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Posted on: March 20, 2011 1:53 pm
 

The Fabulous 1950's (1959)

The 1959 season was the 40<sup>th</sup> NFL edition of the regular season and obviously the final year of the Fabulous 50’s. The decade started with a merger with the AAFC and ended with two teams that are historically credited with putting the league on the map meeting again in the Championship game. As the 1959 season began the league was struck with the untimely lose of one of it’s pioneer members. On October 11, 1959 NFL Commisioner Bert Bell died of a heart attack while watching the Eagles and Steelers play in Philadelphia. Ironically, during one point of his NFL career Bell was the owner and coach of both teams. League Treasurer Austin Gunsel was named interim commissioner for the remainder of the season.

In 1933, along with two former college teammates, Bell purchased the Eagles. Though the Eagles would struggle financially with Bell as owner his actions were geared towards making the league stronger. Bell is credited with designing the blueprint for the NFL draft that was instituted in 1935. In one of the most bizarre transactions in the history of the NFL, Bell became part owner of the Steelers when Art Rooney sold the team to Philadelphia businessman Alex Thompson, who then traded franchises with Bell. Due to WWII the Eagles and Steelers would temporarily merge becoming the “Steagles.” Without question, one of the strangest team names in the history of the sport.

On January 11, 1946, Bell was chosen to replace Elmer Layden as NFL commissioner and stayed in that position until his death. Among his many accomplishments Burt Bell is credited with the phrase, “On any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team.” Just to give you an idea as to how far the league has advanced over the years, during the off season Bert Bell use to single handedly plot out the league schedule in his dinning room.

The Eastern Conference belong to the Giants and was settled by week ten. The G-Men started off 1-1 then realed off 7 of 8 and finished the season with a 10-2 mark.

The Western Conference was another opportunity lost for the 49ers. It marked the fifth time (1952, 1953, 1954, and 1957) the team had an opportunity to win the conference in the 1950's only to suffer from a late season meltdown. In week six of the 1959 season the 49ers stood atop the Conference at 6-1 and had a two game lead over the 4-3 Colts. Bye week nine, even though the 49ers lost in Baltimore 45-14 they still held a share of the conference lead at 6-3-0. In week eleven the 49ers watched the conference title slip away as they again lost to the Colts 34-14 on their home turf. The Colts would clinch the Conference title the following week.

One of Raymond Berry’s most memorable game occurred in the Greatest Game Ever Played. In that epic 1958 battle between the Colts and Giants, Berry caught a then record 12 receptions for a 178 yards and a touchdown, and during the 13 play overtime drive Berry hauled in two clutch passes for 33 yards. Not to bad for a guy that didn’t start till his senior year in high school and only caught 33 passes in three years at SMU.

In 1954 the Colts drafted Berry in the 20 round, the 232 player taken overall. Thought there are other players that have walked a similar path, some might argue Raymond Berry was the greatest draft steal in the history of the game. Berry became a permanent fixture of the Colts offense by his second year and didn’t miss another game till his eight season in the league. A tireless worker, Berry was said to have 88 different move to get open and once Johnny Unitas became the Colts quarterback those move were put on display. Unitas and Berry were said to have spent countless hours together after practice had been called for the day, running and re-running pass plays to pin point the timing and perfect the patterns.

In his 13 year playing career Berry caught a then record 631 passes for 9,275 yards and 68 touchdowns. More impressive is the fact that Berry only had one fumble in his career, and is rumored to have only dropped two passes that were thrown in his direction.

Raymond Berry is a member of the NFL’s 75 Anniversary team, the All-1950’s team and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The rematch of the 1958 classic took place on December 27, 1959 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland and had the makings of a classic itself till the fourth quarter arrived.

The Colts got on the scoreboard first when Unitas hooked up with Lenny Moore on a 60 yard touchdown pass. The Giants answered with a 23 yard Summerall field goal making the score 7-3 Colts. The G-Men would then shut down the potent Colts offense for the next two quarters. Unfortunately, the Giants were only able to muster two more Summerall field goals during that time on offense. At the end of the third quarter the Giants held a 9-7 lead and then the Colts offense woke-up, taking a close game and turning it into what would look like a blow out.

Unitas started out the fourth quarter with a four yard touchdown scamper, giving the Colts the lead for good. He then hit current Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson on a 12 yard touchdown pass. On the defensive side the Colts Johnny Sample intercepted a Giants pass and returned it 42 yard to the end zone. The Colts finished off their fourth quarter scoring assult with a 25 yard Myrha field goal. The Giants would add a late Conerly touchdown pass, but the damage had already been done. The Colts won their second championship in a row 31-16 behind the man affectionately reffered to as Johnny U.

As the first of the great passing quarterbacks in the NFL, Johnny Unitas is the standard in which all the great quarterbacks of the current era are measured. Considering he was drafted and cut by the Steelers before the season even began Unitas is also a profile in determination and perseverance for all young players to follow. Before there was the Cardinals Kurt Warner/Grocery Store feel good story there was the Johnny Unitas story.

After a challenging and productive career at Louisville, Unitas was drafted in the ninth round by the Steelers but found himself in a quarterback battle that included three others. Steelers head coach Walt Kiesling quickly considered Unitas mentally unable to play the position and let him go during training camp. Already married with children, Unitas took on a construction job to support his family and began playing Semi-pro ball on the weekend to keep his skills sharp and the dream alive. It is rumored he played for the Bloomfield Rams for six dollars a game. Even in 1955 dollars that is a merger sum of money, averaging out to $1.50 a quarter or $2.00 an hour. I’ve got a feeling Kurt Warner made slightly more playing in the Arena League.

In 1956, after barrowing money from family and friends, Unitas and fellow Bloomfield Rams teammate Jim Deglua venture to the Colts training camp for a tryout. Much to the chagrin of the Cleveland Browns, who were considering signing the Steelers castoff, the Colts signed Unitas to the team minimum contingent on him making the squad. Though cast to a backup position Unitas would get his opportunity in the fourth game of the year when Colts starter George Shaw suffered a broken leg against the Bears. Unitas would struggle in his first NFL game action, throwing a pick six and fumbling a handoff., though the following week Unitas would begin his Hall of Fame career and George Shaw would forever lost his starting job as quarterback of the Baltimore Colts.

In the last game of his rookie year Unitas threw a touchdown pass that began a streak of 47 consecutive games in which he accomplished the feat. The following year the Newspaper Enterprise Association named Unitas the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, the first of four such awards Unitas would receive. In his career Unitas had 26 games of over 300 yards passing and 40,239 total yards through the air.

We always talk of players or teams taking their game to the next level. In the history of professional football few have transformed the game, or taken it to the next level, than the likes of Johnny Unitas. If I were forced to pick one player that had the biggest positive impact on the game of professional football I would pick Johnny Unitas.

Johnny U. is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and in my opinion the greatest football player the game has ever seen.

I would like to thank those of you that took the time to read this silly blog.

Peace.

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 17, 2011 7:11 pm
Edited on: March 17, 2011 7:28 pm
 

The Fabulous 1950's (1958 & The Game)

The 1958 season is considered by many to be the year professional football cast itself into the public light, forever changing the way Americans viewed the sport as a whole. In reality that happened the prior year when CBS began televising weekly games across the nation, giving fans that weekly taste of football. What did happen in 1958 was the first overtime game between the Eastern and Western Conference champions to determine who would claim the NFL title. For one of those teams the regular season was like a dream come true and was settled by week ten. For the other it came down to the final week of the regular season and then it took one more, in the form of a playoff game, to get to that fateful day in December.

The Baltimore Colts started the 1958 season with six straight wins, four of those compliments of the Lions and Packers, beating both teams home and away. The Colts didn’t lose their first game till the week seven match-up against the New York Giants, 21-24. Baltimore then reeled off three more wins and clinched the conference title in week ten. The Colts would lose their final two games of the season to the 49ers and Rams, though they had beaten both teams late in the season.

Georgia born Jim Parker only played on year of organized football in Ohio and that was his senior year in Toledo. That one year in Ohio was all that it took for Jim to get noticed by the legendary Woody Hayes of Ohio State. Some would argue Woody Hayes’s phrase “Three yards and a cloud of dust” was coined behind the blocking of Jim Parker. While at Ohio State, Jim was a two way tackle, two time All-American and winner of the Outland Trophy.

As Jim entered into the NFL, Woody Hayes thought Parker’s best chance of success would be as a defensive lineman. Colts coach Weeb Ewbank thought different when he drafted Jim in the first round (8 overall) in the 1957 draft and had every intention of using Parker as an offensive left tackle.

During the first day of training camp, in a moment that resembled a scene from the motion picture “Blindside”, Ewbanks informed Parker he could become the most unpopular man on the team if the quarterback got hurt. Ewbanks told Parker “Just keep them away from John (Unitas).” It didn’t long for Jim to understand that rule and become the great protector of the Colts Hall of Fame quarterback.

What is amazing about Parkers career is he played half of it at left tackle from 1957 to 1962, earning All-Pro honors five of those six years, and the othe half at left guard, earning All-Pro honors three times at that position. Some say Parker moved to left guard as a favor to Woody Hayes, in order to make room for former Buckeye teammate Bob Vogel.

Many football historians consider Parker the greatest lineman to play the game. In 1994, Parker was named to the NFL’s 75 Anniversary All-Time Team. In 1999 he was listed as number 24 of Sporting News list of the 100 greatest football players. In 1973, Parker was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, a first for a full time offensive lineman. The Colts have retired the number 77.

The Eastern Conference was a two team race for the entire season, with the Brown holding a slight edge of over the Giants till the two teams met in the the final week of the regular season.

The game was played on December 14, 1958 in Yankee Stadium and the conditions could hardly be called ideal. As the wind driven snow whipped across the field the two teams found themselves tied 10-10 deep into the fourth quarter. With only 4:30 left the Giants Pat Summerall missed a 31 yard field goal, leaving the Browns with an opportunity to run the clock out and win the conference with a tie game. Unable to covert a first down the Browns were forced to punt and give the ball back to the Giants. With two minutes left in the game, and in a raging snow storm, Summerall redeemed himself by nailing a field goal from 49 yards out, giving the Giants a 13-10 win. The two teams had tied for the division and would met again the following week for a trip to the title game.

The playoff was also conducted at Yankee Stadiums and with all the points coming in the first half of play the game was again a defensive standoff and a low scoring affair. In the first quarter, Frank Gifford darted for eight yards and then tossed a lateral to Charley Conerly who scored from ten yards out. In the second quarter Summerall kicked a 26 yard field goal for the final score of the game. The Giants would win the contest 10-0 and would face the Baltimore Colts for the 1958 NFL Championship.

If you’ve never heard of the name Frank Gifford, then let me be the first to welcome you to the planet earth. Here on the third rock from the sun that name envokes everything good about the game of football and has been doing so for over 50 years. Hell, my grandpa loved Frank Gifford and he’s was born in 1900.

If football ever needed a poster boy in the 1950’s, then there was no one better for the job than Francis Newton Gifford. Born on August 16, 1930, in Santa Monica, California, Gifford was graced with the looks of a Hollywood leading man and the football skills of a Hall of Fame player. In high school, college and in the NFL, Gifford played on offense, defense and special teams. More importantly, he played every assigned position well. There was a time when I disliked Gifford, then I took a closer look at his playing career and realized the reason I didn’t like him was he had the life and career that every little boy dreamed of having, except for him the dream was real.

In his eight Pro-bowl appearances, Gifford earned honors at three different positions, defensive back, half back and late in his career at flanker. In 1953, due to his versatility, Gifford averaged 50 minutes of playing time per game. In 1956 he was named MVP of the league while leading the Giants to their third NFL championship. The New York City Giants have retired the number 16 and Francis Newton Gifford is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately for Gifford, every star has a bad day and his two early fumbles in the 1958 Championship may have cost the Giants a shot at the NFL title. Now it’s time to get on to the greatest game ever played.

The title game took place on December 28, 1958 in Yankee Stadium. 64,185 fans watched the two teams play to a near perfect defensive standoff in the first quarter, the only scoring was a 36 yard Pat Summerall field goal giving the Giants a 3-0 lead. In the second quarter a Frank Gifford fumble lead to a Alan Ameche 2 yard touchdown plunge. Gifford's second miscue eventually allowed the Colts to score on a 15 yard pass play from Unitas to Raymond Berry, giving the Baltimore a 14-3 halftime lead.

The third quarter gave way to a Baltimore blunder on the offensive end of the football. The Colts had taken the ball to the New York 1 yard line, only to be rejected from the end zone on three straight plays. Instead of option for a field goal the Colts went for it on fourth down. Testing the hands of fate an Alan Ameche halfback option was stuffed at the five yard line by Giants linebacker Cliff Livingston. Momentum immediately shifted and the Giants began to march.

Buried deep in their own territory Giants quarterback Charley Conerly dropped back and hit Kyle Rote running a left to right crossing pattern over the middle. After catching the ball Rote broke an arm tackle around mid-field and was heading towards the end zone till he was hit from behind that forced the ball loose. Trailing the play was Giants running back Alex Webster, who scooped the ball up and began his own journey towards the end zone, eventually to be knocked out of bounds at the 1 yard line. The Giants Mel Trippet took the ball in from there, cutting the Colts lead to 4 points. The drive went 95 yards in just four plays, closing the score to 14-10 Colts. Trippett’s touchdown would be the final score of the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, New York’s Frank Gifford redeemed himself by hauling in a 15 yard Conerly pass for a touchdown, giving the Giant a 17-14 lead. The score would remain that way till around the two minute mark.

Many football historians credit the Lions Bobby Layne with the creation of the “two minute offense”, but nobody made it more famous than Johnny Unitas in the 1958 Championship game.

With the clock hovering around the two minute mark the Colts took possession of the ball on their own 14 yard line and began the first of two epic drives. The Unitas lead offense drove the ball down the field, eventually landing on the Giants 13 yard line. With the clock stopped at seven second the Colts brought on kicker Steve Myhra for a 20 yard field goal attempt. The kick split the up-rights, clear the bar, and tied the game 17-17. As the clock struck zero players from both sides found themselves standing on the sideline and unsure as to what would happen next.

Unitas recalled, “All of the sudden, the officials came over and said, ‘Send the captains outs. We’re going to flip a coin to see who will receive.’ That was the first we heard of the overtime period.”

The Giant won the coin toss and elected to receive. The G-Men muffed the kickoff and then found themselves unable to put a drive together forcing them to punt. The Colts would take the ball on a 13 play 80 yard drive that culminated in a Alan Ameche 1-yard plunge for the winning touchdown. The Colts final drive has become fabled for many reasons, the setting and circumstance and the fact Unitas called all 13 plays in the overtime period.

Including coaches and administrators, there were 17 individuals involved in that game that are now members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are the following.

Giants- (OL) Rosey Brown, (HB) Frank Gifford, (LB) Sam Huff, (WR) Don Maynard, (DE) Andy Robustelli, (DB) Emlen Tunnell, (Off. Coord.) Vince Lombardi, (Def. Coord.) Tom Landry, (Owner) Tim Mara, (VP/ Secr.) Wellington Mara.

Colts- (WR) Raymond Berry, (DL) Art Donovan, (DL) Gino Marchetti, (HB/WR) Lenny Moore, (OL) Jim Parker, (Head Coach) Weeb Ewbank, (QB) Johnny Unitas.

To this day, the 1958 Championship is without question the greatest game ever played.

 

Peace.

 

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 14, 2011 11:03 pm
 

The Fabulous 1950's (1957)

Unbeknownst to the Detroit Lions the 1957 season would be the teams farewell tour with regards to appearing in the NFL title game. Following the 1957 season the Lions would not participate in another championship game till…well, Lions fans are still waiting for the team to make it back to the title game. The journey to their third NFL title in the 1950’s made for a great season and was a prelude to a team on the rise.

Rules changes for the 1957 season included a dress code adjustment, home teams were now required to wear dark jearsey and away teams to wear white. Up to that point in the NFL, teams could wear whatever color they liked and were not required to have white jerseys. ( Considering televised football games were on the rise, I’m sure the networks had a lot to do with this rule change. You can’t have two teams in dark jerseys running around on a black and white TV.) It was also announced time out in sudden death would be the same as in regulation.

The Eastern Conference was dominated by the Cleveland Browns who lead from start to finish, ending the season with a 9-2-1 mark. It would be the last conference title for the Browns in the 1950’s, capping an outstand first eight years in the league. Seven NFL title game appearances and three Championships in an eight years time span. Without question, one of the greatest runs by any team in the history of football. As the AAFC Browns era came to a close a new era was beginning in Cleveland. 1957 was Jim Browns first year with the Cleveland franchise.

Statistically James Nathaniel Brown had the greatest nine year stretch of any professional football player in the history of the game. In his first season Brown won both the MVP and Rookie of the year award, in all he earned four MVP awards 1957, 1958, 1963 and 1965. Brown was named to nine straight Pro-Bowls and was a part of eight All-NFL teams, 1957 thru 1961 and 1963-65.

Though Brown is remembered more as running back, his athletic abilities made him a threat in all aspects of the offensive attack. Jim Brown averaged 29 catches a year for 9.5 yards per touch and had 20 total touchdowns through the air. He had 29 kickoff returns for 648 yards and threw for 117 yards/ 3 touchdowns.

Jim Brown once told John Mackey, “Make sure when anyone tackles you, he remembers how much it hurts.”

Jim Brown was an All-American at Syracuse University, and is also a member of the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. His number 32 has been retired by the Browns organization and James Nathaniel Brown is a member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Western Conference was a three team race from beginning to end, with the 49ers and Lions meeting in a one game playoff to determine the conference winner.

The playoff game between the Lions and 49ers took place on December 22, 1957 at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco and turned out to be the battle in the bay. The 49ers jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead and went into halftime leading 24-7, then things got interesting.

The 49ers scored first in the third quarter on a 10 yard Gordy Soltau field goal and then it was all Detroit. Lions running back Tom Tracy scored twice on runs of 1 and 58 yards to finish out the scoring in the third quarter and narrowing the 49er lead to 27-21. In the fourth quarter Lions running back Gene Gedman scored from 2 yards out giving Detroit a 28-27 lead. Later in the quarter the Lions added a field goal that gave them a 31-27 win and a trip to the NFL title game.

Though it was the 49ers and Lions that met in the one game playoff, it was the other team in the Western Conference regular season triangle that was starting to rise to the top of the football world.

The Baltimore Colts had been making some noise for the last couple of years in the Western Conference, finishing 5-6-1 in 1955, 5-7 in 1956 and 7-5 in 1957. No longer the defunct Dallas Texans, entering the league in 1953 as the new Baltimore Colts, the team was starting to develop a personality and swagger of their own. The left side of their defensive line was a thing of beauty and exemplified how the defensive line should be played in the NFL

At 6’4” and 244 lbs, Gino Marchetti was named the best defensive lineman of the NFL’s first 50 years, as selected by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Gino was drafted in the second round (14 overall) in 1952 by the defunct New York Yanks, that eventually became the one year wonder Dallas Texans, that eventually became the new Baltimore Colts.

In 13 seasons with the Colts, Gino made the Pro Bowl a then record 11 straight years from 1954-1964. He was a first team All-Pro selection for nine consecutive years from 1956-1964. LA Rams head coach Sid Gillman once said about Gino, “He’s the greatest player in football. It’s a waste of time to run around this guys end. It’s a lost play.”

Gino Marchetti was an army machine gunner in WWII and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He is a member of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, a member of the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, his number 89 has been retired by the Colts and yes, Gino Marchetti is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Art “The Bulldog” Donovan wasn’t that good in high school and could only muster a second team All-New England while at Boston College. If that wasn’t bad enough, in each of his first three NFL seasons the teams Donovan played for went out of business. Even with all that negative baggage Art Donovan turned out to be one of the greatest defensive lineman in NFL history and the first Colts player elected into the Hall of Fame.

Donovan was drafted in the 22 round (204 overall) by the AAFC Baltimore Colts in 1947. Fulfilling his military obligation before attending Boston College made Art a 26 year old rookie in the NFL and a 1950 graduate of the university. Donovan started out with the former AAFC and freshly minted NFL Baltimore Colts, who folded after his rookie season in 1950. That was followed by the New York Yanks in 1951, and their successor the Dallas Texans in 1952. After the Texans folded Art joined the reincarnated Colts in 1953 and that’s when his career began to take off. He was selected to five straight Pro Bowls from 1954 to 1958, and was a four time All-Pro selection from 1954 to 1957.

Art Donovan is considered by many to be the greatest story tellers of life in the NFL during the 1950’s. He has made numerous late night television appearences from Johnny Carson to David Letterman. In Letterman’s Super Bowl commericial with Oprah Winfrey, he honored Donovan by wearing his number 70 Colts jersey.

The 1957 NFL Championship was played on December 29, at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. It was the 25 anniversary of the NFL championship game and the fourth time the two teams had met in the title game during the 1950’s.

The game was a route as the Lions scored early and often, averaging 14.75 points per quarter, while the Browns could only muster two touchdown, one in the second quarter and one in the third. The Lions walked away with easy 59-14 win and the NFL Championship.

The game did mark the end of Bobby Layne’s career with the Lions. Layne had broken his leg late in the 1957 season and was replaced by Tobin Rote. In the Championship game Rote completed 12 of 19 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns, adding another on the ground. Layne was traded to the Steelers early in the 1958 season, his replacement Rote was let go by the Lions in 1959. The Lions have had only one All -Pro quarterback since Bobby Layne and that was Greg Landry in 1971.

It is rumored, a dejected Layne told reporters, “It will be 50 years before Detroit wins another Championship.” It’s now been 53 years and counting since the Lions won the 1957 NFL title.

The curse of Bobby Layne lives on.

Peace.

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 12, 2011 11:00 am
 

The Fabulous 1950's (1956)

The 1956 season marked the first year a major television network (CBS) began televising regular season games across the nation. The league also switched to a natural leather ball with white stripes on the ends, rather than a white ball with black stripes, for night games.

Rule changes included, outlawing grabbing of the face mask. Also, once a interior lineman takes a three point stance he is not allowed to move until the snap of the ball. There was another attempt at redefining the “dead ball” rule, (still some confusion as to when the runner is deemed down and the play over.) The banning of radio communication to players on the field (seems to have made its way back to the league), and the implementation of the “Lou Groza Rule.”

The Eastern Conference turned into a two team race between the Cardinals and Giants for a good portion of the 1956 regular season. Though the Chicago Cardinals had a dismal decade in the 1950’s, they managed to put together a good competitive first half of the 1956 season and placed themselves in the hunt for the conference title till week eight of the regular season. The Cardinals eventually finished the season at 7-5, a game and a half back from the 8-3-1 conference winning New York Giants.

Charley Conerly was a college football hero at the University of Mississippi, a war hero in WWII, and a professional football hero amongst Giants fans during the 1950‘s. Not a bad resume for a guy from Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Conerly started for Mississippi in 1942, but joined the Marines the following year and served in the South Pacific where he fought in the Battle of Guam. He returned to Mississippi in 1946 and in 1947 lead the Rebels to their first Southeastern Conference championship. In that same year he earned All-American honors and lead the nation in completions (133). Charley also rushed for nine touchdowns and threw for 18 more in the 1947 season. Conerly was named college football Player of the Year in 1947 by the Helms Athletic Foundation.

Though originally drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1945, Conerly played his entire NFL career with the New York Giants (1948-1961) and earned ROY honors in 1948. As quarterback, Charley was a two time Pro Bowl selection in 1950 and 1956 and was named the NFL’s MVP in 1959 by the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Conerly lead the Giants to three NFL Championships in four years (1956, 1958-59), including a 47-7 victory over the Chicago Bears in the 1956 title game. The Giants have retired his number 42 and Charley Conerly is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Call it luck or circumstance, but Robert “Sam” Huff escaped the fate of the coal mines on three different occasions and parlayed those opportunities into a storied football career in the Big Apple.

Born the fourth child of Oral and Catherine Huff’s six children, Sam grew up in Edna Gas, West Virginia in a area known as the “No.9 coal mine camp.” Homes in that area were nothing more than shack with no running water or other modern conveniences. While attending the now closed Farmington High School, Huff played on both the offensive and defensive line and was discovered by a West Virginia University coach by accident. The Mountaineer’s coach had been sent to the area to look at a hot prospect and ended up recruiting Huff instead. That would be the first “coal mine bullet” Sam would dodge.

At West Virginia, Huff started out as an offensive guard until being move to defensive tackle his junior year. He lettered all four years at West Virginia and was named an All-American in 1955. Huff capped off his senior year by being named co-captain in both the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. At the end of his college career Huff was spotted by Giants scout Al DeRogatis, who was sent to look at All-American guard Bruce Bosley. The Giants scout informed the club that Bosley was great, but their was another player that was going to be even greater by the name of Sam Huff. That would be the second “coal mine bullet” Sam would dodge.

Huff was a third round draft pick of the Giants in 1956, but became disillusioned by the teams intended use for him. Coach Jim Lee Howell agreed Sam was a quality athlete but was unsure as to Huff‘s true position. Discouraged by the process Huff packed up and headed to the airport only to be intercepted by assistant coach Vince Lombardi who lectured him on the values of determination. That would be the third and final “coal mine bullet” Sam would dodge.

Following his return to training camp regular linebacker Ray Beck was injured, allowing Sam an opportunity at the position. Huff’s performance forced Beck into retirement and Sam into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 1956 Western Conference was a two team race the entire season between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions that culminated into a showdown between the two at Wrigley Field in the final week of the regular season. The game was highlighted by numerous on field fights, that eventually turned into a huge fourth quarter rumble that spilled into the crowd involving the fans and police. The Bears won the game 38-21 behind a team 308 yards/ 3 touchdown rushing performance, lead by Rick Casares 17 carries for 190 yards and a touchdown.

Rick Casares was born in 1931 in Tampa, Florida. Following his fathers murder he was sent to live in New Jersey with an aunt and uncle. At the age of 15, Casares became a Golden Gloves boxing champions and had thoughts of signing a professional boxing contract till his mother caught wind of the idea. Rick’s mother refused to let her son drop out of school in pursuit of a boxing career and returned him to Tampa.

The faculty at Thomas Jefferson high School in Tampa introduced Casares to high school athletics as a means of keeping him in school and the idea worked. In 2007, fifty-seven years after he graduated from high school, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) honored Casares as one of thirty-three all-time greatest Florida high school football players of the last 100 years, by naming him to its “All-Century Team”

Following a career at the University of Florida, that was cut short by military duty, Casares was drafted by the Bears in the 2 round (18 overall) of the 1954 draft. After fulfilling his military obligation Rick played for the Bears from 1955 to 1964 and lead the team in rushing from 1955 through 1960. In 1956, Casares lead the NFL in rushing with 1,126 yards, at the time it was the second most in the history of the league. Rick was named to five consecutive Pro-Bowls from1955 thru 1959.

I could have talked about another Bears player, but Rick Casares has always been the forgotten Bears running back behind the more famous Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo of the 1960‘s. In ten years with Chicago, Casares became the Bears all-time leading rusher with 1,386 carries, 5,657 yards and 49 rushing touchdowns. His Chicago Bears rushing records weren’t broken until a player by the name of Walter Payton came along in the 1980‘s. Rick Casares number 35 deserves to be retired by the Bears organization.

In every sense of the word, the 1956 Championship game was a repeat of the 1934 NFL Championship game, which is affectionately referred to as the “Sneaker Game.” Same two team, same conditions, same city and the same results.

The game was played on December 30, 1956 at Yankee Stadium under icy field conditions. The Giants opted to wear basketball sneakers during the game instead of the traditional football cleats. The sneakers provided the Giants with a footing advantage the Bears could not match. Twenty-two years earlier on a icy Polo Ground field the Giants had used the same tactic to beat the Bears in the 1934 Championship and it worked again. New York jumped out to a 20-0 lead before the Bears finally got on the scoreboard with a second quarter 9 yard Casares touchdown run. That would be the Bears only score of the game, while the Giants would run off another 27 unanswered points. The Giants won their third NFL Championship in 1956 by beating the Bears 47-7.

Though the Giants would make it back to the Championship games in 1958-59, and again in 1961 thru 1963, they would not win another Championship till Super Bowl XXI in 1986. Some say coach Allie Sherman was to blame for the lack of Giants success in the Championship games in the early 60‘s, some say the team had just gotten old. One thing is for sure, Allie Sherman did trade away a lot of good players in the early 60’s, including Sam Huff.

Peace.

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 9, 2011 9:47 pm
 

The Fabulous 1950's (1955)

The 1955 NFL season was the first year NBC secured the privilage to broadcast the Championship game. The network paid the league $100,000 for the television rights.

Rule changes included the second definition of when a runner is considered down. The revised rule stated, the ball is dead when any part of the runners body (exception of hands and feet) hits the ground in the grasp of a defender. There was also an alteration to the safety rule stating, if an interceptors momentum carries him into the end zone and he stops before returning to the field of play, the ball would be spotted at the spot of the interception.

The Eastern Division again belong to the Browns. The club lost their first game of the year against Washington 27-17, then realed of six straight victories. The Browns last five game included a week eight lose to the Eagles 33-17 and a week ten tie to the Giants 35-35, allowing them to finish the season at 9-2-1. The 1955 season would be the last of the consecutive Eastern Conference Championships in the 1950’s for the Cleveland Browns.

Lou “The Toe” Groza is without question my favorite all-time Cleveland Browns player. I mean, when the NFL impliments a rule change based on his kicking style, then Groza did something nobody else in the league was doing, which happened to be kicking with some accuracy.

Groza was born on January 25, 1927 to immigrent parents from Romania (father) and Hungary (mother) respectively, and was the smallest of the three Groza boys. Lou only played one year of football at Ohio State before being drafted into the United States Army. Upon his discharge, the un-drafted Groza joined the AAFC Cleveland Browns in 1946, as an offensive tackle and kicker. During that era it was common for a player to hold double duty as a postion player and kicker, Doak Walker of the Lions and Bob Waterfield of the Rams both did it, but they were running backs, not a 6’3” 240 lb. offensive tackle.

In the early years of the AAFC the 33-man roster prevented any team from carrying a specialist, but in Groza’s first year with the Browns he was almost that, primarily kicking and only seeing limited time on the line of scrimmage. Towards the end of Lou’s second season he achieved “first team” status on the offensive line and didn’t give up that coveted spot till 1959. Groza was named first- or second-team all-league eight times during his career. In 1954, he was The Sporting News’ NFL Player of the Year. Nine times he was named to the Pro Bowl. Six times he was a starting tackle, which was his true love. Groza often joked he was an offensive lineman that was talented enough to kick.

Groza use to carry a long piece of tape inside his helmet and laid it on the ground to help guide his foot to the sweet spot of the football. Lou had become so proficient at making field goals the Browns became the first team to start playing for field goal position, especially when the clock was ticking down, forcing other teams to believe the tape was magical. In 1956 the NFL implemented the “Lou Groza Rule”, prohibiting the use of an artificial aid for kickers. The irony is, besides a brief one year retirement in 1960 due to a back injury, Groza continued his effective kicking till the mid 1960‘s.

Groza retired in 1967 after 21 years of football and was the last remaining member of the original AAFC Browns. The organization has retired his number 76, the NCAA has named their top kicking award in his honor and Lou “The Toe” Groza is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Western Conference ended up being a two team battle between the Bears and Rams. Considering the Bears lost their first three games, while beating the Rams twice, it leaves one to wonder if they might have been the more dominate team of the Western Conference. The Rams would finish the year 8-3-1, while the Bears finished second at 8-4. At seasons end George Halas announced his retirement as coach of the Bears, it marked the end of his third ten year tenure as coach of the club. He would eventually coach the Bears again for another 10 years between 1958- 1967.

George “Papa Bear” Halas is without question the face of the Chicago Bears. It’s not to often you can say a player was the owner, and eventually the owner was the coach. An accomplishment that is unheard of in today’s NFL.

Halas was an all-round athlete that played football, basketball and baseball at the University of Illinois, earning an engineering degree. During WWI, as an ensign in the Navy, Halas played for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station team that went on to win the 1919 Rose Bowl. Not only did Halas win MVP of the game, for a touchdown receiption and a 77 yard inception return, he and the other members of the team were awarded their discharge from the service after the win. Following his release from the service Halas spent the summer kicking it around the semi-pro, minor league baseball curcuit and eventually landed on the New York Yankees roster for a cup of coffee, before a hip injury dashed his baseball ambitions. (Halas was not replaced in right field by a young Babe Ruth. That’s nothing more than a urban legend, Ruth replaced Sammy Vick.)

Following baseball Halas was offered a position with starch manufacturer A.E. Staley Co.,( back in the 1900’s corporate sports teams were big business around the nation, therefore companies would hire prominent college athletes as “Representatives” so the could play on the company teams.). Halas would be the player / coach of the company sponsored football team and selected orange and navy blue as the team colors in honor of the Fighting Illini. Halas represented the Staleys at a meeting in Canton, Ohio that resulted in the formation of the American Professional Football League, the APFA would eventually be renamed the NFL in 1922.

In 1920, though the Staleys finished 10-1-2, they endured huge financial loses. Owner Augustus Staley turned over control of the team to Halas in 1921 and “Papa Bear” moved the club to Chicago to play as the Chicago Staleys. That same year the club would be crowned NFL champions, giving Halas his first Championship in his first year as player/owner. The club would take on the name of the Bears in 1922 as a tribute to the Chicago Cubs that had allowed the Bears to play at Wrigley Field.

Halas played both offensive and defensive end for the Bears from 1920-1928. He coached the Bears for a total of 40 years in 4 different 10 year stints. As player/coach/owner Halas was part of six championship teams. His number 7 has been retired by the organization and George “Papa Bear” Halas is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 1955 NFL Championship game between the Browns and Rams was played in front of 87,695 fans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, due to the Christmas holiday the game was played on a Monday. It marked the third time these two teams had met in the title game during the 1950's and it would also be the last game for the Browns legendary quarterback Otto Graham, who had announced his retirement at the end of the regular season.

During the 1955 regular season the Browns defense became the first team to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed and fewest total yards in consecutive seasons and they showed why in the title game, picking off the Rams Norm Van Brocklin six times. Van Brocklin would later say it was the worst game of his Hall of Fame career. It marked the second year in a row that the Browns defense had six picks in the title game against a future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Van Brocklin (1955) and Bobby Layne (1954).

The only scoring in the first quarter came on a 26 yard Lou Groza field goal. In the second quarter, with the Rams driving in for at least a field goal attempt, Browns DB Don Paul grabbed a Van Brocklin pass on the Browns 30 and raced 70 yards for a touchdown. The Rams answered back when Van Brocklin hit fullback Skeets Quinlan for 67 yard touchdown, closing the margin to 10-7. Late in the second quarter Van Brocklin was picked for the third time by Tom James, who took the ball back to midfield. On the following play Otto Graham placed the preverbal Browns dagger in the Rams heart as he connected with Dante Lavelli on a 50 yard touchdown pass, giving the Browns a 17-7 halftime lead.

Graham opened the second half of scoring with a 19 yard scamper that gave the Browns a 24-7 lead. On the next Rams possession Van Brocklin was picked again, which lead to another Graham touchdown run from 4 yards out. In the fourth quarter Graham connected with Ray Renfro for a 35 yard touchdown play giving the Browns a 38-7 lead. Late in the game the Rams scored a token touchdown but the game had already been decided. The final score was 38-14 Browns.

Historically speaking, the Cleveland Browns championship run between 1946 thru 1955 has to be considered the greatest feat by any professional football team in the history of the game. In ten years, in both the NFL and AAFC, the Browns competed in 10 straight title games, collecting 7 titles. The Browns early success in the NFL may be the reason why the NFL doesn’t recognize AAFC statistic from the great AAFC player, even though they proved themselves as equals.

Peace.

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 7, 2011 11:24 pm
 

The Fabulous 1950's (1954)

The only rule change in 1954 was titled the “Wet Ball” rule. Whenever it is raining, or whenever the field is wet and slippery, the offensive team can request a new, dry playable ball at any time. (The NFL was already starting to pampering the offense.)

In the 1954 regular season it looked as if the Cleveland Browns dominance of the Eastern Conference was coming to an end. The Browns got off to a 1-2 start, but then realed off 8 straight wins till finally losing to the Lions in the final game of the regular season. The club finished 9-3 and captured their fifth straight NFL Conference Championship. The 1954 Browns defense became the first in NFL history to lead the league in fewest rushing yards allowed, the fewest passing yards allowed, and the fewest total yards allowed.

The NFL career of Cleveland Browns defensive end Len Ford almost ended before it even got started. In his first NFL season Ford (Michigan) was hit by the elbow of Cardinals fullback Pat Harder, Ford suffered a broken nose, two fractured cheekbones and several lost teeth. Expected to miss the entire 1950 season Ford had successful plastic surgery and put together a rehabilitation program that allowed him to return for the championship game against the Rams. Fitted with a specially designed face mask Ford responded with a career defensive effort helping the Browns to a 30-28 victory.

Ford developed into such a devastating pass rusher the Browns changed their defensive alignment to take advantage of his abilities. By using the linebackers behind the two ends, coupled with a pair of tackles, the Browns in effect created the first 4-3 defense. This enabled Ford to line up closer to the interior line and gave him a better angle at the quarterback. In nine NFL season Ford recovered 20 fumbles, including five in 1954. Len Ford is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cornerback Tommy James played for coach Paul Brown in high school (Massillon), college (Ohio State), and finally in Cleveland in 1948 after a year in Detroit. In his first year with the Browns, James intercepted four passes in the teams 15-0 undefeated season. In the Browns first season in the NFL James intercepted nine passes to set a club record that stood till 1978. James ended his NFL career with 26 interceptions, all with the Browns.

The 1954 Browns team also included five future NFL head coaches, (DL)Mike McCormack, (LB) Walt Michaels, (QB) Otto Graham, (G) Abe Gibron, and (LB) Chuck Noll. If memory serves me correctly, I believe Noll had a bit of success coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Western Conference was once again San Francisco’s to lose. The 49ers pulled ahead of the Lions with a 37-31 win in week five, but then lost four of their remaining seven games and finished 7-4-1. In the meantime, the Lions only lost one of their last seven games and finished 9-2-1 to claim the conference championship.

The early 1950’s have to be considered an opportunity lost for the 49ers. From 1951 to 54 they had the chance to win the division every year, owning Detroit in the regular season, only to fall apart at the mid season mark.

Though Y.A. Tittle is most remembered for that iconic Morris Berriman photo, that shows Tittle helmet-less, blood running down his face and kneeling in the middle of the field, that picture was taken in his final season as a Giant and as a NFL player.

Tittle was the sixth overall pick of the Baltimore Colts in the 1948 AAFC draft and stayed with the club until the franchise went belly-up at the end of the 1950 season. In 1951 Tittle joined the 49ers and for the first two season battled Frankie Albert for playing time. Once Tittle won the starting job the 49ers began their “Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde” act thru 1954. In 1961 the 49ers traded Tittle to the New York Giants for (G) Lou Cordileone and he immediately lead the Giants to three straight Eastern Conference titles. In that time span (1961-63) Tittle threw a total of 86 touchdown passes. 80 of those touchdown passes came in Giants victories.

The only thing missing from Tittle’s Hall of Fame career is a NFL Championship. To this day, Tittle is the only quarterback in the Hall of Fame who did not win a postseason game in his career.

In 1954, the 49ers Joe Perry rushed for an NFL leading 1049 yards, while teammate John Johnson rushed for 681 yards. On the receiving end Billy Wilson led the club with 60 reception for 830 yards and 5 TD’s.

Before Jim Brown arrived to the NFL Joe Perry was the All-time leading rusher (1958-63), surpassing Steve Van Burens mark of 5,860 yards. Perry was also the first running back in NFL history to have back to back 1000 yard seasons (1953 & 54). Perry’s durability also allowed him to play in three different decades (40’s, 50’s, and 60’s). Joe Perry is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 1954 Championship game was played on December 26, 1954 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. It would mark the third year in a row the two teams had met in the big game. Though Detroit had defeated the Brown 14-10 in the final week of the season, the Lions could not overcome a six interception / two fumble day from Bobby Layne. Without question, be it too much of the bottle the night before or just bad luck, this title game was not Layne’s finest hour. Though the Lions scored first, the game was a route, a career day for Otto Graham, and a conclusion that was never in question

The Lions got out scored 35-10 in the first half of the game and packed it in during the second half after the Browns scored 14 unanswered points in the third quarter. The Lions would be outscored 21-0 in the second half of the championship game. Otto Graham accounted for five touchdowns, three passing and two rushing, as the Browns won 56-10 capturing their second NFL title.

Peace.

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 5, 2011 10:25 am
 

The Fabulous 1950's (1953)

Prior to the start of the 1953 season the NFL decided to again rename the two conferences. The American Conference was now called the Eastern Conference and the National was renamed the Western Conference. Meanwhile an investment group lead by Carroll Rosenbloom purchased the defunct Dallas Texans and relocated the team to Baltimore to play as the new version of the Colts.

New rules included redefining the illegal motion rule, “a player must be moving directly forward at the snap to be considered illegally in motion.”

Changing the conference name did little or nothing to slow down the Cleveland Browns. The organization won their first eleven games and again earned the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the NFL Championship game.

In 1946 , a year before Jackie Robinson signed the with the Dodgers, the AAFC signed four black players to league contracts. Of those four men two were signed by the Cleveland Browns, fullback Marion Motley and middle guard Bill Willis.

Bill Willis was a small man playing a big mans position. Following an All-American career at Ohio State the 6’2” 210 lb Willis signed with the Browns and won the starting middle guard position on the first day of training camp. Lined up in the middle of a five man front the lighting quick Willis bolted through the line on four straight plays, landing Browns quarterback Otto Graham on his backside all four times.

In eight years with the Browns, Willis made first team All -League selection seven times and second team once, he also played in five Pro-bowls.

Marion Motley joined the Browns as a 26 year old rookie after being spotted by Coach Paul Brown at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station were both served during the war. This would be the second time Brown had crossed paths with Motley, the first time came while coaching high school ball at Massillon as the bruising fullback starred at neighboring rival Canton High School.

At 6’1” and 232lbs. Motley was a meanising force up the middle, whether running the trap/draw play or pass blocking for Otto Graham. Motley is the all-time leading rusher in the AAFC and lead the NFL in rushing in 1950. That same year, in a game against the Steelers, Motley rushed for 188 yards in 11 carries for an average of 17.1 yards per carry. In nine seasons as a pro Motley rushed for 4,720 yards averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

The signing of Willis and Motley adds to the mounting evidence confirming Paul Brown was head and shoulders above the rest of the coaches of his era, and more than likely the greatest of all-time. Both Bill Willis and Marion Motley are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Western Conference was a three team race between the Rams, 49ers, and Lions, (with all three teams tied at 5-2), till week seven of the season. While the Rams and 49ers stumbled the Lions won their remaining five games and claim the Western Conference championship.

The 1953 Championship would take place on December 27 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Michigan and turned into a low scoring defensive thriller.

The first quarter scoring belonged to the Lions Doak Walker as he scored on a one yard run and kicked the extra point. The second quarter was a defensive standoff that only garnered two field goals, the first was a 13 yarder by the Browns Lou Groza and was followed by a 23 yard Doak Walker field goal, giving the Lions a 10-3 halftime lead.

Cleveland had the first three scores of the second half that included a nine yard Harry “Chick” Jagade touchdown run, coupled with two Groza field goals, that gave the Browns a 16-10 fourth quarter lead.

Doak Walker once said, “Bobby Layne never lost a game, he just ran out of time.” Unfortunately for the Browns there was still time left in the fourth quarter and Bobby Layne was still the quarterback for the Lions.

With less than two minutes remaining, the final score of the game would be a 33yard touchdown pass from Bobby Layne to TE Jim Dorn (Walker extra point) that gave the Lions a 17-16 win and their second consecutative NFL championship.

Bobby Layne was born on December 19, 1926 in Santa Anna, Texas. Eventually he and Doak Walker would attended and star together at Highland Park High School. While Walker headed to SMU, Layne went on to become one of the greatest quarterback in the history of the University of Texas, being selected to four consecutive All Southwestern Conference teams from 1944-47.

In the 1946 Cotton Bowl, that had Texas beating Missouri 40-27, Layne accounted for every point on the Texas side of the scoreboard, scoring four touchdowns, kicking four extra points and tossing two touchdowns passes. Layne was one of the first inductees into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.

Layne was a top three draft pick in both the NFL and AAFC drafts. The Chicago Bears of the NFL drafted Layne third overall and the Baltimore Colts of the AAFC drafted the Texas quarterback second overall. The Colts offered Layne $77,000 a year to play in Baltimore, but Halas played the “NFL is a superior league” card to lure Layne away from the AAFC. After just a year in Chicago, Layne found himself third on the depth chart behind Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack and tried to engineer his own trade to the Packers. Eventually George Halas traded him to the New York Bulldogs for their number one draft pick and $50,000 dollars that was to be paid in four installments. Layne considered his one season with the Bulldogs worth five years of experience in the NFL. That year the Bulldogs finished 1-11 and in 1950 traded Layne to the Detroit Lions for wide receiver Bob Mann. Considering the fact Mann had lead the NFL in receiving yards (1,014) and yards per catch (15.4) in 1949, many experts felt the Lions got the short end of the stick on the trade. Mann would hold out for more money and was released by the Bulldogs in late August before the season started.

Though at times his passes looked like wounded ducks flying through the air, and his love for the bottles is at times more remembered than his football exploits, there has never been a greater or tougher competitor in the game of football. Historians of the game credit Layne with the creation of the “two minute offense” and he was the last player to play without a face mask. Bobby Layne is a member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

The number 22 has been retired by the Detroit Lions.

May he be resting in peace.

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 2, 2011 10:27 pm
 

The Fabulous 1950's (1952)

By the early to mid 1950’s television revenues had become an important part of each clubs existence. Without the revenues generated from the leagues “special games” the Packers would have lost money in 1953 instead of turning a net profit of $29,267. The next year, aided by the final lucrative contract from the DuMont Network, the Packers earned $69,994 in revenues. In 1956 the Bears showed a profit of $121,781 but would have lost $80,000 if not for the television contracts. The reality is this, the money generated from televised broadcasts of NFL games saved alot of teams in the 1950's. The irony is of course, today’s NFL still relies heavily on television contracts to turn a profit.

The legal challenges facing the league over television broadcast rights in the 1950’s may deserve a future blog effort in of itself to give the subject it proper time and moment.

The 1952 season brought a few new rule changes, a couple that favored the offense. A player would not be called for illegal motion as long as the player was not moving forward prior to the snap. Also pass interference was now a 15 yard penalty from the previous spot. Meanwhile, a player that commits an obvious unfair act could be ejected from the game. (Back in the 1950’s eye gouging was a defensive play. )

The 1952 season was just another continuation for the Cleveland Browns. Though they spent the regular season winning two games then losing one, it was still good enough to capture their third straight American Conference Championship. It marked the seventh straight year the Browns would be heading to the Championship game. Considering the Cleveland Browns had now dominated the NFL’s American Conference for three straight years the thought of an AAFC team being nothing more than a charitable act by the NFL had now become a delusional rant.

The NFL’s National Conference was the 49ers to win in 1952. Following week six of the season the 49ers stood alone atop the conference with a 5-1 record. Unfortunately, the 49ers went 2-4 in the last six games and eventually finishing third in the Conference. By week ten the Lions and Rams were tied for the Conference lead at 7-3 and the two teams would stay that way for the remainder of the season, forcing a one game playoff to determine who would meet the Browns in the Championship game.

The playoff game between the Rams and Lions to place in Detroit’s Briggs Stadium on December 21, 1952 and quickly turned into the Pat Harder show.

Harder, after a stellar colligate career at Wisconsin, was the second overall pick of the Chicago Cardinals in 1944, and along with quarterback Paul Christman and halfback Charley Trippi became a part of the deemed “Million Dollar Backfield.” Besides fullback duties Harder was also a place kicker and became the first player to score 100 points in three consecutive years (1947-1949). Harder also lead the league in scoring those three years. He was also part of the last Cardinals championship team in 1948 before being traded to Detroit in 1951.

The Lions jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a Harder 12 yard TD run and kick. Harder struck again in the second quarter with a 4 yard TD run and kick. The Rams finally answer with a 14 yard Van Broklin TD pass. Following halftime the Lions again notched the first two scores of the second half and the only scoring in the 3<sup>rd</sup> quarter, that included a 24 yard touchdown pass from Doak Walker and 43 yard field goal from Harder. The Rams scored two touchdowns in the 4<sup>th</sup> quarter to make the game close at 24-21 but the Lions finished the scoring with a 9 yard Hoernschemeyer touchdown run that gave Detroit a 31-21 victory.

The 1952 Championship game took place on December 28<sup>th</sup>, 1952 in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium in front of 58,000 fans. After a scoreless first quarter the Lions took a 7-0 lead on a 2 yard Bobby Layne touchdown run. The Lions would strike first in the second half on a 67 yard touchdown run from the legendary Doak Walker.

Following a Heisman Trophy career at SMU Doak Walker was the third overall pick of the Detroit Lions in 1949 where he would be reunited with high school teammate Bobby Layne. Though Walker only played six NFL seasons he was voted to 5 Pro Bowls and named All Pro five times. Besides winning Rookie of the Year Award in 1950, Walker also lead the league in scoring and again in 1955. Doak was an outstanding running back and kicker for the Lions and his #37 has been retired by the organization. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Browns tried to mount a rally in the third quarter with a 7 yard Harry “Chick” Jagade touchdown run, but it turned out to be the Browns only score of the game. The Lions Pat Harder provided the only scoring in the 4<sup>th</sup> quarter with a 36 yard field goal giving the Lions a 17-7 victory and the 1952 NFL Championship.

For the Lions it was the organizations first championship since 1935.

The Lions began in 1930 as the Portsmouth Spartans in Portsmouth, Ohio. Back in the early days of the NFL a prospective new team needed a sponsor and the Spartans had the Green Bay Packers to vouch for their existence. Within a few years the Spartans would be in a game that would forever change the face of professional football.

In 1932 the Spartans tied the Chicago Bears for the NFL title with a record of 6-1-4. For the first time in the history of the young league the season ended in the tie, forcing the NFL to hold a playoff game to determine the champion. The Bears would win the game 9-0 on a questionable pass play from Bronk Nagurski to Red Grange. The Spartans claimed the pass came from less than five yards from behind the line of scrimmage. Though the play stood as called, it would lead to one of the most significant rule changes in the history of football, the forward pass was now legal from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.

The immense popularity of 1932 “unofficial” Championship Game between the Spartans and Bears lead to the formation of divisions and a playoff to decide the NFL Champion.

In 1934 a group lead by Dick Richards purchased the Spartans for a staggering $7,952 and move the team to Detroit. The Lions would win their first NFL Championship the following year.

For the NFL it was the first time a team without AAFC affiliations had won the championship since the merger in 1950. For the Browns and Lions the rivalry was just beginning, as the two teams would meet again in the 1953 Championship game.

Peace.

Category: NFL
 
 
 
 
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