Tag Archives: records

Sammy Baugh’s game of games

You can argue into triple overtime how good the NFL’s early players were. But it’s hard not to be impressed with the day the Redskins’ Sammy Baugh had against the Lions on Nov. 14, 1943: four touchdown passes and — as a defensive back — four interceptions in a 42-20 Washington win.

Nobody else in league history has had a game quite like it. Indeed, the four picks are still a record (tied many times). And get this: two other Detroit passes were just out of his reach. That’s right, Baugh could have had six INTs.

You can see most of these plays in the living-color(!) game footage I came across on YouTube. A couple of his scoring throws are snipped out — probably so someone could assemble a compilation reel of TDs — but almost everything else is in there. Why don’t I walk you through it with a series of clips?

Remember: This was the era of two-way players, and during the war years Sammy logged even more minutes because rosters were so much thinner. In fact, he rarely came out of the game. He was so tremendously versatile that he did just about everything but kick (though he did serve as a holder).

Three of his interceptions — he had 11 that season to lead the NFL — came in the second quarter and the other early in the third. So he accomplished the feat in barely more than 15 minutes of clock time. Amazing. How it unfolded:

Interception No. 1: Baugh swoops in to pick off a duck.

Interception No. 2: How’s this for a sideline grab?

Interception No. 3: Not only did Sammy stop the Lions’ scoring threat at the 1-yard line, he picked himself up after getting knocked down and ran to the 10 to give the Washington offense more room to operate. (You could do that back then, even if you were “down by contact.”)

Interception No. 4: More opportunism. (He fumbled at the end of the return, but the Redskins recovered.)

Baugh might not have been the fastest player on the field, but at 6-foot-2 he had unusual wingspan for a safety, which made him hard to throw over. The guy was just An Athlete — one with terrific (and conveniently large) hands. If he could reach a ball, he usually caught it.

Now let’s look at how close he came to two other picks.

Near miss No. 1:

Near miss No. 2:

As you’ve no doubt gathered, games could be pretty wild back then, with turnovers galore. The Redskins and Lions both worked out of the single or double wing, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for imagination — and improvisation. How about a fake jump pass?

As for Baugh’s other duties, here he is returning a punt:

And here is blocking on a kickoff (he’s the No. 33 on the right side of the wedge):

And here he is holding for an extra point:

And here he is punting (which he did about as well as anybody in those days):

(That one looks like a quick kick because he’s only about 6 or 7 yards behind the center. Anyway, it was downed on the Detroit 8.)

Whoops, almost forgot about Sammy’s TD tosses. Here’s No. 3, a 10-yarder to Bob Masterson:

And here’s No. 4, a 4-yard flip to Joe Aguirre (who, by the way, was blind in one eye):

(Again, his first two scoring passes are missing.)

What a player. What a performance. Too bad he had to share the newspaper billing the next day with the Bears’ Sid Luckman, who threw for a record seven touchdowns in a 56-7 wipeout of the Giants:

Luckman Baugh Newspaper Head

Note: If you want to read more about Baugh’s remarkable 1943 season, check out the piece I wrote about it for Peter King’s site, MMQB.

(Sorry for the advertising on some of the clips. It was the only way I could pull this off.)

How good was The Giffer?

The eulogies have poured forth since Frank Gifford died earlier this week at 84. And deservedly so. He was a New York icon, The Giffer was, a football/sportscasting double threat the likes of which has rarely been seen. Still, I’m not sure enough has been made of how good a back Gifford was. His celebrity as a TV personality tends to share the billing with his football exploits — so much so that you’d think he made the Hall of Fame as much for his talking as for his playing.

Let’s see if I can rectify that.

Gifford with QB Charlie Conerly after winning '56 title.

Gifford with QB Charlie Conerly after winning the ’56 title.

One of the problems for almost any player in Gifford’s era — that is, the NFL’s first 50 years — is that his statistics can seem shrunken. It was just a different time, a different game. The seasons were shorter, the yards were harder to come by (because defense hadn’t been legislated out of existence yet) and the players often went both ways, which kept them from rolling up the ridiculous offensive numbers you see today. All you can do in such a situation is measure a man against his contemporaries . . . and against those, of course, who came before him. By that yardstick, The Giffer was pretty fabulous.

By the way, did you know he holds the record for receiving yards by a running back in an NFL championship game? (Neither did I until I researched this post.) In 1956 he had 131 in the Giants’ 47-7 blowout of the Bears.

FYI: The most receiving yards by a back in the Super Bowl is 101 by the 49ers’ Roger Craig. Heck, a 131-yard receiving day in the NFL title game is unusual enough for a receiver. Since 1970 only a dozen wideouts have reached that total.

That’s the thing about Gifford. He might have played in the era of black-and-white televisions, but he was very much a Back of the Future, one who would have fit in perfectly with the West Coast offense. Indeed, he was as dangerous catching the ball as he was running with it. In his first eight seasons, 1952 to ’59, he racked up 3,347 yards rushing and 3,208 receiving. The NFL had never had a back – of Hall of Fame caliber, at least – who was so perfectly balanced.

That was Gifford’s prime as a running back. (In 1960, you may have heard, he got blindsided by Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik and knocked out of the game for more than a year. When he returned, he transitioned to wide receiver — and even went to the Pro Bowl in ’63.) Anyway, at the end of the ’59 season, The Giffer compared quite favorably to pro football’s all-time backs. At that point, only five of them had gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in their NFL careers. As the following chart shows, Frank ranked second on the list, behind only Joe Perry:


Years Player, Team Rushing Receiving YFS TD
1950-59 Joe Perry*, 49ers 7,151 1,271 8,422 56
1952-59 Frank Gifford, Giants 3,347 3,208 6,555 51
1952-59 Hugh McElhenny, 49ers 3,941 2,552 6,493 49
1952-59 Ollie Matson, Cards/Rams 4,194 2,280 6,474 46
1944-51 Steve Van Buren, Eagles 5,860    523 6,383 72

*Also gained 1,570 yards in the rival All-America Conference in 1948 and ’49, which would bring his total to 9,992.

That’s right. At that stage, Gifford had a slight edge over McElhenny and Matson in terms of production (touchdowns included). And Hugh and Ollie came into the league the same year Frank did, so they’re all on equal footing. (Quite a year for running backs, that ’52 draft.)

Problem was, there was no such thing as “yards from scrimmage” in 1959. The NFL didn’t keep track of them yet. To the league’s statisticians, rushing yards were all that mattered. So some of Gifford’s Total Value was probably lost on the fans. (The fans outside of New York, I mean.)

Consider: Through ’59, only six NFL backs had had a 500/500 season – 500 yards rushing, 500 receiving. Gifford was the only one who did it more than once. In fact, he did it three times.


Year Running back, Team Rush Rec
1943  Harry Clark, Bears 556 535
1949  Gene Roberts, Giants 634 711
1954  Ollie Matson, Cardinals 506 611
1956  Frank Gifford, Giants 819 603
1957  Frank Gifford, Giants 528 588
1958  Tom Tracy, Steelers 714 535
1958  Lenny Moore, Colts 598 938
1959  Frank Gifford, Giants 540 768

That last figure — 768 — is also worth discussing. After all, 768 yards in a 12-game season is the equivalent of 1,012 in 16 games. Just three running backs, let’s not forget, have had a 1,000-yard receiving season — Craig (1,016) and the Chargers’ Lionel James (1,027) in 1985 and the Rams’ Marshall Faulk (1,048) in ’99. So, again, at his best, Gifford did things modern backs have rarely done, even with all the rule changes favoring offense.

Before becoming the Giants’ starting left halfback, The Giffer made the Pro Bowl as a defensive back — while also getting playing time on offense. After a 14-10 loss to the Steelers in 1953, The New York Times said he “played a whale of a game” and logged “some 50 minutes of two-way action.” (The Brooklyn Eagle seconded the motion, calling it “a brilliant performance as an iron man on offense and defense.”) He scored the Giants’ only touchdown that day on a 6-yard reception and, for good measure, booted the extra point. (Yeah, he could kick a little, too.)

Earlier that season, the Eagle summed up his efforts against the Redskins this way:

[One of] the only bright spots in the New York picture yesterday [was] Frank Gifford, crack defensive back. Gifford almost single-handed[ly] averted a shutout. He leaped high to intercept a [Jack] Scarbath flip to prevent a touchdown, and his runback to midfield paved the way for the Giants’ first score — a safety — after the ’Skins had taken a 10-0 lead.

Then, in the second period, the former Southern California ace took a lateral from Tom Landry [on an interception return] and sped down the sideline for the lone New York touchdown. Tom had snared a heave by Eddie LeBaron.

Gifford, who had been used exclusively on defense, was tossed into the game to pass in the closing moments as a last-minute desperation measure by coach Steve Owen.

That brings us to the Last But Not Least part of this post: Gifford’s arm. He threw the ball about as well as any running back in the modern era — as his 14 touchdown passes, a record for his position, attest. On five occasions he staked the Giants to a 7-0 lead with a TD toss, and in another game he threw for two scores. (What were the Chicago Cardinals thinking?) Here’s a great factoid: The last touchdown of Owen’s Hall of Fame coaching career came on a 10-yard flip from Gifford to Ray Pelfrey.

And here’s another: Frank threw as many TD passes in 63 attempts as Ryan Leaf did in 655 – and one less than Matt Leinart did in 641.

About all that’s missing from Gifford’s resumé is some kick-return heroics. But there’s a reason for that: The Giants had Hall of Famer Em Tunnell to run back punts (though Frank did average 25.8 yards on 23 kickoff returns). Besides, no sense in spreading the guy too thin, right? He was already doing everything but sweeping out the stadium.

Running back, receiver, defensive back, passer, kicker — there haven’t been many modern players as multitalented as Frank Gifford. Just wanted to drive home that point a bit more forcefully as we look back on his career and pay our final respects.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Related content:

Chuck Bednarik’s famed hit on Gifford in 1960.

Gifford’s appearance on the What’s My Line? game show during his 1956 MVP season.

The Giffer cuts upfield against the Baltimore Colts in 1955.

The Giffer cuts upfield against the Baltimore Colts in 1955.

A lost record?

There isn’t much in the NFL record book that dates to the 1920s — as far as individual marks go, especially. Ernie Nevers’ six touchdowns (since tied) and 40 points (still unmatched) in a single game survive, but not a whole lot else. It’s just a long time ago, you know? Besides, the league didn’t start keeping official statistics until 1932. Any record before that got grandfathered into the book, so to speak.

So I was happy to receive an email the other day from Gary Selby, who’s come across a potentially intriguing piece of history. Gary mentioned the item in my book, The National Forgotten League, about the Bears’ Joe Zeller possibly intercepting six passes in a game against the Eagles in the ’30s — two more than the current record. I say “possibly” because it happened before the NFL kept track of individual INTs (and before newspapers made much note of them in their game stories). So I wasn’t able to confirm Zeller’s feat; all I could do was throw it out there as a Great Big Maybe.

My source was the 1935 edition of Who’s Who in Major League Football, a kind of media guide published by the league. Zeller’s entry read like this:

Joe Zeller in Who's Who in Major League Football 1935

Selby, however, had this to add to the discussion: “Last summer, while doing some research for the Pro Football Researcher’s Association, I found an interesting article in the Milwaukee Sentinel. It reported that Milton Romney of the Racine Legion intercepted six passes against the Minneapolis Marines on Dec. 2, 1923. It was the last game of the season for both teams.”

Here’s the first paragraph of the article Selby was talking about:Just opening graf of Romney

The two franchises are long gone, of course, but they were indeed members of the NFL in Year 4. As an added bonus, Milton Romney, otherwise known as Mitt, is related to the Mitt Romney who ran for president in 2008. Cousin Milt broke in with Racine before spending the bulk of his six-year pro career as a quarterback for George Halas’ Bears.

Anyway, in this case — unlike Zeller’s — we have at least a bit of corroborating evidence. The thing is, it’s hard to know how reliable that bit is. After all, there often was confusion in the early days about who did what on the field. Jersey numbers weren’t as visible then as they are now, and dirt and mud could make players even harder to identify. Then, too, there was no television coverage . . . and thus, no instant replay to help a sportswriter confirm what he thought he saw. I’ve researched games in which three different players were given credit for a touchdown, depending on which paper you read.

The Milwaukee Journal’s account of the game notes only one Romney pick — and doesn’t say anything about any others. “On the first play after the kickoff,” it reports, “Romney intercepted a forward [pass] on Minneapolis’ 35-yard line and Rollie Williams got away for a touchdown on the next play.” The score increased the Racine lead to 17-0.

So who knows, really? As Selby pointed out, it was the season finale for the two teams, and some strange things have happened in these games over the decades. In 1937, for instance, the Cardinals’ Gus Tinsley caught a pass in the early December darkness and went 97 yards for a touchdown before the crowd — and many of the Bears — realized he had the ball. (It was, at the time, the longest TD catch in NFL history.)

Still, Romney’s “feat” is fun to think about. And let’s face it, if a player was ever going to rack up six picks in a game, it was in the ’20s, when the ball was fatter and harder to throw and INTs were epidemic. Consider: Six interceptions would have been almost enough to lead the league last season. (Lions safety Glover Quin was tops with seven.)

Sources: Google newspapers, pro-football-reference.com.

Quarterback Milton "Mitt" Romney in his Bears days.

Quarterback Milton “Mitt” Romney in his Bears days.

Payback for all those 1-yard TD passes

There were 66 1-yard touchdown passes in the NFL this season. I know this because I just researched it at pro-football-reference.com. Sixty-six 1-yard TD passes is enough of an abomination in this he-man sport, but this next statistic is even worse: Until Malcolm Butler saved the Super Bowl for the Patriots by picking off Russell Wilson’s throw in the final minute, the defense hadn’t intercepted a single pass in that situation.

As we all know, pro football is out of whack. The offense-defense balance has been lost, probably forever, thanks to a succession of quarterback-friendly rule changes. And few things represent this out-of-whackness better than the 66 1-yard touchdown passes QBs tossed this season. Heck, it’s practically taunting when a team dials up a 1-yard TD pass, especially when the receiver is somebody like J.J. Watt (two caught two of them this year).

Think about it: Against a spread offense, with pick plays and push-offs virtually legal now, how exactly are you supposed to defend a pass from the 1-yard line? Somehow, though, Butler did. If that isn’t reason to celebrate — the defense won for a change! — I don’t know what is.

Once upon a time, the NFL scoffed at throwing such an itty-bitty pass. In 1942, when the Packers’ Cecil Isbell lobbed a 4-incher to Hall of Famer Don Hutson for a touchdown, the league thought it was so hilarious that it added it to the record book. Now, keep in mind: Nowhere in the book could you find the shortest TD run or shortest field goal or shortest anything else. But the shortest TD pass — I’m surprised it wasn’t labeled Biggest Wimpout — was right there on Page 21:

1943 Rule Book shortest TD pass

Here’s how Stoney McGlynn of the Milwaukee Sentinel described this not-so-great moment in NFL history:

10-19-42 Sentinel description

Even better, the Milwaukee Journal ran a photo of the play — a terrific one. What are the odds of that? Check it out:

Journal photo of TD catch

As you can see, Isbell, after taking the shotgun snap in the Packers’ single wing, released the ball from the Cleveland 9. (I’m guessing he faked a handoff before throwing.) I particularly like the X-marks-the-spot in the left corner of the end zone, which is where Hutson made the grab.

{Miscellaneous note: Dante Magnani, the Rams defensive back who “let Hutson get a step behind him,” had had a whale of a game, scoring on a 52-yard run and a 67-yard reception. But in those days, of course, you had to play defense, too.)

Anyway, Hutson’s “mark” stood for 18 years. Then Cowboys tight end Dick Bielski broke it by hauling in a 2-inch touchdown heave from Eddie LeBaron in a 1960 game against the Redskins.

The Associated Press’ account read thusly:

AP on Bielski TD

(Miscellaneous note No. 2: This happened in the third game in Cowboys history. They went 0-11-1 that first season, so Bielski’s TD must have been one of the high points of the year.)

Naturally, Dick’s feat was included in the record book, too, and the revised entry looked like this:

1970 Record Book including Bielski

It wasn’t until 1971 that the NFL stopped listing the “Shortest Pass Reception for Touchdown” among its records. (Bielski and Hutson were still 1-2.) Maybe the league was just starting to lose its sense of humor. Then, too, by the early ’70s the short TD pass was no longer such a novelty. You have to remember: Until the ’30s, an incompletion in the end zone was ruled a touchback. The offense actually lost possession of the ball. That, as much as raging testosterone, is why teams didn’t throw much when they were close to the goal line. They didn’t want to risk a turnover. As it became more of a passing game, though, and as the rules loosened up, most of the risk went out of such a play.

But in Super Bowl 49, glorious Super Bowl 49, we had the proverbial Once in a Blue Moon. On second and goal from the New England 1, Wilson fired to Ricardo Lockette on a quick slant and, lo and behold, Butler broke for the ball and all but plucked it out of Lockette’s hands. Game over (except for some pushing, shoving and punching). Patriots 28, Seahawks 24.

Come to think of it, that would make a great title for the Super Bowl highlight film: Blue Moon Over Arizona.

I’ll close with this from the Aug. 13, 1962, Milwaukee Journal:Kuechle letter from reader 8-13-62 Journal

Oh-Oh-Odell Beckham

Here’s what’s really amazing about Odell Beckham, the Giants’ fantabulous rookie receiver: He became a phenomenon even though his team lost seven of his first eight NFL games. Now that’s hard to do — though it’s probably a little less hard if you happen to play in the media capital of the world.

With his one-handed grabs, big-play ability and week-in, week-out productivity, Beckham takes your breath away. His numbers don’t just speak for themselves, their shout: 79 catches for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 11 games. If he hadn’t missed the first month with a hamstring injury, we’d be talking about one of the greatest receiving seasons in history, not just one of the greatest by a first-year guy.

But let’s discuss that for a moment – the best seasons, that is, by rookie receivers. Earlier this week in the New York Post, Brian Lewis wrote:

No rookie receiver has ever had the kind of a start to an NFL career that Odell Beckham Jr., has, no first-year wideout has dominated defenses and back pages and highlight shows like this since Randy Moss.

I agree with the second half of that statement, but I take issue with the absolute certainty of the first half. After all, this is the league’s 95th season. Almost everything has happened before, including a rookie receiver exploding the way Beckham has

Before I go any further, check out this chart. It’ll give you an idea of where Odell’s performance falls — with a game, of course, still to play.


Year Receiver, Team G Yards Avg TD
1960 Bill Groman, Oilers (AFL) 14 1,473 105.2 12
1952 Billy Howton, Packers 12 1,231 102.6 13
2014 Odell Beckham, Giants 11 1,120 101.8 11
1954 Harlon Hill, Bears 12 1,124 93.7 12
2003 Anquan Boldin, Cardinals 16 1,377 86.1 8
1998 Randy Moss, Vikings 16 1,313 82.1 17
1965 Bob Hayes, Cowboys 13 1,003 77.2 12
1961 Mike Ditka (TE), Bears 14 1,056 76.9 12
1982 Charlie Brown, Redskins 9* 690 76.7 8
1958 Jimmy Orr, Steelers 12 910 75.8 7
1996 Terry Glenn, Patriots 15 1,132 75.5 6

*9-game strike season

(I tacked on the touchdowns at the end in case you were curious.)

One of the things I love about this chart is that just about every decade is represented. There are three receivers from the ’50s, three from the ’60s, two from the ’90s and one each from the ’80s, ’00s and ’10s. Only the ’70s, when defense had the upper hand, are missing.

Another thing I love about this chart is that it’s fair. It looks at per-game average rather than gross yardage, which would skew things toward receivers who had the benefit of longer seasons. Beckham will play in “only” 12 games this year, which is how many Billy Howton, Harlon Hill and Jimmy Orr played in in the ’50s. So you can put his stats next to theirs and decide for yourself who was better. (I’m excluding Bill Groman from this discussion because the AFL in 1960 wasn’t close to being on the NFL’s level.)

Howton had six 100-yard games that season and Hill seven. Let’s compare them to Beckham’s six (so far):

        Howton 1952                          Hill 1954                         Beckham 2014

Opponent Rec-Yds-TD Opponent Rec-Yds-TD Opponent Rec-Yds-TD
Redskins 3-128-1 Lions 4-140-1 Colts 8-156-0
Rams 5-156-1 Colts 3-144-1 Seahawks 7-108-0
Lions 7-151-1 49ers 4-116-1 Cowboys 10-146-2
Lions 7-123-2 49ers 7-224-4 Titans 11-130-1
Rams 6-200-0 Browns 3-117-1 Redskins 12-143-3
49ers 8-162-2 Rams 6-109-1 Rams 8-148-2
Totals 36-920-8 Cardinals 6-117-1 Totals 56-831-8
Totals 33-967-10

You can debate until you’re blue in the face the differences between eras and what all this means. But as you can see, what Beckham is doing as a rookie isn’t exactly unprecedented. Howton cardOther receivers have “had the kind of a start to an NFL career that Odell Beckham Jr., has.” They just played so long ago that hardly anybody remembers.

Howton and Hill, too, were phenomenons. Billy, for instance, had six touchdown catches of 50 yards or longer (90, 89, 78, 69, 54, 50) plus a non-scoring grab of 76. Harlon had TDs of 76, 66, 65 and 64. They were downfield threats, just like Beckham is. The NFL just didn’t get the attention then that it does now. (Never mind an NFL Channel; there was barely an NBC.)

When Howton retired after the 1963 season, he was the all-time leader in receptions (503) and receiving yards (8,459) and ranked third receiving touchdowns (61). He simply had the misfortune of playing in Green Bay when it truly was pro football’s Siberia. (Read: Before Vince Lombardi arrived and thawed things out.)

I kid you not: The day Howton broke Don Hutson’s career receptions record (488), The Dallas Morning News mentioned it in the last paragraph of its game story. (Howton spent his last four seasons with the expansion Cowboys.) And the day the Colts’ Ray Berry broke Billy’s receptions mark, The Associated Press reported: “Berry caught five passes . . . to raise his career total [to] 506,” which was three more than “the career record held by Jim Howton.”

Harlon Hill cardJim Howton?

As for Hill, he could have wound up in Canton — why Howton isn’t there, I’ll never understand — if injuries hadn’t robbed him of his specialness. Consider: He scored 32 touchdowns in his first three seasons, a total of 36 games. Only four receivers have scored more in their first 36 games: Randy Moss (43), Jerry Rice (40), Rob Gronkowski (38) and John Jefferson (36). How’s that for company?

None of this is meant to knock Beckham down a few pegs. The kid has been an absolute revelation. It’s just meant to remind everybody that he’s not alone on that peg. As I said, the NFL has been around for a long time.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

51 . . . and done

For whatever reason(s), there’s a Bermuda Triangle aspect to certain NFL records. They’re just hard to break — harder than you’d think they’d be. Norm Van Brocklin’s record of 554 passing yards in a game, for instance, still stands 63 years later, even though the deck is increasingly stacked in favor of quarterbacks. And Johnny Unitas’ record of throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games wasn’t seriously threatened for more than half a century.

The latter record, now in the possession of the Saints’ Drew Brees (54), continues to prove elusive. The Patriots’ Tom Brady made it to 52 last season, only to be stopped by the Bengals on a rainy day in Cincinnati. And Sunday, the Broncos’ Peyton Manning had a 51-game run end against the Bills on a perfectly lovely day in Denver.

Also, lest we forget, the Cowboys’ Tony Romo had a 38-gamer halted by the Eagles two weeks ago. Anyway, those streaks — Brady’s, Manning’s and Romo’s — are three of the five longest in the league’s 95 years. And they all came up short.

Back in September, I wrote about the history of the record (which was once owned by Cecil Isbell, the long-ago Packer) and even dug up some vintage video. If you want to look the original post again — or even for the first time — I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.

The Packers' Cecil Isbell throws a touchdown pass in the 1939 title game vs. the Giants.

The Packers’ Cecil Isbell throws a touchdown pass in the 1939 title game vs. the Giants.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

36 points, 37 penalties

Rarely do two things of historical significance happen in the same game. But it’s great when they do — such as in the Browns’ 42-21 win over the Bears on Nov. 25, 1951.

For starters, Cleveland back Dub Jones scored six touchdowns, tying the record he now shares with Ernie Nevers (1929) and Gale Sayers (1965). Even more amazing: He scored the last five jones photo in locker roomtimes he touched the ball. While Jones was running amok, though, the teams were racking up a combined 37 penalties for 374 yards, two more records. The normally disciplined Browns were hit with 209 yards (yet another mark that has since been broken), the typically rowdy Bears 165. Sounds like the guys might have gotten a little, uh, vindictive.

In his story for The Plain Dealer, Harold Sauerbrei wrote:

It is merely in strict adherence to good reporting, not the intention to question the officiating, to record that the Browns were assessed 299 [sic] yards for 21 “infractions.”

In one series of downs with the Bears on the offensive, the Browns three times were charged with 15 yards for a personal foul. Two of them nullified intercepted passes, the second of which was returned 94 yards to an apparent touchdown by Don Shula.

Wait, that’s a third thing of historical significance that happened in the game. Shula had a 94-yard TD wiped out that, had it stood, would have been the only score of his NFL career.

No wonder his Colts and Dolphins clubs were so penalty-averse.

Dub Jones headlineDub Jones subheadDub Jones lead

The Jonas Gray Chart of the Day

First off, I’d like to thank NFL statisticians for making this post possible. On Monday morning it wasn’t — because, at that point, the Patriots’ Jonas Gray was credited with 38 carries for 199 yards in the 42-20 whupping of the Colts. On further review, however, Gray’s numbers were revised to 37 carries for 201 yards. This raises the question (since it happened with Jonas): How many times has a back’s first 100-yard rushing game been a 200-yard game?

I would have guessed a couple. To my shock, I came across eight other instances, including one in the Super Bowl.


Date Running Back, Team Opponent Att Yds Avg TD Prev. High
11-16-14 Jonas Gray, Patriots Colts 37 201 5.4 4         86
10-23-11 DeMarco Murray, Cowboys Rams 25 253 10.1 1         34
9-22-96 LeShon Johnson, Cardinals Saints 21 214 10.2 2         42
10-14-90 Barry Word, Chiefs Lions 18 200 11.1 2         31
1-31-88 Timmy Smith, Redskins Broncos 22 204 9.3 2         72
11-30-87 Bo Jackson, Raiders Seahawks 18 221 12.3 2         98
9-2-84 Gerald Riggs, Falcons Saints 35 202 5.8 2         72
11-26-78 Terry Miller, Bills Giants 21 208 9.9 2         97
12-16-56 Tommy Wilson, Rams Packers 23 223 9.7 0         NA

Smith’s 200-yard game, of course, came in the Redskins’ 42-10 blowout of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII — a day better remembered for Doug Williams’ four touchdown passes in Washington’s 35-point second quarter. He’d carried the ball in only four regular-season games before coach Joe Gibbs turned to him in the playoffs because of an injury to George Rogers.

Not all of these backs were rookies, by the way. Word was in his second year and Johnson and Riggs in their third. (Word’s big game came after he’d served prison time for cocaine distribution, which caused him to miss the previous season.)

I turned up several near misses, too — guys who rushed for 200-plus yards the second time they hit triple figures. That group includes such household names as Jim Brown, Tony Dorsett, James Wilder, Priest Holmes and Arian Foster.

In fact, Brown’s 237 yards set a single -game NFL rushing record. The same goes for Wilson, whose 223-yard day came in the ’56 season finale. “Touchdown Tommy,” as he was called, was such an obscure rookie — and reporters paid so much less attention to these things — that the Los Angeles Times didn’t even mention his feat until the fifth paragraph of its game story.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram, meanwhile, touched on it at the end of the fourth graph, but didn’t provide any details until the 11th. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

Long Beach Press-Telegram headlineScreen Shot 2014-11-21 at 3.18.13 PM

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A running back breaks the single-game rushing mark, and we’re 300 words into the story before the reporter tells us how many yards he gained. That should be in the record book, too.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Redskins' Timmy Smith keeps the Broncos' Tony LIlly at arm's length in Super Bowl 22.

The Redskins’ Timmy Smith keeps the Broncos’ Tony Lilly at arm’s length in Super Bowl 22.

The offensive fireworks on Nov. 19, 1950

The yards have never come easier in the NFL. They’re up to 705.4 a game this season, which would be an all-time high if it holds. And yet the record for most yards by both teams in one contest, 1,133, was set in 1950 — on this very day, in fact — and has somehow survived all the rule changes favoring the offense and even the institution of overtime. Go figure.

Of course, the clubs involved, the Los Angeles Rams and New York Yanks, had the two most explosive attacks in the league. Indeed, that Rams team, with its two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin) and two Hall of Fame receivers (Crazylegs Hirsch and Tom Fears) has never been given its proper due. Just last year a major website told its readers that Waterfield made it to Canton “possibly because he had the good sense to wife up to Jane Russell, the Megan Fox of her day.”

It would be a great line if it were true, but it doesn’t even come close. Waterfield, you see, wasn’t just a QB, he was one of the most multi-talented players in NFL history. Check out his 1946 season:

● Threw 17 touchdown passes (tying him for the league lead).

● Made 6 of 9 field-goal tries (giving him the highest success rate — 66.7 percent — and tying him for second in field goals).

● Averaged 44.7 yards a punt (third in the league).

● As a defensive back, intercepted 5 passes (tying him for fourth in the league).

That’s why Waterfield was in just the third class to be inducted into the Hall. The fact that his wife was a screen siren had nothing to do with it (though it made for great photo ops). So it

Jane Russell at her sultry best.

Jane Russell at her sultry best.

goes, alas, for players of that vintage. Their feats are often dismissed by the young Plutarchs of today, even though the competition in the 12-team era was probably fiercer than it is now.

The ’50 Rams scored 466 points in a 12-game season, an average of 38.8. That’s more than the Broncos averaged last year (37.9) when they totaled a record 606 in 16 games. The Rams racked up 70 against the Baltimore Colts, 65 against the Lions, 51 against the Packers — they were a veritable force of nature. They also came within a last-minute field goal of winning the title (which they won the next season).

The ’50 Yanks didn’t have nearly the star power — save for Buddy Young, their Hall of Fame running back. QB George Ratterman did top the league with 22 TD passes, though, and end Dan Edwards was fifth with 775 receiving yards.

Anyway, when the teams met at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 19, 1950, they put on a show — 1,133 yards’ worth (Rams 636, Yanks 497) — as the Rams won 43-35. The Brooklyn Eagle’s headline read thusly:

1,133-yard game head

Both teams scored five TDs, which made the three field goals booted by the versatile Waterfield the difference. Individually, nobody went too wild, though two receivers (L.A.’s Hirsch and New York’s Art Weiner) and one running back (the Rams’ Dick Hoerner) went over 100 yards.

“The crowd of 43,673 had difficulty keeping track of the pigskins the Rams tossed in the air in the first half — 32 in all, “ the Eagle reported. “But after the intermission they varied their attack, dusting off the old Statue of Liberty play successfully twice.”

Yanks coach Red Strader, meanwhile, called the Rams “a tough team to play against. Speed on the gridiron is always hard to beat — one mistake and they’re away.”

In the 64 years since, only 13 NFL games have come within 50 yards of that 1,133-yard figure. The most serious challenge to the record came in the 2011 season finale between the Packers and Lions, who combined for 1,125. Logic tells you that, the way things are going, the mark is bound to fall at some point. But amazingly, it has endured for more than six decades — and could well last a few more.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

AP photo of 1,135-yard game

Too much, too fast?

The stories said Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in the first half Sunday night to tie the NFL/AFL record. Actually, it was better than that — or worse, depending on your point of view.

If you want to be exact about it, Rodgers threw for six scores in 20 minutes, 59 seconds in the Packers’ 55-14 blowout of the Bears. That’s quite a bit less than a half. It went like this:

1. 6:13 left, first quarter: 1-yard TD to TE Brandon Bostick.

2. 3:53, first quarter: 4-yard TD to TE Andrew Quarless.

3. 14:48, second quarter: 73-yard TD to WR Jordy Nelson.

4. 12:09, second quarter: 40-yard TD to Nelson.

5. 4:48, second quarter: 56-yard TD to RB Eddie Lacy.

6. 0:14, second quarter: 18-yard TD to WR Randall Cobb.

Consider: The record for a game is seven, and it’s been done only seven times. But Rodgers threw six in barely a third of a game. I know the Bears played atrocious defense, but is this a really good thing? Is it good that the rules are now so pro-passer that a QB can toss six touchdown passes in a tick less than 21 minutes?

After all, earlier in the day, Peyton Manning had thrown five in just 16:43 in the Broncos’ 41-17 scrimmage against the Raiders. His timeline looked like this:

1. 2:44 left, second quarter: 51-yard TD to RB C.J. Anderson.

2. 0:28, second quarter: 32-yard TD to WR Emmanuel Sanders.

3. 12:43, third quarter: 10-yard TD to TE Julius Thomas.

4. 6:52, third quarter: 32-yard TD to Thomas.

5. 1:01, third quarter: 15-yard TD to Sanders.

Granted, the Raiders, like the Bears, have one of the worst defenses in the league, but this is still a bit much. The game has gotten out of whack, if you ask me. And the way things are going, it’s only going to get out-of-whacker.

My favorite stat might be this: Together, Rodgers and Manning threw for 11 scores in 37:42. Now that’s what I’m looking forward to — the 11-TD game.

The only other quarterback to toss six touchdown passes in a half is the Raiders’ Daryle “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica in this battering of the Bills in 1969, the last year of the AFL. According to the Oakland Tribune, four of Lamonica’s TDs came in just six offensive plays during an eight-minute stretch of the second quarter.

“The [Buffalo] turnovers were coming so rapidly that [wide receiver] Warren Wells dashed onto the field without his helmet, so anxious was he to get in on the fun,” the Tribune said. “He was stopped by an official, more than Buffalo could do to him.”

Lamonica’s first half numbers: 24 attempts, 17 completions, 275 yards, 6 touchdowns. That’s awfully close to Rodgers’ 24-18-315-6 line.

The timeline of The Mad Bomber’s scoring tosses:

1. 12:53 left, first quarter: 53-yard TD to TE Billy Cannon.

2. 0:46, first quarter: 10-yard TD to RB Pete Banaszak.

3. 12:54, second quarter: 1-yard TD to Banaszak.

4. 12:17, second quarter: 13-yard TD to Wells.

5. 9:04, second quarter: 16-yard TD to WR Fred Biletnikoff.

6. 4:33, second quarter: 23-yard TD to Biletnikoff.

For those of you scoring at home, that’s six touchdown passes in 23:20 (to Rodgers’ 20:59).

But get this: Lamonica came close to throwing seven in the first half. The Tribune said he “fell six yards short of equaling the pro record of seven in a game when [wide receiver] Drew Buie was carried out of bounds short of the end zone on a 37-yard completion on the last play before the half.”

There was a funny sidelight to The Mad Bomber’s big day, by the way. The backstory: The year before, a crucial game between the Raiders and Jets had run long, and NBC made the infamous decision to cut away from it in the final minutes so it could begin airing the children’s movie Heidi on time. It was a public relations disaster for the network, even though it returned to the game before it was over (after being swamped with phone calls from irate fans).

Anyway, NBC had planned to follow the Raiders-Bills game with Heidi again, but there was no way it was going to make the same mistake twice. When the game spilled over into the next time slot — by eight minutes — the network stuck with it until the end. Only then was Heidi allowed to prance across the television screen.

Heidi 1Heidi 2Source: pro-football-reference.com