Saturday, April 14, 2018

THERE'S A RHUBARB OUT THERE: The New York Giants—1950

LOOKING BACK
By T.J. Troup
Credit: Gary Thomas & Pro Football Hall of Fame
Before getting to the narrative, some background. My last story on the Giants was the sieve-like 1966 defense, so today I am going in the other direction. The story you are about to read is dedicated to my departed pen pal, Mr. Wellington Mara. The title is a quote from announcer Marty Glickman from the game against Philadelphia when a fumble return for a touchdown by MacDowell of the Eagles is negated by a clipping call.

When the 1947 season began no one in the New York Giants organization thought the team would fall on hard times so quickly. The struggles of 1947-49 can be detailed, but much more enjoyable to regale one and all with the outstanding team of 1950.

Steve Owen has a new line coach in 1950 and boy oh boy does he do just a great job. Ed Kolman embarks on a long career of teaching his lineman who to block, and how to block them with consistency and power. Allie Sherman coaches the backs, and Jim Lee Howell the ends. Owen, over his long career, has had defenses that were almost impregnable, and in 1950 he comes close to that goal again. Thirty-four men will suit up in either red or blue for the flagship franchise. Free substitution was brought back by the NFL in 1949. Now it is a league rule, and though this is important to other teams; no team capitalizes on the rule more than the Giants.
Bill Swiacki
Every team needs quality depth, and again New York has the best depth in the league with the possible exception of the Browns & Rams. Offensively the Giants begin the year with Ellery Williams and Bill Swiacki at end. Bob McChesney takes over for Williams and is a much better receiver when the Giants actually decide to pass.

Kolman's offensive line struggles somewhat on pass blocking but shines as run blockers. Jim "Tarzan" White plays both offensive tackle spots and even starts two games at defensive tackle. Johnny Sanchez has a strong year at tackle, and is very adept in the skills needed when New York is in the A-formation. John Mastrangelo usually plays more at the tackle post, yet receives some All-Pro recognition at guard. Charles Milner begins the year at left guard, and also is adequate at linebacker in his only year. The second half of the year when New York runs the ball with pounding success Don Ettinger and Joe Sulaitis rote at left guard. These two men are excellent examples of the versatility of the players for the NYG.
Bill Austin
Ettinger is rock solid on defense at linebacker, and Sulaitis is an outstanding blocking back when the Giants are in the A-formation. Bill Austin begins his career as the right guard, and performs consistently. John Rapacz is best Giants offensive lineman. When a team shifts from the "T" to the "A" formation the center must be able to quickly adjust, and Johnny R. receives some All-Pro recognition in a league loaded with quality pivot men.

New York in the draft with the seventh overall pick takes Travis Tidwell. Travis plays very little the first half of the year, and though he can throw, there are times in film study where he leaves the pass pocket and runs. His best game is against the Colts in November when New York falls behind 20-0 and rallies to blow out Baltimore 55-20. Tidwell does struggle in holding the ball too long, thus he is sacked at a very high percentage based upon his playing time. Charlie Conerly has already set a league record for completions in a game (1948 against the Steelers) and is a willing blocker in the A-formation.
Charlie Conerly
Conerly, no matter the formation, can make every throw and is one of those poised players who delivers in the toughest of situations. He avoids the rush, can throw the jump pass quickly and accurately and throws the deep ball well on crossing routes. New York completes just 64 passes in their ten wins, but those 64 completions gain a whopping 1,125 yards.

Forrest Griffith plays halfback the first half of the year. Jim Ostendarp takes his place the second half of the campaign. These youngsters both have their moments, but the halfback who is key to the attack is the Gene "Choo Choo" Roberts. He gains only 125 yards rushing on 45 carries the first seven games, then explodes setting a new league record. Roberts explodes for 218 yards against the Cardinals. Choo Choo does not catch as many passes as he has in the past, yet he is still a weapon when called upon. Roberts like all Giant backs is a willing and effective blocker.

Randy Clay the second half of the year starts at right corner on defense and gains 101 yards rushing on just 14 carries in the Polo Grounds against the Eagles in a key victory. Joe Scott is still an effective receiver out of the backfield, and when healthy runs the sweep very well. The fullback position is key in either the A-formation or the T-formation, and with the 20th pick in the draft, New York chose Tulane back Eddie Price. He opens the year with an outstanding game against Pittsburgh, then struggles with injury for a few games. The last four games of the year Price gains 429 yards on just 58 carries. He is lightning quick off the ball and can accelerate in the open field. Price is not elusive, but his piston legs just keep driving—thus this undersized dynamo breaks free for long runs of 57, 61, and 74 yards.

Robert "Stonewall" Jackson when given a chance also can explode for the long run from the fullback position also. He gains 113 yards rushing on 12 carries for the year, but has runs from scrimmage of 57 & 55 yards. New York sets a standard during 1950 that has never been equaled....they are the ONLY team to ever have 9 runs from scrimmage over 50 yards in a season. So very difficult to pick the offensive MVP—yet for me it is center John Rapacz.

Before detailing the NYG defense, it is time to explain the A-formation. This offensive alignment is based upon the old single wing with an unbalanced line, and a blocking back aligned in the gap to the weak side. Though motion to or away from the unbalanced side of the line is a staple; there are times when New York does not use motion. Basically a running formation, the Giants are still effective passing whether there is play action or not. Combined with the T-formation the Giants keep many teams on their toes during the year by switching during a game.

There are times defensive statistics tell a true tale of a team, and this is one of those times. NYG recorded 33 sacks for 266 yards: 29 of those sacks came in the ten victories. The Giants allowed 344 yards rushing in their two losses, but only 104 yards a game in the 10 wins. New York defenders hustled, hit, tackled well, and were very opportunistic in taking the ball away from opponent offenses. Let's meet these men!

When healthy Jim Duncan is an outstanding left defensive end, and when Landry and Owen scheme to the "Umbrella defense" . . . he becomes the left outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Duncan rushes the passer well, and takes on and sheds bigger offensive lineman. Kelley Mote plays some defensive end early in the year (also catches some passes late in the year). Lean Leo Skladany fills in late in the year, and he also demonstrates he can rush the passer and contributes on special teams in blocking a punt. The right defensive end is big athletic Ray Poole. He pillages the Cleveland pass pocket and is "Johnny on the Spot" in pursuit as he leads the league in fumble recoveries with five. His ability to drop into the right flat on pass defense as an outside linebacker is textbook. For his efforts, Ray receives some All-Pro recognition.

Al DeRogatis is much improved over '49 and is selected for the Pro Bowl. He is strong at the point of attack on the right side next to Poole. Jon Baker is listed as a middle guard; which of course he plays when New York is in the 5-2. The Giants also align in the 4-3 and Baker becomes the left defensive tackle. Though effective at both, he is better when aligned tight on the center's nose. Charles Milner plays the right defensive tackle when New York is in the 4-3, as DeRogatis becomes the right defensive end. John Mastrangelo plays some defensive tackle, and middle guard also.
Arnie Weinmeister
The key man though on the defensive line is future Hall of Famer Arnie Weinmeister. He is listed at 235 (he looks much bigger on film) and is as strong as nine fields of Texas onions. Depending on the defense, he is either a defensive tackle or end and is the best in the league. Have studied film of this entire decade, and with the exception of Len Ford or Gino Marchetti—no man can dominate an offensive line the way Arnie does. Exceptionally quick and agile for a man his size, he sheds blocks easily and is a force in pursuit. Watching him sack quarterbacks has convinced me he could play in any era. He even blocks a quick kick during the year with one hand as he penetrates the offensive backfield.

Since NYG has such a fine defensive line, the linebackers can concentrate on pursuit. Dick Woodard joins the Giants, and though he is listed at starting just one game, he is on the field a lot and plays strong, smart football. John Cannady is one of the few holdover Giants from 1947 and now he is asked to move all over the field depending on the defense. When aligned on the offensive tackle in the 5-2 he pursues well and is excellent in dropping into underneath zones in coverage. When aligned as the middle linebacker in the 4-3 John demonstrates he can "scrape" to the C-gap, and fill any inside hole. Tom Landry and Harmon Rowe join the Giants from the New York Yanks of the AAFC and begin the year as the starting corners. Rowe is an adept pass defender until injured halfway through the campaign.
Emlen Tunnell
Landry is simply the best strong side corner in the league. He has size, smarts, and is a punishing and vicious tackler. Many times he is aligned up near the line of scrimmage and forces the sweep his side with aplomb. Tom is an adequate pass defender who lacks speed, and teams would simply attack his side of the field all day except that the left safety for NYG is the best of the decade. Emlen Tunnell has played corner, and single safety in the old 5-3-3 defense, yet he has found his niche. He is instinctive, athletic, swift, and savvy.

Tunnell is a strong run defender with size and strength and is nonpareil in taking angles to the ball in flight. He takes risks and gets away with doing so because of his companion at safety— Otto Schnellbacher has already played pro basketball and was a legendary athlete for the Jayhawks of Kansas. He led the AAFC in interceptions in 1948 and now is asked by Steve Owen to patrol vast areas of the field. In fact, he is asked to cover ground no other safety in the league can do. Watching film of his interceptions he literally flies into the air to swipe the ball at the highest point (no doubt he was an excellent rebounder in basketball).

Tomorrow would have been Otto's birthday, and in finishing this narrative there is no doubt that Owen & Landry could never have concocted their version of the 4-3 defense ("the Umbrella") without him. Schnellbacher earns a Pro Bowl berth and All-League recognition though there is no defensive team listed by the league. Otto and Emlen combine for 15 interceptions in 12 games. Who is the defensive MVP of this team? Impossible to choose. In closing the narrative, this is the only time in Giant history that they beat Washington, Philadelphia, and Cleveland the six times they played them (allowing just 61 points). The season will end with the hard-fought playoff loss to an outstanding Cleveland Browns team.
Playoff game of Giants versus Browns, 1950

2 comments:

  1. This was awesome! Since your book starts in '53, I'd love to have post like these for every team covering the '50, '51, and '52 seasons.

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    1. ...whoever you are; thanks for the compliment. would be very difficult to do every team for those three years, due to lack of film on all of them. some teams have plenty, some teams not enough to do a quality in-depth story. if you feel comfortable ....what team from 50-52 would like to see done in this fashion?

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