Monday, March 20, 2023

George Kunz—The Gentleman Tackle

 By John Turney 
George Kunz
The NFL's golden age of left tackles was from the mid-1980s through the mid-2000s. That was when Anthony Munoz, Gary Zimmerman, Willie Roaf, Tony Boselli, Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace - Hall of Famers all roamed NFL stadiums.

A generation earlier, when the top defensive ends were playing on the left side it was the right tackles that were the premier tackle, not the left. It was the mid-1960s through the early 1980s that were "peak right tackle".

Hall of Famers like Bob Brown, Ron Mix, Ron Yary, Rayfield Wright and Dan Dierdorf were all protecting the frontside of quarterbacks. Even Hall of Famer Art Shell, who was indeed a left tackle, was mostly a front-side blocker since his quarterback was left-handed. 

The "blind side" was not yet a thing. 

However, one name is missing from the great right tackles of that era - George Kunz.


Because he was great.

"George was as good as any of us, Rayfield, Dan, and myself", said Ron Yary. "He was every bit as strong, quick and smart as anyone who played."

He was known for being quick on the snap and a "wicked drive blocker" and also a good pass protector.

In fact, the Associated Press (AP) voters agreed in 1975 when Kunz beat out Wright and Dierdorf on their All-Pro team.

However, younger fans don't remember but All-Pro team that had as much, if not more, gravitas in that era was the Newspaper Enterprise Association's. (NEA). The NEA was a rival press organization to the AP (and United Press International) and starting in 1955 they polled NFL players and published the Players' All-Pro team. 

It was included in the NFL Record and Fact Book and is still included by the Pro Football Hall of Fame when they compose bios for Hall of Fame players and candidates.

It was on the NEA team that Kunz got recognition - the players knew his quality. He was first-team All-Pro in 1972 and 1973 making him a three-time first-team All-Pro.

He was a second-team selection in 1976 and 1977, second-team All-NFC in 1974, and went to a total of seven Pro Bowls. In fact, every year Kunz was healthy (he missed five games in 1970 with a knee injury) he got some level of postseason honor, including being the 1976 AFC Offensive Lineman of the year and the 1977 NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year.

Kunz was a man of letters, intelligent but also almost stoic and nice, almost to a fault. He wanted to be a priest as a young man but chose athletics and academics instead and transferred from a seminary school to a regular high school.

His coach at Notre Dame, Ara Parseghian, said that Kunz had a "certain something that set him apart, both talent-wise and spirit-wise." 

A consensus All-American as a collegiate tackle, and even played some tight end and was also an Academic All-American. He was the second overall pick in 1969 by the Falcons where he became an immediate starter. 

His time in Atlanta ended in 1975 when he was traded to the Baltimore Colts to the Falcons could draft quarterback Steve Bartkowski. Colts' General Manager Joe Thomas coveted him and called him "One of the best drive blockers anyone has seen in a long time." 

It was in Charm City that Kunz says he played his best football by his own accounting. He had more experience and he was bigger. He was an avid weight lifter prior to college but Parseghian told him to get down to 245 pounds.  

But by the time he got to the Colts had built himself up from around 250-260 pounds, his weight in Atlanta, to 270 or so, without losing any of his quickness but with added strength.

Whitey Dovell, his line coach with the Colts said Kunz was, "simply the best pro lineman I've ever coached."

Defensive end Jack Youngblood adds, "Oh yeah, I remember when he was traded out of my division and was happy I didn't have to face George twice a year anymore. Then, the schedule comes out and it turns out the Colts are on it and I have to face him that year."

Youngblood continued, "George was kind of a mixture of Rayfield, Dan, and Ron in a way. On running plays he was quick off the ball like Rayfield, he could get into you if you were not careful. And if he did that big 'un could move you like Yary could. On pass plays he'd short-set you like Dan would do. Meet you at the line of scrimmage so you couldn't do your moves, take away your momentum."

It also needs to be noted that Kunz, the gentleman tackle, was a tough man. 

Very tough.

However, he postponed the operation because his coach asked him if he could possibly play the season opener (against the reigning Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys) because by the time the doctors told Kunz surgery was necessary it was too late to prepare another player to replace him.

Kunz complied and played through the pain. 

The following year, after missing 15 games in 1978, he wanted to play in 1979 and reported to camp but the X-rays showed the back had not recovered so he was forced to retire.

But still, the fire burned, and while he was pursuing other things, including being a color commentator on NFL games for NBC he quietly worked out with the goal of getting back to the game and "finishing what he started."

The following Spring, he passed a physical and was cleared to play for the 1980 season, which he did, starting at his old right tackle spot. He and his coach thought he could help the Colts, who'd been in the doldrums for a couple of seasons.

But he was not his old All-Pro self, not the difference maker he'd been when he first got to Baltimore.

And what a difference he had made.

In his first three years with the Colts, they were a top-ten offensive team in rushing, passing and total offense. In the two years he was out they fell to near the bottom.

In his two-year absence, the Colts quarterbacks were sacked 101 times, more than in the three previous years combined and most notably Bert Jones kept getting hurt.

But it was more of a domino effect and without the big tackle and the wheels did come off the offense in his absence so it cannot be simply a coincidence. 

In his final year he played with a broken thumb and a "cracked" elbow that left him "without any strength in that arm." He also had another back injury, a spinal concussion and that ended things for the season and as it turns out his career. 

In all, Kunz played eleven seasons and played 129 games, starting 126. That is roughly the same amount of starts as Bob Brown, Ron Mix and Rayfield Wright and more than Boselli, Jimbo Covert and his final coach Mike McCormack. 

He has the same number of Pro Bowl appearances as Ron Yary, Zimmerman, Pace and Jackie Slater and more than seven other Hall of Fame tackles and he was first-team All-Pro as many or more times than the following:  Boselli, Bob St. Clair, Slater, Covert,  McCormack and Winston Hill.

Kunz deserves a chance to be "in the room" (or now "on the Zoom") to have his Hall of Fame creds discussed. 

He certainly measures up.

1 comment:

  1. From Brian wolf ...

    You would have thought that Norm Van Brocklin as HC would have built a better offense to utilize Kunz's talents but the Dutchman seemed to either get burnt out from coaching, had bad ownership in place that didnt want to sign top draft talent or Norm simply didnt like or trust enough young players to do the job.

    If the seniors committee is indeed setting a queue for the next three nominees, Kunz will wait awhile, along with Kenn, Jacoby and Wistert but I hope the deck is re-shuffled in July and older super-seniors keep getting reevaluated ...