Thinking Out Loud: Remembering NFL legend Frank Gifford

The headline regarding Frank Gifford’s death shocked me. The family reported that he died suddenly from natural causes.

I was privileged to meet and chat with him in January 2013, while working on The Game before Money. He just lit up talking about the old days. His youthful energy resurfaced remembering his playing days with Tom Landry, Andy Robustelli, and Harland Svare. His eyes gleamed with delight.

His eyes really stood out. The televisions of the 1970s lacked the definition to convey the color. They were a light shade of blue I’ve never seen before or since. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t pay attention to the color of a man’s eyes. Only Gifford’s stood out that much that they were memorable. Iconic.

Football changed dramatically from the time Gifford started playing in high school to the time he left Monday Night Football. Gifford told me that he expected to follow his father’s rugged footsteps into the oil fields of the San Joaquin Valley, without any extra thought about his future.

A high school guidance counselor told Frank that he might be able to get him a scholarship at USC if he played football and improved at school. Gifford played well enough to earn a scholarship, but had to go to junior college to improve his grades, even after getting straight A’s his senior year. He made JuCo All-American and was offered all sorts of scholarships. He stayed with USC.

Gifford, a first-round NFL pick, signed for $8,000 and a $250 signing bonus. Back in his day, players had to work off-season jobs to supplement their NFL income. Gifford pursued acting in the off-season, doing both stunt work and obtaining speaking roles. He told me that off-season work ultimately led to his career in broadcasting.

The path of off-season work leading to a post-NFL career was common, even into the 1980s. Irv Cross told me many players saw the NFL as a stepping stone to their next career move. By the time Gifford left Monday Night Football in the late 90s, lucrative contracts won through free-agency rocketed player salaries. Gone were the days of needing to work in the off-season.

Television was a huge part of the NFL’s growth, and Gifford’s role on Monday Night Football was a huge part of it. Here was a trained actor – a natural fit for a television host – between the enormous personalities of Don Meredith and Howard Cosell.

Back then there were only three networks – CBS, NBC, and ABC. Now, ESPN owns more than three networks alone. Credit Pete Rozelle for getting the NFL on all three networks every single week during football season. That exposure greatly helped lead the NFL to the vast seas of revenue it enjoys today.

Gifford broke into the NFL in 1952. Before then there were famous football players. Sammy Baugh, Bronko Nagurski, and Red Grange come to mind. During those fabulous 50s and into the 60s, football and television married. Not only did people like Gifford and Johnny Unitas become famous football players, they became American icons, woven into the fabric of our culture.

 

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Classic NFL Games — 1962 NFL Championship — Second Half

This is part two in a two-part series, covering the second half of this classic contest. Part one, covering the first half, can be found here. The game summary is in present tense to hopefully give a feel for events unfolding in real time.

The Packers lead 10-0 at halftime. The brutal weather conditions curtail the Giants prolific passing game. A potential 17-point lead looks insurmountable. Green Bay receives the second-half kickoff an opportunity to take that sizeable advantage.

Tom Moore fields Don Chandler’s kick. Moore breaks down the sideline. He races all the way to the 50, but fumbles as he goes down. Ken Iman recovers for the Packers. Green Bay’s fortunate to recover all of their fumbles today.

Jim Taylor is stuffed by Dick Modzelewski on first down. The Packers line up strong right on second, and Bart Starr completes a pass to Boyd Dowler at the Giant 41. On 3rd and 1, Tom Scott forces Taylor to fumble at the line of scrimmage. Fuzzy Thurston recovers this one for the Packers, although they are forced to punt. Max McGee’s punt is downed at the Giant 6.

The Giants come out of halftime’s gate looking sharp. Alex Webster takes the first down handoff to about the 10, where he’s dragged down by Henry Jordan and Ray Nitschke. Webster runs off tackle on second down, breaking into the Packer secondary. Hank Gremminger tackles him at the 23-yard line. Webster takes his third handoff in a row for 2 yards to the 25.

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Y.A. Tittle now looks to pass. He airs it to Del Shofner for a first down at the Giant 36. Phil King runs to the 41, and Webster adds 2 more yards before Bill Quinlan wraps him up. On 3rd and 3, Webster goes off tackle left and gets to the midfield stripe.

Tittle calls a pass on first down. Quinlan and Bill Forester force Tittle to hurry, and the pass intended for Shofner falls incomplete. The Giants run a play-action to stall the pass rush, but the Packers bulldoze through. Tittle’s dump to Webster only gets them back to the line of scrimmage.

The Packers aggressive defense is called for offsides, giving the Giants 5 yards. On 3rd and 5 linebacker Dan Currie snuffs out a screen to Joe Morrison. Chandler’s punt bounces into the end zone for a touchback.

Paul Hornung takes a handoff, but Sam Huff, Bill Winter and Jim Katcavage of the Giants crush him for a 5-yard loss. Starr misses two straight passes to McGee, the first nearly being intercepted by Dick Lynch. McGee lines up to punt for Green Bay.

Giant cornerback Erich Barnes notices Packer Lew Carpenter lined up inside and decides to rush McGee, letting Carpenter go free. Barnes’ gamble pays huge dividends; he blocks the punt. Packer Gary Barnes tries to pick up the ball near the 3, but the rookie from Clemson can’t find the handle. A mass of blue shirts converge. Jim Collier falls on top of the ball at the goal line. The refs signal a Giants touchdown and Yankee Stadium goes delirious.

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“It was dangerous,” Barnes told Sports Illustrated. “When I go in like that, I’m exposing my area to a pass….It’s a judgment thing and you have to decide quickly.”

The score is now 10-7, Packers. Tom Moore fields the kickoff, breaks a tackle at the 25, and gets to the Packer 34.

What happens next wouldn’t happen today. Starr tells the officials that his teammates can’t hear the signals. The Packers return to the huddle while the officials quiet the crowd.

Giant lineman Rosey Grier refuses to be quiet. He slams Jim Taylor for a 1-yard loss on first down. The Packers run a sweep, but Modzelewski and Scott push Taylor back another 2 yards. Starr throws to Kramer on 3rd, but it’s broken up and nearly intercepted by Winter. Momentum favors the Giants right now.

The Packers punt again, McGee booting a low, sinking punt. Just as quickly as momentum changed in the Giants favor earlier, Lady Luck winks at the Packers. Sam Horner fumbles the punt and Ray Nitschke comes out of the rugged pile up clutching the ball. The Packers regain possession at the Giant 42-yard line.

Taylor busts left on a sweep for 12 yards. Andy Robustelli brings him down, and they both roll to a stop. Taylor casually gets up and tosses the ball to the refs. Robustelli charges Taylor with a clenched fist headed towards his face. Taylor jerks back, looking as surprised as a high school football coach after an icy Gatorade bath. The refs, however, appear indifferent. Two of them grab Robustelli rather calmly, possibly asking him to politely reconsider punching ol’ Jimmy after the play.

NFL PLAYOFFS

The Packers gain nothing on first down, and Taylor fights for 4 tough yards on second. Starr slips while passing on third. The ball floats in the air, seemingly without direction. Boyd Dowler comes from nowhere to lasso it in on the sideline at the Giant 22.

It’s not, however, enough for a first down. The Packers line up for a field goal, and Kramer again pushes it through the uprights. The Packers get points off the turnover, but the Giants can still take the lead with a touchdown. The score is 13-7 with 4 minutes left in the third.

The Lombardi legacy as we know it had not been built. The Packers were in their third straight title game, having lost to the Eagles in 1960 and topping the Giants in 1961. They were good, not iconic. The legend remained under construction, future Hall of Famers like Willie Davis laboring long hours as crew.

“Those games really were signature moments at the most critical time in the league’s history,” Davis told the New York Times decades later. “We were these nobodies from little old Wisconsin, and they were the Giants from big and sophisticated New York. And they were a recognized great team with lots of stars. But we had Lombardi, we were determined, and we were ready to show it.”

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Willie Davis had a Hall of Fame career with the Packers.

The Giants, winners of the 1956 title, were runners-up in 1958, 59, and 61. They weren’t about to cower to the young Packers. After Willie Wood’s kick sails through the end zone for a touchback, the Giants adjust their offense to the steady 25mph winds.

Tittle drops back two steps, and immediately throws to Frank Gifford on the sideline. The “Sideline Pass” nets the Giants 6 yards. After Forester and Quinlan stop Webster for no gain, the Giants run the exact same Sideline Pass for a first down. Packer cornerback Herb Adderley experiences difficulty defending the play, which is over almost as quickly as it starts

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Sports Illustrated put Frank Gifford on the cover previewing the game.

Tittle throws Del Shofner’s way twice. Packer Jesse Whittington breaks up the first pass. Whittenton tackles Shofner immediately after Shofner grabs the second one at the Giant 42. Coincidentally, Shofner and Whittenton were once roommates with the Rams. The refs measure for a first, and declare it 3rd and 1.

Alex Webster barely gets enough for the first down. Tittle throws to tight end Joe Walton across midfield to the Green Bay 47. Tittle goes back to Shofner on second down, and a bizarre sequence ensues.

Willie Wood breaks up the pass. Back Judge Thomas Kelleher tosses a flag for pass interference. Willie outstretches his hands in disbelief as Kelleher runs past him to mark the ball. Kelleher trips over Wood. Wood gets ejected for bumping Kelleher. This also tacks 15 yards of personal foul yardage onto the play. The Packers find themselves without a future Hall of Famer in the secondary. The Giants happily find themselves camped on the Packer 18.

Afterward Wood said, “I jumped up to protest and my hand must have hit him in the chest. I guess he must have thought I was trying to throw a punch.”

Kelleher stated, “In my opinion, Wood committed an overt act in striking me that called for disqualification.”

Commissioner Pete Rozelle noted that ejections carry at least $50 in fines.

Tension fills Yankee Stadium. The home team knocks on the door to take the lead late in the third. Optimism and excitement warm the frosty fans in the dropping temperatures.

Tittle overthrows Shofner on first down. On second down, Tittle hands off to King, who hands off to Gifford on a reverse. Gifford’s met immediately by Packer Bill Forester and back to Tittle, nearly 10 yards behind him. Tittle throws right to linebacker Dan Currie, who drops an easy interception. A collective sigh of relief fills Yankee Stadium.

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The Giants run a play-action pass on third, but tight end Joe Walton gets nabbed for a penalty behind the line of scrimmage. This sends the Giants back to the Packer 40, and a 3rd and 32 situation.

Tittle completes a 7-yard pass to Webster, but the Giants again get flagged. What was once 1st and 10 on the Packer 18 is now 3rd and 47 near their own 40! The Giants punt after an incomplete pass. The ball stops at the Packer 28, ten yards behind the original line of scrimmage.

An action-packed third quarter ends. The quarter featured momentum shifts, an ejection, scoring by both teams, but no lead changes. The Packers still own a 13-7 margin.

FOURTH QUARTER

The Packers start on their own 28. Starr fakes a handoff to Taylor, and gives to Tom Moore on kind of a reverse sweep. Moore breaks all the way to the 43. He’s had good kick returns and now a good rush today. After an incomplete pass, Taylor gets to the 47 before Huff, Grier and Modzelewski slam him down. Starr fires incomplete in McGee’s direction, and the Packers punt again.

The Giants start on their 24. Phil King goes left for 3 yards, where Jordan and Nitschke  unpleasantly greet him. Tittle fires a Sideline Pass to Gifford, but this time it’s incomplete. Tittle throws over the middle on third, where Gremminger bats it in Adderley’s direction, and Herb nearly intercepts.

Elijah Pitts fields Don Chandler’s punt at the Packer 22. He makes a nifty return to the Giant 43. Two handoffs result in only one yard thanks to Modzelewski and Huff. Bart Starr backpedals deep on third. He fires to Max McGee who makes the catch at the Giant 30.

The Pack go back to the run, but Huff, Modzelewski, and Tom Scott bust Taylor at the line of scrimmage. The Packers run a draw to Taylor, and Jim Katcavage isn’t fooled; Taylor gets knocked back 2 yards. The Packers try a draw to Moore, and Katcavage laughs, pounding Moore down also.

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Jim Katcavage played 13 seasons for the Giants.

Green Bay lines up for a field goal, but the kick falls short. Jimmy Patton picks it up at the 3 and maybe gets to the 5. The Giants start deep in their own end.

Dan Hanner stops Alex Webster for no gain. A second down pass to Shofner misses. The Packers jump offside, giving the Giants 3rd and 5. Tittle then connects with Gifford down the sideline at the 25. Adderely forcefully knocks Gifford out of bounds. Gifford’s body sails several feet, almost into the player bench. He still picks up the first down.

Tittle then hits Walton at the 37 for another first down. The Giants are moving, trailing by only 6 with about 8 minutes left. A touchdown puts them ahead.

New York runs a play-action, but the pass intended for Walton falls harmlessly to the ground. A Sideline Pass to Gifford gains 7, but a busted play-action on third forces the Giants to punt again. Both defenses excel at disrupting plays now.

The Packers start at their own 28 with 6:53 left. Taylor runs a counter to the 34. Moore gets to the 38. The Pack faces third and short, which Taylor picks up.

Hornung, who replaced Moore on the previous play, dashes across midfield but is shaken up. He leaves the game, and Moore returns. Taylor runs around end to the Giant 41 and a first down. It’s still a one score game with 4:25 left, but the Giants need a stop.

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An inside handoff to Moore proves big, and he gets to the Giant 29. The Packers then stall for a couple of plays, Taylor getting bent at the line of scrimmage and Dowler dropping a pass on the 18. Remember these guys aren’t playing with gloves. Bare hands football in the brutal cold in 1962.

The Packers face 3rd and 10. They fail to pick it up, but defensive holding grants them a first down on the 24. Tom Moore bobbles the first down handoff. He hangs on, but Patton smacks him for a 2-yard loss. Green Bay runs a draw to Taylor, who slips on the rock solid turf and falls back to the 27. With 2:15 left, the Giants call time out.

Third and 12. Green Bay clings to a 6-point lead. They need points to make it a two-possession game. The Giants need a stop, a turnover, or a sack out of field goal range.

Starr fades back. Nobody’s open. The fierce Giant pass rush forces him out of the pocket. Like Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre would do for the Packers decades later, Starr darts out of the pocket and past the line of scrimmage.

Linebacker Tom Scott foils Starr’s plan. He clocks Starr a few yards later, and a gang of blue jersey follow in mashing Starr to the icy ground.

 

Packer lineman Jerry Kramer lines up to attempt the game-clinching 30-yard field goal. The wind gusts and swirls. It’s been so unpredictable today that at times it’s blown the centerfield flags at Yankee Stadium in opposite directions simultaneously. It’s even torn pieces off the American flag overlooking the field.

Paul Hornung established himself as the Packers trusted kicker for years, setting an NFL scoring record of 176 points in 12 games. (The record’s only been broken once in a 16-game schedule, narrowly by LaDainian Tomlinson.) A knee injury’s hobbled Hornung since Week 5, and Kramer’s been the substitute kicker. Lombardi hoped Hornung could kick today, but Hornung proved inconsistent in pre-game warm-ups. The responsibility, and quite possibly the Packers’ chance to repeat as champs, rests upon Kramer’s leg.

Packer center Jim Ringo, who lost feeling in his right hand because of nerve damage, instead snaps the ball with his left hand. Starr places the ball on the turf. Kramer kicks it. The ball sails through the uprights with 1:50 left.

“I just aimed for the middle and prayed,” Kramer would say about the kick afterward.

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The Packers lead 16-7, and the Giants now need two scores instead of one to win. Kramer now replaces the ejected Wood on kickoffs. His kick is bobbled by Sam Horner, who regains control and takes it to the Giant 27.

Tittle looks to his deep threat Shofner, but the winds render the ball incomplete. Tittle throws directly to Packer Ray Nitschke on second down, but the linebacker drops the pass. Nitschke would later say he couldn’t feel his hands because of the bitter cold. He said it was an easy catch any other day.

There’s 1:27 left. A quick touchdown and an onside kick is the Giants only hope. Shofner makes a catch at the Giant 45. Walton catches one at the 50. Hank Gremminger bats the ball away from Shofner on 2nd and 5, but a Green Bay offsides call gives the Giants another first down.

Joe Walton makes a grab at the Packer 32 and the Giants call time out with 33 seconds left. Tittle fires in the end zone, and Whittenton nearly intercepts. Tittle fades back with 20 seconds left. The Packers haven’t been rushing Tittle hoping he’ll eat up more time in the pocket. Tittle follows the plan, an throws incomplete toward Walton with 8 seconds to go.

Tittle finds Walton on third down, and the tight end gets all the way to the Packer 4 as time expires. The Packers repeat as champions with a 16-7 road win.

Y.A.  Tittle Walking Off Field After Game

 

SUMMARY

Kramer’s three field goals tied a record for field goals in championship games. The record was held by several people, including Pat Summerall and Kramer’s teammate Paul Hornung. Ironically, Kramer’s counterpart Don Chandler currently co-holds the record for most field goals in a Super Bowl with Ray Wersching. Each hit 4 – Chandler as a Packer in Super Bowl 2, Wersching in Super Bowl 16 with the 49ers.

Kramer’s field goals were not only the scoring difference – but the third field goal provided an enormous cushion for the Packers. Imagine Kramer had missed his final attempt. The Giants would be driving deep – all the way to the Packer 4 — with a chance to win. Clock management would be of much greater concern; the Giants likely wouldn’t run 12-13 seconds per play, and the time ate up by the kickoff return would have been saved. It’s very possible that New York would have the ball on the Packer 4 and still have time to run two or three more plays. A thrilling 14-13 Giant victory is not out of the question.

Players remember the game not only for the terrible weather conditions, but for the hardnosed play of both teams. This contest was extremely physical even by 1962 standards. The ground, frozen so hard that some players likened it to concrete, added extra punishment.

“I’ve never played a tougher game,” said Paul Hornung in the locker room.

“I never took a worse beating on a football field,” added Jim Taylor. “The Giants hit me hard and then I hit the ground hard. I got it both ways.”

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The 30th NFL championship paid the winning team $5,888 per player, and $4,166 per player for the losing team. Both were records at the time. Tickets went for $8-10 on average.

Ray Nitschke earned MVP honors, recovering two fumbles and forcing an interception. Jerry Kramer received the Packer Game Ball. He scored 10 points, made key blocks on the line, and connected on 3 of 5 field goal attempts in debilitating weather conditions.

The second straight title laid the foundation for Lombardi’s Packers to later be recognized as one of the greatest dynasties in league history.  The 1962 championship remains a key pillar to that dynasty.

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Classic NFL Games — 1962 NFL Championship — First Half

In honor of the NFL playoffs and the recent passing of Allie Sherman, we examine an overlooked classic. This is part one of a two-part series. I’ll write the game’s action in present tense, hopefully giving a feel for the events unfolding live.

The 1962 NFL Championship was a heavyweight showdown. The prizefighters were the Green Bay Packers, entering the game with a 13-1 record, and the 12-2 New York Giants who hadn’t lost since mid-October. Both head coaches – Allie Sherman and Vince Lombardi – had been assistants with the Giants under Jim Lee Howell.

The teams didn’t meet in the regular season. Their last rendezvous was the 1961 NFL Championship at Lambeau Field, a 37-0 Packer victory. The Giants hungered to avenge the embarrassment. Fans also wanted revenge. A “Beat Green Bay! Beat Green Bay!” chant thundered from the stands, and one fan hoisted a “OK YA – Make Green Bay Pay” sign in the end zone seats at Yankee Stadium.

Fifteen future Hall of Famers lined up that day. The Packers offensive line boasted two, plus Jerry Kramer, for whom many fans vehemently advocate HOF membership. The Giants defensive line countered with their own Hall of Famer in Andy Robustelli, plus two All-Pros — Rosey Grier and Jim Katcavage. Dick Modzelewski was no slouch either.

The teams not only fought each other, but also fierce cold. The official temperature was 20 degrees at kickoff, and dipped to 14 by the final gun. Tolerable football weather, but the 25-30mph winds that gusted up to 45mph made it feel much colder. Vince Lombardi Jr. remembers feeling colder than during the Ice Bowl.

FIRST QUARTER

The wind fittingly blows the ball off the tee before Willie Wood kicks off. Rookie Earl Gros holds it for Wood, and Joe Morrison returns the ball to the Giant 30. The Giants start on the ground. Three straight handoffs – one to Alex Webster and two to Phil King – establish the running game nicely. The Giants move to their own 46.

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Alex Webster was a key part of the Giants offense for a decade.

Y.A. Tittle drops back and gets pressured up the middle. He spots All-Pro receiver Del Shofner wide open on the sideline, but overthrows him. We soon find out how Shofner got open. A 15-yard offensive pass interference penalty gets marked off, and the Giants have 1st and 25 on the 31. Webster gains 11 back, but two incompletions force the Giants to punt. Don Chandler’s punt nearly gets downed by Mickey Walker at the 2, but bounces into the end zone. The Packers score the first break with a touchback.

Paul Hornung runs for two yards. Erich Barnes forearm clubs Hornung in the head, long after the whistle. What would be a penalty, fine, and possible suspension today doesn’t raise an eyebrow.

Jim Taylor, the league’s leading rusher and MVP, takes the ball 10 yards to the Packer 34. Bart Starr hits Ron Kramer for another 10 yards. Taylor then exacts revenge for Hornung by plowing over Barnes on a sweep, en route to 14 yards. The Packer offense is cruising, and is across midfield.

Starr throws an incomplete pass, however, and then Taylor fumbles on a draw play. Jerry Kramer pounces on the ball — a second early break. Green Bay runs a screen to the right to Taylor. He scampers to the Giant 29, picking up a first down. After a 3-yard run, Green Bay sets up a screen to the left to Taylor. Fuzzy Thurston’s block springs him to the 19.

NFL PLAYOFFS

The refs measure for a first. Kramer, who started the game with a fractured rib, leaves the field. The refs take a bit to decide it’s 3rd and 1, and Kramer runs back to the huddle. He doesn’t even miss a play.

Taylor takes the ensuing handoff, but Dick Modzelewiski, Rosey Grier, and Sam Huff combine to stop the play cold. Lombardi chooses the field goal. Kramer, who took over kicking duties after Hornung’s mid-season knee injury, boots it through the swirling winds and between the uprights. The Packers lead 3-0.

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The mighty wind kicks up Yankee Stadium’s dirt.

Sam Horner makes a nice kickoff return to the Giant 38. Phil King rushes for 5 yards, Alex Webster for 3. Tittle then completes his first pass of the day, a strike to Shofner that puts the Giants at the Packer 33. Tittle goes right back to Shofner for another 8 yards. A screen to King gets to the 16, and the Giants look poised to take the lead.

Ray Nitschke has other ideas. He stuffs King on a draw play, then charges Tittle on a 2nd and 9 throw. Nitschke deflects the pass, which becomes the equivalent to a pop fly for Packer linebacker Dan Currie. Currie intercepts the ball and has clear sailing to the end zone. Currie’s injured knee begins wobbling, however, and he collapses around the Packer 40.

Two incomplete passes later, Paul Hornung runs towards the right end, appearing to look downfield to throw. He keeps the ball, however, and scampers to midfield for a first down.

Taylor gets stuffed by Andy Robestelli and Jim Patton. He now has 7 carries for 38 yards. On 2nd and 10, Starr hits Ron Kramer at the Giant 34. That makes 6 first downs for the Packers already. Taylor takes the ball on the next three plays, and Huff, Katcavage, and Patton team up to stop him. Huff hits Taylor well after the whistle on 3rd down, but under 1962 rules the ref pays no mind. Perhaps he’s just thankful Ol’ Sam didn’t plow into him by accident.

The first quarter ends with the Packers missing a field goal. Kicking with a fractured rib in 35mph winds can do that to a guy, I guess.

SECOND QUARTER

The Giants dodge the turnover bullet and start on their own 20. They alternate handoffs to King and Webster. Three runs give them a first down at their 32. The Giants shift gears, but throw three straight incompletions. The wind really affects the passing game today. Frank Gifford would say, “(Tittle) threw one at me which I started to catch, when the wind caught it and it suddenly flew 10 feet over my head.”

The Giants punt. Rookie Jim Collier smothers return man Elijah Pitts as he catches it. The Packers set up shop at their own 32. Both teams have had pretty good field position thus far, but it hasn’t amounted to many points. Hornung runs the sweep behind fine blocks by Kramer and Thurston, and breaks an Erich Barnes tackle. Hornung bursts for 6 more yards on a draw.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch Paul Hornung run. He dodges defenders with miniscule lateral movements that maintain his forward speed. He doesn’t cut so much as gracefully run around people.

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Jim Taylor takes the next handoff, and his forward progress carries him to the Giant 47 and a first down. Again, Huff and Barnes provide extracurricular violence after the whistle, this time in the form of a headlock. Taylor, who needed stitches for his elbow at halftime, noted that he and Huff exchanged uncouth words. While shouting, Taylor accidently bit his tongue.

Starr misses on first down, and on second the Giants stuff a screen to Taylor. Starr fades back on third, skids on the slippery turf, and throws a dart to Boyd Dowler for a first down at the Giant 33.

Dick Modzelewski gets even on the next play, sacking Starr for an 11-yard setback. The Packer drive stalls, and Max McGee’s punt is downed at the Giant 5. The first time anyone’s been bottled up in their own territory.

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Modzelewski played 14 NFL seasons.

Alex Webster picks up 9 yards on 3 carries. Nitschke, Bill Quinlan, Willie Davis, and Herb Adderley all provide tackling assistance. The Giants punt.

The Packers fare no better on their subsequent possession – 3 rushes, no first down. Grier and Huff punctuate the Giants swagger by thumping Taylor for a 4-yard loss on third. Max McGee’s short punt puts the Giants at their 29.

Three Packers close in on Tittle, but Tittle deftly lofts a screen to Phil King for 6. On second down at the 34, Dan Currie pops King at the line of scrimmage, forcing a fumble. The ball bounces into the Giants backfield, behind two unaware Giant linemen, Darrell Dess and Ray Wietecha. Ray Nitschke recovers for Green Bay.

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The Packers give to Hornung. He rolls right. He abruptly pulls up and floats a pass to Dowler at the Giant 8. Forrest Gregg and Jerry Kramer trade blocking assignments for the next play. Jim Taylor follows center Jim Ringo’s block and plows into the end zone. Kramer connects on the extra point and it’s 10-0 Packers with 2:39 left in the half.

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Ringo didn’t know if he’d play in this game. A pinched nerve removed feeling in his right arm. He couldn’t snap with his right hand, and switched to using his left.

The ball again blows off the tee on the ensuing kickoff. The gusts reportedly tore two stripes off the American flag, and at one point the swirls had flags blowing in opposite directions. Earl Gros holds the ball for Willie Wood, and Johnny Counts takes it from the 9. He bursts up a middle seam, and breaks all the way to the Giants 41 before Wood makes a shoestring tackle. New York’s special teams have produced excellent return yardage thus far.

Webster runs for 3, taking us to the 2-minute warning. There is no commercial break on the broadcast, much different than today’s NFL. On 2nd and 7, Gifford runs a deep route and tight end Joe Walton flares right. Tittle hits Walton at the Packer 41, and Walton scurries out of bounds to stop the clock.

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Joe Walton scored 9 TDs in 1962.

Henry Jordan and Bill Quinlan stuff Phil King on first, and then Tittle misses Gifford and Walton on second and third down. The drive stalls on the Packer 39. The wind takes Don Chandler’s field goal attempt far right.

1962 rules place the ball back at the Packer 20. The Packers run out the clock and take a 10-0 lead into halftime.

SUMMARY

The wind stifles the passing game, the Giants major strength. Lombardi would state he wished to surprise the Giants with his own passing attack, but the weather prevented it. Turnovers and random football bounces have consistently helped the Packers and hurt the Giants.

Both teams are playing exceptional defense. The Giants style looks a more physical, smashmouth style. The Packers look more disciplined and designed, each man covering his own assignment.

Ray Nitschke and Alex Webster Square Off

Ray Nitschke also utilizes the headlock.

An Appreciation: Tom Landry

Phil Simms named his Top 5 Coaching Innovators during last week’s CBS Thursday Night Football broadcast. Being a Wisconsin native, I happily concurred with Vince Lombardi finishing number one. While I understand the difficulty of compiling such lists, the glaring omission of Tom Landry surprised me. To right that wrong in my little corner of the blogging universe, I humbly spotlight Coach Landry’s valuable contributions to the game.

THE ROAD TO COACHING

Landry attended the University of Texas. He played fullback and defensive back for the Longhorns. Like so many others playing college ball in the 1940s, World War II interrupted his NCAA career. He flew over two dozen difficult combat missions before returning home. Landry later stated that surviving the war built his confidence.

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He broke into professional football with the New York Yankees of the All-American Football Conference, playing one season with the team before the league folded. The New York Giants picked up Landry, employing him mostly at defensive back and punter. Landry finished his career with 32 interceptions and a 40.9 punting average. In 1954, Giants coach Jim Lee Howell offered Landry the position of player/coach, an opportunity Landry would later offer Dan Reeves with the Dallas Cowboys. Landry served two seasons as a player/coach before assuming full-time assistant coach duties, as defensive coordinator. The Giants offensive coordinator was a man named Vince Lombardi.

LANDRY IN THE WORDS OF TEAMMATES AND PLAYERS

I could write all day about Coach Landry’s innovations, but his former teammates and players provide the most reliable and credible statements. Frank Gifford said, “He created the 4-3 defense, which they still use today. A lot of people don’t realize that—he was the guy that invented the 4-3 defense.”

Lee Roy Jordan, the general of the famed Doomsday Defense at middle linebacker, ironically noted Landry’s offensive contributions: “When I think of Tom Landry, I think of all the multiple formations in football now. Tom wasn’t the inventor, but he was the one that took and put them into his offense every game.”

Dan Reeves, who like Mike Ditka worked under Landry before embarking on a head coaching career, credited Landry’s groundbreaking conditioning program as a pillar to the Cowboys’ success. “I had become a player/coach in 1970, and my first job was to help put in a strength and conditioning program for the Cowboys. We put it in that year and paid guys to stay in Dallas for $50 a workout….Instead of going back home to an off-season job, it gave a player enough money to stay around….I think that was the start of the greatness that the Cowboys had because we went to the Super Bowl in 1970, ’71, ’75, ’77, and ’79.”

Many believe Landry started using the shotgun in the 1970s with Roger Staubach, but Walt Garrison tells us the creative coach solved a peculiar problem with the formation in the early-1960s. “He started the shot­gun because quarterback Eddie LeBaron was 5-foot-7 and couldn’t see over the line. Landry moved him back so he could see!”

Landry also is responsible for the flex-defense (which occasionally “flexed” a defensive lineman off the line of scrimmage) and the extensive use of putting men in motion before the snap.

SUMMARY

Most coaching innovators specialized on one side of the ball. Don Coryell and Bill Walsh were offensive masterminds. Buddy Ryan and Tony Dungy influenced defense with their 4-6 and Tampa 2 respectively. Tom Landry, however, crafted major contributions offensively and defensively in wide use several decades later. Landry’s system and style undoubtedly helped shape the modern game of football.

Coach Landry’s innovations resulted in tremendous success for the Dallas Cowboys organization. He recorded 20 consecutive winning seasons, and made the playoffs 17 out of 18 years. The Cowboys won Super Bowls 6 and 12 under Landry, and also played in Super Bowls 5, 10, and 13. Dallas also reached the NFL Championship Game in 1966 and 1967. The 2-5 record doesn’t reflect the Cowboys competitiveness, as they lost each of the Super Bowls and Championship Games by a touchdown or less, and a combined total of 22 points.

NOTE: All above quotes are from The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL, published by the University of Nebraska Press, and available for purchase here.

Here’s what critics are saying about The Game before the Money:

“Fans who remember these players will thoroughly enjoy reliving the good times with the heroes of their youth, and younger fans will get a valuable sense of how today’s game came to be.”—Booklist

“Marvelous!” Pat Williams Show – 96.5 WORL Orlando, Florida  

“Wonderful!” Rich Kimball – voice of Maine football, 92.9 The Ticket Bangor, Maine

“All football fans will enjoy the stories told in this entertaining and engrossing read.”  –John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ. Lib., Camden, NJ

 

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