of a John Unitas pass that had sailed.
"I had to go up pretty high to get it," Mutscheller recalled. "I was still airborne when (safety) Jimmy Patton nailed me and I landed on my head.
"When I stood up, in the middle of Yankee Stadium, I kept thinking, ‘Where am I?’ "
He recovered to make a stellar play in overtime. On second-and-goal from the Giants’ seven-yard line, Unitas hit Mutscheller at the one, where he slipped on some ice and slid out of bounds.
Ameche’s touchdown followed.
For years afterward, Mutscheller said, Unitas ribbed him about the play.
"John would say, ‘Geez, Mutscheller, I tried to make a hero out of you, and you screwed it up.’ But it turned out OK. Ameche could handle (the fame) much better than me. He was on The Ed Sullivan Show that night. I would have been scared to death to do that."
Mutscheller retired in 1961, having caught 220 passes, 40 of them touchdowns. His work ethic was unrivaled. The onetime Notre Dame team captain missed one game in his pro career. The reason?
"I got hit in the rear while making a catch, and my back end turned blue," he said.
Even now, pushing 80, the Timonium resident continues to work as an insurance agent, a job he has held for 53 years.
"Quit? Never. I’m too fidgety to sit around, and my golf game was never good," he said.
Married since 1956, he and his wife, Pert, have four sons, four grandchildren and a life that would have turned out different had a skinny young rookie not made the Colts by the skin of his teeth.
"In 1954, I’d just gotten out of the Marines when I came out for the team," Mutscheller said. "Camp was tough. (Coach) Weeb Ewbank threatened to cut me because I had ‘Army legs’ – good for marching but not for running."
Before the team’s final cut, players and coaches met at the Pikesville Armory to pare the roster. Together.
"They didn’t know who to drop, so they asked six of us – including me – to leave the room so the players could vote," Mutscheller said.
He made the club, Army legs and all.
Bottom photo: Ellis Malashuk/Baltimore Sun/1957