Tag Archives: title games

Eyewitnesses to the Ice Bowl

The Ice Bowl is so much bigger now, in memory, than it was in real time. Oh, it got plenty of coverage from TV and print, but it was still, let’s not forget, 1967. Pro football had yet to overtake baseball as America’s No. 1 sport — according to the Gallup people, at least — and other events that holiday week, such as the next day’s New Year’s bowl games, also got their share of attention.

Consider: Arthur Daley, The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize winner, didn’t make the trip to Green Bay. Instead, he wrote about the Packers-Cowboys classic back in the newsroom (or wherever he did his typing) – for the Jan. 2 edition. Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times was a no-show, too. He was busy gearing up for the Rose Bowl between O.J. Simpson’s USC Trojans and the Indiana Hoosiers. It was that way with a lot of newspapers. They might have sent their NFL guy to Wisconsin but not necessarily a columnist.

Another such paper was The Boston Globe, but at least it had a decent excuse: Boston was an AFL town, home of the Patriots. For a pinch-hit voice, the Globe picked up Red Smith’s syndicated column, but get this: It chopped off the last six paragraphs – for “space” reasons, presumably.

Imagine having a Mount Rushmore writer like Smith covering the game for you, a guy who grew up in Green Bay, for goodness sakes, and cutting the bottom third of his column. Not exactly one of your Great Moments in Sportswriting History. (Fortunately, the Globe recovered nicely in the decades that followed.)

A writer or two did make it to the Great White North, though – some, possibly, by dogsled or snowmobile – and it’s their deathless prose that follows. Who cares if Murray tossed off some funny lines later (e.g. “The theory could be advanced that neither team had the advantage because it was cold for the Packers, too. That’s like saying that the shark had no advantage over the swimmer because both were in water.”)? He wasn’t there.

In fact, let’s see if I can put together a composite piece that tells the story of the game from multiple points of view. We’ll start with the hometown boy, Walter Wellesley Smith:

GREEN BAY – On the eve of the game, Henry Jordan and his bride called on the Jerry Kramers.

“Nervous?” said the [Packers] defensive tackle. “Naw. I just keep hollering at Olive.”

Jerry grinned toward the sofa where the wives were chatting. “I keep calling her Jethro,” he said.

If Jethro Pugh was stomping through Kramer’s dreams all last week, Pugh and his violent accomplices in the Dallas defensive line will be haunting Bart Starr for weeks to come, but Bart will be having his nightmares under a Miami moon. Starr bought the Packers tickets to the site of the Jan. 14 Stupor Bowl Sunday with a one-yard plunge that snatched the championship of the National Football League from the Cowboys’ frozen fingers just 13 seconds before the end of the 35th annual title game.

Shirley Povich, Washington Post:

The Cowboys won the toss and there was some hope they would elect to call the whole thing off, but they didn’t and pretty soon the Packers had a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. They were favored with three penalties against the Cowboys on the drive and from the Dallas 8, Bart Starr taught the Cowboys a simple lesson in metrics. He sent 6-foot-5 Boyd Dowler into the territory of 5-11 defender Mike Johnson and pitched to Dowler in the end zone.

The sheer audacity of Starr got the Packers another touchdown in the second quarter. First thing, it was third and 1 on the Dallas 43 and not a passing down. Certainly not a long-bomb situation.

How bodacious can a quarterback get? Starr put a long-stemmed beauty up in the air and if it came down before it congealed up there the Packers would have a touchdown, because Dowler had five yards on Mel Renfro. The re-entry was perfect, and the Packers had a 14-0 lead. This was making a terrible prophet out of Clint Murchison, the billionaire owner of the Cowboys who was saying before the contest, “It is too cold for the Green Bay passing game, and we will win with our running.” As a football sage he was proving only to be a genius of finance. His own man, Don Meredith, was passing badly and it was apparent that only on the Dallas side of the field was the temperature below zero.DMN headline

Sam Blair, Dallas Morning News:

When two penguins sauntered into the hotel drug store and bought hot water bottles, when waitresses ice-skated across the coffee shop to serve breakfast, when Admiral Byrd fetched out bags and carried them to the taxi, it really became obvious. All of us – the Cowboys, the Packers, the fans, the press – were trapped in a situation which the sports world had never experienced before. . . .

This was No Man’s weather. . . . No sporting event, with the possible exception of the Winter Olympics, ever had been contested in such brutal coldness. . . . “I have never been so numb or hurt so much from hitting,” [Green Bay linebacker Lee Roy] Caffey shuddered. “I’m just glad I didn’t have to try to catch a ball out there. I might have gotten broken fingers.”

Tex Schramm, Sports Illustrated:

[The Cowboys] got one touchdown back later in the second quarter when the very quick Dallas line, which punished Starr most of the afternoon – he was dumped eight times while attempting to pass – threw him for a 19-yard loss. End Willie Townes hit Starr and forced a fumble; the other end, George Andrie, picked up the ball and scored with it.

“It wasn’t the offensive line breaking down,” Starr said after the game. “They did well enough. But the receivers couldn’t make their cuts on the icy field, and I couldn’t find anyone to throw to. So I was holding the ball too long, and they got to me.”

A little later, the usually sure-handed Willie Wood dropped a punt on the Green Bay 17 and Phil Clark recovered for Dallas. Danny Villanueva kicked a 21-yard field goal just before the half, and the Cowboys, who had been unable to gain more than three first downs in the first half, nonetheless left the field trailing only 14-10.

Bob St. John, Dallas Morning News:

This loss to the Packers hurt even more than last year’s when the Cowboys fell 34-27. Then, Dallas came within two yards of tying the game. This time they came within a hair of winning . . . due to Ol’ Reliable, the Danny Reeves to Lance Rentzel halfback pass.

The Cowboys, trailing 14-10, stood at midfield on the first play of the final period. Both Packer[s] right cornerback Bob Jeter and free safety Willie Wood are all-pro, which speaks for itself. But each one is extremely active coming up to play the run. Wood, in fact, though he is a safety, often comes up to force the play. Willie came up when Reeves started wide to his left. So did Jeter, who should have stayed on Rentzel. Lance took off. Reeves stopped and lofted a perfect pass, of course, which Rentzel ran under between the 15-20 and outraced the other safety, Tom Brown, for the TD.Sentinel head

Lloyd Larsen, Milwaukee Sentinel:

Many may insist that the Packers were lucky to pull this one out of the sub-zero atmosphere. But that would be unfair to a group of men who played like champions when only championship performance would suffice.

I’m thinking, of course, of that final 68-yard drive, on which Starr, Chuck Mercein, Donny Anderson, Boyd Dowler and their teammates on the offensive unit collaborated under pressure as pressure is seldom experienced by athletes.

They had less than five minutes to do the job. And they just made it by the skin of their teeth. That pay-off touchdown “pop” by Starr was a just reward for a great guy whose fumble had put the Cowboys on the scoreboard for the first time. That bobble was the one everybody would have remembered. But it’s different now. And that, I maintain, is a triumph for justice.

Alan Goldstein, Baltimore Sun:

The Packers give you the impression that they will find a way to win no matter how impossible the odds. But even such a hard-seasoned veteran as [Jerry] Kramer admitted that a few doubts entered his mind with the Cowboys leading, 17-14, late in the fourth period.

“We got the ball with about five minutes left,” the rugged offensive guard recalled, “and I was thinking: Well, maybe this is the year we don’t pull it off, that it will all end here. But I know every guy made up his mind that we were going to go down swinging.

“Well, when we finally got down to the 1-yard line and missed on our first two tries, Bart took a little more time than usual in the huddle explaining what he wanted to do. [That is, sneak it in himself.] And the last thing he told us was, ‘And we darn well better make it.’ “

They did. And 47 years later we’re still talking about it.AP photo of fans

Birth of The Frozen Tundra

Before there was The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field, there was “the frozen tundra” of Yankee Stadium . . . and “the frozen tundra at Wrigley Field.” Surprised? So was I.

When I started my research, I was merely trying to determine when people began referring to Lambeau as The Frozen Tundra. After all, the Cowboys are in Green Bay to reprise their Ice Bowl of 47 years ago, and I’d always heard the term had come from that famous frigid day.

Sure enough, a 2010 story in the Los Angeles Times reported: “It was coined by Steve Sabol, now president of NFL Films, and he used it in his script for the [highlight film of the] ‘Ice Bowl,’ the 1967 NFL championship game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys.”

Sounds plausible enough. Steve was a much-underrated wordsmith (and as an added bonus, played football at the same school – Colorado College – as Lions great Dutch Clark).

There’s only one problem. In his column about the game, Arthur Daley of The New York Times typed these words:

Thus did the Packers win, 21-17, and whisk themselves from the frozen tundra of Green Bay to their destined date with the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl at more salubrious Miami a fortnight hence.

So maybe Sabol got the idea from reading Daley’s nationally syndicated column.

Except. After doing some more digging, I discovered the term was already in circulation. A few days before the game, Chuck Ward of the Wellsville Daily Reporter in New York wrote:

Somehow the game loses meaning when you talk about it being worth $30,000 or so to each and every player. But that’s about the amount of booty the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys will be butting heads for Sunday afternoon on the frozen tundra of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.

But Ward wasn’t the first, either. In 1965, in his follow-up to the Western Conference playoff between the Packers and Colts, Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger described the winning drive thusly:

So here was Green Bay, driving through the gloom of the frozen tundra toward the Baltimore goal. With second and 10 on the Baltimore 25, Elijah Pitts, replacing the wounded [Paul] Hornung, clawed forward for four yards, putting the ball squarely in front of the goal posts.

That’s the earliest instance I’ve found of Lambeau Field being called The Frozen Tundra — late December 1965, two years before the Ice Bowl. But there are iced-over fields, obviously, in places other than Green Bay. Which raised the question: Had any of them ever been referred to as “the frozen tundra”?

As it turns out, yeah. Here’s Jack Hand of The Associated Press advancing the 1963 title game (Giants vs. Bears):

It is reasonable to assume that there will be a little violence on the frozen tundra at Wrigley Field, just as there was last December when the Green Bay Packers and the Giants met in the Yankee Stadium ice box.

Finally — speaking, as Hand was, of that “Yankee Stadium ice box” — here’s Cameron Snyder of the Baltimore Sun covering the Giants-Packers championship game a year earlier:

It wasn’t a day fittin’ for offenses and both the Packers and Giants failed to demonstrate any consistency in their attacks. The wind gusts played havoc with the passes and the frozen tundra spilled ball carriers and tacklers indiscriminately.

I’m not suggesting my research in any way settles the issue. I’m just saying that, in a few short hours, I turned up Frozen Tundras going back to 1962, five years before Sabol supposedly “coined” it.

I even came across a “frozen tundras” in a 1931 story about an upcoming Army-Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium. This is from the Brooklyn Eagle:

When Army and Notre Dame have weather, they have nothing else but. Remember the zero gale that swept the field two years ago when Jack Elder intercepted the pass to win for Notre Dame on a run of 98 yards, with two teams slipping and slithering over frozen tundras of the big Bronx ball park?

The Frozen Tundra of Wrigley Field. The Frozen Tundra of Yankee Stadium. I still like The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field the best. Especially when John Facenda, NFL Films’ Voice of God, says it.

Arthur Daley in the Jan. 2, 1968, New York Times

Arthur Daley in the Jan. 2, 1968, New York Times

From the Dec. 27, 1967, Wellsville (N.Y.) Daily Reporter

From the Dec. 27, 1967, Wellsville (N.Y.) Daily Reporter

Jerry Izenberg in the Dec. 29, 1965, Syracuse Post-Standard

Jerry Izenberg in the Dec. 29, 1965, Syracuse Post-Standard

Jack Hand of The Associated Press, Dec. 24, 1963.

Jack Hand of The Associated Press, Dec. 24, 1963

Cameron Snyder in the Dec. 31, 1962, Baltimore Sun

Cameron Snyder in the Dec. 31, 1962, Baltimore Sun

11-28-31 Brooklyn Eagle 1 (George Currie)

George Currie in the Nov. 28, 1931, Brooklyn Eagle

George Currie in the Nov. 28, 1931, Brooklyn Eagle

The Godfather I and II of pro football

Many think the 1958 title game, the overtime thriller between the Colts and Giants, is the greatest game in NFL history. I’ve never quite bought into it. If you’re going to convince me, you need to show me something measurable, not just say, “Well, Pete Rozelle always said . . . .” Put it this way: The league had bigger attendance increases after the ’56 (11.2 percent) and ’57 (6.0) championship games than it did after the ’58 game (4.5). How is that possible – I mean, if it really is the game that had the greatest impact? (It certainly wasn’t the greatest game from an artistic standpoint. There were eight fumbles that afternoon and seven turnovers.)

For me, the Greatest Game discussion actually begins with two games: the 1966 and ’67 title games between the Packers and Cowboys (who, conveniently for this post, meet in the playoffs Sunday in Green Bay for the first time since the famed Ice Bowl). I look at those ’66 and ’67 classics as a matched set, the NFL equivalent of Godfather I and Godfather II.

Packers QB Bart Starr (15) scores for winning TD in the Ice Bowl.

Packers QB Bart Starr (15) scores the winning TD in the Ice Bowl.

For drama, you had both games ending on the goal line — the Packers denying the Cowboys in ’66 to hang on, 34-27, then punching it across in ’67 to pull out a 21-17 win. For star power, you had two Hall of Fame coaches, Green Bay’s Vince Lombardi and Dallas’ Tom Landry, plus 12 Hall of Fame players (though Packers fullback Jim Taylor played in only the first of the two games).


Beyond that, you had — in the Ice Bowl, at least — the granddaddy of all matchups: Man vs. Nature. It wasn’t just cold that day at Lambeau Field, it was inhumanly cold, with the wind chill plunging to minus 50 (depending on your source). And this, mind you, was before all the super-duper, will-keep-you-warm-on-Mars thermal wear they use now.

The games also gave you a glimpse of the more racially diverse NFL of the Future. Both rosters were well-stocked in ’67 not just with black starters (15 in all) but with black stars — defensive end Willie Davis, linebacker Dave Robinson, cornerback Herb Adderley, free safety Willie Wood and running back-return man Travis Williams for the Packers and wide receiver Bob Hayes, running back Don Perkins, cornerback Cornell Green and free safety Mel Renfro for the Cowboys. Most are in Canton. (And I’m not so sure Perkins doesn’t belong, too. He was No. 5 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list when he retired — at 30 — after the ’68 season.)

What’s criminal is that football fans can’t just sit down and watch these games — in their entirety — and judge for themselves how great they were. The league and TV networks really dropped the ball on this one. Does a tape of either game still exist? If so, I haven’t seen (or heard of) it.

Instead, we have often-shown clips of Robinson pressuring the Cowboys’ Don Meredith into a game-ending interception in ’66 (and Landry’s subsequent grimace) and Starr squeezing over from the Dallas 1 in ’67 — assorted bits and pieces that don’t come close to adding up to The Whole.

Clemenza gives Michael some cooking pointers.

Clemenza gives Michael Corleone some cooking pointers.

Imagine having to watch The Godfather like that — just a few memorable scenes rather than the whole glorious epic. (No Clemenza, for instance, showing Michael how to cook meatballs and sausages in tomato gravy.) Think it would alter the viewing experience?

Anyway, that’s my spiel on the ’66 and ’67 NFL title games, the Godfather I and Godfather II of pro football history. We may never see two better title games back to back, never mind between the same teams. (Compare them to the consecutive Super Bowl duds between the Cowboys and Bills or the mostly forgettable string of Lions-Browns championship games in the ’50s.)

It was the beginning of the Super Bowl era, and the Packers and Cowboys set the bar incredibly high. If you want to read more on the subject, here’s a link to Bob O’Donnell’s piece about Starr’s sneak, taken from our 1990 book, The Pro Football Chronicle. It’s one of the best things Bob ever did, and that’s saying a lot.

The Ice Bowl: Bart Starr’s sneak

Sneak sequence photos

With the Packers and Cowboys cracking helmets Sunday – their first postseason meeting at Lambeau Field since the legendary 1967 Ice Bowl – it seemed like a good time to revisit the most famous play from that game, Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak that won it.

There was no discussion of a [subsequent] fourth-down play or possible field-goal try. That’s testimony either to Lombardi’s supreme confidence or the effect the cold was having on his brain.

By Bob O’Donnell (from The Pro Football Chronicle)

If one play has come to symbolize Vince Lombardi’s great Green Bay Packers teams, it’s Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak that won the 1967 Ice Bowl. Remember?

Sixteen seconds left. Dallas ahead 17-14. Temperature: minus 19. Guard Jerry Kramer drives the Cowboys’ Jethro Pugh out of the hole, and Starr falls behind him into the end zone for the winning score. It’s one of pro football’s golden moments.

What you don’t hear about Starr’s sneak is that (1) it was a lousy call, (2) Kramer was offside and (3) Packers center Ken Bowman should have shared the credit for the famous block.

Milwaukee Sentinel box scoreLet’s start with the play itself. It was an outrageous gamble, really. Cowboys assistant coach Ermal Allen muttered afterward: “I just wish it had failed. You think there wouldn’t have been a few million words written about that? Then we’d see how smart [Lombardi] felt.”

Allen was right, if a little bitter. The Packers had the ball two feet from the Dallas goal line, third down. They were out of timeouts. Had the sneak been stopped, the Packers wouldn’t have had time to attempt the tying field goal or any way to stop the clock. The Cowboys would have been the 1967 NFL champions, and the legendary Lombardi would have been second-guessed for centuries.

“We thought they would throw,” then-Dallas coach Tom Landry says. “We thought they probably would go on an option, a rollout run or pass so they could stop the clock [with an incompletion] if it didn’t work.”

So did most people. It was the percentage move.

The sneak was Starr’s idea. On the two plays preceding it, halfback Donny Anderson slipped taking the handoff and was stopped for almost no gain. The south end of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field lay in the shadow of a large scoreboard and was frozen solid. When Anderson slipped a second time, Starr decided the Packers’ best shot was for him to keep the ball.

He called the team’s final timeout. Before coming to the sideline to meet with Lombardi, he asked Kramer and Bowman if they could get enough footing to run 31 Wedge. They said they could. The play was a simple dive right. The guard and center double-teamed the defensive tackle, and the quarterback handed off to a back running straight ahead.

“I told Coach Lombardi there was nothing wrong with the plays we had run, it’s just that the backs couldn’t get any footing,” Starr says. “I said, ‘Why don’t I just keep it?’ All he said was run it and let’s get the hell out of here. That’s all he said.”

There was no discussion of a fourth-down play or possible field-goal try. That’s testimony either to Lombardi’s supreme confidence or the effect the cold was having on his brain. What made the call even more unusual was that Starr rarely ran the sneak. He could recall doing it on only one other occasion, a few years earlier against the 49ers. Sleet had turned the field to ice, and the footing was terrible that day, too. Nonetheless, he had scored.

“I still don’t think it was a smart play,” says Cowboys halfback Dan Reeves, now the Denver Broncos’ coach. “But maybe that’s the reason Lombardi won all those championships and I haven’t won any.”

Packers fullback Chuck Mercein looks at it this way: “Bad is only bad if it doesn’t work. To me, success justifies a lot of questionable calls.”

Of course, it always helps if your right guard can beat the snap count. A fraction of a second before Bowman hiked the ball to Starr, Kramer picked up his hand and started out of his three-point stance. You can’t imagine what a comfort that knowledge is to Pugh.

In December 1967, he was in his third year in the NFL. He played 11 more and never shed the label as The Guy Who Got Blocked On Starr’s Sneak. For years after the Ice Bowl, he carried Jethro Pugh cardinside him this image of Kramer moving before the snap. The Cowboys never bothered to watch the game films, so he kept it to himself. It sounded like the cheapest kind of excuse.

“In a goal-line situation like that you key the football,” Pugh says. “And I could visualize Kramer’s hand moving an instant before the ball did. My first thought [after the play] was, ‘We got ’em . He’s offsides, and that’ll cost ’em five yards.’ I was shocked when I didn’t see a flag. I kept looking around for one.”

Four times in the ’70s Pugh’s Cowboys went to the Super Bowl. Reporters never failed to bring up the play. He answered their questions but kept the little picture of Kramer moving a split second early to himself. Years later, he finally had an opportunity to see the game films and watched with a combination of curiosity and anxiety.

“I saw it, and I said, ‘My goodness, I was right,’ “ Pugh says.

Even Kramer doesn’t deny it. In his 1968 best seller, Instant Replay, he says: “I wouldn’t swear that I didn’t beat the center’s snap by a fraction of a second. I wouldn’t swear that I wasn’t actually offside on the play.”

The block made him famous. The networks showed the play over and over in the days after the game, and Kramer didn’t hesitate to take credit. He became America’s Guard. Every football fan knew him and his block — and soon, his book.

Largely overlooked was Bowman’s contribution. Pugh lined up on Kramer’s inside shoulder on the play, and his instructions were to stay low and clog the middle so linebacker Lee Roy Jordan could make the tackle. It was Kramer’s job to raise Pugh up so Bowman could get a clean shot at him. Together, the two could then drive the Cowboys tackle out of the hole. That was precisely what happened on the play, and it still rankles Bowman that Kramer got almost all the glory.

“The older I get, the more it bothers me,” he says. “I was young [a fourth-year pro] and stupid, and he patted me on the shoulder as he went up to the [television] podium after the game and said, ‘Let an old man have his moment in the spotlight. You’ve got 10, 12 more years.’

“What I didn’t realize was that blocks like that come along once in . . . hell, it’s been two decades now.”

Says Kramer: “My feeling is that I don’t know how much he contributed. I did say to him, ‘You tell them about what you did because you’ve got a few more years. I’m talking about what I did.’ ”

Pugh sides with Bowman. “Kramer had good position, but Bowman did more of the blocking,” he says.

All this was lost in the strange beauty and confusion of the moment. As the Packers broke the huddle and came to the line of scrimmage, the 50,000 frigid fans started to cheer. There hadn’t been much opportunity for that since early in the game.

The Cowboys had dominated the second half and appeared on their way to winning until the Packers put together their final, improbable drive. Now a third straight NFL title for Green Bay was 24 inches away.

The sun was sinking. The wind chill factor was minus 50. Many of the fans were dressed in brightly colored hunting gear, and Green Bay assistant coach Phil Bengtson said the effect was that of a red halo around the field. Breath poured from them like smoke from chimneys.

Pugh tried to dig himself a foothold in the frozen turf, but his toes were numb. He gave up and took his position. So did the Packers. The crowd hushed. Bowman snapped the ball, and before Pugh could get out of his stance, Kramer was on him. Then Bowman was, too, and Pugh slid helplessly out of the way. Starr took a step to his right, then slipped into the fast-closing opening. Touchdown.

Sneak sequence photos

The Fifth Down in the 1961 title game

The Packers host the Lions today with the division title — and possibly more — at stake. To kill time until the kickoff, why don’t we talk about something else that happened at Lambeau Field on this date . . . in 1961. With the wind chill a shivering 6 degrees, Green Bay won the first of its five NFL titles under Vince Lombardi, swallowing up the Giants, 37-0.

What’s totally forgotten about this game is that, thanks to a gaffe by the officiating crew in the third quarter, the Packers offense was given a fifth down. It didn’t have any effect on the outcome, thank goodness, but it’s still fun to revisit.

In fact, here’s the video of the game, courtesy of YouTube. If you jump ahead to the 1:10:08 mark (and let it run to 1:16:48), you can watch the whole nightmare unfold.

It happened right after the second-half kickoff. On first down from his 36, the Packers’ Paul Hornung gained a yard up the middle . . . and then the zebras collectively lost their minds. (That’s Lindsey Nelson, by the way, doing the play-by-play for NBC.)

As you saw, on second and 9 Packers quarterback Bart Starr scrambled 21 yards to the New York 42, where he fumbled and Giants safety Jimmy Patton recovered. At this point, referee George Rennix started doing some very strange things.

First he signaled that an illegal procedure penalty against the Packers had been declined (which presumably meant the play stood).

Then he picked up the ball and stepped off a five-yard penalty against Green Bay, moving the line of scrimmage to the 47.

Then he decided to confer with the other officials.

And then he concluded that the procedure penalty, which came before the snap, had wiped out the play and thus, the Packers retained possession.

But Rennix wasn’t through. In the confusion, the chains had been moved, and nobody remembered where the original line of scrimmage was. So when he marked off the five-yard penalty against Green Bay, he began from the 40, not the 37 — which made it just a two-yard penalty.

Worse, the chain gang, thinking the ball had changed hands, had flipped the down marker from 2 to 1 — and none of the officials caught it. Check out this screen shot of Rennix talking to head linesman John Highberger (48) — and notice the 1 on the marker to Highberger’s right.

Screen Shot of Down Marker with 1 instead of 2

Anyway, it was pretty embarrassing. And it would have been a lot more than that, of course, had the the Packers gone down the field and scored again. But they wound up punting, so no major damage was done. To recap, the five downs went like this:

1. First and 10 from the Green Bay 36 — Hornung, 1-yard run to the 37.

2. First and 15 from the Green Bay 35 (after Rennix’s Follies) — Hornung, 10-yard run to the 45.

3. Second and 5 from the Green Bay 45 — Jim Taylor, 1-yard run to the 46.

4. Third and 4 from the Green Bay 46 — Starr, incomplete pass to Bowd Dowler.

5. Fourth and 4 from the Green Bay 46 – Dowler punts.

“Not until after the game could the officials be reached for an explanation that answered only a part of the question,” The New York Times reported. “The officials said that a Green Bay lineman had been in motion illegally before the Packers had started their play. That voided everything that happened thereafter.

“Furthermore, they said that Starr already had hit the ground and the ball had been whistled dead when he fumbled, so in any case possession would not have been awarded to the Giants. [Note: This is totally at odds with the actions of Rennix, who signaled it was New York’s ball.]

“They never did say . . . why the down marker was reset at 1 instead of remaining at 2.”

Which left the NFL with this wonderful Times headline when it was all over:

NYT headline

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Title games in December

Before 16-game seasons and 12-team playoff fields, the NFL played its championship game in the second or third week of December. Not much survives from those battles in the ’30s and ’40s, but there are a few clips available on YouTube. Here’s what I’ve found — from 1934, ’36, ’39 and ’41.

DEC. 9, 1934: GIANTS 30, BEARS 13

NYT 1934 headline

This was the celebrated Sneakers Game, so named because the Giants switched to “basketball shoes” (as they were called) in the second half to get better traction on an icy field. They then exploded for 27 points in the fourth quarter to ruin the Bears’ perfect season and keep them from winning a record-tying third straight title.

(It’s still the most points ever scored by a team in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. The ’92 Eagles are next with 26 vs. the Saints in this 36-20 win.)

We begin our film festival with back-to-back runs by the great Bronko Nagurski. Note the Bears are lined up in the T formation, with the quarterback taking the snap directly from center. They were only NFL club using the T in 1934. Everybody else opted for some variation of the single wing. Note also, on the first play, the man-in-motion flashing across the screen. That had been incorporated into the offense, too.

One more tackle-busting Nagurski run. What’s interesting about this play is that the Bears are in the single wing. They mixed it up, in other words — which must have been a nightmare for opposing defenses. Watch for the official slipping and falling at the end of the clip. The field was treacherous in spots.

Here’s a photo of Giants quarterback Ed Danowski (22) getting ready to crack the line. As you can see, he and his blockers are wearing sneakers, which were borrowed from nearby Manhattan College and rushed to the Polo Grounds by locker-room attendant Abe Cohen:

Good sneakers shot in NYT

After the footwear change, it was all over for Chicago. The sneaks didn’t just give the Giants better footing, they enabled them to cut more sharply than the Bears could. Hall of Fame fullback Ken Strong scored the final two New York touchdowns — the first over the right side, the second up the middle. In the last part of the clip, he touches the ball down in the end zone, just like in the old days. (Thus the term “touchdown.”)

“Strong had been removed from the game in the first half with his left leg twisted,” Arthur Daley of The New York Times wrote. “He appeared out of it. But he came back in the second, apparently none the worse for wear.”

DEC. 13, 1936: PACKERS 21, REDSKINS 6

Globe 1936 headline

The ’36 title game should have been played in Boston, home of the Eastern champion Redskins. But the team didn’t draw well, so owner George Preston Marshall moved the game to New York’s Polo Grounds. (The next season, the franchise was in Washington.)

You’ll love the opening kickoff. According to the Milwaukee Sentinel, the Green Bay returner being picked up, carried back and slammed down is George Sauer (whose son, George Jr., starred for the Jets in Super Bowl III with eight catches for 133 yards, both game highs). Today, no doubt, Boston would have been hit with a personal-foul penalty.

The Packers led 7-6 at halftime thanks to this Hall of Famer-to-Hall of Famer heave from Arnie Herber to Don Hutson, good for a 48-yard touchdown:

Early in the second half Green Bay began to break it open. From the Sentinel: “Herber sent a long aerial down the field which Johnny Blood [another Hall of Famer] caught for a 51-yard gain, Don Irwin nailing him on the 9-yard line. After being halted three straight times on running plays, Herber found [end Milt] Gantenbein alone over the goal line and pegged one right in his arms for a touchdown.”

As the clip shows, Herber dropped back quite a ways before throwing the ball to Blood — 10 or 11 yards by my count. This was to give Johnny time to get downfield, but it’s also an indication of how unreliable pass protection was in that era. Linemen couldn’t use their hands yet, remember, and the concept of the pocket was still years off. (Plus, it was two years before there was a penalty for roughing the passer. Once the ball was released, the defense could pretty much whatever it wanted to the quarterback until the play was whistled dead.)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t insert this last screen shot. It’s of the Packers’ Lou Gordon — No. 53 — running around without a helmet. In 1936 headgear was still optional.

Helmetless No. 53 for 1936 Packers

I’d also be shirking my responsibility if I didn’t include the lead paragraph of the game story that ran in the Boston Globe. It was written by John Lardner — Ring’s son — then 24 and working for the New York Herald Tribune. Can you believe it? The Globe didn’t even staff the game (probably because Redskins were abandoning the city). Imagine the Los Angeles Times not covering Super Bowls XXXIV and XXXVI because the Rams had forsaken L.A.

Lardner lead

“. . . championship of the universe, and points south.” Classic.

DEC. 10, 1939: PACKERS 27, GIANTS 0 

Sentinel 1939 headline

Steve Owen, the Giants’ Hall of Fame coach, missed the game because of his mother’s death. That left the team in the hands of assistant Bo Molenda, a former Packer. The site was switched from Green Bay’s City Stadium to Milwaukee’s larger State Fair Park because this was, after all, the Depression. If a few more tickets could be sold . . . . And indeed, the crowd of 32,279 produced a gate of over $80,000, a record for an NFL title game. The winning Packers reportedly earned $703.97 each, the losing Giants $455.57.

Green Bay turned it into a rout in the third quarter after Gantenbein (yes, him again) picked off a pass and ran it back to the New York 33. A touchdown — one that made it 17-0 — soon followed. The Sentinel again: “[Quarterback Cecil] Isbell, faking and veering the ball nicely, slipped back, wheeled and passed downfield to [back] Joe Laws, who was all alone to take the ball on the 6 and romp over without a man getting within yards of him.”

Aren’t those goalposts the greatest? They were the new, improved version that moved the posts off the goal line, where they could be an obstruction on running plays. (The goal posts weren’t moved to the back of the end zone until 1974.) The post-TD “celebration,” by the way, is just beautiful. A teammate comes up and . . . shakes Law’s hand.

In the fourth quarter, Packers linebacker Bud Svendsen intercepted another Giants pass and returned it to the New York 15. This time Green Bay turned to trickery. “A double reverse, with [Harry] Jacunski carrying on an end-around, brought the ball to the 1 yards,” the Sentinel reported, “and [fullback Ed] Jankowski pounded over the New York right guard for the score.”

Here’s that sequence – interception/double reverse/short touchdown plunge — that gave the Packers their final points:

DEC. 21, 1941: BEARS 37, GIANTS 9

NYT 1941 headline

Once again, the Giants took a licking. Of course, this Bears club — just a year removed from the 73-0 evisceration of the Redskins in the title game — was nigh unbeatable. The game was played two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which might have had something to do with the disappointing attendance: 13,341.

Behind by four touchdowns in the final quarter, New York ran a gadget play in hopes of getting in a parting shot, but the Bears blew it up. The New York Times’ account:

Just before the end, 9 seconds away, [Steve] Owen inserted Andy Marefos into his lineup. The next play was the one that had worked against the Redskins in their first game with the Giants. Hank Soar rifled a lateral [pass] to Marefos, who was supposed to heave a long one down the field.

Before he could get rid of the ball, the entire Bear team hit him at once. The pigskin popped out of his hand and [end] Ken Kavanaugh picked it up and trotted 42 yards to the end zone.

And then America — and many of these players — went off to war.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

A block that still rocks

In case you missed last week’s annotated play-by-play of the 1940 NFL title game — Bears 73, Redskins nil — here’s another shot at it. Since the game was played Dec. 8, I thought I’d zero in on another aspect of it today: a block thrown by Chicago’s George Wilson on the second play from scrimmage.

If Wilson is remembered for anything in pro football, it’s probably for coaching the Lions to their last championship in 1957. (He was also the first coach of the Dolphins and, in his playing days, a fine two-way end for George Halas’ Monsters of the Midway in the ’40s.)

But what Wilson should be remembered for, above all, is the aforementioned block. It came on a 68-yard touchdown run by fullback Bill Osmanski that got the Bears off to a quick 7-0 lead (and foreshadowed the avalanche of points to come). Osmanski did a nice job of bouncing outside and into the clear, but it was Wilson’s downfield boom-lowering that turned it into walk-in (had his teammate so chosen). George wiped out the last two Redskins pursuers — Ed Justice (13) and Jimmy Johnston (31) — with one well-placed shoulder:

Here’s just the clip of The Block, so it’s easier to watch it over . . . and over . . . and over. No wonder Halas called it the greatest he’d ever seen. And let’s not forget: Without it, Osmanski might not have scored — and the Bears might have won only 66-0.

Finally, this is as close as I can come to a freeze frame:

Wilson hit (screen shot)

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Bears 73, Redskins 0: an annotated play-by-play

On Dec. 8, 1940, the Chicago Bears barreled into Washington’s Griffith Stadium and beat the Redskins 73-0 in the NFL championship game — the biggest smackdown in league history. What follows is an attempt to recreate that game, with the help of newspaper accounts, play by plays, video highlights and my own interviews with some of the players. The figures might be a yard off here and there, but they’re mostly accurate. (You’d be amazed at how inexact record keeping was in the prewar years.)

I’ve inserted comments and notes throughout to (hopefully) add to your reading pleasure. Enjoy.

Bears end Ken Kavanaugh: “I bought 26 tickets for friends of mine from Arkansas, Louisiana and around Chicago, and I think three of ’em were picked up. So when we get to Washington, I’ve got 23 tickets at $4 a head in my pocket. Our bus arrives at the stadium, and I go out in front and start selling the tickets. It takes me about a half-hour or so, but I finally get rid of them.
“Later I’m in the locker room getting dressed, and [coach George] Halas says, ‘Where the hell have you been, eating another sandwich?’ He used to get on me because I’d eat a sandwich before games. We didn’t have any pregame meal or anything, you see. We just went out and played. Anyway, I said, ‘George, I had 23 tickets to sell at $4 apiece, and I don’t know if we’re going to make that much playing this game, so I was out front selling ’em. Are we ready to go out [for warmups]?’ And he says, ‘In about 10 minutes.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s all I need.'”

Note: Kavanaugh needn’t have worried. The winning Bears each received $873.99, which would have more than covered the cost of the 23 tickets he got stuck with. 

Weather: Sunny, 40 degrees.

Attendance: 36,034.


Bears win toss, elect to receive.

Note: Among the officials were referee Red Friesell (he of the famous Fifth Down in the Cornell-Dartmouth game earlier that year) and linesman Irv Kupcinet (the Chicago Times sportswriter and erstwhile Philadelphia Eagle).

(Sound of whistle blowing.)

Redskins kick 55 yards from WAS 40 to CHI 5. Ray Nolting to CHI 25 for 20 yards.
1-10-C25 George McAfee up the middle to CHI 32 for 7 yards.
2-3-C32 Bill Osmanski left end for 68 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Jack Manders extra point is GOOD.
CHICAGO 7, WASHINGTON 0, 2 plays, 68 yards.

Note: Osmanski’s way was paved by one of the greatest blocks of all time. Bears end George Wilson wiped out not one but two Redskins along the sideline.

Osmanski headline

Bears kick 56 yards from CHI 40 to WAS 4. Max Krause to CHI 40 for 56 yards.
1-10-C40 Jimmy Johnston right tackle to CHI 34 for 6 yards.
2-4-C34 Johnston right tackle to CHI 28 for 6 yards.
1-10-C28 Ed Justice left tackle to CHI 26 for 2 yards.
2-8-C26 Johnston right end to CHI 26 for no gain.
3-8-C26 Sammy Baugh pass to Charlie Malone dropped at CHI 5.
4-8-C26 Bob Masterson 32 yard field goal is NO GOOD.

Comment: Dropping a Baugh pass took some doing. Sammy laid it out there on a pillow. Malone somehow managed, though.

1-10-C20 McAfee left end to CHI 24 for 4 yards.
2-6-C24 Nolting right tackle to CHI 27 for 3 yards.
3-3-C27 Osmanski right tackle to CHI 49 for 22 yards.
1-10-C49 Nolting up the middle to WAS 48 for 3 yards.
2-7-W48 Nolting up the middle to WAS 45 for 3 yards.
3-4-W45 McAfee left end to WAS 39 for 6 yards.
1-10-W39 Nolting right tackle to WAS 37 for 2 yards.
2-8-W37 McAfee left tackle to WAS 31 for 6 yards.
3-2-W31 McAfee left guard to WAS 28 for 3 yards.
Timeout #1 by CHI
1-10-W28 Nolting right tackle to WAS 27 for 1 yard.
2-9-W27 Osmanski right tackle to WAS 21 for 6 yards.
3-3-W21 McAfee to WAS 19 for 2 yards.
4-1-W19 Nolting through tackle to WAS 14 for 5 yards.
1-10-W14 Sid Luckman flat pass to Nolting to WAS 2 for 12 yards.
1-2-W2 Osmanski right tackle to WAS 2 for no gain.
2-2-W2 Osmanski right tackle to WAS 2 for no gain.
FUMBLES (Erny Pinckert hit), RECOVERED by CHI-Joe Stydahar at W3.
Stydahar to W1 for 2 yards.
3-1-W1 Luckman up the middle for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.
Bob Snyder extra point is GOOD.
CHICAGO 14, WASHINGTON 0, 17 plays, 80 yards.

Comment: A 17-play drive. Ouch. The Redskins went with a five-man line on defense pretty much the whole way. That’s what had worked for them earlier in the season, when they shut down the Bears’ revolutionary T formation in a 7-3 victory. As teams would soon learn, though, the T — in the early stages, at least — was most vulnerable to a seven-man front, which made it easier to pressure the passer and turn sweeps inside.

Bears kick 60 yards from CHI 40 to end zone, Touchback.
1-10-W20 Baugh flat pass to Johnston to W14 for -6 yards.
2-16-W14 Baugh pass incomplete over middle. (Bulldog Turner nearly intercepts.)
3-16-W14 Baugh pass through hands of Bob McChesney at W42.
4-16-W14 Baugh punts 28 yards to W42 (partially blocked).

Comment: Are you getting the impression this isn’t the Redskins’ day? They’ve already had two drops, a missed field goal, a near INT and a deflected punt. And it’s still the first quarter.

1-10-W42 Joe Maniaci left end for 42 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Phil Martinovich extra point is GOOD.
CHICAGO 21, WASHINGTON 0, 1 play, 42 yards.

Note: This was essentially the same play Osmanski scored on. Again, a five-man line wasn’t as effective against the wide stuff the T threw at you (thanks, among other things, to the quick-strike capability of the man-in-motion).

Bears kick out of bounds. Redskins ball at WAS 45.
1-10-W45 Frank Filchock flat pass to McChesney. FUMBLES,
RECOVERED by WAS-Bo Russell at WAS 39 for -6 yards.
2-16-W39 Filchock pass incomplete to Bob Hoffman.
3-16-W39 Filchock long pass incomplete to Wilbur Moore.
4-16-W39 Filchock punts 36 yards to CHI 25, McAfee to CHI 42 for 17 yards.

Comment: Baugh shared the quarterback duties with Filchock, so it was never unusual to see Frankie come into the game. Despite the change, though, the Redskins continued to kill themselves on first down. They’d begun two straight series with a 6-yard loss — and would begin their next with an interception.

1-10-C42 Luckman overthrows lateral pass to Nolting,
ball goes out of bounds at CHI 28 for -14 yards.
2-24-C28 Luckman quick-kicks 58 yards to WAS 14. Moore to WAS 20 for 6 yards. Quarter ends.

Comment: A rare goof by the Bears. So what did they do? They played it safe with a three-touchdown lead and punted on second down. Welcome to 1940s strategy.


1-10-W20 Filchock long pass for Moore INTERCEPTED by Scooter McLean at 50. No return.

Note: McLean dropkicked an extra point in the ’41 title game — the last successful dropkick in the NFL until Doug Flutie booted one for the Patriots in 2005.

1-10-50 Harry Clark right tackle to WAS 49 for 1 yard.
2-9-W49 Off fake reverse, Maniaci right tackle to WAS 43 for 6 yards.
3-3-W43 Maniaci right guard to WAS 39 for 4 yards.
1-10-W39 Luckman pass to Maniaci to WAS 11 for 28 yards.
1-10-W11 McLean FUMBLES handoff from Luckman,
RECOVERED by WAS-McChesney at W19 for -8 yards.

Comment: Another reminder the Bears didn’t play a perfect game.

1-10-W19 Filchock up the middle to WAS 22 for 3 yards.
2-7-W22 Filchock pass incomplete down middle to Dick Todd.
3-7-W22 Filchock flat pass to Hoffman to WAS 29 for 7 yards.
1-10-W29 Filchock long pass to Wayne Millner to CHI 29 for 42 yards.
1-10-C29 Filchock pass incomplete to Todd.
2-10-C29 Filchock pass incomplete (Dick Plasman pressuring him).
3-10-C18 Filchock pass to Millner to CHI 18 for 11 yards.
Timeout #2 by CHI
1-10-C18 Filchock pass batted down by Plasman.
2-10-C18 Filchock pass to McChesney dropped at CHI 5.
3-10-C18 Filchock pass incomplete to Moore in end zone.
4-10-C18 Filchock pass incomplete to McChesney.

Note: McChesney reportedly played with his right hand in a splint. That might explain his problems on the second down play.

1-10-C18 Manders right end to CHI 18 for no gain.
2-10-C18 Luckman pass to Bobby Swisher to WAS 46 for 36 yards.
1-10-W46 McLean left end to WAS 26 for 20 yards.
1-10-W26 Osmanski runs to WAS 26 for no gain.
2-10-W26 McLean runs to WAS 24 for 2 yards.
3-8-W24 Luckman pass to Plasman at WAS 12 knocked down by Todd
4-8-W24 Martinovich 32-yard field goal is NO GOOD.

Note: Plasman, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound end, was the last NFLer to play without a helmet. He went bareheaded through the ’41 season. As he explained it, whenever he looked up for a pass, “the flap [of his headgear] always fell down over my eyes so that I couldn’t follow the flight of the ball. . . . One day, after a pass bounced off my chest, Halas said I wouldn’t have to wear a helmet anymore.”

1-10-W20 Filchock scrambles to WAS 37 for 17 yards.
1-10-W37 Filchock pass nearly intercepted by Plasman.
2-10-W37 Filchock long pass to Millner INTERCEPTED by Nolting at CHI 34.
Nolting for 10 yards to CHI 44.

Note: The Redskins’ eight interceptions are still the all-time record for the postseason. But get this: In the previous year’s title game, the Packers threw six INTs and won, 28-0. It was, indeed, a different time. Offenses were much looser with the ball.

1-10-C44 Nolting right tackle to WAS 47 for 9 yards.
2-1-W47 Nolting up the middle to WAS 42 for 5 yards.
1-10-W42 Osmanski runs to WAS 42 for no gain.
2-10-W42 Luckman laterals to Osmanski, who runs to WAS 31 for 11 yards.
1-10-W31 Nolting right tackle to WAS 28 for 3 yards.
2-7-W27 Osmanski runs to WAS 29 for -2 yards.
3-9-W29 Luckman pass to Ken Kavanaugh in end zone for 29 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Snyder extra point is GOOD.
CHICAGO 28, WASHINGTON 0, 7 plays, 56 yards.

Comment: Kavanaugh was surrounded by so many top players during his years with the Bears that he’s never been properly appreciated. Look at it this way: 52 of his 168 receptions in the NFL, regular season and postseason, went for touchdowns — 31 percent. You won’t find a higher TD rate in league history (among receivers with that many catches, anyway). Jerry Rice’s rate was less than half that.

Bears kick 60 yards to goal line. Filchock to WAS 25 for 25 yards.
1-10-W25 Filchock pass incomplete to Millner.
2-10-W25 Baugh pass complete over middle to Andy Farkas to WAS 44 for 19 yards.
1-10-W44 Baugh pass to Johnston to CHI 49 for 7 yards.
2-3-C49 Baugh pass to Hoffman to CHI 48 for 1 yard.
3-2-C48 Baugh long pass incomplete to Johnston.
4-2-C48 Baugh pass complete over middle to Johnston to CHI 41 for 7 yards.
1-10-C41 PENALTY on WAS, delay of game5 yardsenforced at CHI 41.
1-15-C46 Baugh long pass complete to Malone to CHI 5 for 41 yards.
1-5-C5 PENALTY on WAS, delay of game5 yardsenforced at CHI 5.
1-10-C10 Baugh pass to Farkas INTERCEPTED by Osmanski at CHI 6. Half ends.

Note: Judging from the newspaper stories, the Redskins were penalized for calling timeouts they didn’t have, not for taking too much time to get off plays. When you were out of timeouts in those days, you either faked an injury or took a five-yard penalty.


Bears kick 35 yards from CHI 40 to WAS 25. Malone to WAS 34 for 9 yards.
1-10-W34 Johnston right end to WAS 34 for no gain.~~PENALTY on WAS, holding, 15 yards, enforced at WAS 34.
1-25-W19 Baugh flat pass to Johnson INTERCEPTED by Hamp Pool at WAS 19.~~Pool for 19 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Plasman extra point is GOOD.

Note: No fewer than 11 players in the game — enough for a team — went on to be NFL or AFL head coaches. Pool (Rams) was one, along with teammates Scooter McLean (Packers), Bob Snyder (Rams), Joe Stydahar (Rams), Bulldog Turner (New York Titans), George Wilson (Lions, Dolphins) and, on the Redskins side, Sammy Baugh (New York Titans, Houston Oilers), Turk Edwards (Redskins), Frank Filchock (Broncos), Wayne Millner (Eagles) and Dick Todd (Redskins). Stydahar (1951 Rams) and Wilson (’57 Lions) even won championships.

Bears kick from CHI 40. PENALTY on CHI, offside, 5 yards, enforced at CHI 40.
Bears kick from CHI 35 to end zone. Ed Justice FUMBLES and recovers, Touchback.
1-10-W20 Baugh pass to Malone to WAS 31 for 11 yards.
1-10-W31 Baugh flat pass to Masterson to WAS 38 for 7 yards.
2-3-W38 Baugh pass to Johnston incomplete.
PENALTY on CHI, Pass Interference, Spot of Foul, enforced at WAS 43 — No Play.
1-10-W43 Johnston up the middle to WAS 46 for 3 yards.
2-7-W46 Baugh pass to Justice to 50 for 4 yards.
3-3-W50 Baugh FUMBLES snap. RECOVERED by WAS-Johnston for -16 yards.
4-19-W34 Baugh long pass to Malone incomplete.

Notes: Down 35-0, the Redskins went for it on fourth-and-forever in their own territory. This is how bad becomes worse. . . . Botched snaps by Washington in this quarter resulted in losses of 16 and 17 yards — and soon were followed by Bears touchdowns.,

1-10-W34 On reverse, Nolting right end to WAS 23 for 11 yards.
1-10-W23 Nolting up the middle for 23 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Plasman extra point is NO GOOD.
CHICAGO 41, WASHINGTON 0, 2 plays, 34 yards.

Comment: Two plays, 68 yards. One play, 42 yards. Two plays, 34 yards. (And later: one play, 2 yards.) The Redskins defense sure got the ball back quickly for the offense.

Bears kick 60 yards to end zone, Touchback.
1-10-W20 Seymour left tackle to WAS 20 for no gain.
2-10-W20 Roy Zimmerman pass INTERCEPTED by McAfee at WAS 34.
McAfee for 34 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Stydahar extra point is GOOD.

Redskins quarterback Roy Zimmerman: “A nightmare [day]. I had two interceptions run back for touchdowns. On that one [by McAfee], I broke [teammate] Charley Malone’s ribs trying to make the tackle. I was coming at [McAfee] from an angle, Charley was coming up from behind, and I hooked [McAfee] with my arm and got swung into Charley and broke his ribs.” (You can see the collision at the end of the clip.)

Comment: Had the game had been played in the 1920s, the officials probably would have shortened the last two periods from 15 minutes to 12 or 10. Back then, the attitude was: No sense belaboring the obvious.

Bears kick 60 yards to end zone. Zimmerman to WAS 33 for 33 yards.
1-10-W33 Bob Seymour left guard to WAS 34 for 1 yard.
2-9-W34 Zimmerman pass to Seymour incomplete.
3-9-W34 Zimmerman pass to Masterson to WAS 49 for 15 yards.
1-10-W49 Ray Hare left end to CHI 44 for 7 yards.
PENALTY on CHI, offside, 5 yards, enforced at WAS 49 — No Play.
1-5-C46 Seymour right end to CHI 31 for 15 yards.
1-10-C31 Zimmerman sacked at CHI 43 for -12 yards.
PENALTY on CHI, roughing the quarterback, 15 yards, enforced at CHI 43.
1-10-C28 Zimmerman pass to Hare in end zone incomplete.
2-10-C28 Zimmerman pass to Masterson to CHI 16 for 12 yards.
1-10-C16 Seymour runs to CHI 16 for no gain.
2-10-C16 Zimmerman back to pass, rushed, throws it away.
3-10-C16 Zimmerman pass to Masterson incomplete.
4-10-C16 Zimmerman overthrows Dick Farman in end zone on guard-eligible play

Comment: A guard-eligible play. Imagine that. (And naturally, Farman was wide open.) Such trickery was possible, though, in the Redskins’ single wing, where the unbalanced line looked like this:

E  G  C  G  T  T  E

To make the guard eligible for passes, all you had to do was have the weak side end (in this case, Bob Masterson) line up as the wingback — and move the right halfback to the line of scrimmage (to give you the required seven linemen). This turned the guard into, technically, the end. Observe:

G  C  G  T  T  E      RHB


The Redskins had beaten the Eagles two years before with a guard-eligible play to 6-1, 247-pound Bill Young. Farman was a little more ambulatory at 219.        

1-10-C20 McAfee right tackle to CHI 24 for 4 yards.
2-6-C24 Osmanski right end to CHI 26 for 2 yards.
3-4-C26 McAfee halfback option pass to wide-open Plasman, who drops it.
4-4-C26 McAfee punts 38 yards out of bounds to WAS 36.

Comment: Things were starting to get chippy. In this series, Bears back Ray Nolting, who went 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, threw a punch at Redskins tackle Wee Willie Wilkin, a 6-4, 261-pound monster. Nolting was a tough nut. Bob Snyder once told me that in his first scrimmage with the Bears, he was lying on the ground after being tackled, thinking the play was over, only to have Nolting come along and unload on him. When Snyder complained about his new teammate’s lack of, uh, fraternity, Nolting was unmoved. “What did ya expect me to do,” he said, “kiss ya?”

1-10-W36 Zimmerman runs to WAS 38 for 2 yards.
2-8-W38 Bad center snap RECOVERED by WAS-Zimmerman at WAS 21 for -17 yards.
3-25-W21 Zimmerman pass over the middle to Seymour INTERCEPTED by Bulldog Turner at WAS 24.
Turner for 24 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Maniaci extra point is BLOCKED by Clyde Shugart.

Comment: The Bears were having their jollies at this point, letting everybody but the trainer try a PAT. It wasn’t unusual in the single-platoon era for a club to use multiple kickers in a game, but the Bears used seven.

Bears quarterback Sid Luckman: “When the score got to be 54-0, somebody in the huddle said, ‘Ah, let’s take it easy on ’em. That’s enough.’ And you know, 10 guys jumped down his throat. This is not an exaggeration. This is a true fact.”

Bears kick 39 yards to WAS 21. Pinckert to WAS 31 for 11 yards.
1-10-W31 Zimmerman pass over middle to Hare dropped.
2-10-W31 Zimmerman flat pass to Seymour to 50 for 19 yards.
PENALTY on WAS, offside, 5 yards, enforced at WAS 31 — No Play.
2-15-W26 Zimmerman pass to Seymour to WAS 33 for 7 yards.
3-8-W33 Zimmerman pass to Sandy Sanford incomplete.
4-8-W33 Zimmerman punts 61 yards to CHI 6. Clark to CHI 15 for 9 yards.

Comment: Zimmerman, the Redskins’ No. 3 quarterback, threw 12 passes in the game. That’s as many as he threw in any of his three seasons with the team. But Redskins coach Ray Flaherty was so desperate he was willing to try anybody. Zimmerman, by the way, developed into a fine passer-punter-kicker after he was traded to the Eagles in 1943. In fact, the three Washington quarterbacks were as good a group as you’ll find. Baugh is iconic, of course — even though he was dreadful on this day — and Filchock had a passer rating of 111.6 in ’39 (when he completed a stunning 61.8 percent of his throws). Frankie also took the Giants to the title game in ’46.

1-10-C15 Clark right end to CHI 26 for 11 yards. Quarter ends.


1-10-C26 Gary Famiglietti left tackle to CHI 29 for 3 yards.
2-7-C29 Famiglietti off tackle to CHI 32 for 3 yards.
3-4-C32 Clark up the middle to CHI 42 for 10 yards.
1-10-C42 On end-around, Bob Nowasky to CHI 48 for 7 yards.
2-3-C49 Solly Sherman left end to CHI 49 for no gain.
PENALTY on WAS, slugging, 15 yards, enforced at CHI 49 — No Play.
1-10-W36 Sherman sacked by Millner at WAS 44 for -8 yards.
2-18-W44 Clark runs to WAS 44 for no gain.
3-18-W44 Sherman to Famiglietti to Clark on reverse to end zone for 44 yards
Famiglietti extra point NO GOOD.
CHICAGO 60, WASHINGTON 0, 7 plays, 74 yards.

Comment: The Redskins apparently didn’t like that end-around Chicago ran with a 54-0 lead. On the next snap, one of them slugged a Bear. Chicago responded by scoring yet another touchdown — on a third-and-18 reverse. You don’t see retribution like this anymore.

Bears kick 48 yards to WAS 12. Filchock to WAS 24 for 12 yards.
1-10-W24 Filchock pass to Millner to WAS 36 for 12 yards.
PENALTY (unspecified) on WAS, 15 yards, enforced at WAS 27 — No Play.
1-22-W12 Filchock pass to McChesney incomplete.
PENALTY on CHI, Pass Interference, Spot of Foul, enforced at WAS 19 — No Play. 
1-10-W19 Filchock sacked, FUMBLES, RECOVERED by CHI-Jack Torrance at WAS 2.

Note: Torrance was nothing special as a tackle, but he held the world shot put record longer than any man in modern times — almost 14 years — after throwing it 57 feet, 1 inch, in 1934.

1-10-W2 Famiglietti left guard for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Sherman pass to Maniaci in end zone, extra point is GOOD.
CHICAGO 67, WASHINGTON 0, 1 play, 2 yards.

Note: After Famiglietti’s score, the referee informed the Bears that the Redskins had run out of footballs. So rather than kick the last ball into the stands, they passed on their final two PAT attempts.

Bears kick 55 yards to WAS 5. Farkas to WAS 40 for 35 yards.
1-10-W40 Filchock pass to Millner to WAS 48 for 8 yards.
2-2-W48 Filchock long pass off hands of Bears’ Chet Chesney, INTERCEPTED by Maniaci.
Maniaci to WAS 42.

Note: That’s the same Chet Chesney who was elected to Congress from Illinois’ 11th District in 1948.

1-10-W42 Maniaci left tackle to WAS 37 for 5 yards.
PENALTY on CHI, offside, 5 yards, enforced at WAS 42 — No Play.
1-15-W47 Snyder sacked by Millner at CHI 43 for -10 yards.
2-25-C43 Snyder pass to Kavanaugh to CHI 45 for 2 yards.
3-23-C45 Snyder pass to Joe Mihal on tackle-eligible play to WAS 41 for 14 yards.
4-9-W41 Snyder pass to Maniaci to WAS 21 for 20 yards.
1-10-W21 Clark left end to WAS 13 for 8 yards.
2-2-W13 Maniaci right guard to WAS 6 for 7 yards.
1-6-W6 Maniaci right tackle to WAS 1 for 5 yards.
2-1-W1 Clark runs for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.
Snyder’s pass to Maniaci in end zone knocked down, extra point NO GOOD.
CHICAGO 73, WASHINGTON 0, 8 plays, 58 yards.

Comment: I’ve sometimes wondered whether Millner truly belongs in the Hall of Fame. After all, he caught just 124 passes in seven seasons and never led the league in any receiving category. But as this game shows, he was a terrific two-way end. He led all receivers with six grabs for 94 yards (depending on your source) and also had two sacks. This, after having a huge title game against the Bears in ’37 (nine catches, 160 yards, touchdowns of 55 and 78). The guy was clearly a prime-time player.

Bears kick returned to WAS 40.
1-10-W40 Filchock pass to Millner to CHI 48 for 12 yards.
1-10-C48 Filchock pass to Millner to CHI 39 for 9 yards.
2-1-C39 Filchock long pass to Millner INTERCEPTED by Maniaci, laterals to Clark at CHI 35.
PENALTY on CHI, forward lateral, 15 yards, enforced at CHI 35.

Note: Up 73-0, the Bears are LATERALING and trying to score again.

1-10-C20 Snyder flat pass to Famiglietti to CHI 31 for 11 yards.
1-10-C31 Snyder fakes pass and runs up the middle to CHI 33 for 2 yards.

Marshall headline

Comment: As if the lateral on the interception wren’t enough, the Bears called a pass and a fake pass on the last two plays. They basically taunted the Redskins the entire second half. Afterward, Washington owner George Preston Marshall accused his players of quitting, but then he thought about it some more and decided: “They simply lost their heads.” That sounds about right.

One final thought on the Biggest of Blowouts: The Bears were even better the next season, when Sid Luckman had another year of experience and they added Norm Standlee, a Nagurskiesque fullback. But a game like this, well, you only have one of those.

Sources: The Washington PostThe Official NFL EncyclopediaThe National Forgotten League, pro-football-reference.com.

Seven weeks before the Sudden Death Game

The Cowboys played the Jaguars in London today, but the NFL wasn’t always this big.

Consider: On this day in 1958, the Colts lost to the Giants at Yankee Stadium, 24-21 – a preview of their overtime thriller later that year in the title game. Afterward, their Hall of Fame receiver, Raymond Berry, went to CBS’s studios in New York and had a panel of celebrities try to guess his occupation on the game show What’s My Line?

Except for a pair of glasses — which were no disguise (he needed them) — Berry did nothing to hide his identity. He even signed in, with wonderful penmanship, as “Raymond Berry” — instead of, say, R. Emmett Berry or R. E. Berry, which would have been trickier.

But again, this was 1958. So even though Berry had led the NFL in receiving yards the year before — and would lead it in receptions and receiving touchdowns in that ’58 season — he wasn’t immediately recognized. The panelists were very observant, though, noticed his athletic physique and ramrod-straight posture, and quickly figured him for a jock.

The exchange between Bennett Cerf, the publisher/humorist, and Berry was just priceless:

Cerf: You’re playing at the present time on some professional outfit. Is that correct?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf: Is it a football team?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf: Is it a football team in the National Football League?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf:: Did you play today in that fantastically exciting game up at the Yankee Stadium?

Berry: Yes, I did.

Cerf: Well, then, you’re a football player on either the Colts or the Giants. . . . Uh, Berry, . . . Raymond Berry. . . . You’re the end who almost caught a pass in the last quarter that would have beaten the Giants. You’re an end for the Baltimore Colts.

Berry: That’s right, sir.

Here’s the whole clip:

Did you notice, by the way, how Cerf pronounced Johnny Unitas’ last name as “YOU-knee-toss”? (Unitas had missed the game with broken ribs, and backup George Shaw had thrown three TD passes, including a 23-yarder to Berry.) Yes, it was a different world in 1958 — before London games and the NFL Network. But you have to remember: In those days, the Colts-Giants game would have been blacked out in New York. The only way Cerf or anybody on the panel could have seen it is if they had a ticket — unless, that is, they wanted to drive to Connecticut, outside the Blackout Zone, and rent a hotel room.

Anyway, on Dec. 28, Raymond Berry returned to New York and caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown as the Colts defeated the Giants, 23-17, in OT. Had he gone on “What’s My Line?” that night, Cerf probably wouldn’t have said to him, “You’re playing at the present time on some professional outfit. Is that correct?”

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