MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

First of all, in The Wonder Years, it was Johnny U. and Brooks.

Then it was Frank, Jim Palmer and Lenny Moore.

Then it was Boog and Tom Matte.

You have to understand, in The Day, the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Colts players were here in Cumberland a lot, be it Dapper Dan dinners, tip-off dinners for the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament, high school sports banquets, grand openings, golf tournaments, or just to have some Coney Island wieners and catch up with friends (see Art Donovan).

Understand, it was a different time then. In so many ways, it was a better time. Not because professional athletes make much more money now as compared to then (more power to them!), but because of the fact they didn’t make that much money, which made them more accessible to all of us.

They were larger than life because of what they did; but they were everyman because they had to make ends meet to pay the bills just like we did.

Tom Matte, the great running back for the Baltimore Colts, who died on Tuesday at the age of 82, was the epitome of larger than life as well as the epitome of the everyman.

He was one of the best professional football players of his time, but if you were talking to him on the street, or at a function, or on the golf course, or in a bar, you would have never known it, even though the reason you even made the point to say hello to him was that you did know it.

Baltimore’s professional sports landscape in the 1960s and ‘70s was a dream come true, and Tom Matte, along with Johnny U., Brooks, Frank, Boog, Elrod, Jim Palmer, Artie Donovan, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry, were some of the biggest reasons why.

Matte’s football exploits at Ohio State and with the Colts are well documented (so look them up if you don’t believe me; this isn’t about that), but what he meant to the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland cannot be measured.

He wore his large, round face with a smile that was even larger and would light up any room. His eyes twinkled, his voice and his laughter boomed and there was always a glad and powerful hand extended to prelude the greeting, “Hello, I’m Tom Matte. It’s great to meet you.”

His enthusiasm was unbridled and contagious. And though I was never a part of his central existence, every time I met him, he remembered me, and he remembered me by name and he remembered where I was from and what I did for a living.

He was here for countless functions – ACIT tipoff dinner, master of ceremonies of the Dapper Dan dinner, Railfest, you name it … Not only that, he was a sales representative for an athletic turf field – believe it was called SportsTurf – and he was here quite often, making public appearances and always being available to talk about the company he worked for the very first time the artificial turf was going to be installed in Greenway Avenue Stadium in 1998.

He was just such a likable man; he was larger than life, and he could fill a room without even saying a word. His eyes, his smile, his magnetism did it on their own.

He was one of the greatest football players of the 1960s. He was one tough son of a gun. He nearly took the Colts to the NFL title game as the emergency quarterback in 1965, even though he had not played quarterback since his days at Ohio State.

He was all about team and he was all about community. He played for and graduated from Ohio State University, but for several seasons embraced being the insightful and enthusiastic football analyst for the University of Maryland. He grew up in Cleveland, yet made Baltimore and the state of Maryland his home – his place.

He was our friend. And even if we didn’t know him all that well, he was our friend, and he was always our friend and always at home in Cumberland and, really, anywhere else he ever was.

We will really miss Tom Matte. We will miss him an awfully lot.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT