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Front Row: When Irish Eyes Were Smiling, 60 Years Ago

September 13, 2009

Edited By Larry Harris

Bob Williams: Loyola grad finished fifth in Heisman voting one season and sixth in the next.
The year was 1938 and a young, peppery man named Hal Williams worked in the Notre Dame sports publicity office. When the Irish visited Baltimore that year to play Navy in football, Williams brought his young brother to meet Elmer Layden, the coach at that time.

“Coach Layden,” he said, “meet Notre Dame’s quarterback in 10 years. This is my kid brother, Bobby.”

As fate would have it, both the Williams boys went on to become famous, but in greatly disparate fields. Harold A. Williams matured into one of the most respected newsmen, editors and authors who ever worked in Baltimore. He was the highly-regarded chief of the Sunday Sun Magazine for many years and, among his other books, his history of the Sun is still available in bookstores and online.

And that kid brother? Sure enough, Bob Williams became the quarterback at Notre Dame for coach Frank Leahy, and all he did was lead his team to an undefeated national championship season in 1949. All of 19 years old, the Loyola Blakefield graduate cracked the whip on a veteran unit still regarded in some circles as the finest Irish team ever assembled.

This fall they will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of that fabled team in South Bend, but it isn’t likely Bob Williams, who still dwells in Towson, will be present.  Persistent back and leg problems keep him from getting around as much as he would like, but his mind is just as sharp as in those 11 weeks when only one team could even stay on the field with the Irish.

Jim Mutscheller: Silent man became loud presence for Irish and Baltimore Colts fans.
The same goes for another even more visible Baltimore resident who was a member of that ’49 team, but Jim Mutscheller came to be a much-loved member of this community through entirely different circumstances. Tight end Mutscheller was a key component of those 1958-59 Baltimore Colts who were back-to-back NFL champions, and he stayed around for the next 50 years, becoming a familiar figure in the insurance business and a vital contributor to many charities.

Williams will turn 80 in January and a relatively spry Mutscheller will do the same a couple of months later. Sixty years ago, however, they were teenage athletic wonders who mixed with a bunch of grizzled World War II veterans to dazzle the football world.

The Irish may have been the only team that ever had three players finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting. Leon Hart, the gigantic, 250-pound end, won it. Bob Williams finished fifth as a junior and halfback Emil Sitko was eighth.

Mutscheller played mostly defense that year as a sophomore and didn’t switch to catching passes until the 1950 season, another banner year for Williams; he was sixth in the Heisman voting.

“We called him ‘Bucky’ back then,” said Williams of Mutscheller, the first of a long line of football stars who came out of Beaver Falls, Pa.  “He never said anything. The first words he ever said to me was in 1950 when he came to the huddle and said, ‘I can get open in the right flat.’ My mouth fell open. ‘I didn’t know you could talk,’ I told him.”

Mutscheller let his actions speak for him. He led the Irish in pass receiving the next two seasons and was team captain in 1951.  After a two-year stint as a Marine officer in Korea he went into the NFL, joining the Colts in 1954 and enjoying an eight-year career that included 40 touchdown catches, 20 of them from John Unitas during No. 19’s 47-game TD streak that probably never will be matched. Mutscheller’s crunching block to the inside (and Lenny Moore’s to the outside) paved the way for the most famous touchdown in NFL history, Alan Ameche’s goal line plunge to give the Colts the first sudden death championship in ’58.

“In 1949 Bob Williams had the greatest season of any college quarterback I have ever seen,” Mutscheller recalled, “and he wasn’t even a quarterback in high school. He simply did nothing wrong. He was fantastic and completely cool in the only close game we ever had.”

That close game was the final one of the season, in Dallas against Southern Methodist. With the score tied at 20 late in the fourth quarter, Williams drove the Irish on a march that ended with a fake to Leon Hart, who had moved to fullback for that series, and a handoff to Billy Barrett, who scored to make the final 27-20.

All-American Williams was also the team’s punter that year and, despite his youth, he drew nothing but respect from the hard-eyed war veterans who dotted the team.

“Remember, a lot of these guys were 24, 25 and had just come out of combat not that long ago and I was just 19,” Williams said. “One of our tackles was Jim Martin [later a placekicker with the Colts] and he was a combat underwater demolitions guy in the Marines. All I had to do was hand the ball off and get out of the way.”

Well, hardly. Against Michigan State in a 34-21 win, Williams was 13-for-16 passing and his pass efficiency mark for 1949 still stands as a team record.

Both Williams and Mutscheller admit the luck of the Irish smiled on them that year. Notre Dame was scheduled to meet the top three running backs of that time -- Hugh McElhenny of Washington, Charlie Justice of North Carolina and SMU’s Doak Walker -- and Dame Fortune sidelined each of them with injury. Kyle Rote was a worthy fill-in for Walker in that Texas game, but not having to go against “King” Mac and “Choo-Choo” Justice no doubt made things easier.

Williams was the second pick in the 1951 draft and went on to play three seasons for the Bears, but a growing family back in Baltimore influenced him to an early retirement and he never looked back. He represented National Boh along with TV’s Bailey Goss for several years, then sold tires and was in construction sales before settling into the savings and loan business from which he retired. He was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 1988.

Williams and Mutscheller now find great humor in the recent story that the University of Maryland could not afford a plane trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., and might have to take a 5-hour bus ride (deep-pocketed alumni came to the rescue).

“Our second game of the 1949 season,” Mutscheller remembered, “we rode two and a half days on the train to Seattle to play Washington. Of course those were the days of steam engines and we would stop in who knows where! The Dakotas and Montana for fuel and water and wherever we went all these people would be there to meet us and many of them were on horseback! Real cowboys! We were amazed.”

“Exactly right,” added Williams, “and sometimes at these whistle stops there would be a little band. It didn’t make any difference what time of day or night it was -- and they would play the Notre Dame fight song.”

--Larry Harris

1949 Notre Dame National Champions
Date      Opponent                     Score
9/24       Indiana                          49-6
10/01     at Washington             27-7
10/08     at Purdue                      35-12
10/15     Tulane                           46-7
10/29      vs. Navy                        40-0
11/05      at Michigan St.             34-21
11/12      vs. North Carolina       42-6
11/19      Iowa                               28-7
11/26      Southern Cal                32-0
12/03      at Southern Methodist 27-20

‘Soccer Shots’ Is Kick For Tykes

Ever wonder what your favorite Blast players do in the offseason? One veteran defender uses the months between seasons honing his soccer skills -- with players not tall enough to ride roller coasters.

Soccer Shots gives kids ages 3 to 8 the chance to play like the big boys … and girls.  (Jeremy Sorzano/Soccer Shots)

Mike Lookingland, a four-year member of the Blast, was browsing Craigslist one day, punched in "soccer" and found an open preschool position -- and soon became the co-director for Baltimore’s division of Soccer Shots. 

The organization, geared toward kids ages 3-8, was the idea of former Charlotte Eagle players Jason Webb and Jeremy Sorzano. Over the past four years, various coaches and soccer aficionados have started up their own divisions, which have resulted in nearly 50 Soccer Shot programs across the nation. Soccer Shots visits schools, daycare centers and other youth programs to teach youngsters game schematics as well as other character-building skills such as teamwork and leadership.

“We'd had a lot of success with it in Harrisburg and York and identified a new market,” said Webb, who played one year of indoor for the Harrisburg HEAT before opening one of the first divisions of Soccer Shots in the same city. “We had some schools asking about our program from the Maryland line and so we basically started to issue the program in Baltimore. About six or nine months ago, end of ’08, I linked up with Mike Lookingland.”

Webb and Sorzano, teammates at Messiah College before playing professionally together, felt they had captured a niche market with their program, catering to preschoolers who don’t typically receive sport instruction until they are near middle school age.

“Unlike other sports, soccer is a program that can be introduced to kids [that young],” said Webb. “Think about basketball. It’s a little bit hard for kids 3 years old to throw the ball up into the hoop. Football's obviously too complicated, so soccer's just a great sport. We kind of saw it as an opportunity because there are so many programs out there for kids that are 7 and 8 years old and up.”

According to the American Youth Soccer Organization and U.S. Youth Soccer, soccer among the short-statured populace has grown more than 50 percent over the last 20 years in regions across the nation.

With soccer being, arguably, the most popular youth sport in the nation, competition among programs should be pretty fierce. But Soccer Shots differs from others of its kind, not only by catering to a younger demographic, but by requiring no extra work for parents in terms of carting kids around to practices and games.

“Not only are there not a lot of programs for kids this age, there's basically nobody else doing exactly what we do in terms of bringing the program to the kids,” said Webb, co-director of divisions in Baltimore and Harrisburg. “Parents who have kids in daycare centers and preschool are busy parents; a lot of times it’s both parents working. We learned the last thing they want to do is run their kids out to a Thursday evening program or a Saturday morning program. To get soccer done while their kids are at school seems like a benefit to them.”

Bringing the program to the school and after-school programs also affords non-athletic kids who wouldn’t normally get on an organized team the chance to play and be active.

“The kids just really enjoy it, even if they’re not going to be soccer players,” Lookingland said. “Our instructors do a really good job of making it fun. It’s an introduction to soccer so we kind of just have fun with the kids and make sure they are moving and learning a little bit about the game but also learning certain things about life, like sharing and honesty. We just build a lot of things into our program, not just soccer. So regardless of athletic ability, it’s definitely for kids of any type.”

--Krystina Lucido

Gino The Giant Praises Toler

Burl Toler, the Jackie Robinson of sports officials, died recently at 81 and some people were surprised at the resounding praise that marked his passing. They should not have been. Toler had put together a body of work during his lifetime that any man would have been proud to claim.

Toler was not only the first African-American official in a major American sport; he was also a respected educator, a participant in city government -- and, just maybe, the best football player who never got to the NFL.

“We had nine players off our 1951 San Francisco team who went to the pros,” said Baltimore Colts great Gino Marchetti, now 83, from his Pennsylvania home. “Three of us went to the Hall of Fame [Gino, Bob St. Clair, Ollie Matson] and at one Pro Bowl there were five of us present. Toler wrecked his knee in the college All-Star game after our perfect season and he never played in the NFL, but I have said many times that he was the best football player on our team.”

Toler and Matson were the only black players on that fabulous San Fran team that was unbeaten, untied -- and uninvited to a bowl game. Coach Joe Kuharich told his players the bowl bigwigs of that racially divided time would ask them to a postseason scrap, but only if Toler and Matson did not come along.  They put it to a voice vote and Marchetti was first to say, “No, we ain’t going without Ollie and Burl.”

The tally was unanimous. “And it wasn’t just me. It was everybody,” Marchetti said.
Toler became a head linesman in the NFL in 1965 and served 25 years in a striped shirt, preceding Emmett Ashford in baseball (1966) and Jackie White in the NBA (1968).

Toler worked in the Super Bowl and in several championship games, including the “Freezer Bowl” AFC championship game in 1982 between San Diego and Cincinnati when the wind chill index went to minus-59.

“I remember one time the Colts were playing in Green Bay and I went up to Burl before the game and shook hands with him,” recalled Marchetti, the man considered by most to be the greatest defensive end who ever played football. “We walked off the field and I slipped my arm around his shoulders and he said, ‘Don’t do that; please don’t do that!’ He was such an honest man, he was afraid anyone who was watching would think he would give me a break on the field.

“You know how people go to a funeral and they sort of stand around and say what a good man the deceased was? Well, when they said it at Burl Toler’s funeral, they really meant it. If everyone had his attitude, the world wouldn’t have any problems today.”

--Larry Harris

Foxworth Fantasy Becomes Reality

Coach John Harbaugh welcomed Maryland graduate Domonique Foxworth (right) to the Ravens after signing the free agent cornerback this offseason.
(Sabina Moran/PressBox)
For Domonique Foxworth, the phrase "fantasy football" has a different meaning than for anyone else.

Even though the Baltimore Ravens have had a relatively short life span so far, Foxworth always dreamed about being a part of a defense that quickly established a stalwart tradition. Those dreams sustained the young cornerback as he toiled on the playing fields of western Baltimore County and the University of Maryland.

In February, his dream finally realized after signing a four-year free agent contract with the Ravens, Foxworth retraced his steps.

"To finally be able to come back and be a part of it is great," Foxworth said at the time. "We drove past the University of Maryland, where I played, and we drove past the exit to Western Tech, where I went to high school. Coming around the corner, we drove past Deer Park Elementary and Middle School, where I was a Randallstown Panther.

"And then we pull into the driveway at [the Ravens' complex at] Winning Drive. It’s just a good feeling this morning to go down my Maryland football history and be able to make the last stop with the Ravens.”

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Foxworth, a five-year NFL veteran who has already made stops in Denver and Atlanta, is no stranger to the professional regimen. At the end of preseason, it was apparent that the novelty of playing for his beloved local team -- the object of years' worth of dreams -- had worn off.

Foxworth's jaw was set and his attitude as focused as any Raven who didn't grow up around here.

“Absolutely. We’re down to work now," Foxworth said while standing on the same stage he did in February.

"It was a cool feeling at the time, but it’s all business now," he said. "I think the intensity has changed for us in practice. Just today [Sept. 7], it’s been a really intense practice, and I think the mindset of everybody is kind of focused, including myself.”

Foxworth, originally a third-round pick (97th overall) by Denver in 2005, is being counted on to help shore up a cornerback corps that was depleted by injuries late last season and exposed in the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh.

Last year's starters, Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister, are no longer on the team's active roster, even though Rolle is still on the squad's Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

Foxworth and former Oakland Raiders corner Fabian Washington are the current first stringers.

--Joe Platania

LTA Coaching Clinic To Be Held Oct. 3

The fifth annual coaching clinic at the Leadership Through Athletics Center in Lansdowne will be held Saturday, Oct. 3 and will feature Billy Lange, mens basketball coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, and Loyola basketball coach Jimmy Patsos, who is coming back to LTA for the second straight year.

Built five years ago by Tom, Michael and Pat Grace, three former high school basketball players at Cardinal Gibbons, LTA is a multi-purpose basketball and baseball center that serves thousands of boys and girls in the Landsowne, Arbutus, Catonsville, West Baltimore and Western Baltimore County areas.

Villanova's Jay Wright hosted the first clinic for high school, rec and AAU coaches five years ago and the program has been thriving ever since. Maryland’s Gary Williams followed Wright in 2006, former Gibbons and Duke star Steve Wojiechowski in '07 and Patsos last year.

Mini Golf Day Benefits Block

The venerable Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, now in its 32nd year, has scheduled a miniature golf tournament and crab feast for Saturday, Sept. 26 at the ParTee course in Perry Hall, 4123 Joppa Rd. There's a $5,000 grand prize up for grabs in a special hole-in-one competition.

Individuals or foursomes are invited to call the Block office, 410-821-6252, or check out the Web site at www.edblock.org. All proceeds go to the foundation's mission of battling child abuse.

Marathoners Will Avoid McHenry

The expected record 20,000 participants in the 2009 Under Armour Baltimore Marathon will be running a slightly different course than last year, the most notable change being that the course will NOT cut through Fort McHenry due to renovations on the landmark.

The marathon is the crown-jewel of the Baltimore Running Festival, which will be held Oct. 9 and include a half-marathon, relay, 5K and kids fun run. The half-marathon and relay are already sold out, but runners can still find a spot in the 5K and marathon.

Check out www.thebaltimoremarathon.com for more information.

MMA Coming to 1st Mariner Arena

More than a year after Mixed Martial Arts was legalized in Maryland, the state's first MMA event, organized by Baltimore's Shogun Fights, will take place at 1st Mariner Arena on Oct. 24. This event will feature several of Maryland's top MMA competitors and various fighters from some of the best MMA camps in the sport, including Binky Jones, Joe Enright, Cody Donovan and Billy Vaughn.

For more, check out www.shogunfights.com.

Issue 141: September 2009 

FROM THE CHEAP SEATS

• Re: Video boards -- Just who is commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell or Jerry Jones?

• Another nail in the coffin of the printed word: The nearly indigent U. of Maryland athletic department can't afford to publish a football press guide this fall, but there will be an increase in the video content on its Web page.

• How big is basketball to the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville, no matter what the perception, cost or consequence? Four words: John Calipari, Rick Pitino.

• Arnold Palmer turns 80 this month and everyone who ever swung a club should read the discourse in September's Golf Digest by Baltimore native Tom Callahan.
 

• The NFL is starting a campaign to cut down on the drinking time and total alcohol consumption of tailgaters. Good luck, gentlemen.

Issue 141: September 2009