Mutka: Valparaiso all-star Puetz anything but anonymous
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org March 31, 2013 10:20PM
Updated: May 2, 2013 6:24AM
Garry Puetz came to Valparaiso University in 1969 because he could play baseball there. Four years later he departed for the New York Jets as a two-time All-American offensive tackle.
How it evolved makes for an interesting story.
“Valpo was the only school which promised I could play baseball,” said Puetz, who was recently nominated for the College Football Hall of Fame under the Division-II umbrella.
Offensive linemen generally remain anonymous, but Puetz was a noteworthy exception. One of the most versatile athletes in VU history, he earned all-conference honors three times as a lineman and a kicker before soccer-stylists began to monopolize that category.
“I had a choice between long snapper and kicking,” said Puetz, who opted for field goals and extra points. “I’d run to the sidelines and change to square-toed shoes to kick.”
No slouch at baseball, he batted .321 and played first base in two seasons with legendary coach Emory Bauer.
“Spring football wasn’t a big deal back then,” Puetz said. “Once in a while Coach Bauer would give me a dose of humility, putting me behind the plate to try to catch Tim Juran with that stinking knuckle curve.”
Former VU football coach Bill Koch recruited Puetz out of Luther North, a private school in northwest Chicago. One of the perks of the process was that Koch met White Sox Hall of Fame shortstop Luke Appling, a treat arranged by Puetz’s dad.
“Garry was only 17, a character, full of life, agile for a big guy and very intelligent,” Koch said.
Puetz didn’t play football until his sophomore year of high school, but bloomed at VU, which went 19-9-2 in his three years. Coach Norm Amundsen’s connections — he played for the Packers — didn’t hurt his pro aspirations.
A 12th-round draft choice in 1973, Puetz went from pick No. 300 to spend five NFL seasons with the Jets, who were still being quarterbacked by “Broadway” Joe Namath.
In the middle of his sixth year Puetz wound up at Tampa Bay, then migrated to the Patriots for three seasons.
“New England’s offensive line was hit by injuries and they picked up Garry,” Koch remembers. “He learned their offense in a week and they gave him a game ball in his first start.”
Puetz played every position in the offensive line but tight end, beginning as a right guard, then finishing up as a tackle. In between, one of his fondest memories was lining up at center against the Bears. He weighed in at 260, but was up to 290 by his 10th and final year.
Overall, he started somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 NFL games, virtually all of them with the Jets. That puts Puetz in exclusive Valparaiso company. Hall of Famer Fuzzy Thurston, an all-pro lineman who toiled for five championship teams at Green Bay, is the only other Crusader to play pro ball.
In his final year Puetz hooked up with the Washington Redskins, who won the 1982 Super Bowl in an abbreviated season. A 57-day strike forced the NFL to reduce a 16-game schedule to nine games and change the playoff format.
Running back John Riggins earned MVP honors in a 27-17 victory over Miami, breaking open the Super Bowl with a 43-yard touchdown run in the fouwrth quarter. Ironically, he and Puetz had also been teammates when he broke in with the Jets.
Not many athletes bow out on such a high note, but Puetz retired after that memorable game. Relatively unscathed physically, he spent the next three years as an assistant line coach with Atlanta.
“Dan Henning, who coached wide receivers when I was with the Jets, was the head coach of the Falcons and invited me to join his staff,” said Puetz, who has lived in the Atlanta area ever since.
Most of his post-football life has been spent as transportation department director of the Forsythe County schools in Cummings, Ga.
His nomination for the College Hall of Fame caught him by surprise.
“I’m not sure how it happened,” he said. “One of my college buddies posted it on my Facebook page. That’s how I found out about it. It’s an honor just to be nominated and we’ll see how it spins out.”