It might be a long way from the Super Bowl, but the semi-pro football world has plenty of thrills, as recently recalled by Grove resident Bob Merciez.
The Colorado native, he has lived in Grove four years with his wife Carol, played semi-pro football for the Colorado Colts in 1972. The then 21-year old Arvada resident had suffered through three brain-concussions during his high school playing days and that had kept him out of college football. Upon reaching legal age Merciez tried out for the Colts and earned a spot at linebacker.
“There was a lot of politics in high school football,” Merciez recalls. “There were no politics with the Colts. If you beat a guy you got to play.”
Merciez, a successful amateur archery competitor at the time, found a loophole with the Colts that allowed him to keep his amateur status for archery yet still re-coup expenses for his football time.
“Back then you couldn’t keep your amateur status if you took money and I wanted to keep my status for archery. So the team gave me game tickets to sell and then let me keep the money,” he allowed.
Merciez initiation to the semi-pro ranks was a baptism of fire.
“Our first game was against a new team to the area, the Lakewood Oilers,” Merciez remembered. “Their team was made up of a lot of former Colts players and so it was kind of a grudge match.
“Sometime during the game our fullback, a huge guy we called ‘Morlock,’ went through the line for a big gain. The Oilers safety, a little guy they called ‘Superfly,’ who used to be a Colt, made a shoe string tackle and made the stop,” Merciez continued.
“But when ‘Superfly’ got up he made a smart-aleck comment to ‘Morlock’ and that was when the trouble started. ‘Morlock’ punched ‘Superfly’ right under the facemask on the chin and knocked him about three feet backwards through the air. After that the benches cleared and it was a brawl,” Merciez chuckled.
Eventually the police broke up the fight and although no arrests were made the game was called off.
“My dad said it was the best game he had ever seen,” Merciez said.
But the best was yet to come for Merciez. Later in the season his Colts squared off against a team from the Canyon City Penitentiary. Known as “The Rockbusters” the squad was made up of inmates from the maximum-security facility.
“The Rockbusters coach told us they had a pretty good team,” Merciez remembers. “He said, ‘Some of ‘em are so good that we’ve given them lifetime contracts.’”
Simply making their way to the playing field turned out to be an adventure of its own for the Colts. The team had to pass through seven various checkpoints and all of their gear had to be searched thoroughly.
“We all walked in close together and kept out heads down,” Merciez said of the entrance. “There were a lot of cons hanging around, really big guys, and they were whistling at us and calling us names.”
Three members of the Colts were police officers away from the field and that created a situation of its own for the team.
“It was stressed to us pretty heavily not to mention that those guys were cops,” Merciez laughed.
During the game inmates who weren’t members of the football team were allowed to roam both sidelines and walk around the perimeter of the field.
“A lot of the cons who weren’t Rockbusters would come over to or sideline and hang out,” Merciez said. “They were all rooting for us because they didn’t want the members of the Rockbusters to have any glory.”
Merciez can’t remember the final score but does recall that the Colts won. He also remembers the tight end he had to cover that day.
“He was about 5’10 and weighed probably 250 pounds,” Merciez said. “He only had one eye. I think he might have had a glass eye but he took it out for the game so all you could see was the socket. He also growled a lot.
“He hit me that first time and knocked me through the air and I knew it was going to be a long day,” he added.
The Colts had an advantage that day in that their starting quarterback had been a member of The Rockbusters the year before.
“He played for them when he was in the pen,” Merciez said about the signal caller. “After he got out he joined up with us. He was a pretty good athlete.”
As if playing a football game against a group of prison inmates wasn’t surreal enough, a strange occurrence happened toward the end of the game that placed the events of the contest into perspective.
“We were kind of goosey all day because being in that environment we always wanted to know what was going on around us,” Merciez said. “Late in the game a convict came out of one of the buildings around the field and started stumbling across the grass.
“Turns out he had a fork stuck in his back right between his shoulder blades,” Merciez revealed. “He eventually collapsed and all the cons watching the game started booing him. They stopped the game for a little bit and the medics hauled him off.”
Sometimes the Colts played JV teams from area colleges. One scrimmage came against Mesa State – the school where Merciez’s son would go on to play college football. The Colts also scrimmaged the Air Force Academy Prep Squad and JV team.
“They whipped us like a rented mule,” Merciez said of the Academy teams.
Merciez enjoyed his time with the Colts.
“It was rewarding and a lot of fun,” he said. “It was challenging because during the day we had to work our regular jobs and then at night go and practice. But in the end it was worth it.”