Catching Up With ... former Colt Lou Michaels
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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
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."
"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."