Team: Houston Oilers
Career: As if it were needed, nobody personified the spirit of head coach Bum Phillips on the field like his center, Carl Mauck. Like his boss, Mauck was funny and opinionated. He also could say what needed to be said to fire up his teammates or loosen them up with a quick quip. And, like Bum, Mauck was someone who didn’t have things handed to him. He came from modest beginnings and gained fame through hard work and guts.
Chosen by the Baltimore Colts in the 13th round of the 1969 draft from Southern Illinois, the barrel chested snapper lasted one year each with the Colts and the Miami Dolphins before spending four seasons with the lowly San Diego Chargers. Then Phillips, who had coached for Sid Gillman in San Diego and had just replaced Gillman as coach and general manager in Houston, worked a trade for him. To get Mauck, Bum gave up the rights to offensive lineman Booker Brown, who had fled to the rival World Football League, and defensive back Benny Johnson.
It didn’t take long for the 6’4", 250-pounder to have an impact on the ineffective Houston offense. He anchored a line which saw frequent changes during the next seven seasons. His presence was felt both on and off the field.
"Anyone who doesn’t think football is life and death better check with Carl," observed Phillips. "You step on the field and you’re invading his territory."
"He’s the best natural leader that I’ve been around," said Bum on another occasion. "He doesn’t try to be a leader. He’s not a rah-rah guy. He leads by doing things. He’s got our offensive line going like you can’t believe."
For the years he spent in Houston, Carl rarely received accolades from the media but those who played with or against him knew his value. He wasn’t as physically gifted as some but he willed himself into a steady NFL lineman.
Mauck may be best-known for the ditty he penned and put to music after the Oilers won their first playoff game in 17 years. Having upset Miami on the road, Houston would need to duplicate the feat in frosty Foxboro. The team arrived having been serenaded in Houston all week to the tune of "Wabash Cannonball":
From sunny Miami, Florida, to icy Boston, Mass,
From the Broncos of Colorado to the iron in the Steelers’ masks,
He’s mighty tough and rugged. He’s feared quite well by all.
He’s the winning combination called the Oiler Cannonball.
Listen’ to the blockin’, the ramblin’ and the roar,
As he glides along the sidelines by the hashmarks for the score.
From the fancy-passin’ Dago to the Tyler bowling ball,
Those Patriots can be taken by the Oiler Cannonball…
The Patriots were buried that Sunday and the Oilers advanced to their first AFC Championship. They returned again the next season, although the Super Bowl dreams died both times in Pittsburgh. With leaders like Carl Mauck leaving it all on the field, only a Steel Curtain could block their destiny.
Once his playing career ended, Carl joined Phillips in New Orleans as an offensive line coach. He’s since coached for six other NFL teams and is now the line coach for the Detroit Lions.
Houston Highlight: Behind 7-3 near the end of the first half during the 1979 playoffs in San Diego, the Oilers faced a 4th-and-1 at the Charger one-yard line. Without stars Dan Pastorini, Earl Campbell and Ken Burrough, Houston sent kicker Toni Fritsch onto the field to kick a field goal. The kick was good but the Chargers had jumped offsides on the play. Mauck, as offensive captain, lobbied to forgo the three points and try for a go-ahead touchdown.
The referee, assuming the penalty would be declined, already signaled it to the crowd. Mauck yelled at the official and Bum, against the accepted strategy of most coaches, took points off the board and sent the offense back out.
It was a critical moment that would either give Houston the lead or doom their upset bid. Mauck snapped the ball to Gifford Neilsen then pulled out in front of backup fullback Boobie Clark, knocking linebacker Ray Preston off his feet and clearing the way for Clark to dive into the end zone.
Houston took a 10-7 lead into the locker room and won, 17-14, in what most believe is the most inspiring win in franchise history.