Jim Mutscheller, the rugged tight end who made two big plays in overtime during the Colts’ historic 1958 NFL championship victory, died Friday morning of kidney failure at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Towson. The Lutherville resident was 85.
A sure-handed Pro Bowl receiver and a fearsome blocker, Mutscheller starred in Baltimore’s first title win, 23-17 over the New York Giants. On the Colts’ winning drive, he caught a 6-yard pass from John Unitas that carried to the Giants’ 1-yard line. Seconds later the Colts scored, fullback Alan Ameche barreling into the end zone through a gaping hole as Mutscheller drove linebacker Cliff Livingstone out of the picture.
“Jim always said that play was his proudest moment in football,” said Joan Mutscheller, his wife of 59 years.
A native of Beaver Falls, Pa., Mutscheller attended Notre Dame, where he played on the 1949 national championship team as a two-way end. As a senior he captained the Irish and, after graduation, served two years in the Marines, in Korea and Japan, attaining the rank of captain.
Mutscheller joined the Colts in 1954 but barely made the team.
“Camp was tough,” he told The Sun in 2009. “(Coach) Weeb Ewbank threatened to cut me because I had ‘Army legs’ — good for marching but not for running.”
Prior to the team’s final cut, Ewbank asked the Colts’ veterans to rate the rookies.
“Artie (Donovan) and I voted for Jimmy. He was too valuable to let go,” Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti recalled. “He was all football — and my subsitute at defensive end.”
Mutscheller helped the team win consecutive championships, catching five passes in the 31-16 victory over the Giants in 1959. He retired from football in 1961, with 220 receptions, 40 of them for touchdowns.
“I don’t remember Jim ever dropping a pass,” said Raymond Berry, the Colts’ Hall of Fame split end. “He wasn’t big by today’s standards, but he had explosive power with the way he unfolded on people.
“Jim was the complete package and a total team player, never ego-driven. He was honest in every respect. You’d have a hard time finding a guy with more character than Jim.”
After football, Mutscheller sold insurance, a job he’d begun in 1956. He kept working almost to the end.
“Quit? Never,” he told The Sun in 2009. “I’m too fidgety to sit around, and my golf game was never good.”
A devout Catholic, he “wanted to be remembered as one who’d led a good life,” his wife said. “Jim was quiet, humble and so conservative that he would eat crabs with a suit and tie on.”
In eight years of pro ball, Mutscheller missed one game.
“Dad never complained, on or off the field, until recently,” his son John Mutscheller said. “His shoulders were pretty banged up from football, and whenever he moved them, he’d wince and say, ‘Now I remember all of those defensive ends that I ever hit. They were like brick walls.’”
Besides his wife, Mutscheller is survived by four sons: Jim, of Salt Lake City, Utah; Michael, of Baltimore; John, of Hunt Valley; and Stephen, of Reisterstown; and four grandchildren.
A viewing will be held April 14 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Ruck Funeral Home, 1050 York Road in Towson. Services will be April 15 at 11:30 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 100 Church Lane in Cockeysville.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Martin’s Home, 601 Maiden Choice Lane, Catonsville, 21228.