Buzz Nutter; Colts Center Was in 'Greatest Game Ever'

Buzz Nutter was part of the legendary 1958 Baltimore Colts team. He later ran a La Plata beverage company.
Buzz Nutter was part of the legendary 1958 Baltimore Colts team. He later ran a La Plata beverage company. (Associated Press)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2008

Buzz Nutter, the center who snapped the ball to Johnny Unitas and who was a key member of the Baltimore Colts' championship football teams of the late 1950s, died April 12 of a heart ailment at Civista Medical Center in La Plata. He was 77 and lived in La Plata, where he ran a beverage distribution business for more than 40 years.

Mr. Nutter was an underrated force in the Colts' offensive line, which powered the team to consecutive National Football League titles in 1958 and 1959. He was tall and rangy for a center, at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, and offered stellar pass protection for Unitas, the Colts' Hall of Fame quarterback.

In the Colts' championship game against the New York Giants on Dec. 28, 1958, often called the "greatest game ever played," Mr. Nutter faced the Giants' vaunted middle linebacker, Sam Huff, and made crucial blocks during the Colts' game-winning drive in overtime.

"Nutter was the most outstanding offensive player on the field," Colts' Hall of Fame defensive tackle Art Donovan said yesterday. "He was playing like a man possessed."

With seven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Mr. Nutter snapped the ball that Steve Myhra kicked for a 20-yard field goal to tie the game, 17-17. The teams then entered sudden-death overtime, meaning the first to score would win the championship.

After the Colts forced the Giants to punt, Unitas led his team on an 80-yard march across the frozen turf at Yankee Stadium before 64,185 spectators. Mr. Nutter anchored the offensive line that allowed Unitas to make pinpoint passes and opened a hole for fullback Alan Ameche to make a 23-yard gain on a trap play.

With the ball on the Giants' 1-yard line, Ameche plunged into the end zone to give the Colts a 23-17 victory. The game instantly entered football legend and is the subject of a new book by Mark Bowden, "The Best Game Ever." Its prolonged drama, captured on national television, helped secure a lasting place for professional football in the living rooms and hearts of the nation's sports fans.

Immediately after Ameche's winning touchdown, Mr. Nutter made a final big play for his team. When a fan picked up the abandoned football in the end zone, Mr. Nutter knocked him down, grabbed the ball and carried it back to the Colts' locker room.

Madison Moore Nutter was born Feb. 16, 1931, in Summersville, W.Va., grew up in Huntington, W.Va., and acquired the nickname "Buzz" as a young man. He was a football standout at Virginia Tech and a 12th-round draft choice of the Washington Redskins in 1953. When he failed to make the team, he spent a year working in a West Virginia steel mill, then caught on with the Colts in 1954.

Speaking at a luncheon in Baltimore before a 1958 game with the Redskins, Mr. Nutter joked that when he was released by the Redskins, team owner George Preston Marshall sent him on his way with little more than a goodbye wave.

"I thumbed my way home," Mr. Nutter said.

Marshall was incensed. "This young gentleman is a liar," he said. "If this is the kind of a luncheon you want to have, have it for yourself. . . . I resent an untruth."

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