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Tom Goode's Last Snap Was Best One

December 14, 2010

Tom Goode Centered Ball For Victory Kick In 1971 Super Bowl

Tom Goode
(West Point (Miss.) Daily Times Leader)
For 40 years his name has been the answer to a Baltimore sports trivia question, and many a barroom dollar has changed hands because of an erroneous response.

The last time he snapped a football in his lengthy NFL career, it settled into the large hands of Earl Morrall, who touched it gently to some artificial turf so a young placekicker named Jim O'Brien could boot it between the goal posts and provide the Baltimore Colts with a 16-13 victory over Dallas in Super Bowl V.

The name is Tom Goode, and today, he is at peace on his small farm near the oddly-named little town of West Point, Miss., a 13,500-population centerpiece of Clay County that tries to be true to its Rockwellian heritage while also putting up a progressive front.

There won't be any U.S. Army cadets marching there, but it's the only place that can claim a statue of Chester Arthur Burnett (1919-76), who made a large impression on American music as the great bluesman "Howlin' Wolf."

About 18 miles outside of town, there is a country lane named Buster Goode Road. And off that blacktop runs a sparsely-traversed gravel byway named Tom Goode Road. That's where another West Point hero -- Tom Goode, son of Buster and the best long snapper who ever bent over a football in the NFL -- can be found.

Tom Goode turned 72 years old Dec. 1, and he has been through his own private hell the last four years. After retiring from the NFL in 1971, Goode spent 33 seasons as an assistant coach at various universities and pro teams -- three times at his alma mater, nearby Mississippi State. And when he sat down on the farm at age 65, he was ready for tranquility.

Unfortunately, that wasn't to be, at least not for long. Doctors laid the ugliest and most frightening word in the English language on him -- malignancy. Goode had to go to battle again. The surgery went well, but the follow-up chemo and radiation left him open to a staph infection that spread over his body and left him lying partly conscious in a hospital bed for three months.

Goode won that war, too, only to be strapped with a pacemaker and a clogged leg artery from his football days, but he regards those problems as minor nuisances that come with the territory.

"Every day I wake up and check to see if my name is in the obituary pages," Goode laughed on his birthday. "The Lord has been good to me; I can't complain because there are a lot of people worse off than I am.

"I have children and grandchildren in Jackson, Oxford, Florida. They were all here at Thanksgiving and that was nice. My wife Sofia just took me Christmas shopping, and now I'm just sitting here watching the deer run over our little piece of ground."

That little piece of ground is the same one Goode grew up on, and every once in a while as he watches the deer, he takes out the Super Bowl ring he won on Jan. 17, 1971 and ponders the strange pathway of how he became a Baltimore Colt for long enough to help them win football's ultimate prize, the Lombardi Trophy.

A junior high school coach once handed Goode a football and told him to learn how to snap it to punters and placekick holders.

"I was self-taught," he recalled, "and pretty soon I was hitting circles I had painted on the barn. Then I started hanging up tires at different distances and by the time I got to college I could center it pretty good."

Pretty good was good enough to earn him All-American honors at Mississippi State and the strapping 6-foot-3, 245-pounder was the second draft choice of the Houston Oilers of the upstart American Football League. He joined the Oilers in time to play in the 1962 championship game, lost to the Dallas Texas, 20-17, in two overtimes in the longest pro football game ever played.

Goode spent four years with the Oilers and then joined the Miami Dolphins for four more, starting every game with from 1966-69, making the Pro Bowl in '69. When Don Shula jumped Baltimore and took over the Dolphins in 1970, Goode quickly adapted to the coach's system.

Misfortune struck in the last exhibition game, and Goode wound up with a leg and both wrists in casts. The Dolphins sent him home to recuperate for most of the year, then called him back near season's end. Under the existing rules of the time, Goode had to be put on the waiver wire before he could be reactivated.

In Baltimore, coaches nearly sprained a brain muscle rushing to put in a claim. Coach Don McCafferty hurried into PR director Ernie Accorsi's office and said the Colts were claiming "the best snapper in football" since regular center Bill Curry was struggling with numerous injuries.

"I wasn't going to go at first, but Coach Mac got on the phone and said they really needed me," Goode said. "I had to borrow a coat from my teammate Norm Evans, and Ray Perkins (a Colts receiver) picked me up at the airport. I hadn't had any rehab or conditioning all season, but I got there on Tuesday, and on Sunday I played a whole lot of the game against the Jets.

"The next day was horrible. I thought I had been run over by an 18-wheeler. I crawled to the breakfast table. But I did all the snapping for the rest of the season and the Super Bowl. What saved me was already knowing the system. The Colts were running the same stuff and terminology that Shula was installing in Miami."

Goode vividly remembers snapping for the field goal that won it after Mike Curtis intercepted a Cowboys pass and put it into kicking territory.

"There was no question about the pressure," he said. "Everybody knew this play was not routine, that it was for the world championship. The Cowboys called a timeout to freeze the kicker and they almost iced the snapper. I got over it and that ball looked as big and heavy as a watermelon, but it got back there."

Goode celebrated with the rest of his teammates in Baltimore, and he says he still remembers the reception the Colts had from fans.

"The people there were amazing," he said. "In fact, that whole team was amazing. I never saw a team that hung together with discipline like those guys did. They would have team meetings and call one another out. Nothing vicious or challenging, but if they felt someone wasn't performing to his capabilities, they let him know they expected more."

Goode came to camp the following summer, but after a few days decided to head back to his beloved farm.

"I could have hung on, but that team had been good to me and I owed it to them to be my best," he said. "I wouldn't have been able to give that."

Nowadays, Goode watches his share of football, both college and pro, and may be the only person in America who keeps his eye on the center's hands when the camera allows. After all, like a great pistol hand, he still has a unique ability to know when a snap will be on or off target.

"A good snapper can get the ball to the holder with the laces turned up properly 10 times out of 10," Goode said. "You just need a guy with good hands to catch it."

Forty years ago, he had the good snap, Morrall had the good hands and O'Brien had the good leg. And after all those years, a deserving Tom Goode is content to watch the deer and occasionally snap his fingers as he relishes that classic ring.

-- Larry Harris

Issue 156: December 2010

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