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Catching Up With ... Former Colt Jim Mutscheller

Each Tuesday in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called, "Catching Up With ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ... " 

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

Comments

Jim Mutscheller was the prototype tight end for the NFL. He set the template for that position. As Mike Klingaman underscored, he was a great “blocker,” with terrific hands. He was also tough as nails. Hall of Famer John Mackey had what Mutscheller lacked: great speed. In the overtime championship game in ‘58, against the NY Giants, I almost had a heart attack. John Unitas’s pass to Mutscheller on the one year line, in overtime, was not a good call under the circumstances. In fact, it was a really bad call! We could have been crying all the way back to Baltimore on the train, if that pass was intercepted. Anyone else out there on that right flank, but Mutscheller, and it could have been a mega disaster. Mutscheller told me, years after he retired, that the ‘57 Baltimore Colts’ team was “better” than the ‘58 squad. Go figure!

Mike, Nice to see you catch up with Jim Mutscheller, who was a key member of those great Colt teams. Among his skills, Jim was surehanded, fumbling only three times in his career. In 1957 he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 8. Thanks for the memories, Jim.

Thanks for the articule Mike. Mutscheller, what a great name. A great Colt who will be remembered as long as there is a ole Baltimore Colt fan alive. The huge catch on the 1 yard line in '58. Memories like that live forever. They put Baltimore on the map. He like so many of the great Colts stayed in the community. Being a fan of those Baltimore Colts is a HONOR, and always has been. Please some one get the Baltimore Colt marching band and lets here the Baltimore Colt fight song. That said we are all of a sudden blessed with a very good and well worth being a fan of - the Baltimore Ravens.

Through the years Unitas was asked many times about the pass to Mutscheller. The first few times - right after the game - he made a smart-ass remark about covering the spread, but after a while his response was pretty much the same - when you know what you're doing it's not a risky play. By that time in the game he had the Giants completely outwitted, and they admitted that many times.

I watched that game on TV with my best pal at the time Dandy Blaylock and his father Dr. Alfred Blaylock at their house on Gibson Island, and we all three went happily nuts.

Nice memory, great game. I have a white Colts jersey with number 19 on it. I treasure it and only wear it on special occasions.

He also caught a key pass for about 50 yards to set up a touchdown in the Colts' incredible comeback victory at home vs. YA and the 49ers in 1958. Colts came back from a first half 27-7 deficit and won 35-27.

My uncle Angelo Provenzano and Mr. Mutscheller grew up together and were best friends in Beaver Falls Pa. They came to my house in 1961 when i was 8 years old.Would it be possible to get a e-mail address for Mr. Mutscheller? I'm going to Pa. for the ceremony in Sept. Your help would be greatly appreciated. I live in So. Md. and missed Mr. MUTSCHELLER at Buzz Nutters funeral

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