On Jan. 12, 1969.
with 25 seconds remaining in the first half of the Super Bowl and the New York
Jets leading 7-0, Baltimore Quarterback Earl Morrall handed off to Halfback Tom
Matte, took a lateral in return and threw downfield to Fullback Jerry Hill. The
pass was intercepted. The play called for the ball to be thrown to Wide
Receiver Jimmy Orr, who was all alone in the end zone, frantically waving his
hands. In a rage, Baltimore Linebacker Mike Curtis (whose helmeted head looms
behind Craig Morton on the cover) jumped off the bench, raced onto the field
toward the dejected Morrall, shaking his fist and cursing him.
The play was
intended to be the equalizer and, indeed, it should have sent the Colts into
the locker room with the score tied 7-7. Instead, they left the field in a
trance. The disastrous play was an augury of the bitter defeat that haunted the
team throughout 1969 and continues to haunt them even today.
believe it," Curtis said last week, both excited and depressed by the
memory. "Ecch! I just couldn't believe it. But there it was, the whole
tragic, stupid loss summed up in that one lousy play. Everyone could see Orr
out there by himself. Everyone but Earl. My behavior was irrational, but then
the game was like a bad dream.
"My God, no
one knows the despair, the abject humiliation the Colts felt. The 1968
Baltimore Colts, a perfect football machine. The 1968 Baltimore Colts who
crushed every opponent but one on a tough schedule. The 1968 Baltimore Colts,
the first National Football League team to lose the Super Bowl."
Just six days shy
of two years later the Colts were spending their last day in Baltimore before
returning to Miami, the scene of their humiliation. Head Coach Don McCafferty,
an assistant to Don Shula in 1969, had just left the practice field where those
two worthy ancients, Defensive Tackle Billy Ray Smith and Orr, had presided
over a brief workout. McCafferty called it the Comedy Hour and only shook his
head as Smith and Orr, both notorious goof-offs, led the calisthenics. When
Bubba Smith tried to cut short the wind sprints, Billy Ray (Rabbit to the
Colts) bellowed, "No shortcuts, Bubba, you hear?"
Rabbit, and you want to be a coach," said Bubba. "This is why you're
not going to make it."
practice allowed the players time to finish their last minute chores. Unlike
1969, the wives would remain home until the Saturday before the game. The Colts
would also be staying in a different hotel and practicing on a different field.
The practices would be closed.
Curtis, wearing a
white Stetson, boots, Levi's and an unpressed cowboy shirt, moved quickly about
the locker room. "Let's see, I have to go home and wash my undies and my
white socks," he said, working his face into a good imitation of
Conservative spokesman Bill Buckley, whom he often takes off on. "Yes. I'm
a conservative and I wear white socks—but only under my boots." Next Curtis
wondered whether he would be able to get permission to fly to New York on
Monday to tape a Dick Cavett Show. "Undoubtedly, it's the Animal Hour,"
he said. "That's why I'm invited. For an opening, I might come out and
growl, or else bite Cavett on the shoulder."
There are other
players in the league who are admiringly called animals, although none but
Curtis to his face. "Once in New Orleans a few years back," he
recalled, "Matte, Orr and I were eating in this swank restaurant. Matte
spies a red-neck Baltimore fan and brings him over to the table. He introduces
Orr and the guy shyly responds. 'Please-to-meet-cha.' Then it's my turn. 'And
this is Mike Curtis,' says Matte. "Animal!' the redneck roars. My God, it
was wild. But the red-neck was the animal, not me."
perspective, Curtis turns out to be the Colts' resident eccentric. "Mike is
a man apart," says his road roommate, Bill Curry, who admires many of
Curtis' qualities but finds him curiously independent for a football player.
"He's a purist," Curry says. "Totally dedicated to football and
obsessed by winning."