Former pro football player talks of his days on the field
These days Mike Montler lives a relaxing life in Grand Junction with his wife, Suzy, and an Airedale terrier dog, working out regularly to maintain the physique of a professional football player, long after retirement.
His journey to this point has been an interesting one.
Montler, 68, grew up in Columbus, Ohio, home of Ohio State University, but neither legendary football coach Woody Hayes nor anyone else recruited him, because he was too small at 6 feet 5 inches, 195 pounds.
So Montler joined the Marine Corps with a couple of friends. Within a couple of months, his friends were out of the Marines, but Montler found himself.
“That totally changed my life,” Montler said. “God only knows what would’ve happened. I wouldn’t have settled for being a steel worker. The Marine Corps really saved my life. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
“Everything I have today I can directly relate to the Marine Corps.”
While in the Marines from 1961 to 1965, he started working out and put on some weight. He tried out for the San Diego Marines football team and played with several college football All-Americans.
Several colleges took notice of Montler and started recruiting him.
Hayes recruited Montler out of the Marines and invited him to sit on the Ohio State sideline during a game against Southern California in Los Angeles.
He was supposed to talk to Montler and another Marine at halftime, but Hayes never said more than “hello.”
“It was a horrible experience,” Montler said. “When a reporter asked me what I thought about going back to play for Ohio State after the Marine Corps, I just ripped Woody a new one. I was young and dumb, but I had no plans to go back.”
Marine reservist and University of Colorado offensive coordinator Chet Franklin kept in touch with Montler during his service, which included a tour in Okinawa, Japan.
Montler returned to the states and expected to be discharged, but was told his service would be extended.
With hopes of playing pro football someday, Montler contacted Franklin.
Montler enrolled in summer school at CU and was discharged from the Marines with three months left in his tour.
“It’s amazing some of the decisions I made in my life that could’ve been devastating,” Montler said. “My Marine Corps experience was like playing for a pro football team. We pass blocked and threw the football.”
Montler’s weight got up to 250 pounds and he played for CU from 1966-69. The offensive tackle became an All-American in 1968 and was a co-captain his senior year.
The Boston Patriots drafted Montler in the second round of the 1969 NFL draft when he was 24 years old and moved him to guard.
It was a rough start to a memorable career.
He would often switch positions on the line to accommodate the latest player the team brought in to fill a hole on the line of scrimmage.
“I was the only guy that could really play all positions,” Montler said. “We were always short a lineman. We’d get someone’s reject off the waiver wire.
“I don’t think I played a stretch of six games at one position.”
Montler had four head coaches in four years with the Patriots, before he decided he had enough and requested a trade.
The Patriots eventually traded Montler to the Buffalo Bills in the 1973 season.
He received a jersey with the number 50, reserved for center.
“What a transition,” Montler said. “Now, I’m making calls, have to pay attention to the snap count.”
Montler was competing for the position against a younger player by the name of Bruce Jarvis.
“Here’s my first opportunity to play center in the NFL,” Montler said. “All of a sudden here comes Jarvis, who taps me on the shoulder.
“I come off the field like a skulking kid.”
That happened to Montler in the first three preseason games.
Upset, Montler figured he’d be traded in the following days, so he decided to talk to head coach Lou Saban.
“I go up to his office,” Montler said. “He kind of gave me a ‘What do you need?’ ‘I’m just wondering where I’m going to be playing next week.’
“He said, ‘Why would you be going to another team? You think I’m going to get rid of some guy trying to get on the field?’ It was that simple.”
A few games into the 1973 season, Jarvis was injured and Montler started the next couple of games. Jarvis returned and attempted to take Montler’s spot with the first team, but Saban stopped Jarvis.
A week or two later, Jarvis left the team and did not return the rest of the season, Montler said.
That season, Montler’s teammate, O.J. Simpson, became the first player in the NFL to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season and is still the only player to achieve that feat in a 14-game season.
“The pre-Nicole (Simpson) O.J. was one of the greatest guys you’d ever meet in your life,” Montler said. “He held us up in the limelight every day. It was amazing how he brought us into the limelight.”
Simpson reached 2,000 yards on Dec. 16, 1973, against the New York Jets at Shea Stadium.
“After that game, the media wanted an interview with O.J.,” Montler said. “They had an interview place set up. Back then, they did interviews wherever you could find a place. He told them, ‘I’ve got to take my boys.’
“They said, ‘We’re basically doing this in a boiler room; there’s not room for your guys.’(Simpson) said, ‘If my guys can’t come, I’m not doing the interview.’
“We all went in and it was a boiler room. I guarantee you there wouldn’t have been an interview if we weren’t there.”
The Bills’ offensive line was dubbed “The Electric Company” that year because they were the ones that turned “The Juice” loose.
“The thing was, everybody knew we weren’t throwing the ball,” Montler said.
Three years later, in 1976, Saban was fired.
“I was willing to spend my career in Buffalo,” Montler said. “People were great. I wanted a couple more years.”
Then, offensive line coach Jim Ringo was hired as the head coach.
“I wanted a one-year extension on my contract,” Montler said. “I wasn’t looking for more money. I think it offended (Ringo).
“I wound up retiring and came home. Then I found out (the Bills) traded me to Denver.”
The Broncos ended up winning the AFC West in the 1977 season and making it to their first Super Bowl.
“That was so unexpected,” Montler said. “We had a hellacious schedule. We played the Raiders three times, Pittsburgh twice. We had our hands full.”
Montler, who had kept his home in Boulder, was happy being back in Colorado.
The next season, the Broncos had two older centers and planned to trade one. After they discovered one could long snap for punts and field goals, Montler was traded to Detroit.
He played four games for the Lions and decided to retire.
Montler worked in heavy equipment sales and construction development and managed Flatirons Athletic Club for eight years before he went to work for Nationwide Transportation.
He was there for 15 years, moving freight. He retired in 2000 and relocated to Grand Junction.
“We’re always going out to San Diego (to see grandchildren),” Montler said. “We’ve made that trip a hundred times. We’d never been to Grand Junction before. We decided to stop in Grand Junction.
“We took a look downtown and got a Realtor.”
The Montlers found a cozy cottage house near Tiara Rado Golf Course, made Grand Junction home and now spend their time keeping in shape.
“We’ve achieved our goal in life,” Montler said. “We wanted to create a situation like we were shacked up in college and not have to go to class. We do what we want when we want to do it. Suzy skis, so I take her to Aspen to ski.”
Montler doesn’t follow the NFL much these days.
“So much has changed,” Montler said. “There is so much media and hype and players need to get recognized. It didn’t happen when I played. You didn’t see O.J. rush for 2,000 yards, push his linemen away and get on his cellphone.
“If Juice behaved like some of the players you see today, he would’ve never got 2,000 yards.”