BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Former Baltimore Colts running back Tom Matte has died, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. He was 82 years old.
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Matte was with the Colts for his entire professional football career, from 1961 to 1972. The 6-foot, 214-pound Matte was a grinder as a running back. His straight-ahead, bullish style didn’t register many style points and earned him the nickname “Garbage Can.”
He famously was the league’s first “emergency” quarterback after both Johnny Unitas and backup Gary Cuozzo were injured near the end of the 1965 season, according to an ESPN report.
Pressed into the quarterback role during a Dec. 12 game against the Green Bay Packers, Matte went 0-for-3 with an interception in the 42-27 loss.
He didn’t complete a pass in the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams either, but did rush 16 times for 99 yards, helping the Colts win 20-17.
In a playoff rematch with the Packers, Matte completed 5 of 12 passes for 40 yards and gained an additional 57 yards on the ground. The Colts lost on a 25-yard field goal from Don Chandler in overtime, 13-10.
The makeshift wristband Matte wore with the team’s plays scribbled on a notecard is on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Over 12 seasons, Matte rushed for 4,646 yards and 45 touchdowns and caught 249 passes for 2,869 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He ascended to the starting halfback role in 1967, Hall of Famer Lenny Moore’s final year with the team, and went on to earn Pro Bowl honors in 1968–the season the Colts team infamously lost Super Bowl III to the New York Jets–and 1969.
In 1969, Matte was named first team All-Pro after rushing for 909 and tallying another 513 receiving yards. He led the league in both rushing touchdowns (11) and yards from scrimmage (1,422).
A knee injury knocked Matte out two games into the 1970 season, when the Colts went on to beat the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V.
“I want to start off with my condolences to the Matte family,” Harbaugh said at the Wednesday press conference. “We love the Matte’s and we know that he’s a man of faith. He’s with his maker right now.”READ MORE: Pending Regulatory Approval, Sportsbook At Horseshoe Casino Could Open Friday
Harbaugh added that Matte was a family friend and went to high school with his mother.
In a statement, the Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti recalled meeting Matte at Colts training camp, calling him one of the Baltimore community’s heroes.
“The way he embraced us was truly special,” Bisciotti said. “Many years later, when the Ravens came to Baltimore in 1996, it was amazing to then see our team embrace him.”
Statements from the Baltimore Ravens and Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti on the passing of Tom Matte: pic.twitter.com/r3BloRfQKY
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 3, 2021
Thomas Roland Matte was born in Pittsburgh on June 14, 1939. His father played hockey for the Detroit Cougars, who eventually evolved into the Red Wings.
Matte loved hockey but earned accolades at Ohio State for football. He preferred being a running back, but in the 1959 opener against Duke, Matte took over at quarterback after the starter was injured and the backup failed to move the team.
The Buckeyes trailed 13-7 before Matte capped a 63-yard drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass in the waning minutes for a 14-13 victory.
Recalling the moment coach Woody Hayes asked him to play quarterback, Matte initially refused.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to play quarterback.’ I had small hands and throwing a spiral was hard enough for me to do,” Matte said. “He says, ‘Well, we don’t like to throw the ball anyway.’ We always had that theme of three yards and a cloud of dust.”
Matte went 28 for 51 that season, throwing for 439 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 190 yards and a score.
Hayes was so impressed, he made Matte the starter in 1960, and the senior responded by leading Ohio State to a 7-2 record. On the day of the 1961 NFL draft, however, the Colts made it clear that he was done as a quarterback — except in case of emergency.
After his retirement from pro football in 1972, Matte was a color analyst for Baltimore Ravens radio broadcasts from 1996 to 2005.MORE NEWS: Man Accused Of Killing Evelyn Player Was Working In Her Church, Attorney Says; Will Plead Not Criminally Responsible
The Associated Press contributed to this report.