By TJ Troup
Some of you folks have probably noticed that over the course of the past few years have continued researching teams previous to 1953. My book The Birth of Football's Modern 4-3 Defense detailed each team in the league for the last seven years of the decade.
We all can read books and/or newspapers about teams of the past, but when you have film the true tale can be told. Thanks to my friends at NFL Films and especially newly inducted Hall of Famer Steve Sabol (who started me on my path of film study) can really dig deep into the defending eastern conference champion Redskins for the season of 1946.
Since the war is over many young men returned to teams, and of course, there is always the college draft. New commissioner Bert Bell has the teams back to playing an eleven-game schedule, and he is motivated to promote the league anyway he can.
The most important question that will be answered is simple; can Sammy Baugh lead his team back into the title game in 1946? Washington has a new head coach in Turk Edwards, and he is ably assisted by Wayne Milner. The longtime tackle believes he has the most talented team in Redskin history. Let's see if Edwards is correct in his assessment of his team.
|New Coach Turk Edwards (left) with Baugh|
PERSONNEL: The college draft is an abject failure for the 'Skins with the choice of Cal Rossi(he never plays pro ball), and the rest of the selections are very questionable as so few of them ever play pro ball. Players go both ways, and there is quality depth at almost every position.
The ends that take the field on offense for Washington are for the most part ploddingly slow. Doug Turley begins the year as the starting left end, and even when he does not start he still gets plenty of playing time. Turley is a willing blocker, and makes a reception every once in awhile, but he really is not a factor in the Redskin passing game.
Lanky rookie Jim Peebles becomes the starter the second half of the year, and is the only end with any speed. Peebles also does not catch many passes, yet he actually contributes at mid-season and looks to have a bright future in the Nations' Capitol. Ed Cifers in his last year as a Redskin is the nominal starter at right end. He is a willing blocker, and catches a few short passes.
Off the bench to help Cifers at right end are Ted Lapka, and John Kovatch in their last years with the team. Left tackle is manned by John Koniszewski and massive John Adams. Both men are solid as drive blockers, and Adams receives some all-league recognition. Left guard is handled by rookie Bill Ward, and the youngster demonstrates he can make every block. He is particularly effective when he pulls and leads the play.
Stocky veteran Clem Stralka is the back-up, and the "little bull" always gives an effort though he is not very quick. Charles Collins Aldrich is the starting center, and "Ki" is rock solid in every facet of the game. Al DeMao relieves him at times, and is also effective.
Rookie right guard John Steber also demonstrates he has a future in the NFL as he can pull, and battle bigger men. A handful of men come off the bench to spell Steber; including John Jaffurs, Clyde Earhardt, and former fullback Al Couppee. Frank Filchock is traded to the Giants, and in return Paul Stenn delivers with quality play at right tackle. Though he will have a long career, this is Stenn's only year in burgundy and gold. Big Donny Avery and long-time veteran Bill Young help Stenn out.
Frank Akins cannot duplicate his outstanding '45 season in his last year in Washington, yet he still demonstrates power running at times. The starting fullback at the outset of the season is Sal Rosato, and the first half of the year he is among the league leaders in rushing. Quick off the mark, powerful, and determined......he probably would have remained the starter except for his mid-season injury. Jack Jenkins is not as big as Rosato, yet he also runs hard inside, and is a determined blocker. Jack also is amongst the league leaders in rushing after the first four games, but nagging injuries limit him down the stretch.
Dick Poillon plays some halfback, and even starts in the rematch with the Eagles at fullback due to the above-named all being injured. The 'Skins offense is predicated upon Sammy Baugh creating mismatches for his halfbacks in the passing game, and those backs running both inside and outside when lugging the leather.
|Baugh #33 and Dick Todd #41|
Veteran Dick Todd when called upon can deliver as both a receiver as he shines opening day against Pittsburgh, and in the mid-season loss to the Bears, and as a runner. Without a doubt the most impressive game any Redskin runner had all year was the November 10th victory over the Boston Yanks. Todd was quick, nimble, shifty, and tough to tackle as he gained 94 yards on 14 carries including the winning touchdown.
Again, due to injury Todd carries the ball only seven times in the last four games of the year. Eddie Saenz is a determined runner; especially between the tackles (though only 168 lbs), but his strength to the team is as a receiver. After Washington crosses mid-field Baugh looks to have Saenz go through the c-gap and zip down the middle of the field and take the accurate passes from Slingin' Sam. This youngster has a very bright future in Washington.
Steve Bagarus got everyone's attention during 1945, and the lean speedy youngster shines as a receiver all year. Many times in motion, and then running a variety of routes; Bagarus is the big-play weapon in the 'Skins arsenal. Lightning-quick when running a slant route, and very difficult to bring down he must be accounted for on every play when he is on the field. Though he is a willing inside runner on traps, and off-tackle plays, he lacks the power and strength to be a featured runner.
|Bagarus wearing #00|
Bagarus wearing #00 is the right halfback, and Saenz wearing #99 is the left halfback. Jim Gaffney contributes at both halfback posts, and finally the jack of all trades of the backs----Indian Jack Jabobs, who takes snaps at quarterback, halfback, and fullback. Athletic, tough, and determined Jacobs will spend just this season with Washington before heading to Green Bay. Since Filchock is now in New York the backup quarterback is rookie Jim Youel. He stands out on film due to his style in how he holds the ball before firing the pigskin downfield. Youel starts a handful of games including the rematch against the Eagles and shines as both a passer, and running a naked bootleg for a touchdown.
Pro Football Archives lists Samuel Adrian Baugh as starting just two games in 1946, and this is woefully inaccurate. When the film begins and the 'Skins go on offense the man leading Washington out of the huddle is Sam. Baugh cannot duplicate his incredible 1945 passing accuracy, and due to injury misses some playing time, yet many times we would all be riveted to the film in watching him perform. He is a master play-caller, and in his tenth season can still make every throw, and DOES!
The Redskins are almost always in the t-formation, and motion is utilized many, many times, yet on occasion there is Sam in a spread formation. Sometimes aligned almost in a trips right, or double-wing with ends split. The offensive line splits are narrow. Washington scores only 171 points all year with just 58 in the five losses.
When you play the left side on offense, you almost always play the left side on defense, and of course the same on the right side. Turley, Peebles, and Lookabaugh man the left defensive end post, with Peebles being the quickest, and most active. Lanky Jim can rush the passer. John Adams is a pillar of strength at left defensive tackle, and in the rematch with Philadelphia when the 'Skins play a 5-3-3 defense he is the middle guard, and no one is going to drive massive John Adams off the ball.
Bill Ward is adequate on defense, but in the Eagle game he is not on the field. Steber, and the rest of the right guards are trench warriors at right defensive guard, yet none of them stand out. Bill Young jumps out at you on film since he plays right defensive tackle in a stand-up two-point stance(very unusual for the time), yet Stenn is a fortress at right defensive tackle in his three-point stance. Cifers has a strong year at right defensive end in defending the run, and getting after the passer.
Washington ranked fourth in the all-important defensive passer rating category in 1945 with a mark of 44.8 (league average was 47.6). Though the Redskins rank sixth in '46 with a mark of 42.8, they are actually better in 1946 than the year they played for the title.
Once upon a time Wilbur Moore was a weapon for Baugh on offense, but in 1946 he is usually the starter at right corner when healthy. Savvy, and retaining enough speed to play the deep pass Moore is also a reliable tackler, and even starts a game at safety, and is one tough hombre against the run in the red zone.
Bagarus gets plenty of playing time at right corner early in the year, and ranks among the league leaders in interceptions. Also seeing substantial playing time is Bob DeFruiter(especially late in the campaign). Dick Todd is a strong tackler at left corner, and his experience is a plus for the 'Skins defense.
Backing him up is Dick Poillon, Jim Gaffney, Eddie Saenz, and Jack Jacobs. Speaking of Jacobs, he is a pleasant surprise at the safety position with his tough tackling. Jim Youel gets more playing time, and is active, but is not quite the defender Jacobs is. Keep in mind this is Sammy Baugh's tenth season, but his first not playing defense. Most teams play a 6-2-3 defense, and Washington is no exception. Rosato, and Jenkins man the left linebacker position much of the season, but Couppee shines during his time on the field. Late in the year Dick Poillon starts a game, though he is out of position at linebacker.
Clyde Earhardt moves from the defensive line to left linebacker, and middle linebacker against Philadelphia. Al DeMao can and will pursue and tackle, and is adequate as a pass defender. Usually at right linebacker, he also sees action at left linebacker. Finally the best for last, and without a doubt the team MVP for 1946.
Ki Aldrich might not be Bulldog Turner as a right linebacker, but he is damn close. Quick and instinctive against the inside run, he is a hard-hitting tackler. He is superb as a pass defender ranging deep downfield when he has too. Almost always at right linebacker, he switches with DeMao in some games for a few plays and plays the left side.
Leading at the half against Philadelphia on November 24th he makes the play of the year for Washington. Tommy Thompson is in the spread and rolls right after taking the snap. Drawing the Redskin defenders near him, he throws to the middle of the field on a delayed screen pass. Aldrich reads, reacts, pilfers the errant throw and dashes goalward to give Washington an insurmountable lead.
Dick Poillon had a fine year with six field goals, while Baugh and Jacobs punted well. Washington was adequate on punt and kick-off coverage but excelled on returns. Bagarus could instantly gain field position for the 'Skins, and had help from Saenz and Todd.
Opening the year at home and hanging on to tie Pittsburgh could be viewed many different ways, but the defending division champions did not lose. The gritty, but inept Lions almost pulled off a miracle at Griffith, yet Washington held on. The victory over New York showed one and all this was a team that could summon up what was needed ..thus an impressive home victory.
Though Boston battled Washington, the Redskin defense kept the Yanks offense from scoring. Four games into the year and with a 3-0-1 record almost everyone believed the 'Skins would retain the division crown. Stumbling badly in the second half at home was viewed as just a blip on the screen, right? Right? The journey to Forbes Field against a hard-bitten gang of gold and black marauders demonstrated to coach Edwards that this was now going to be a tight race to the finish line.
As mentioned above; Dick Todd's impressive 4th quarter score put the 'Skins back in the hunt. Beating the Bears at Wrigley is never easy, and leading 20-17 with less than three minutes to go had all Washington fans glued to the radio. Luckman found a way for the best team in the league to win, and now having won just one of their last four.....are the 'Skins done?
The impressive victory over the Eagles again set the stage for a possible season-ending classic against New York. First, though the final home game of the season, and a dispiriting loss to a Packer team that had its moments in '46.
The Polo Grounds, and a Steve Owen team that had improved throughout the year, and totally outclassed the 'Skins 31-0 to end a season of so much promise and hope to a .500 record. An intriguing team of both veterans and youngsters.