As it so frequently happens, competitors become friends, as in the case of Tom Curtis and Jim Mandich. Tom was a superstar quarterback in Aurora, Ohio while Jim was a spectacular athlete in the nearby town of Solon, Ohio. These two exceptional athletes met on the high school playing field and competed against each other, and then partied in the evenings. Tom was faster and had good hands and Jim stronger with good hands [ Thom was a Class A, all Ohio quarterback, and Jim won 12 letters in high school and was an All-American football player]. Both were recruited by many colleges and both chose to play for Bump Elliott of the University Michigan. Tom Curtis was a freshman quarterback, and Jim Mandich was a tight end.
Then, in Tom’s sophomore year he was switched to the defensive backfield while Jim continued to play with the offense. As it turned out, one could argue that Tom’s position change worked out splendidly for him. In fact, Tom became the all-time interception leader for the Maize and Blue [He has more interceptions, 25 than Heisman winner Charles Woodson 18]. The All-American and College Football Hall of Fame Tom was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the 14th round [Tom indicated that because he partied while at the College All-Star Hula Bowl game in Hawaii, he didn’t run the 40 yard dash, for the work out with the pros, which resulted in his being a late round draft pick].
Things went well for Jim, as well. Jim became a captain on offense for the Wolverines [Reggie McKenzie still remembers team Captain Jim standing in the tunnel ,prior to Michigan’s historic battle with Ohio State in 1969 , facing his teammates with both fists shaking, raised , spittle drooling from his mouth speaking- shouting unintelligible words with passion]. That memory is etched in stone in Reggie McKenzie’s cerebral cortex. The All-American College Football Hall of Fame Jim was the most valuable player on the 1969 Michigan team and was a second round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins.
Some would say that Tom and Jim were inseparable at the University Michigan, in that they were teammates, roommates, and played on the same intramural basketball team. Incidentally, their intramural squad won the championship on an independent team [Their team beat teams that had a few of the Michigan varsity basketball players on them]. Their friendship became solidified during their four year stay in Ann Arbor.
Baltimore head coach Don Shula’s team, in fact, won Super Bowl V against the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in Tom’s first year as a player. Unfortunately, Tom was injured during the season and did not play in that classic Super Bowl. Although he received a Super Bowl ring, he was upset by not being able to play in the game. He was released by the Colts and then picked up by the Miami Dolphins who were now coached by his former head coach Don Shula. Then, the Miami Dolphins in the 1973 Super Bowl V11 defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7. Again, Tom was injured and again, he received a second Super Bowl ring although he was disappointed by not playing.
Jim and Tom again became competitors and rivals as they played in an NFL exhibition game with Tom’s Colts against Jim’s Dolphins. In this game, Jim was on the kickoff team, and Tom was on the kick receiving team. He told me that Mad Dog Jim was running down the field towards him, yelling and screaming wanting to knock him not only out of the field of play, but out of the Stadium. Smart Tom did a matador “Ole” and thus averted a massive collision with his buddy. Then, in the AFC 1971 championship game between the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, the Miami team prevailed 21 – 0. With that win, Miami headed to the Super Bowl, held in New Orleans that year. Tom hung out with his good friend Jim, in the Big Easy. And when the AFC champions Miami Dolphins traveled on the bus to meet the Cowboys, Jim invited Tom to accompany him on the team bus. That would not happen today. Both friends roomed in Miami and remained friends during their Florida years.
Unfortunately, Jim Mandich passed away from cancer on April 11, 2011 in Miami Lakes, Florida at the age of 62. Of course, Tom Curtis was a speaker. Other teammates like Nick Buoniconti, Bob Griese and Coach Don Shula attended the service. At that particular service Jim was added to the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll. These exceptional athletes- friends, excelled both on the field and off; and it goes to show you that heated rivals can take negative passion and turn it into a positive passion. Just think how fortunate they were.
Go Blue Go!