Last night, when I flipped to the NFL Network, I saw scrolling text at the bottom of the screen mentioning that former NY Jets head coach Walt Michaels had passed away. The text didn't mention anything about his playing career, but from card collecting, and reading books about the Browns, I knew where he played.
Walt Michaels was born to Polish immigrants, and his father was a coal miner in Pennsylvania. In Alan Natali's book "Brown's Town", Michaels talks about picking coal as a kid to heat the house.
The Browns drafted Walt Michaels in the 7th round of the 1951 NFL Draft out of Washington & Lee University. While attending the college All-Star Game before the 1951 seasons started, he was told that he was traded to the Green Bay Packers, and played his rookie season with the Packers.
After Tony Adamle left the Browns to attend medical school after the 1951 season, the Browns traded again with the Packers and Walt Michaels was once again a member of the Browns.
(I will show copies of the Walt Michaels cards that I own, but as I often do, I am borrowing scans from the The Trading Card Database.)
|1955 Bowman #146|
This is the earliest football card I own of Walt Michaels. He has Browns cards in both of the 1952 Bowman sets (Large and Small versions).
Over his ten years with the Browns, from 1952-1961, Michaels went to five NFL Championship games, winning two (in 1954 and 1955), and made five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1955-59.
|1957 Topps #102|
I was only going to show the back of the first Michaels card that I owned, but then I thought that since he doesn't have too many cards in my collection, and there are cartoons on the back of this one, I might as well show the backs.
|1959 Topps #26|
This trivia question had nothing to do with Walt Michaels, he had no interceptions in 1958.
You can barely make out the answer on the back of this card. The answer is Jim Patton, Giants, 11 interceptions.
Walt Michaels had 11 interceptions in his career, with a high of four in 1952, his first season with the Browns. It must be remembered, however, that he was a linebacker, not a defensive back.
|1961 Fleer #18|
|1961 Topps #75|
These two Walt Michaels cards from 1961 were the last cards from his playing career.
The last line of the back of this Topps card is either odd, or I am just not thinking properly.
After the 1961 season, Walt Michaels signed on with the AFL's Oakland Raiders as their defensive backs coach. He only coached one season with the Raiders.
After his year of coaching with the Raiders, Michaels called former Browns assistant Weeb Ewbank, now with the Jets, and was hired to work with their defense. He wound up playing in the first game of the 1963 season as an emergency linebacker. It was the final game of his playing career.
Walt Michaels served in different defensive coaching roles with the Jets through the 1972 season, before joining former teammate Mike McCormack's staff with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1973-75.
Michaels returned to coaching with the Jets, under Lou Holtz in 1976, before becoming the Jets head coach from 1977-82.
Walt Michaels also had one other notable head coaching job outside the NFL. In 1984, the new owner of the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, Donald Trump, hired him to coach the Generals. He was fired by Trump after the 1985 season, before the USFL folded in advance of what would have been the 1986 season.
|1994 Topps Archives 1957 #102|
|1994 Topps Archives 1957 - Gold #102|
In 1994, Topps put out two Archives sets, for 1956 and 1957. They put out a gold parallel for each card. Since Michaels was not in the 1956 set, he only had reprints in the 1957 set.
As a reprint, the back is a duplicate of the 1957 card with the exception of the new text on the bottom of the card.
Walt Michaels was named as a member of the Browns Legends in 2006. He passed away last Wednesday at the age of 89.
Rest in Peace.