Mudd brings new drive to job as Eagles' offensive-line coach

Posted: June 01, 2011

ON A PLEASANT fall evening, Howard Mudd and his second wife walked home along the Indiana Central Canal. His Colts had just played, and won, but Mudd, the offensive-line coach, felt little joy.

He has lived a hard and colorful life: gut-punched by a college coach, crippled by football, maddened by his first marriage, nearly killed twice on motorcycles.

But of all the events in his remarkable life, this walk, this moment, was as trying as any.

Mudd was cheating on his wife. He felt that she should know.

"Shirley," he confessed, as they strolled, "I've been riding the bike again."

Mudd had almost died that summer, in 2000, in his first motorcycle wreck.

He had just left the Brickyard, where he had played golf on the speedway's infield, headed to the Colts' facility to prepare for an offseason minicamp. He rode down the five-lane street in flip-flops and shorts, his golf clubs strapped to his back . . . just in front of his helmet, which was strapped to the seat.

He almost always wore his helmet.

Mudd glanced up to check a traffic light, and as he entered the intersection a car turned left, into his path.

At 40 mph his bike hit the passenger door, totaling the car. His body flew 30 feet over the car's roof. He landed on his head.

Blood poured out of his fractured skull. Mudd briefly regained consciousness. He saw a man kneeling over him.

Praying.

"It's a miracle he's here," Shirley said.

Mudd suffered a concussion that blurred his vision for 3 weeks. He broke six ribs, his scapula and his wrists. After a week in the hospital he spent another 6 weeks in a hospital bed in their living room.

But by the end of summer he was sneaking off and riding again. Infidelity hardly could have hurt her more.

She asked him, "How can you do that to us?"

She knew how.

Football made this vibrant athlete a prisoner of a mangled body. Motorcycles are nearly all he has.

Mudd, 69, is the offseason gem in Andy Reid's reconstructed Eagles staff, the man who kept Peyton Manning protected for 12 years. He retired after the 2009 season but Reid and defensive-line coach Jim Washburn, an unlikely buddy who previously ran Tennessee's defensive line, coaxed him back into the NFL.

Even coaching wears him out.

Mudd has had nine knee operations, three to fully replace his left knee, ruined in 1970, the injury that cut short a possible Hall of Fame career as an offensive lineman.

He had surgery in 2008 to repair three vertebrae that had fused together . . . during his 3-week motorcycle trip to South Africa with Washburn. He can walk only a few hundred yards at a time, and even then he lists to his right like a truck with a balky wheel. He wakes up at night and screams in pain.

Once an NFL star, Mudd has not run in almost 40 years.

"His body is broken," Shirley said last week from their home in Mesa, Ariz. "There's not a lot of things, physically, he can do that he enjoys."

Washburn made it clearer:

"That motorcycle is his freedom. If somebody told him he couldn't ride a motorcycle again, I don't think he'd be alive in a year."

If anything, Mudd has lived.

He has pirate's eyes and skin that would be ruddy if he lived underwater. If he weren't always this hardy - he has two older sisters - his obstacles and injuries have made him so.

Michigan State won the sweepstakes to land him out of Midland (Mich.) High, but he suffered a high ankle sprain early in his sophomore year.

These days, that injury costs players months. Back then, it was considered little more than an inconvenience. Mudd missed the first game of the season, and, after limping through the next two, he said, his head coach had seen enough.

"Duffy Daugherty - I remember him standing out on that field on a Sunday, the day after a game," Mudd said, as a shadow of anger darkened his brow. "He said to me, 'You're not tough enough to play.'

"And he took both of his fists and punched me in the gut."

Stunned, and shunned, Mudd lost his starting job. He soon left the team. His parents visited that spring and, tearfully, they agreed to let him give up his scholarship and leave the football program. Another door opened.

That summer, Mudd and his father were busy laying concrete blocks, converting their garage into an atomic-bomb shelter - the Cuban Missile Crisis was looming and the Cold War consumed Americans' minds - when Warren Sprague, a recruiter for Hillsdale College, drove into their yard and offered him a spot on the NAIA team.

Mudd declined. He returned to Michigan State and began working his way through school, but he missed football, and he was miserable.

Sprague called him again that fall. Mudd accepted a visit to Hillsdale. He loved the smallness, the hominess, and the coach, Frank "Muddy" Waters.

He loved playing football, and learning. Hillsdale was a place he could do both. He was on track to graduate with a degree in biology in 1964 and hoped to get into medical school.

Then the San Francisco 49ers drafted him in the ninth round, and that changed everything.

Mudd went to three Pro Bowls as a right guard (1966-68). In his seventh season, after a trade to the Chicago Bears, he blew out that right knee, which, as for so many athletes in those days of prehistoric medicine, meant the end. Three knee surgeries in the next calendar year hardly made his knee better; repeated cortisone shots and drainings virtually destroyed it.

Tom Mack, a guard for the Rams for 13 seasons, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. At his induction, Mack said that Mudd, if healthy, would have preceded him into the Hall.

"Nicest compliment I ever got," Mudd said.

That compliment came after years of bitterness.

"You can't do stuff that other people do. Like, play with your kids. I used to walk a lot. Can't do that much. Debilitating - that's what it was," he said.

And infuriating.

"I didn't want to quit. I wanted to be mad at somebody," he said, so he was mad at the knee surgeon, and he was mad at his coach in Chicago who made him practice when he should not have: "I couldn't surrender."

He could, however, redirect his anger.

"I found another passion," he said.

Beginning in 1968, Mudd spent his springs as a volunteer coach at Stanford, helping head coach John Ralston and assistant Mike White install a pro-style offense to feature Jim Plunkett.

When the NFL spat him out after the 1970 season, Mudd found himself at a crossroads: He could sell everything he owned and hope for the best for his wife and two kids as he finished law school; or he could try to become a coach.

Ralston, now with the Broncos, didn't want him, but he sent him to White, by then the head coach at California in Berkeley.

He co-coached the line at Cal, co-coached with legendary future 49ers coach Bobb McKittrick at his first pro stop in San Diego. He joined a doomed staff for a year in San Francisco to coach the line by himself, then went to Seattle, Cleveland, Kansas City, Seattle again and, finally, Indianapolis.

For 12 years Mudd's men were charged with keeping clean the face of the NFL, Peyton Manning. They did so with alarming success - so much so that Mudd survived the firing of Jim Mora, the resignation of Tony Dungy and the hiring of Jim Caldwell. An appreciative Manning arranged and financed Mudd's retirement bash after the 2009 season.

Now, Mudd is charged with keeping Michael Vick healthy. This is a parallel universe.

Over his career Vick has been the anti-Manning in almost every way. Manning is stationary, cerebral, quick and willing to throw the ball away to avoid sacks, an obsessive student between games, manic about practicing fundamentals between seasons.

Vick has been none of those things. Manning is even righthanded; Vick, a lefty.

Mudd loved his retired life in Mesa. He was sent out in style: Manning organized an elaborate roast, where his greatest former players, several former coaching colleagues and his family honored him for hours. Manning even sent a TV crew to Tennessee to record a message from Washburn, whose team was in an offseason session.

With a lockout looming, with a splendid legacy, with a Super Bowl ring already won with the Colts, with the Eagles' line a shambles, blocking for an unpredictable quarterback, why come back?

"My friend asked me to come and help him," Mudd said.

He called Manning, Colts center Jeff Saturday, Colts tackle Ryan Diem and former Colts guard Ryan Lilja, now in Kansas City, to explain:

He is starting over again.

For more than 30 years Mudd had ridden motorcycles, borrowing buddies' bikes for weekend rides.

In 1990, he started riding more frequently.

"Getting rid of Maria was one good reason," Mudd said of his first wife, whom he left in 1990 after 23 years. Their children were grown, and he'd had enough of their stormy relationship.

Two years later he married Shirley, a secretary for the Chiefs' scouting department, who brought along a 13-year-old son, Adam, who had only had his mother since he was 3. Considering Mudd's job - they had to move 6 months into the marriage - predictable complications followed.

Again, riding became an escape.

He bought his first bike, a Harley-Davidson Road King, in 1998. Soon after, he owned a custom-built Titan, but only for a couple of years. He replaced it with a BMW, the bike he rode for 70,000 miles, but he sold it when it became a money pit. He got a touring Yamaha, but, after he rode another BMW through South Africa, he went back to the German bike.

He was on the Harley when he almost killed himself that first time. It wasn't long after he'd become friends with Washburn.

The pair met, famously, when the Colts and Titans spent 3 days of a training camp together. Mudd's line stymied Washburn's in the morning, but Washburn made his guys eat lunch in the film room and they won the afternoon.

The next day, Washburn, a taciturn Southerner who plays dumber than he is, asked Mudd if he liked riding motorcycles.

"I almost jumped out of my skin," Mudd said.

The next summer they rode their bikes and met at a Waffle House in Seymour, Ind. They talked for 5 hours.

"Must've tipped the waitress 50 bucks," Washburn said. "The guy's so real. There's no put-on to this guy."

Soon, they knew each other's deepest secrets.

"We've shared a lot of our intimate lives," Mudd said. "You share honestly, and you get honesty back. And if you're off base, he's going to call, 'Bullbleep' "

"He'd come down, ride some of those great back roads. I'd take him where my buddy makes moonshine," Washburn said.

Washburn fully understands Mudd's love of the road.

"You get on a bike and there's this rush of endorphins," Washburn explained.

For some, that rush comes from hunting or skydiving or golf. Motorcycles are the only way Mudd can get that rush; he is a breathtaking rider, Washburn said.

After the 2007 season Washburn called Mudd and proposed a motorcycle trip to South Africa. Shirley urged him to go.

It would mean 18 painful hours on a plane. It would mean 17 days on rented bikes. It would mean hiking over gorges on rickety suspension bridges, bridges Mudd had to crawl over on his hands and knees.

"I loved it," Mudd said.

Remarkably, the pair returned friends, still.

In South Africa, after a long day on the bikes, Washburn would debate with Mudd for a few minutes after dinner. Then, having heard enough, Washburn, who covets his solitude, would walk away.

"I'm not a social person. I'm a guy who likes to stay by myself," Washburn said. "I ain't going to out-argue him."

The two could be pulled from the classic Western "Lonesome Dove," Washburn's taciturn Woodrow Call to Mudd's loquacious Gus McCrae.

"There ain't no question. Howard is tough to be around sometimes. He's gruff. Argumentative," Washburn said. "And he uses all these words I don't know. Like, 'curmudgeon.'

"But if you get through all the bullbleep, there's as kind a person as you're ever going to meet."

Kind, but tough.

Washburn's appendix ruptured last month. It was the night of the NFL draft. He didn't dare say anything, especially with Mudd sitting there.

"After all he's been through?" Washburn said. "I figured I'd just suck it up."

Washburn just went home and sat in his apartment until 6 a.m. before he went to the hospital. He convalesced for a few days in his apartment. Mudd visited.

"I never complained," Washburn said.

Because Mudd never does.

Mudd had been away from the game only a few months when, this past autumn, it happened again.

A mile from Mudd's home in Seattle last autumn, a car illegally entered a roundabout and collided with him. He flew off his bike - helmeted, at least, this time.

He broke 10 ribs. He spent 2 months sleeping in a chair in his living room. He couldn't sneeze, cough, laugh or even grunt.

Shirley tended to him, but she seethed.

"She didn't harp on it," he said.

"I never said to him, 'See what can happen?' " she said.

But she didn't stay quiet: "I don't want to lose you. Have you thought about ending up paralyzed?"

Of course, he has.

Mudd wants to hunt elk in Canada. He wants to fish mountain streams in Montana. He wants to play with his grandchildren.

He can do none of those things.

He and Washburn are negotiating their next trip, this spring perhaps. Washburn wants the Andes in South America. Mudd wants New Zealand.

Because, all he can do is ride.

Paralyzed?

That's what he would be without his bike.

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