INDIANAPOLIS – Super Bowl V was a tightly-contested championship contest that involved 11 players and two coaches who eventually made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Canton was not a thought for anyone on January 17, 1971, though. The only thing that mattered was winning a Super Bowl.
The Colts had failed two years earlier at this moment, dropping a 16-7 verdict to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.
To say the Colts were heavy favorites against the Jets would be accurate. The upset loss derailed the chance for a third world championship for a storied franchise and with a veteran-heavy roster, opportunities to get another crown were dwindling.
A burgeoning giant, Dallas only had known playoff disappointments, falling in NFL Championship games in 1966 and 1967 (narrowly missing Super Bowls I and II) and losing in the conference round the next two years.
Linebacker Mike Curtis remembers pressure being part of the equation that week for the Colts.
“Yeah, that was true. I think they were putting pressure on themselves, the older guys,” said Curtis. “They were the ones who lost something that we were favored to win by a large amount. They weren’t going to lose it again either. If the rookies had taken anything lightly, they may have gotten blasted verbally by the veterans. (We) were much more concentrated.
“There was a lot of pressure. It meant you had to focus, even if you thought you were the better team like we did against the Jets. We paid a little more attention this time. Super Bowl III was Joe Namath and the Jets. It definitely was a wakeup call. We thought about it a lot more.”
Curtis had a reputation for “blasting” opponents. The iconic image of him sacking Los Angeles quarterback Roman Gabriel and leveling a field-intruding fan to this day remain vivid to many NFL followers.
He was focused intently on doing his job.
“The only thing I thought about was the middle,” said Curtis. “I was an outside linebacker against the Jets. I was the middle linebacker against Dallas. I thought I had to watch my position carefully. I couldn’t worry about…anything else. We just couldn’t make mistakes. I only worried about that.”
The teams battled through 11 turnovers in Miami’s Orange Bowl, the same venue where the Colts were beaten by the Jets.
The Colts evened the game, 6-6, on a controversial 75-yard touchdown pass from John Unitas to John Mackey in the second quarter. They did so again at 13-13 midway through the final quarter after a Rick Volk interception set up a short scoring run.
Dallas took possession near midfield with 1:51 to go. On second-and-35 with 1:09 to go, Craig Morton’s pass to Dan Reeves was high, and Curtis caught the deflected ball and returned the interception to the Cowboys’ 28. Two plays later, rookie kicker Jim O’Brien nailed a 32-yard field goal with five seconds left to provide the 16-13 final margin.
One of the league’s most historic franchises sat atop the football world. Curtis had helped create the shining moment.
“The only thing I remember about that is that I wanted to make sure I caught it,” said Curtis. “Then, I wasn’t going to try any…moves. I just wanted to get back up without fumbling the ball. (We were) in field goal range.
“(Jim) O’Brien had been consistent kicking before. There had been a lot of hiccups in the game, and we were hoping O’Brien wouldn’t have a hiccup. To me, it was, ‘Gee, whiz, it’s nice we got that field goal.’ ”
Curtis played for the Colts from 1965-75, one of the greatest periods in franchise history. He played alongside Ted Hendricks, Mackey and Unitas in Super Bowl V, three Colts who wound up in the Hall of Fame. Not enshrined himself but being hopeful, having been teammates with some of the franchise greats is a point of pride.
“I feel lucky (to have played with prominent Colts), Unitas, Berry, those types of guys,” said Curtis. “I didn’t play with Gino Marchetti. You knew why they had such great reputations once you started playing with them. That was a big deal for me.”
Unitas started Super Bowl V, but was knocked from the game with a rib injury in the second quarter. Earl Morrall replaced Unitas and held the ball for O’Brien’s game-winning field goal.
The quarterback situation was flipped from the order in Super Bowl III. Morrall was the 1968 NFL Most Valuable Player for an injured Unitas, but Unitas subbed for Morrall in the second half of Super Bowl III in hopes of rallying the team.
“It was kind of ironic for sure,” said O’Brien of Morrall playing in Super Bowl V as he did. “I think Earl was of the same caliber of John. I don’t think he had the opportunity that John had. Playing where he played and playing behind Unitas, it was sort of like Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre. When Rodgers had the opportunity, he’s done quite well. I think Earl could have had a much more outstanding career. He went to Miami and did well. He still never was the well-known quarterback like John was.”
Curtis said the 1970 Colts were a close bunch because of the years many players had toiled together, bonding even tighter after the Super Bowl III loss.
“I did feel good for Earl,” said Curtis. “He may not have had the physical attributes of John, but he was such a good guy. The team liked him and, to me, worked harder and more coherently because he was a good guy. He was a great guy to play with.”
These days, Curtis is not retired from work. For many years he was in commercial real estate. He spends time with family in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Curtis was a no-frills, ruthless performer. He hopes to reach Canton someday. Curtis enjoyed the ring for winning a Super Bowl, but he also placed a premium on being accountable to teammates.
“I wasn’t into the show business side the game,” said Curtis. “It was nice to have that ring, but it’s definitely very ostentatious. I guess I’ve worn mine maybe 15 times in the last 3,000 years. It’s a trophy, just another trophy you put somewhere. I don’t really worry what trophy’s here or there, or whether the ring’s big or small, or whatever it is. The award was secondary to making sure you didn’t let your team down.”
HALL OF FAMERS FROM SUPER BOWL V (*Coach)
Colts – Ted Hendricks, John Mackey, John Unitas.
Cowboys – Herb Adderley, Mike Ditka, Bob Hayes, *Tom Landry, Bob Lilly, Dan Reeves, Mel Renfro, Roger Staubach (DNP), *Ernie Stautner, Rayfield Wright.