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January 22, 2016

Lou Michaels, Football Great Turned Prison Athletic Director, Dies at 80

Lou Michaels, Football Great Turned Prison Athletic Director, Dies at 80

FIRE UP FRIDAY – In big games under a national or local spotlight, when you see an athlete miss a free throw or a field goal or call a time out when the team has no more, that athlete is assured by family and friends that he or she will not be defined by that moment. I really wanted to believe it, too. Then I read an obit in the New York Times on Lou Michaels. Lou did not come off the field while playing offense and defense for Kentucky where he also kicked and punted. He as an All-American for two years, Southeast Conference Player of the Year, fourth in voting for the Heisman, first round draft pick, and a 54.8 percent kicking success rate. And look at this headline:

Lou Michaels, Who Lost ’69 Super Bowl, Dies at 80

Clearly someone at the Times who never set foot on an athletic field wrote this headline. This one person forgot that football involved 10 other guys on good days and bad. They have no clue how hard it is to accomplish what Michaels did, not to mention the fact that he lived to be 80 before dying of pancreatic cancer. What’s worse is that Michaels was tortured by his two missed field goals on Super Bowl Sunday in 1969. The negative publicity and the Super Bowl ring he saw on the hand of his brother, Al, let it fester a lifetime.

Sadly enough, the article focuses on only his athletic career and how he was still burned in a 1969 interview over the loss. It would be okay to mention the 1969 game for Michaels admitted it burned him, but to put it in the title? What about the fact that he went from NFL player – one of the best in the land back when the players did the job for not much income – to a prison athletic director.

Here’s the screen grab of Michaels followed by the NY Times obit.


Lou Michaels, a former All-American, all-purpose football player whose two missed field goals for the Baltimore Colts helped the New York Jets win the Super Bowl in 1969 in a historic upset, died on Tuesday at his home in Swoyersville, Pa. He was 80.

His son-in-law Mark Grochocki, who confirmed the death, said Michaels had pancreatic cancer.

Michaels, who was 6 feet 2 inches and weighed more than 240 pounds, almost never left the field for the University of Kentucky in the late 1950s, playing tackle on offense and many positions on defense as well as kicking and punting.

He was an all-American in 1956 and 1957, the same year he was named Southeastern Conference player of the year. He came in fourth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

The Los Angeles Rams picked Michaels in the first round of the 1958 N.F.L. draft, mainly to play defensive end. In 1961 he moved to the Pittsburgh Steelers and became a regular place-kicker as well as a defensive player for the team.

The next season he kicked 26 field goals (the most in the N.F.L. that year) and scored a career-high total of 110 points. In his 13-year career he kicked a total of 187 field goals, with a success rate of 54.8 percent.

Traded to Baltimore in 1964, Michaels went on to kick five field goals in a game against the San Francisco 49ers in 1966, tying the league record at the time. After that season he was mainly a kicker.

The 1968 Colts went 15-1 and shut out the Cleveland Browns, 34-0, in the N.F.L. championship on their way to the third Super Bowl, where they faced the Jets, the American Football League upstarts led by the swaggering quarterback Joe Namath.

A.F.L. teams had been dominated in the first two Super Bowls, and the Colts were given 7-to-1 odds.

Winning was personal for Michaels — his brother Walt was the Jets’ defensive coordinator. It became even more personal when he bumped into Namath at a Miami restaurant the weekend before the game.

Namath was drinking Scotch at the bar when Michaels introduced himself. Namath replied that the Jets would shellac the Colts in the coming game.

Recalling the incident, Michaels told The New York Times in 1983, “If you’re looking for a fight, that’s going to do it.”

There was no fight. Namath actually paid the tab for Michaels and a teammate, then gave them a ride back to their hotel. A few days later Namath famously guaranteed a Jets victory.

Baltimore was intercepted four times during the game, once on a flubbed flea-flicker, a trick play, just before halftime, and Michaels missed field goals from 27 and 46 yards. The Jets won, 16-7.

“I am disgusted with myself,” Michaels told The Washington Post in 1969. “I started out kicking in seventh grade. I get all the way to the Super Bowl and I goof.”

Baltimore released Michaels in 1970. The next season the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys in the fifth Super Bowl, 16-13, winning in the last seconds on a field goal by Jim O’Brien.

Louis Andrew Michaels was born in Swoyersville on Sept. 28, 1935. He attended Swoyersville High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball. After his sophomore year he transferred to Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, where he also ran track. He graduated in 1954.

He retired from football after spending the 1971 season with the Green Bay Packers, returning to Swoyersville to become a tavern owner and a prison athletic director.

He is survived by his wife, the former Judith Mis, whom he married in 1966, as well as two sons, Edward and Matthew; a daughter, Michele Grochocki; five grandchildren; and his brother Walt.

The sting of losing the big game never left him, Michaels told The Baltimore Sun in 2010.

“People say, ‘Forget about it,’ ” he said. “How do you do that when your brother has your Super Bowl ring?”