Category Archives: From Deep in My File Drawer

100-0

Even if you’re not an NFL history buff, you’re probably familiar with the score of the 1940 title game: 73-0 (the Bears nipping the Redskins). Well, I’ve got a blowout that’s even bigger than that. It just didn’t happen in a league game. It happened during a postseason barnstorming tour in December 1936, when the Brooklyn Dodgers “shellacked” the semipro St. Louis Terriers, 100-0.

Such tours were fairly common in those Depression times. Before teams broke up for the season, they’d squeeze in a few more games — and paydays — against non-league clubs in warmer parts of the country. They didn’t always win them, either. The same afternoon the Dodgers trounced the Terriers in Wichita, the Chicago Cardinals lost to the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Bulldogs in L.A., 13-10.

You know what else was played that day? The NFL championship game between the Packers and Redskins. Here’s your scoreboard for Dec. 13, 1936:

Results in 12-14-36 Eagle

The ’36 Dodgers weren’t very good at all. They finished 3-8-1 and scored a grand total of 92 points. In other words, they scored more points in 60 minutes against the St. Louis Terriers than in 12 regular-season games.

Fortunately for them, their competition in Wichita was a scraggly bunch. In fact, it came out afterward that their opponents bore only a slight resemblance to the real St. Louis Terriers. One of the Terriers’ promoters, Jack Lally, told The Associated Press, “The scheduling of a National [Football] League team was ‘football suicide’ and a financially unsound idea this late in the season. And reports a St. Louis team was beaten so badly may hurt the sport here next year. Our objection is that we were not considered when plans for the game at Wichita were being drawn up — and Yates [James Yates, the promoter] represents only one-third of the team.”

According to the AP, “only three regular Terrier players were in the lineup.” Yates did supplement the St. Louis roster, though, with All-American back Ozzie Simmons, who had just finished his college career at Iowa. Simmons never played in the NFL because the league wasn’t hiring blacks then, but he managed to make his presence felt even in a 100-0 loss. He “turned in one run of 50 yards and completed one pass before leaving the game in the third period,” the wire service reported.

A sampling of the headlines that appeared over The 100-0 Story (in case you’re curious):

The New York Times:

NYT 100-0 head The Boston Globe:

Globe 100-0 head

The Milwaukee Journal:

Milwaukee headline

And finally, The San Antonio Light:

San Antonio Light headline

Now that’s the spirit. At least the Light grasped the utter ridiculousness of the game — one that was certainly worth an exclamation point or two. It’s also the only paper I’ve come across that provided much detail (courtesy of the wires):

Running wild, the Dodgers rang up 21 points in the first quarter, 12 in the second, 34 in the third and 33 in the fourth. The St. Louisans, led by the dark flash, Oze Simmons of the University of Iowa, were completely helpless, cowed and pulverized.

The 15 Brooklyn touchdowns were made by [Jeff] Barrett (5), [Joe] Maniaci (4), [Tony] Kaska (2), [John] Yezerski (1) and [Paul] Riblett (1). The Dodgers gained 274 yards by rushing and 300 on passes. In the last period, they bewildered the fans – and the Terriers more so – with seven laterals on one play.

Seven laterals on one play. Clearly, the Dodgers were enjoying themselves after the long slog of the NFL season. Yezerski, after all, was a tackle. (Wonder if he was the recipient of The Seventh Lateral — or if they threw him a touchdown pass on a tackle-eligible play.) Barrett and Riblett, for that matter, were ends. Which raises the question: Did Barrett actually have five TD receptions? Because that would match the NFL record shared by Jerry Rice, Kellen Winslow Sr. and Bob Shaw.

The game, by the way, attracted a crowd of 4,000. It figures out to 40 people per point, for those of you scoring at home.

Curly Lambeau, the cartoon

Bear with me on this one. If you do, I think you’ll be entertained.

Once upon a time, newspapers told the story of a game not just with photos but with cartoons — elaborate, wonderfully drawn, often funny cartoons. This one, from the Oct. 1, 1944, Milwaukee Sentinel, might be my favorite. It laughs at Packers coach Curly Lambeau’s antics during a game against the Bears the previous Sunday. Green Bay won, 42-28, but only after blowing a 28-0 lead and having to rally in the final minutes.

I found it in an old scrapbook at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s why the quality isn’t the greatest. (What you’re looking at is a screen shot of a PDF of a photocopy of a microfilm of the original.) But if you blow it up a little, it’s easy enough to read along — and worth the trouble, if you ask me.

A bit of background: In the ’40s, Lambeau experimented with coaching the Packers from the press box instead of the sideline. He may not have been the first to do this — Lone Star Dietz, from what I’ve read, did it a decade earlier with the Boston Redskins — but he was certainly one of the first. (And others, like the Cleveland Rams’ Buff Donelli, followed him.)

Anyway, this enabled the surrounding journalists to overhear some of Lambeau’s rantings and ravings, particularly when he got really worked up. That’s what the cartoon is based on (along with the artist’s imagination, of course). As you’ll see, Curly nearly went nuts as the Bears — behind the passing of Sid Luckman, on leave from the Merchant Marine — pulled into a 28-28 tie with 5 minutes left.

Oliver Kuechle’s story in the rival Milwaukee Journal was a classic period piece. After falling behind by four touchdowns, he wrote, the Bears “snapped back like milady’s pre-war garter.” Then there was this: “The Packers experienced all the agony of Chinese torture as they saw their apparently safe 28-0 lead slip away through the second, third and fourth quarters.”

Note that Lambeau keeps in touch with the bench by telephone. (The headset, at that point, was used only by switchboard operators.) Note, too, the pack of cigarettes sitting on the table in front of him. (This was, after all, before the Surgeon General got involved.) Finally, note that the artist’s name is Lou Grant. How beautiful is that? (If you remember, that is, the famous TV newsman played by Ed Asner.)Lambeau cartoon
Journal headline

42-28 box score in Journal

Putting the “foot” in football

The ’50s were a nasty time to be a pro football player, the early part of the decade in particular. Until 1955 a ball carrier could get up after he was knocked down and try to gain more yardage — as long as his forward progress hadn’t been stopped, that is. This, predictably, this led to plenty of late hits, piling on and assorted other crimes and misdemeanors.

If you want a glimpse of what the environment was like, check out this photo from 1952. It shows Hugh McElhenny, the 49ers’ Hall of Fame back, lying (facemaskless) on the ground and Redskins middle guard Jim Ricca giving him a boot — or something — to discourage him from any further frolicking.

The cutline reads: “After San Francisco’s Hugh McElhenny fell, following his catch of Y.A. Tittle’s pass, Washington’s Jim Ricca (55) demonstrated one version of the ‘foot part’ in football. Ricca got a placekick squarely in McElhenny’s shoulder and made sure of stopping the play, good for eight yards. Watching with mixed emotions are 49ers Bill Johnson (53) and Billy Wilson (84).”

(That’s the same Bill Johnson, by the way, who later coached the Bengals — Tiger Johnson.)McElhenny kicked

I interviewed Johnson once after he’d retired and asked him about the time he was ejected from a game against the Bears. He pleaded guilty to taking a cheap shot at Chicago linebacker George Connor, another guy who’s in Canton.

“He were down on the goal line,” Johnson said, “and I didn’t even wait for the snap. I just fired out and drove him against the goal post [which was situated at the front of the end zone then]. I can still see the post swaying back and forth [from the impact].”

And what exactly provoked this outburst?

“Just didn’t like the way he carried himself.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 1950s. Rugged, man, rugged.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

A showgirl, a suicide and the ’34 Bears

You stumble across some strange things in the cobwebbed corners of pro football history. They don’t get much stranger, though, than this particular episode.

It involves the 1934 Chicago Bears, one of the greatest teams ever assembled. The Bears were 13-0 that season and had five future Hall of Famers — Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, Bill Hewitt, Link Lyman and George Musso — not to mention the NFL’s first 1,000-yard rusher, Beattie Feathers. Heading into the title game against the Giants, they’d won 18 in a row (and the last two championships), the longest winning streak in league history up to then.

But after beating the Giants in New York on Nov. 18 to run their record to 10-0, they came home to the following story in the Chicago Tribune:Original suicide story -- wholeHow’s that for an off-field distraction? Both players were rookies. Masterson was just a backup, but Feathers was one of the club’s best-known players and averaged an incredible 8.4 yards a carry in ’34.

An accompanying story provided more detail. The woman, “known as Nell Walker,” was 26 years old and “a former showgirl.”

Her leap to death in the street below was the second tragedy of the kind within five days. The other death was that of Lucille Nolan, 21-year-old nightclub hostess, who jumped last Wednesday from the 17th floor of the Medinah Club of Chicago.

Miss Walker, before her eight-story leap, dramatically attracted the attention of passersby by screaming as she stood in the window. Her falling body narrowly missed two persons.

Police hurried to question the occupants of the eighth-floor apartment. . . . They included Miss Walker’s sister, Mrs. Thelma Walker Smith, 22 years old; Lucille Moyse of 820 Grace Street, Mrs. Alice Bennett, former Detroit nightclub hostess, and Mary Frances Smith, 6-year-old niece of the dead woman.

The women told of having been celebrating the 10 to 9 victory of the Bears over the Giants in New York. They said Miss Walker was especially happy because “she had a sweetheart on the Bears team.”

After the radio reports of the game had ended, Miss Walker dispatched a telegram of congratulation to Bernie Masterson, former University of Nebraska star.

Then, the other women told police, Miss Walker insisted on having a celebration, opened a bottle of liquor and became intoxicated.

Just before she took the fatal leap through the window she because hysterical and Miss Moyse, who is a trained nurse, gave her a shower bath. Then Miss Walker donned a pair of black pajamas, apparently more composed.

Walker was reportedly estranged from her husband and “had been brooding over it,” Bennett, her roommate, told police. Bennett also said Walker was, in the words of the Tribune, “inordinately interested in Miss Nolan’s tragic plunge” and “once before had tried to climb through the window.”

There were two games left in the Bears’ regular season — both against the Lions, their chief competition in the West Division. After disposing of Detroit, they began preparing for the championship game against the Giants. On Thursday of that week — 80 years ago today — this short item ran in the Tribune:

Ruled suicide 12-6-34 Chi Trib

Temporary insanity due to excessive drinking. You don’t see that every day.

The Bears’ trip to New York didn’t end so well, either. The Giants, who switched to sneakers in the second half because of the icy field, outscored them 27-0 in the fourth quarter to pull a 30-13 upset. Feathers didn’t play because of an injury; Masterson, meanwhile, saw only brief action off the bench. The loss kept Chicago from winning its third straight title, which would have tied the league mark (one that still stands).

Nobody’s suggesting the “showgirl death” had anything to do with the defeat. It’s just my way of saying: Pro football has always been a circus — even in the 1930s, when hardly anyone was watching.

Giants tailback Ed Danowski (22) gets ready to buck the line in The Sneakers Game.

Giants tailback Ed Danowski (22) gets ready to buck the line in The Sneakers Game.

More from Tom Flores, the first MMQB

My post on Tom Flores’ stint as the Oakland Tribune’s Monday Morning Quarterback in 1962 got some nice attention. Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback, Peter King, tweeted out a link to it, and the result, naturally, was a flock of new visitors to the site.

Peter King Twitter shoutout

So I thought I’d follow up with a bit more from the Flores/MMQB file — more X’s and O’s, in particular.

Let’s start with his Sept. 10 column, after the Raiders dropped their opener to the New York Titans, 28-17. Flores:

New York’s secret was no secret — just the long pass. They scored all their points from outside our 20 and all through the air. Powell, New York’s spread end, made his touchdowns on a sideline-and-up and on a post pattern.

From where I sat it looked like his post pattern was not called in the huddle, and he confirmed this to the writers later. As he was running some other pattern downfield, our deep backs switched off to what was supposed to be a zone or switch-off between safety man and corner man. But our backs got confused and Powell adjusted his pattern into a post, hoping that [quarterback Lee] Grosscup would have enough time to spot the change. Lee did . . . and hit Art with a beautiful throw which put New York out in front 28 to 10.

The accompanying diagram:

9-10-62 TD Pass 2

On Sept. 15, with the Raiders off that week, Flores weighed in on the 49ers. One thing he touched on was the halfback option play:

Now that Bill Kilmer has been moved to running back [from quarterback], a new weapon will be introduced: the run-or-pass option. This play, with the right person running it, can be one of the most dangerous in football. [Frank] Gifford of the Giants and [Paul] Hornung of the Packers are perfectionists of this play.

It starts out like an end sweep, except the flanker, instead of blocking, fakes in as if he were going to block and then runs a corner pattern. The halfback runs it like he would any normal end sweep, only he has his eye on his flanker and the deep defensive back on that sideline. If the defensive back reads “run” and shoots up . . ., the halfback slows up and throws a nice soft pass so the flanker can run under it as he cuts to the corner.

Should the deep back read “pass” and stay with the flanker, all the halfback has to do is yell “go” and his guards will turn upfield as they would on an end sweep.

9-15-62 49ers option run:pass9-17-62 MMQB headline

Two days later, following the Niners’ 30-14 loss to the Bears, Flores wrote about Chicago’s pass rush, which registered seven sacks for 64 yards and was essentially the story of the game:

[The Bears] had linebackers running in and out of spots in the line all day long, and most of the time they ended their assignments in [QB] John Brodie’s lap. Bill George, the great middle linebacker, and Joe Fortunato, outside linebacker, kept the 49er[s] offense confused. From a regular pro-type defense with four big men up on the line of scrimmage, they would jitterbug back and forth from various spots along the line and on the snap of the ball go shooting through on either side of the defensive tackles or ends. . . . On 90 percent, or so it seemed, of their defensive plays they shot at least one backer but more often two or three.

They used several types of defensive setups. One in particular seemed to really give the 49ers a rough time. On this defense George would get into the line in a regular lineman’s stance, and the rest of the linemen on the split end side would move out a couple of feet.

This left giant end Doug Atkins (6-8) outside the offensive tackle, and man did he come hard. He and Brodie got to know each other pretty well on a not-so-friendly basis.

9-17-61 2 Bear defenses vs. 49ers

On Oct. 1, Flores analyzed a 91-yard pick-six by cornerback Fred Williamson that had given the Raiders a 14-7 lead over the Chargers (in a game they ultimately lost, 42-33):

Fred actually intercepted a pass thrown for another man’s receiver. It went like this. San Diego lined up in a slot-right formation with [Don] Norton spread far out and [Lance] Alworth flanked inside, between Norton and the tackle. As the ball was centered, the outside man, Norton, ran up the field and curled in toward the middle, ending up in a deep hook pattern, at about 15 yards. Williamson went with him and had him covered.

The flanker, meanwhile, ran downfield and cut toward the sideline behind Norton at about 10 yards. This was [safety Vern] Valdez’s man, and he was right behind him ready to go for the ball. On the release of the ball, Fred left his man and went for the interception, cutting in front of Alworth. Somehow, Fred made a leaping catch that almost sent him to the turf, maintained his balance while he struggled to stay inbounds and then turned on his fine speed and outran the remaining Chargers who were coming over to lend a helping hand.

10-1-62 Williamson pick six

I could go on, but I’ll wrap it up with Flores’ Dec. 10 column. The 49ers had played Vince Lombardi’s Packers tough in a 31-21 defeat — they were up 21-10 at the half — and Tom was impressed with an offensive wrinkle they came up with for Green Bay, one that enabled Brodie to complete 13 of 15 passes in the first half (against a defense, I’ll just remind you, with five Hall of Famers):

The Niners came out with a new type of spread formation that gave the Packers fits the entire first half. With both ends tight, the flanker would spread to either side. On that side the tight end would spread out just about five yards and the halfback would slot in between the end and the tackle. This left only the fullback in the backfield in his regular position behind the quarterback.

From this formation the 49ers did several things. They would send the fullback in motion away from the strength, quick-toss to the fullback to the strength, fake a reverse to the halfback and throw a pass or give to the halfback on the reverse.

49er spread vs. Packers

Clearly, Flores’ talents went beyond quarterbacking and coaching. His analysis in his Monday Morning Quarterback column was far ahead of its time — good enough to pass muster today. Even the Tribune’s diagrams, though primitive, painted a decent picture of pro football in the early ’60s.

O as in Oakland

After Sunday’s 30-24 loss to the Seahawks, the Raiders are 0-8 for second time in franchise history. The first was in 1962, when their coach — for the first five games, anyway — was Marty Feldman (career record: 2-15) and their home was Frank Youell Field, which seated all of 22,000.

But lest you think these times are as bad as those for the Raiders, I thought I’d post the season-ticket order form that ran in the Oakland Tribune late that season. You could go to seven games the following year (1963) for the low, low price of $31.50 — plus a 30-cent mailing charge.

That might pay for parking — at one game — today.

1963 Raiders tickets ad

 

Butch Gibson, Hercules of the latter-day Giants

With the Giants coming to Washington for a Thursday night game, the Redskins are facing the dreaded Short Work Week. But at least they don’t have to game plan for Butch Gibson, the all-pro lineman for the Giants in the ’30s. According to a Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon that ran in newspapers, the 5-foot-9, 204-pound Gibson was so powerful he could “tear a deck of cards into SIXTEENTHS with his BARE HANDS!”

Try that sometime. (Heck, try tearing a deck in half.)

There was something else about Gibson that was unusual: He didn’t wear a typical leather helmet. “He wore one of those boxer’s headgears,” one of his opponents, Glenn Presnell of the Portsmouth Spartans, once told me. Butch probably wanted to protect himself against head slaps — which were legal in that era — and also avoid developing cauliflower ears (another hazard of the early years).

Here’s the classic Ripley’s cartoon:

Butch Gibson Ripley's

Speaking of smallish players . . .

Among the hopefuls at the Giants’ 1938 training camp was Doug Locke, a 145-pound back from St. Louis College in San Antonio. (It’s known as St. Mary’s University now.) Locke didn’t make the team, but he did last long enough to pose for this classic photo with muscular guard Tarzan White. The cutline reads:

“Where do you want him?” asks strong man Tarzan White, 205-pound guard on the N.Y. Giants pro football team, as he prepares to heave the team’s lightest member, quarterback Doug Locke of Texas. Locke weighs a mere 145. The two men tried this fancy passing while the Giants trained at Pearl River, N.Y.

By the way, had Locke gone to St. Mary’s a little earlier, his coach would have been former West Point footballer Dwight Eisenhower. The future U.S. president held the job there for a year (1916) while stationed at Fort Sam Houston.

Tarzan White hoisting guy

 

 

 

If Pete Rozelle, one-time cub reporter, covered the NFL today

The question I’ve been wondering about all weekend is: What would Pete Rozelle, cub reporter, have written about Roger Goodell’s news conference Friday? Depending on who you’ve been reading lately, Rozelle either (a.) parted the Red Sea or (b.) landed a spaceship on the moon during his nearly 30 years as NFL commissioner.

But long before that he was an aspiring journalist at Compton Junior College whose dream job was to be sports editor of the Los Angeles Times. He even did some stringing for the Long Beach Press-Telegram while serving as the student-sports information director at Compton. Why don’t we flip through Rozelle’s clip file to get a feel for his prose style? All these stories are from 1947 and ’48, which would make him 21 or 22 years young.

Here’s Pete covering a pivotal JC football game in 1947:

Rozelle will o the wisp Negro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s Pete following up Michigan’s 49-0 wipeout of Southern Cal in the 1948 Rose Bowl:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 7.51.17 PM

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s Pete rhapsodizing about Compton, California’s own Duke Snider, who in 1948 was in the second year of his Hall of Fame career with the Brooklyn Dodgers:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 7.34.24 PM

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s Pete sitting down with Phog Allen, the legendary Kansas basketball coach:

Rozelle Phog Allen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s Pete at the scene of a dramatic JC basketball game:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 8.00.34 PMAnd finally, here’s ubiquitous Pete reporting on high school football — reporting, in fact, on his alma mater:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 8.05.45 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two things are cool about this story. First, the Don Klosterman who played quarterback for Compton High is the same Don Klosterman who was later general manager of the Los Angeles Rams — the job Rozelle had when he became commissioner.

Second, Compton’s athletic teams were/are called the Tarbabes — short for Tartar Babies. Is this a great country or what?

So if we took in all this information and tried to come up with a Typical Pete Rozelle Lead Paragraph coming out of Goodell’s news conference, it might read something like this:

NEW YORK — Embattled Roger Goodell, his boyish red hair giving evidence to barely 40 of his 55 years, addressed Friday the scandal that threatens to sound a death knell to his commissionership and take a wrecking ball to the NFL’s image. Grilled by some of the nation’s top sports writers about his botched disciplining of “Rapid Ray” Rice, the Ravens’ will-o’-the-wisp Negro halfback, and “All the Way Adrian” Peterson, the Vikings’ jet-propelled, two-time rushing champ, Goodell admitted mistakes and promised to make things right during a tension-soaked session.

Rozelle took an amazing elevator ride after his byline stopped appearing in the Press-Telegram. Within a dozen years — at the age of 33 — he was NFL commissioner. The path he took:

May 11, 1948:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 9.19.36 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feb. 22, 1952:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 9.24.23 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 9, 1957:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 9.27.36 PM

 

And lastly, Jan. 27, 1960:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 9.31.09 PM

 

Not bad for a former Compton High Tarbabe.

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The coolest uniforms in pro football history

OK, so the 1933 Cleveland Bulldogs were only a minor-league team. Their uniforms that season were so amazing, I just had to share them. As you can see, they would have been been perfect as special-event unis for a Halloween game, but the Bulldogs — who always played at night — reportedly wore them all season.

“The effect is fantastic,” said one newspaper. “The Bulldogs are going to throw a scare into their opponents,” said another. Here’s what they looked like:

Skeleton uniforms, 1933