Fifty years later, the memory lingers. Just before Super Bowl V, Jim O’Brien, the Colts’ field goal kicker, saw the future, fuzzy as it was.
“That week I had a dream that someone kicked the game-winner, but it wasn’t clear if it was [Dallas’] Mike Clark or me,” O’Brien said.
Time would tell. On Jan. 17, 1971, Baltimore defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, in Miami as O’Brien, a long-haired rookie, nailed a 32-yard field goal with nine seconds left to win the NFL championship. The white-knuckled finish spurred another Colt, safety Rick Volk, to wake up the next morning and dash out for a newspaper.
“I had to make sure that we’d won the game, and that I hadn’t imagined it,” Volk, 75, said.
Of such stuff, dreams are made.
Half a century ago, the Colts won their first and only Super Bowl for Baltimore. They won it at the wire. And they atoned, in part, for their defeat in Super Bowl III, an upset by the New York Jets that had hounded them.
“Nothing makes up for the Jets’ loss. That was a horrible, horrible feeling,” said center Bill Curry, 78. “But now we had rings on our fingers. We were probably the 10th most talented team in the league [in 1970] but, by golly, we won the Super Bowl and I am so proud of that bunch of guys for getting it done.”
Stylish, the game was not. There were six interceptions, six fumbles, 14 penalties, a twice-tipped touchdown pass and a blocked extra-point.
“Space does not permit a catalog of the crimes and misdemeanors, the mortal and venial sins, the errors of commission and omission that made up this exercise in foolishness,” wrote Red Smith, dean of American sports writers.
Afterward, while congratulating the winners, even the president got in his digs.
“I hope I don’t make that many mistakes in one day,” Richard Nixon said.
“We played ugly, brother,” said Bob Vogel, 79, the Colts’ All-Pro offensive tackle. “People say it was a terrible game, but the hitting was awesome to the end. We were determined to make up for having lost [Super Bowl III]. The intensity was such that there was so much testosterone squirting around, the quality of play got lost in it. Sometimes, the juice gets in the way.”
“I remember going into a restaurant [the next morning] for breakfast. I couldn’t hardly raise my arms to eat pancakes,” Fred Miller, 80, an All-Pro defensive tackle, recalled later. “I’d never been physically beat on so much in my life.”
With the agony came the ecstasy.
“How many guys get a shot at a do-over in life?” Vogel said. “I was so grateful to come back and do it the right way that, afterward, I stood at my locker with tears running down my cheeks.”
The Colts clawed their way to the Orange Bowl, winning six games by a touchdown or less in going 13-2-1. Defense was their forte; led by end Bubba Smith and linebackers Mike “Mad Dog” Curtis and Ted “The Mad Stork” Hendricks, they held six opponents to 10 points or less, with two shutouts. Still, Baltimore was underdog to a Dallas team that rode the likes of running back Duane Thomas and mercurial Bob Hayes to a 12-4 record.
Two early field goals put the Cowboys ahead, 6-0. The Colts tied it in the second quarter on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas that caromed off the fingertips of both receiver Eddie Hinton and defender Mel Renfro before sticking to tight end John Mackey, who thundered in for the score. O’Brien’s extra-point attempt was blocked — a good thing, perhaps.
“I was much more nervous on that point-after than [the winning] field goal,” he said. “Early on, I was thinking too much; after that, I was on automatic.”
A Unitas fumble led to another Dallas touchdown. Soon after, the 37-year-old quarterback was intercepted and left the game with bruised ribs. The image of the Colts’ iconic leader mired on the turf has stuck with running back Sam Havrilak all these years.
“I can still see John sitting out there on the field. He looked so deflated, like that old picture of [Hall of Fame quarterback] Y.A. Tittle,” said Havrilak, 73.
Time and again, in the second half, the teams swapped turnovers. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Colts tried a flea-flicker play: Havrilak took a handoff, intent on flipping the ball back to quarterback Earl Morrall. Between them, however, stood the biggest Cowboy, 6-foot-6 Jethro Pugh.
“So I looked downfield, saw Hinton open and threw it,” said Havrilak, a quarterback in college. Hinton caught it in stride and raced for the end zone. Five yards out, a Dallas player lunged from behind and stripped him of the ball, which bounced through the end zone for a touchback.
Thirty-five years later, while attending a reunion, Hinton approached Havrilak with trepidation.
“Are you still mad at me?” he asked.
“Hell, no,” said Havrilak. “I’m just glad we won the game.”
Three plays later, the Colts got the ball back. Volk intercepted a pass by Dallas quarterback Craig Morton, who’d lobbed a rainbow over the outstretched arms of hard-charging Roy Hilton, the Colts’ 6-foot-5 defensive end. Volk grabbed the ball at the Cowboys 30 … and nearly ran into a teammate.
“Hendricks [6-foot-7] saw me coming and dove so I could hurdle him,” said Volk, who was finally stopped at the 3-yard line. “I don’t think I ever thanked Ted for that.”
The Colts scored to tie the game. Barely one minute remained when they intercepted again: Curtis snatched a pass that had grazed the hands of receiver Dan Reeves, and returned it to the Dallas 28.
On the sidelines, the rookie whom teammates called “Lassie” got ready to kick. For the season, O’Brien made 19 of 34 field-goal attempts; he’d missed a 53-yarder earlier in the game.
“Nobody said anything before we ran out there — they didn’t want to jinx me,” he said. “Four or five linemen knelt on the sideline, praying. Then [receiver] Jimmy Orr came up and said, ‘Don’t worry. Even if you miss it, we’ll still be tied.’ "
As O’Brien set to kick, Dallas called timeout to mess with his head.
“The Cowboys began talking crap,” he said, “but [holder Earl Morrall] got between me and them and helped me to focus.”
To gauge the wind, O’Brien picked a piece of fluff off the artificial turf.
“There was a mild breeze at my back, according to the lint,” he said.
The kick itself seemed “surreal,” he said. “There were almost 80,000 people yelling, but I heard nothing. I didn’t even see Earl. It was the most I’ve ever concentrated in my life. I went to the place where [what you’re doing] becomes automatic.”
The ball sailed through with room to spare.
“It would have been good from at least 50 yards, probably the best kick in my life,” O’Brien said.
One last kickoff, one final play. A Hail Mary pass was picked off by Jerry Logan, the Colts’ third interception of the quarter. Livid at the outcome, Dallas’ defensive tackle Bob Lilly slammed his helmet to the ground.
“When it hit, all of the insides came exploding out in little pieces,” Hendricks said years later. “It’s on our game film; we watched it over and over. That is stamped in my mind.”
In the jubilant locker room, Billy Ray Smith, the Colts’ defensive tackle, mussed O’Brien’s locks and hollered, “Hey, Lassie, we were going to cut your hair but since you made that kick, we’ll let it go.”
For his heroics, O’Brien received a game ball plus the one he’d kicked for the field goal.
“It was caught in the stands by a United Airlines pilot, who brought it to our trainers,” he said. Last summer, O’Brien had both balls painted with commemorative details of the contest.
“The older I get, the more important these [keepsakes] become,” the Thousand Oaks, California, resident said.
His own Super Bowl ring proved a godsend, said Vogel, who has worn it for years while leading bible study classes with prison inmates near his home in Sunbury, Ohio.
“Those guys have a perception that if you’re a Christian, you’re a sissy,” said Vogel. The ring suggests otherwise.
Havrilak’s framed championship jersey hangs, with the game program, in the basement of his Jacksonville home. He made history that day — the first player to run, pass and catch the ball in a Super Bowl game.
“My body tells me it has been 50 years but my mind says it happened yesterday,” said Havrilak, a local dentist. “We’re kind of a lost Super Bowl team because the Baltimore Colts are no longer here. And as people get older, and pass away, fewer of them are left to remember. But I will, until the day I die.”