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Howard Mudd: A Man of the Trenches

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

The 49ers of the 1960’s never got close to winning a championship but they did have some quality players. One of their unsung players was Howard Mudd and his career lasted much longer than originally anticipated. His was more than just a career filled with dominating the opposition. It was filled with teaching the next generation the intricacies of the position. His impact was hard to notice but impossible to ignore.

He was born on February 10, 1942 in Midland, Michigan. After starring at Hillsdale College he was drafted in the ninth round of the 1964 draft by the 49ers. He played well enough at guard that he was invited to Pro Bowls from 1966-1968 and was named All Pro in 1967 and 1968. He was even named to the NFL’s All Decade Team. Playing his final two years with the Chicago Bears, a knee injury forced him to retire following the 1970 season.

That knee injury was a blessing in disguise as one of the most remarkable yet unassuming coaching careers was born. He spent 1972 and 1973 as an assistant offensive line coach with University of California, Berkley and spent the rest of his coaching career in the NFL.

Over the course of the next four decades, Mudd coached the offensive lines of the Chargers, 49ers, Seahawks, Browns, Chiefs, Colts and Eagles. His units were cohesive and could run the ball on anyone. He coached players such as Mike Webster, Tim Grunhard, Ray Donaldson and Jeff Saturday. His running attacks opened holes for running backs such as Christian Okoye, Curt Warner, Kevin Mack and Joseph Addai. His men blocked for quarterbacks such as Dan Fouts, Bernie Kosar, Warren Moon and Peyton Manning. He never called the plays and had to adapt to a vast amount of offensive schemes. He not only adapted, he thrived.

During his career in the NFL, he had to block gargantuan linebackers such as Dick Butkus and he had to teach his players how to block more agile linebackers such as Patrick Willis. As a player he had to battle head slaps (since banned) and as a coach he had to coach players the intricacies of the silent count when they routinely played in stadiums much larger and louder than anything Mudd ever had to play in. He was a man of all eras.

For all of his unnoticed accomplishments within the trenches, he had yet to reach the Super Bowl in his first four decades in the NFL. That all changed in 2006 when his Colts team reached the Super Bowl. The team first had to get past the New England Patriots, their nemesis for the past few years. Down by 18 points in the AFC Championship Game the Colts stormed back. At one point near the goal line, Addai fumbled the ball and center Jeff Saturday scooped it up to score the touchdown. On the final drive, the Colts were down 34-31. For most of the drive they passed and Manning was protected but on the three-yard line they elected to run the football. The middle of the offensive line opened up a huge hole for Addai to run through. After a Tom Brady interception on the following drive, the Colts were headed to the Super Bowl. Two weeks later they beat Mudd’s old team, the Chicago Bears, 29-17.

Howard Mudd spent a few more years with the Colts and left Indianapolis following a Super Bowl loss in 2009. He spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons in Philadelphia before calling it a career. After seven years away from the game he was lured back by the Colts to be a senior assistant in 2019. He died on August 12, 2020 following a motorcycle accident. His 47 year career in the NFL was unassuming but vital for the success of every team he worked for.

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