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Catching Up With ... former Colt Lou Michaels

Each week 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 ... "

He was the most prolific placekicker in Baltimore Colts history, a rugged miner’s son with coal-black hair, a snarly look and a square-toed shoe that booted 107 field goals for the team in its heyday.

Famous, Lou Michaels was not. Other Colts made more spectacular kicks. Steve Myhra’s field goal sent the 1958 NFL championship game into sudden-death, and Jim O’Brien’s three-pointer won the 1971 Super Bowl.

But no kicker teed it up more times here than Michaels, who played six seasons (1964 through 1969), during which the Colts won 63 games, lost 17 and tied 4.

"Nowhere in there can you find a game where we lost because I missed a field goal," said Michaels, 74.

1965 Sun file photo

He kicked a club-record five field goals in a victory over San Francisco in 1966. That same day, he played defensive end and registered a couple of sacks.

A year later, Michaels nailed a 53-yard field goal in a big victory over Dallas. That kick had legs and sailed clear into the stands in the closed end of Memorial Stadium.

Colts fans embraced the lantern-jawed, left-footed kicker, though he tested their patience. In 1967, for instance, Michaels missed six straight field goals. Then he connected on 10 in a row. Why? Forty-two years later, he hasn’t a clue.

"One day, everything you touch is great and the next, it’s not," the onetime Kentucky All-American said.

He still ranks fifth, all time, in scoring for the franchise, with 586 points.

Lou Michaels kicks a field goal against the Vikings in 1966. (Sun file photo by Paul Hutchins)

Today, Michaels lives in his hometown of Swoyersville, Pa. He has been married for 43 years and retired since 2001 from a 20-year hitch as athletic director at a county prison. Before that, he owned a bar in nearby Pittston.

Booze nearly ended his Colts career early on. Dealt to Baltimore by Pittsburgh in 1964, Michaels broke curfew one October night and partied on The Block until 3 a.m., when he wrapped his car around a lamp post on Light Street.

"Colt Kicker’s Car Hits Upright," the Baltimore Sun headline read. Michaels suffered a cut tongue.

"Yeah, I made a fool of myself that night – but I didn’t hurt the team," Michaels said. "I learned my lesson. Lou should have stayed on beer instead of scotch."

Five years later, Michaels was sipping beer with a teammate in a restaurant in Florida, where the Colts were preparing for Super Bowl III. Suddenly, in the door walked trouble – Joe Namath, the cocky New York Jets quarterback, wearing a full-length fur coat.

His attire alone made Michaels burn. Then Namath spotted the Colts’ kicker and sauntered over.

"He (Namath) looked at me and, without so much as a ‘Hiya, Lou,’ said, ‘We’re gonna kick the --- out of you, and I’m gonna do it," Michaels recalled.

"Well, I got a little upset and said, ‘Yeah, but we’ve got John [Unitas] and Earl [Morrall].’ "

Namath’s reply: "They’re both over the hill. And I’m told that you don’t run downfield under your kickoffs, so we don’t have to worry about you, either."

Michaels exploded.

"He [Namath] was across the bar, so I couldn’t hit him," he said. "I told him, ‘I wish I had one minute with you outside.’ But he wouldn’t go."

Finally, Michaels said, calm prevailed. Namath even paid for the Colts’ drinks and drove them both to their hotel.

That week, Namath took on the Colts and made good on his vow. The Jets won, 16-7. Michaels missed two field goals. Worse, his brother, Walt Michaels, helped coach New York and still wears the championship ring that the Colts’ kicker sought.

"I’ve never been able to accept losing the Super Bowl," he said. "Look, I married a great woman, and I’ve got three kids, three grandchildren and a pension that’s good just as long as they keep playing football.

"It’s that game that gnaws at me."

Comments

Good story, I spent some time in Wilkes Barre and was told by several locals that Lou Michaels was not allowed in his own bar if he was drinking. He was a charachter and a good one like most of the old Colts.

Lou kicked a 56 yard field goal which was a Colt record at the time and I think of the entire league. Good ole Lou was known as one of the dirtiest players in his time. It was not such a bad thing to be known as 1 of your teams enforcers back then. I think Lou went a little further sometimes, but hell that was football. Kick a field goal then back on defense, that was Lou.

Thanks for another great articule about one of our beloved Colts.

I remember that 56 yard kick. It was one hell of a kick.

Back in those days the kicker didn't take up a roster spot, as evidenced by Michael's number 79, and the holder on PAT's was the backup QB.

Many of the Colts players owned businesses around town during and after their career. Gino Marchetti had the hamburger joint on York Road in Towson (Gino's), Johnny U had Colt Lanes and the Golden Arm, Artie Donovan had the liquor store on York Road, Alan Ameche had Ameche's Drive-in restaurant at Loch Raven and Taylor ave, Bill Pellington had Pellingtons restaurant in the York Ridge shopping plaza, Ordell Braase had a restaurant and nightclub in Timonium and Bobby Boyd had a Night Club on Pennsylvania ave in Towson. These guys even lived in the community amongst blue collar working folks, Unitas owned a home in Campus Hills, right across from Towson Plaza.

In many ways the game of football sure has changed.

Rich:
I think you got your facts a little screwed up. It was Bert Rechichar that kicked the 56 yard field goal. Michaels never hit one that long.

Deke, you are absolutely right, my remarks refer to Bert. I kept thinking that this guy played in the 50's for the Colts not the 60's. Thanks for the correction.

Excellent comment about the players living and working in the community. One nit, though: Art Donovan's original liquor store was on Sherwood Road (the Alameda extended into Baltimore County), not York Road. Some other players -- I particularly remember John Diehl, a backup lineman -- used to work for him. Mr. Diehl often delivered beer to my parents.

Donovan's store was in Idlewile on the Alameda.
Could have turned into Sherwood, but I don't think so. There was a Sherwood that was in the area but it went east and west. Good ole Idlewile or was it Idlewood. I think Idlewile, but well misspelled. Good ole Idlewile/Idlewood Hall, Had many beers there at about 15 or 16 years of age. Ah, the good ole days.

I was a Baltimore boy way back, from 1956 until about 1978. I attended Dunbarton Junior High School, where my music teacher, a great jazz piano man and weight lifter, Dick DiStephano, introduced The Colts to weight training. I was a skinny little guy, and I was "sentenced" to drinking power shakes and lifting after school, so I ran into Colts there. (Dick was also the leader of the Colts marching Band, and played glockenspiel.)

Later I worked at Johnny Unitas' Golden Arm as a dishwasher and a line cook, at Pellington's Iron Horse as a line cook, at Gino's in Towson as a clean up guy and counterman. I worked for Bernie Lee and then Chip Chew at The Penn Hotel, where a few football players were guests in the Quill Room, a private club. I worked for The Crease organization at Four Corners Inn, too, and some of the ball players went there, too. I cooked for Danny Dickman, too, and some of the Colts dined there when they were feeling flush. Danny's was pretty pricey for that crowd.

When I was a little boy, we used to walk through the woods to Artie Donovan's liquor store- it was on Sherwood Avenue, which was an extension of The Alameda, next to Overbrook Road. There was a candy store called McClellans across from Art's, where we used to buy rolls of dots, wax lips, wax candy liquor bottles and fireballs, and then sit out front of Art's and listen to him tell stories. A couple of the Colts came around, and Orioles shopped there, too.

The O's pitcher Jim Palmer lived down the street from me on Glenkirk road, in a little house with a little pool in the back yard. He rented from some folks called the Mossbergers. A couple of times, Palmer went to Donovans to shop for a party, and gave us a ride back to Glendale. Sometimes Art would find an excuse to hire us kids to move some boxes around, and throw us a couple dollars. Those guys were my heros.

Back then, the players weren't superstar dope fiends, dog killers and ego-monsters, they were neighbors and real, commonly flawed men. I tell you, when the Colts left Baltimore, it took my heart out of the game. I moved away before the Ravens came in, so I don't watch too much football anymore. Well, I just ate a big meal, and I've gotta go take a hefty Irsay.

David, David, David! You eat a big meal then you "leave" a healthy Irsay. You don't "take" anything. If you insist, what do you use to "take" it and where do you "take" it to any way? I have always "left " mine, so you just might be "taking" one that I just "left?"

Take it or leave it, an Irsay is still an Irsay....

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