Baltimore Colts halfback Tom Matte made the longest run of his NFL career the first time he faced the St. Louis Cardinals.
On Oct. 12, 1964, Matte took a handoff from Johnny Unitas and rushed 80 yards for a touchdown, helping the Colts to a 47-27 victory over the Cardinals at Baltimore.
A versatile runner and reliable receiver who could fill in at quarterback, Matte played for the Colts from 1961-72. In 1969, he led the NFL in touchdowns scored, with 13. Eleven of those came on runs and two on receptions. Matte died on Nov. 2, 2021, at 82.
From Woody to Weeb to Shula
Born in Pittsburgh, Tom Matte was the son of Joe Matte, who played hockey for the minor-league St. Louis Flyers before reaching the NHL with the Chicago Black Hawks.
Playing for head coach Woody Hayes at Ohio State, Tom Matte was a running back as a sophomore and a quarterback his junior and senior seasons.
The Colts chose him in the first round of the 1961 NFL draft, one pick ahead of the Cardinals, who selected Auburn offensive tackle Ken Rice.
In Matte’s first two seasons with the Colts, Weeb Ewbank was the head coach. After Ewbank left to join the New York Jets, Don Shula took over. Matte was the Colts’ leading rusher in 1963, Shula’s inaugural season. Video
Both the Cardinals and Colts got off to strong starts in 1964. The Cardinals had a 3-0-1 record and the Colts were 3-1 heading into their Monday night showdown.
The game had been scheduled for Busch Stadium in St. Louis, but was moved to Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium because the baseball Cardinals were in the World Series against the Yankees and had first priority for use of the ballpark they shared with the NFL team.
On the afternoon of Oct. 12, a few hours before the kickoff to the football game in Baltimore, Tim McCarver hit a three-run home run in the 10th inning at Yankee Stadium, giving the Cardinals a 5-2 victory in Game 5. Needing one more win for the championship, the Cardinals returned to a hero’s welcome in St. Louis, where the World Series would conclude at Busch Stadium.
At Baltimore, the football Cardinals, facing a Colts lineup with the likes of Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore, were hoping to fare as well as the baseball Cardinals did against a Yankees lineup with the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard.
Swiss cheese defense
A capacity crowd of 60,213 filled Memorial Stadium for the Colts’ bonus home game.
Behind the exceptional blocking of center Dick Szymanski, guards Jim Parker and Alex Sandusky, and tackles George Preas and Bob Vogel, Colts rushers romped for 266 yards and four touchdowns against a shell-shocked Cardinals defense.
Unitas and running backs Lenny Moore and Tony Lorick scored rushing touchdowns for the Colts, but the most spectacular was Matte’s.
In the first minute of the fourth quarter, the Colts were on their 20-yard line and leading, 37-13, when Unitas called a simple draw play.
Facing the Cardinals for the first time, Matte took the handoff and “galloped like a scared rabbit” through the middle of the defense, the Baltimore Evening Sun noted. Matte credited receiver Raymond Berry with making a key block on defensive back Jimmy Hill.
“We caught them in a blitz with their outside linebacker coming in,” Matte told the Baltimore Evening Sun. “Raymond knocked off the halfback (Hill). Then I just had to outrun them. It was a good feeling to do so.”
The 80-yard run was the longest by a Colts player since 1958.
“I didn’t realize the Baltimore ground game would be as strong as it is,” Cardinals head coach Wally Lemm told the Baltimore Evening Sun.
The Colts’ 47 points were the most scored against the Cardinals since they moved to St. Louis from Chicago in 1960.
The Cardinals played most of the game without left defensive end Joe Robb, who pulled an abdominal muscle when he knocked down a Unitas screen pass in the early minutes. When Robb departed, “Unitas exploited that side of the defense with his stable of runners,” Lemm said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Cardinals linebacker Bill Koman, a former Colt, had no alibis. “We were not ready, and you have to be when you play the Colts,” Koman said to the Baltimore Evening Sun.
With the robust rushing attack, Unitas didn’t need to pass much. He completed eight throws, including one for a touchdown to Raymond Berry, who wrestled the ball away from Jimmy Hill.
“He’s in a class by himself,” Hill told the Baltimore Sun. “Raymond has the best moves of any end in the business. I almost have to concede him the short pass or he’ll put a good move on me for a quick six. Berry never does the same thing twice. I’ve seen him fake guys down to their knees.”
Rough and ready
The Cardinals’ offense wasn’t much better than their defense. Two of the Cardinals’ touchdowns came late in the fourth quarter after the Colts sent in substitutes.
The Colts’ defensive coordinator was Charley Winner, who two years later would replace Lemm as Cardinals head coach.
“Standing out above all the things that made the Colts a very fine football team last night was the viciousness and consistency of their tackling and charging,” the Baltimore Evening Sun observed. “It was magnificent.”
The Baltimore Sun concurred: “No Colts team, including the two championship ones, ever looked as devastating. It was a brutal game, with the Colts slamming the Cardinals all over the field.”
The Colts were so dominant that they won by 20 points even though the Cardinals were not called for a penalty.
Asked by the Baltimore Sun to describe the turning point, Lemm replied, “When we kicked off to start the game.” Game stats
The Cardinals went on to a 9-3-2 record, finishing in second place to the Cleveland Browns (10-3-1) in the East Division. The Colts (12-2) were champions of the West Division. In the NFL championship game, the Browns beat the Colts, 27-0. The Browns haven’t won a NFL championship since.