INDIANAPOLIS – Before the tears and hugs and prayers and saying good-bye to Howard Mudd Wednesday morning in a Seattle hospital, there was a convergence of Colts.
It was a Zoom conference call that was the brainchild of Marcus Pollard and brought together by – who else? – Peyton Manning, and so many of Mudd’s former players/colleagues/friends were on hand.
“There were a ton of dudes on it,’’ Jeff Saturday, one of those dudes, said Wednesday afternoon.
Twenty-five Colts were linked by Zoom, and memories. Pollard, Saturday, Manning, Tarik Glenn, Tom Moore, Jon Torine, Austin Collie, Jacob Tamme and so many more.
“It was a ton of fun, man,’’ Saturday said.
Added Pollard: “We were all swapping the old stories and the camaraderie with P, Tarik, Jeff and everybody was just great. It was a really cool experience.’’
The timing was eerie. The Zoom gathering that gave so many an opportunity to catch up occurred July 27. Two days later, Mudd was involved in a motorcycle accident that would claim his life.
Not surprisingly, as the Zoom session sprang to life, Howard Mudd was being Howard Mudd. He was in his Seattle garage, straddling his motorcycle.
“I said something like, ‘Howard, aren’t you done riding that bike, yet?’’’ Pollard said. “We call kinda got a chuckle out of that.
“Then the accident happens.’’
“That dude loved his bike, you know that,’’ Saturday said, laughing lightly. “That’s where he was at peace, man. You can’t take that away from somebody.
“Gosh, you hate to lose men like this. He went out doing what he loved, but that doesn’t make it any easier for all of us who are still here and know how impactful he was in our lives.’’
Mudd, 78, passed away Wednesday morning when his wife, Shirley, and family determined his injuries from the accident were too severe.
In a Wednesday CaringBridge.org post announcing Mudd’s passing, the family wrote, “Yesterday it became clear that he was ready and that we needed to surround him with love and fight for his right to comfort and peace. This morning he was surrounded in the room by his sons (Darren and Adam) who held his arms and prayed over him as he passed away.’’
The news reverberated across the country, and hit Saturday hard. He had talked with Shirley Tuesday evening.
“Man, I tell ya, this is a hard one for all of us,’’ he said. “We’ve all been texting and communicating with each other. This is one of those things you just never expect. Just devastated for Shirley and his family.
“He was an incredible guy.’’
Saturday’s relationship with Mudd began in 1999 when the Colts, in need for healthy offensive linemen, signed the former North Carolina standout off the street. He had been working in an electrical supply store in Raleigh, N.C. after a failed training camp with the Baltimore Ravens.
During his 13-year career in Indy, Saturday would emerge as one the NFL’s top centers. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, twice was second-team All-Pro and twice reached the Super Bowl. He recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in the 38-34 AFC Championship game win over New England and anchored the offensive line in the Super Bowl XLI victory over the Chicago Bears.
Thank you, Howard Mudd.
“The thing I told him my entire adult life is he called greatness out of so many guys,’’ Saturday said. “In areas where you may not have believed in yourself, he made you believe, man. He would put you in positions to prove he was right.’’
Saturday started 188 of 197 games with the Colts before departing after the 2011 season for one season in Green Bay.
“I’m so grateful to him, not only in my football career – my football career speaks for itself; I was a guy on the streets and he did that for so many of us – but it was what he did for me as a man.
“He changed your life and the way you looked at life and the way you attacked problems in your life. He just created a mentality and you knew you could just work through anything.
“Man, I’m just so grateful for everything he did for me. We’re all heart-broken.’’
Manning also had first-hand knowledge of Mudd’s impact as a coach and friend. It was Mudd’s offensive line that gave him the time to lead a prolific passing game. The Colts’ pass protection ranked in the top 4 in 11 of Manning’s 13 seasons, including 1st or tied for 1st seven times.
“I’m extremely saddened to hear the news of Howard Mudd’s passing,’’ Manning said. “I will be forever grateful for Howard’s tireless efforts and work to protect me as a quarterback and to help our team win so many games.’’
Manning recalled a story Mudd shared after the Colts used the 1st overall pick in the 1998 on the University of Tennessee QB.
“Jim Irsay came down to his office and left a note on his desk which said, ‘Howard, your job is to keep No. 18 protected. To keep No. 18 clean,’’’ Manning said. “Howard always kept that with him and always took that direct order from our owner very seriously.
“In every game-plan meeting and every practice, I know he was always thinking about how to protect me as a quarterback in the pocket with different blocking schemes and ways to run the ball. As a quarterback, I can’t tell you how much that meant to me knowing that was on his mind and that was one of his top priorities.’’
Considering the personalities involved, tempers occasionally flared.
“Howard, Jeff Saturday and I had a lot of healthy arguments,’’ Manning said. “If you had a point to make and you believed in it, you had to stick with it because Howard was going to make you prove your point and he was going to counter you and fight you and argue with you.
“But we were all trying to accomplish the same goal.’’
Manning’s ties to Mudd remained strong.
“We had a special group there with the Colts,’’ he said. “It was an honor to have known Howard Mudd. It was an honor to have played for him. I was proud to be his friend and proud to be a quarterback he was trying to protect all the time.
“I will be forever grateful. Shirley and their entire family are in my thoughts and prayers. May Howard Mudd rest in peace.’’
Pollard’s fondness of Mudd grew as time passed.
“Howard was one of those guys you just stayed in contact with,’’ he said. “You hated his guts playing for him, but even through his hard exterior and fussing and yelling at you, he still had your best interest at heart.
“Once we were out of his shadow and out on our own, we could look back and see how much he really cared for us.’’
Other reactions from the Colts:
Owner Jim Irsay: “It’s a very, very tough one for Colts Nation. I’ve been around a lot of coaches for 50 years in this league, some of them are like fathers and brothers, and as you get older they’re like sons. Howard was very special to me in three categories: as a coach, as a man and as a great friend.
“As a football coach, I don’t use this term often, he was remarkable. People that know football know that the offensive line is the engine that drives your football team . . . Howard was a hall-of-fame chief mechanic.
“Howard was such an incredible intellectual. Fiercely intellectual. So, so smart. So well read. Howard was just a special man.’’
Chris Ballard: “Howard made a lasting impact not only with the Colts organization, but the NFL in general. His contributions to this game as both a player and coach are remarkable and span several decades . . . I’m thankful I had the chance to get to know Howard who is not only one of the game’s greatest coaches, but an even better man. My thoughts and prayers are with Shirley and his family.’’
Frank Reich: “I’m saddened to hear of Howard’s passing and my condolences go out to his wife, Shirley, and his family. I’m privileged to have had the chance to work with Howard and I learned a tremendous amount from him in the five seasons we coached together in Indianapolis.
“I consider Howard one of the greatest offensive line coaches in football and I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for him.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.