Two of the greatest players in the history of the Valparaiso University football program are set to receive one of the highest honors a University can bestow upon a former student-athlete.
Garry Puetz ’73 and Fuzzy Thurston ’56 (posthumous) will have their uniform numbers retired at the Homecoming football game on Sept. 28 at Brown Field. The number retirements will coincide with a season-long celebration of 100 years of Valpo football. Homecoming weekend will also serve as a 50-year reunion for the 1969 ICC Championship team.
Puetz and Thurston both went on to play in the NFL and won Super Bowl rings. They will become the first players in program history to have their uniform numbers retired. The use of No. 80 will be discontinued in Thurston’s honor, while No. 71 will be retired for Puetz.
“As you look over 100 seasons of Valpo football, Garry and Fuzzy stand out for their accomplishments both on campus and in the professional ranks,” Valpo Director of Athletics Mark LaBarbera said. “They put together a strong combination of achievements at Valpo and in the NFL, as both were All-Americans in college before going on to win Super Bowl rings. As we prepare for a season-long celebration of Valpo football history, it seems only fitting to retire the numbers of two of our most influential and distinguished football alums.”
Puetz, an offensive lineman, was a two-time Kodak College Division All-American, earning the honor in 1971 and 1972. He was named to the All-Indiana Collegiate Conference squad three times during his Valpo tenure including as both a placekicker and offensive lineman during his senior season. He received a Valparaiso University Alumni Achievement Award in 1983 and was inducted into the Valpo Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998.
“I was stunned when I learned that Valpo plans to retire my number,” Puetz said. “It’s a high honor that was unexpected. I really appreciate receiving this recognition. I have great memories of how Coach (Norm) Amundsen and Coach (Bill) Koch cared about us and taught us about football and life. The coaches’ compassion and guidance were instrumental in leading us through college, and I’ll never forget the friendships we made on the football field.”
Following his collegiate career, Puetz was drafted in the 12th round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. He was a valuable member of the Jets for four years, playing every spot on the offensive line and even serving as an emergency kicker. He left the Jets six games into the 1978 season and was picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the final 10 games of the year.
Puetz was with the Philadelphia Eagles for the first three games of the 1979 campaign before finishing the season with the New England Patriots. He went on to play 38 games in New England and make five starts. In 1982, Puetz joined the Washington Redskins for his 10th and final NFL season, one that culminated with a 27-17 victory over Miami in Super Bowl XVII.
“Winning a Super Bowl ring was an awesome experience,” Puetz said. “I had never been to the playoffs before, so to have the opportunity to reach the Super Bowl and be a part of the championship team was unbelievably exciting. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll never forget.”
Following his playing days, Puetz became an assistant offensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons. He then spent 23 years in the public transportation field and retired as the Director of Student Transportation for the Forsyth County School System in Georgia. He and his wife Cindy currently live in Dahlonega, Ga.
In addition to his excellence on the gridiron, Puetz’s talent extended to the diamond during his time at Valpo. Instead of participating in spring football, he spent that time as a member of the Valpo baseball team and led the team in hitting in 1972. He also wrestled at Valpo for one season. Puetz graduated in 1973 with his bachelor of science in physical education.
“The opportunity to play both football and baseball was influential in my decision to attend Valpo,” Puetz said. “Baseball was another one of my loves growing up, so it was a big plus for Coach Amundsen to allow me to play both. I was also attracted to Valpo by the strong academics and its status as a faith-based institution.”
Thurston, who passed away at the age of 80 in 2014, will be honored posthumously for his collegiate and professional football achievements. He was a two-time All-American in 1954 and 1955 as an offensive lineman and was selected as the Indiana Collegiate Conference’s Most Valuable Lineman in 1955. Also a two-time All-ICC choice, Thurston helped Valpo to a 17-7-2 record during his career, which included a conference title in 1954. He was among the 15 charter members inducted into the Valpo Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998.
Thurston was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1956 before making his NFL debut with the Baltimore Colts in 1958. There, he won his first of six NFL Championships. The following year, iconic Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi traded for Thurston. He went on to win five championships in Green Bay from 1961-1968. The Valpo product played in the famous 1967 Ice Bowl.
Thurston was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1975, elected to the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 1982 and voted into the Wisconsin Hall of Fame in 2003. He is one of only four players in pro football history to play on six NFL Championship teams. His final two titles with the Packers were the first two Super Bowls.
Thurston and his wife Susan were married from 1957-2012, when she passed away. After retiring from football, Thurston spent time managing his flourishing restaurant business. He owned and operated Left Guard Steakhouses in the Midwest and as far away as Florida.
Thurston’s football career almost never occurred as he came to Valpo on a basketball scholarship in 1951 and didn’t play football for his first two seasons. Coach Walt Reiner was instrumental in convincing Thurston to play football in 1953, his first of three quality seasons on the Valpo gridiron. Thurston, who graduated in1956 with a degree in physical education, was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
Both Valpo football alums who have gone on to play in the NFL, Puetz and Thurston, garnered Super Bowl rings. Valpo products own a perfect 3-0 record in Super Bowls.
“I cannot wait to attend the Homecoming game at Valpo this season,” Puetz said. “I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and catching up with members of the 1969 team. My advice to the current players is to improve every day and never get complacent or satisfied. I look forward to seeing and meeting Valpo football players, both past and present.”