(Left: Carl D. Harris, Baltimore Sun photo, 1970; Right: Photo courtesy of Tom Nowatzke)

Fullback from Super Bowl V team will have a street dedicated in his honor Monday

By Mike Klingaman
The Baltimore Sun

The helmet he wore in Super Bowl V sits on Tom Nowatzke’s bedroom dresser; his Colts jersey hangs in the club basement beside a framed copy of the winners’ check from that title game on Jan. 17, 1971. The championship ring doesn’t leave his finger.

Unlike today’s gaudy rings, “It’s not so big that people can see you coming from two miles away,” the 71-year-old Nowatzke said.

Clearly, that Super Bowl victory — the only one in Baltimore Colts history — resonates with Nowatzke, with good reason. A fullback, he scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter that tied the game before a field goal by Jim O’Brien won it, 16-13, over the Dallas Cowboys at the Orange Bowl.

Forty-three years later, the accolades keep coming. On Monday, folks in Nowatzke’s home town of Michigan City, Ind., will dedicate a thoroughfare in his honor. A section of Wabash Street, three blocks from the football field where he starred in high school, becomes Tom Nowatzke Way.

“That [ceremony] will bring back a lot of memories,” said Nowatzke, who is also the subject of a recent documentary, “Running Strong: The Tom Nowatzke Story.”

Axed by the Detroit Lions before the start of the 1970 season, the five-year pro asked eight teams for a tryout before Baltimore agreed. The Colts signed the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Nowatzke, who’d played both ways as an All-America at Indiana, and placed him on the band squad as a back-up linebacker.

After five games, with their running game in tatters, the Colts started him at fullback. Nowatzke rushed for a game-high 43 yards in a victory over the Boston Patriots. A punishing plowhorse, he started every game thereafter and scored a touchdown in a 20-14 win at Buffalo that clinched the AFC East title.

“He’s a throwback to the old-time fullbacks, the kind who ran over people,” Colts coach Don McCafferty said then.

In a 27-17 victory over Oakland for the AFC championship, Nowatzke led running back Norm Bulaich on a sweep and, with one block, flattened two Raiders — defensive end Ben Davidson and linebacker Gus Otto. Bulaich waltzed into the end zone from 11 yards out.

That season, Nowatzke said, was more than he could have hoped for.

“I felt like I’d gone from the outhouse to the penthouse,” he said by telephone from his home in Ann Arbor, Mich. “There I was, standing on the sidelines at the Super Bowl with tears in my eyes, hearing the national anthem and remembering all the things that got me there.”

In the Super Bowl, he rushed for a team-high 33 yards, caught a 45-yard pass and, late in the game, scored on a 2-yard plunge that pulled the Colts within one (13-12).

There was no time to celebrate.

“I played on special teams and, in the first half, the Cowboys had blocked an extra point from my side,” Nowatzke said. “All I could think was, ‘Please don’t let me screw up this block.’”

The point-after was good. Minutes later, the Colts were champions.

Nowatzke spent two more years in Baltimore but played sparingly. In 1972, he was caught up in the club’s purge of veteran players. He retired from football but has maintained the friendships he’d made. Guard Dan Sullivan was best man at Nowatzke’s wedding six years ago. Last summer, several old Colts, including safety Rick Volk, gathered at a log cabin Nowatzke owns in upstate Michigan. Oh, the stories they told.

“We replayed that whole season,” he said. “Ballplayers remember everything.”

Twice divorced, Nowatzke has five children, seven grandchildren and a truck sales and repair business that keeps him busy.

“Retire? I can’t sit home and read the paper,” he said. “I’ve got to have something to do.”

Last year, he and a friend rode motorcycles clear around Lake Superior, a six-day trek that took them 1,849 miles. Next month, he and some buddies plan to go snowmobiling in Canada, a 1,200-mile jaunt over four days.

“I love living in Michigan,” he said. But no more than he did playing in Baltimore.