Friday, May 1, 2015


by T.J. Troup

Ollie Matson joined the Chicago Cardinals as a rookie in 1952. He played both ways and earned a Pro Bowl berth for his former college coach Joe Kuharich, yet his talents had not been used to their utmost. Returning from the military; his 1954 season got off to a slow start. Though the lowly Cardinals struggled to win a game, Matson, in the last seven games of the year, gained 467 yards rushing on 80 carries.
Ollie Matson with Cardinals. Colorization by John Turney
During the decade of the '1950s halfbacks were aligned as flankers or slot receivers, and Matson was one dangerous receiver (12 times he had a reception for at least 50 yards). Durable, powerful, and with Olympic swiftness Ollie was a marked man no matter the opponent. Late in 1955 he twice returned punts over 75 yards for a touchdown to win the league title in that category.

Pittsburgh was the toughest team to return a kick-off against during the decade since only one man ever took one the distance against the Steelers--yes, that is correct Ollie was the only player to accomplish this feat (he did it 3 times). Matson retained his explosive ability when traded to the Rams in 1959. Over the course of a 62-game span from 1954 into 1959 he carried the ball 760 times for 3,545 yards (4.66 carry)! The coaching change in Los Angeles impacted Matson as the 1960s began, as he now was a part-time player on offense at different positions, and even took a few turns in the secondary.

October 1st, 1961, the Steelers were in the Coliseum to take on a Rams team that has won just 4 of their past 24 games. The score is tied late in the 4th quarter; Los Angeles is faced with a 3rd and 8 situation on their own 4-yard line. Ollie comes off the ball quickly from his slot right position and heads to the middle of the field where he takes Frank Ryan's accurate pass over his shoulder and dashes 96 yards for the go ahead score. Later in the year he scores against the Bears on an 84-yard pass reception.
Ollie Matson with Rams. Colorization by John Turney
Most analysts are quick to point out that running backs over the age of 30 just do not score on long distance plays due to declining speed, but most backs are not Ollie Matson. His season in Detroit in 1963 is reduced to even less playing time, though he again goes both ways (rare for this era); thus he welcomes an opportunity to reunite with Joe Kuharich in Philadelphia in 1964. Matson shares time in the backfield with the quick and agile Timmy Brown, and the hard running Earl Gros, yet Ollie, in the first half of the year, at the age of 34, delivers for the Eagles. October 18th in Yankee Stadium is a classic example as Philadelphia gains just 167 yards in total offense, but 100 of those yards are gained rushing by Matson. He is aligned in a wing left position and sweeps right, cuts through the Giant secondary and scores on a 54-yard run to salt the game away for the Eagles.

Matson, Eagles. Photo courtesy
Eight games into the campaign he gained 354 yards on 64 carries. There have been many runners who in their career have carried the ball over 100 times and averaged 5.0 a carry against a specific opponent. Matson joins Dan Towler as the only two men to average over 6 yards a carry against an opponent in a career as he gained 828 yards on just 129 carries against Washington (6.41 a carry). In closing, let us celebrate what would have been Ollie Matson's 85th birthday today.

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