Still firmly believe that you do not write without having something to say. When the finished manuscript of "The Seven Seasons that Changed the NFL" was sent to the publisher, oh, you know the manuscript by the title of The Birth of the Modern 4-3 Defense felt that if nothing else at least now folks would know who played what position, and how well for those seven years.
The reason that the book covered 1953 through 1959 was simple------had enough film to evaluate the players and team overall. Would have relished doing the entire decade, yet since there is not enough film available to write about the adventures of each team every week, went with what I had. Still firmly believe that I am a former player and coach, and that writing is secondary to my ability to dig deep and research.
Over the years have relished getting to know men who really can write about this game of passion! How long is the list? Can I supply names? Oh yeah, but that is not what today's saga is about. Though listening, reflecting, and re-writing have been accomplished in the past, there have been times publishers wanted me to write about football the way they wanted it.
My short fuse and legendary temper convinced me that there must be a forum for me to write and have had the good fortune to find that forum here at the Journal for my friend John Turney. Have decided that this year many if not all of my titles will be song lyrics. Fifty years ago in the spring of '72 a band from Los Angeles called the "Eagles" came on the airwaves with "Take it Easy".
There was another band that spring that delivered some catchy tunes in a similar genre...."Pure Prairie League" with talented Craig Fuller. The opening strains of "Tears" would rocket up the country charts today, and thus the title from one of Craig's songs from that album. Ok, you have the title, now how about the subject you ask?
Ready, here goes...
When the AAFC ended after the 1949 season, the NFL and Bert Bell decided to add three teams from that league. Mr. Joe Horrigan tells us very succinctly on page 97 of Total Football; "(A)fter five financially unsuccessful seasons, Boston Yanks owner Ted Collins requested that the NFL cancel his Boston franchise and issue him a new one to operate in New York City.
The league granted the new franchise only after Collins agreed to stipulations made by the New York Giants, in whose protected territory Collins would operate. It was agreed that the Giants would have first choice of all home-game dates and Collins would pay 25k annually for the right to operate in New York. Collins's new team, the Bulldogs, continued to play to empty seats, however.
Then in 1950, as part of the merger between the All-America Football Conference and the National Football League, Collins purchased the assets of Dan Topping's AAFC Yankees, including player contracts and the lease for Yankee Stadium. The merger provided that the Giants had first choice of six players from the Yankee's roster, but even without the best Yankee players, Collin's team renamed the Yanks, was much improved. Quarterback George Ratterman and a number of fine runners gave the Yanks an exciting offense. Still, the team went virtually unnoticed in New York".
First off, where did the Bulldog players go? Five Bulldogs earned a spot on the Yanks roster, and of the five starting right corner Joe Golding contributed the most. Thirty Bulldogs did not play for anyone in 1950, while four were able to sign on with other teams. Thirty-five men suited up for the Yanks in '50 and sixteen of them are in their last or only season in the NFL.
When you go to Pro Football Reference you should be able to quickly see what position, or positions each man played. Alas, unless I send it to them the listing will remain flawed, or in a harsher tone.....just damn flat wrong! Would relish stating a detailed evaluation of each man, but just not enough film. So, you are going to get what I have.
DEFENSE: The Yanks would almost always align in a 6-2 defense with mostly man coverage from the secondary. Noticed I stated "almost". The Yanks would drop their defensive ends into coverage, mostly man yet sometimes an area or zone. Many times all eight men would charge ahead, or red dog.
Possibly Red Strader realized he did not have the talent on defense to stop the strong offenses he would face, and he felt let us attack, and let the chips fall where they may. Barney Poole was usually the right defensive end, though as the season progressed he did play some on the left. Lean quick combative Jack Russell was the nominal starter at left defensive end. Earning plenty of playing time at defensive end are Bruce Alford, and Big John Yonakor.
Sports Illustrated in 1995 issued "Special NFL Classic Edition" and on page 11 shows Doak Walker luggin' the leather off left tackle with Yonakor in pursuit on Thanksgiving day at Briggs.
The two main defensive tackles are Martin Ruby on the left, and Nate Johnson on the right. The two defensive guards are John Clowes, and Joe Signaigo. Jim Champion and Bob Kennedy earned their letter at linebacker, but the three men who got the bulk of the playing time are Duke Iverson, Ed Sharkey, and Joe Domnanovich (a holdover from the Bulldogs). Saw all of them make plays, but also saw all of them easily blocked.
The one constant trait by the Yanks front eight was they just did not shed blocks very well. During the first six wins of the season, the Yanks allowed 159 yards a game rushing. During the five losses they were destroyed to the tune of 291 yards allowed rushing. How many games is a team going to win when the opponent gains just under 300 yards a game on the ground? Rookie Bennie Aldridge played some offense, yet he was basically a corner who played both corner positions. Joe Golding was fast, savvy, and intercepted seven times during the campaign. Saw him chase down runners taking the proper pursuit angle more than once on film.
Pete Layden began the year as the starting left corner, but as the year progressed Aldridge got more playing time. The safety for this team was the remarkable Spec Sanders. A couple times during the year he came in on offense and delivered what we now know as the halfback option pass, but since he was a tailback in the AAFC he just did what he had done many times.
On page 12 of the 1964 NFL League Manual it states most consecutive games passes intercepted. Listed at six are Night Train Lane, Will Sherman, and Jim Shofner (never did this). This is 100% WRONG/INCORRECT and still have the memo from Elias stating they had made an error. Seymour Siwoff came "unglued" when I stated this on Steve Sabol's show "NFL Films Presents". Three men intercepted in six straight games before the Night Train.
Spec Sanders did not intercept on opening day against the Niners, but then pilfered 13 passes the rest of the season. He did not intercept against Green Bay on October 19th, thus he did intercept in the final six games of the season, earned a Pro Bowl berth, and then retired. Sanders was an adequate tackler, yet his strong suit was obvious...read the quarterback, break on the ball, and intercept. Very similar in style to Paul Krause. Sanders would be my choice for defensive MVP. The Yanks as a team ranked fifth in the category of the defensive passer rating with a mark of 53.8 (the league average was 52.9).
OFFENSE: Brad Ecklund was a determined center who was selected for the pro bowl, and he was the leader of the offensive line. John Wozniak played both guard positions, while Clowes, Johnson, and Ruby manned the tackle spots. Who played the most is anyone's guess, and while none of them would rank with the league's best, they all were capable.
The other guard was Joe Signaigo who earned some All-Pro recognition. Joe was quick on the trap and counter plays, and was capable pulling on sweep plays. George Ratterman led the league in touchdown passes, and after seven games Ratterman had a passer rating of 82.3, which would have led the league if he could have maintained that pace.
Since the Yanks were 6-1 and in first place, a case could have been made that GR would have been in the running for player of the year ahead of Graham, Waterfield, Van Brocklin, and Layne, but he faded down the stretch with a passer rating of 41.2. When Ratterman was rifling the ball to his excellent receiving corps on target the Yanks won, and when he misfired they did not. Zollie "tugboat" Toth began the year as a force running between the tackles. Willing, hard-hitting, and aggressive, he did earn a Pro Bowl berth, yet he also faded down the stretch during the campaign.
Thus, at times, when Ratterman strode to the line of scrimmage for the snap from center he had three Black running backs behind him. Sherman Howard would come in at fullback to join right halfback George Taliferro and left halfback Buddy Young. Howard was an excellent receiver out of the backfield, elusive on kick returns, and an effective blocker for his size, and filled in at right corner at times. George Taliaferro had speed, toughness, was a capable receiver, and an exceptional passer(more on that later in the saga).
Buddy Young was short, had a fat belly, and galloped when he ran. Buddy Young was also very quick, and more important could accelerate instantly, and was also an effective receiver. Why is this the first time all you folks will read that this is the first African-American trio in an NFL backfield? Research is more than putting on a pot of coffee, and looking at old stat sheets much more. These three men helped Ratterman move the ball effectively time and time again. Howard and Taliaferro are the first African-American duo to score both rushing and receiving in the same game in NFL history.
|George Taliaferro tackled by Tank Younger|
The starting left end is lanky rookie Art Weiner, and he was the deep threat every quarterback needs/relishes. Deceptive speed, long strides, and in some ways similar to Jim Benton in that he judged the ball well in flight. When the Yanks beat the Bears to move into first place with a record of 6-1 Art Weiner had 13 catches for 343 yards. He was still productive down the stretch, but when a team fades to third place, not much is going to be written about you. The starting right end week in and week out was Dan Edwards. A very capable route runner, his best asset was his ability to adjust to the ball in flight. Saw him on film make "circus" catches where he dove full out and latched onto the ball inches above the ground. Though he could not maintain the pace of Tom Fears, he did lead the league for awhile, and did finish second. Watching him astound the fans in the Coliseum at the first Pro Bowl game is a treat since he is the FIRST receiver in league history to gain over 100 yards receiving in the pro bowl. He would be my choice for team offensive MVP.
THE GAMES: Possibly could write something about each game, yet will focus on three. Thursday night October 12th in Yankee Stadium against San Francisco. The 3-1 Yanks are behind in the fourth quarter. A rainy night before only 5,740 folks, and though Weiner and Edwards have combined to catch 12 passes for 146 yards...Ratterman keeps calling plays for his "three streaking Negro ballcarriers" and they deliver in the comeback victory. Spec Sanders sealed the deal with a late fourth quarter interception.
One week later on a Thursday night at Yankee Stadium the Yanks take on the Packers. New York is ahead 7-0 and the Packers had the ball on their own fifteen. Poole rockets in from right defensive end, and blasts Rote...the sack-fumble combination. Jack Russell storming in from the left eventually grabs hold of the pigskin for a three-yard fumble return score. Early in the second quarter after a Jack Russell sack of Christman; Fritsch of Green Bay booms home a 52-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, Christman finds Teddy Cook open on a crossing pattern for 17 yards and a touchdown.
The Packers next possession: Baldwin latches onto a Christman pass, but is hit and fumbles. A hustling Poole grabs the ball, and with time winding down in the half Ratterman pitches a strike to Weiner on an out pattern. Art turns up the sideline and outruns the Green Bay pursuit. 21-10 at the half. Yanks first possession of the second half and Ratterman sends Buddy Young in motion to the left, and then flips a flare to him. The touchdown is listed as 69 yards, but since they caught the ball behind the line and then motored, faked, and dashed into the end zone—the play seemed longer.
Tobin Rote lofts a long pass to Baldwin for 85 yards, and the Packers look to fight their way back into this game when Rebel Steiner intercepts Ratterman. Green Bay fails on 4th and goal from the New York eight, but when the Commanche Kid Billy Grimes returns a punt to the Packer thirty-three early in the 4th quarter the Packers believe they can pull this one out. Fundamental mistakes by Green Bay put them in a hole and on a 2nd and ten play from their own eight-yard line Christman telegraphs a pass over the middle. Duke Iverson pilfers the pigksin and dashes 10 yards to score at the 6:13 mark of the fourth. Very late in the game Christman has the Packers again in the "redzone", but Golding intercepts.
Five out of six but since four of the victories are over Green Bay and San Francisco, we still are unsure of just how strong a team is New York. Well youngsters we are about to find out. Though the Bears have the lead early, the Yanks rally as New York gains 276 yards on just 10 completions. Two weeks later in the rematch the Bears gain revenge. Many historians would state emphatically that the Eagles against the Browns opening night was the game of the year, and while significant for many reasons, the game of the year is going to be in Yankee Stadium on November the 19th between the visiting Rams of Los Angeles and the Yanks.
Since I have the complete play-by-play, and some film of the game, could easily turn this into a "war and peace" version, yet hat is not going to happen. Details? Oh yeah, plays explained? Oh yeah! Captains Jack Russell and George Ratterman win the coin toss, and Sherm Howard returns the opening kick-off 40 yards. Yanks struggle running against the Ram defense, and Spec punts. Ram attack begins with Waterfield throwing every down until Sanders intercepts and returns to the Los Angeles forty-five. A sack on first down, and on second down rookie right corner Woodley Lewis intercepts and returns to the New York fourteen-yard line.
Ed Sharkey intercepts Waterfield to get his team out of a hole. The Yanks move into Ram territory on strong running, but Chet Adams misses on a 34-yard field goal attempt. Los Angeles moves 80 yards in ten plays. Right end Crazy Legs Hirsch on a beautifully conceived middle screen dashes down the left sideline for 36 yards. Fears cut block near the sideline is a classic. New York continues to try and run the ball, but Tank Younger who is simply the best left linebacker in the league is not going to allow the slippery Yank ball carriers to continually make first downs.
Ratterman attempts to throw deep, but Tom Keane intercepts on the Los Angeles thirty-four. As the quarter comes to a close the Rams have the lead and Waterfield has already completed 7 of 14 for 107 yards. Sure looks like a career day for "Buckets". The teams trade possessions in the second quarter, and at one point Waterfield misses a 21-yard field goal. John Rauch in at quarterback for New York, and he lofts a pass up the right sideline to fullback Tugboat Toth.
Not sure what Tank Younger's responsibility was on the play, but Toth is wide open and motors 60 yards before Keane knocks him out of bounds. Ratterman finishes the drive with a quarterback sneak, and we are tid at 7. Los Angeles has the best offense in the league, and Waterfield continues to strafe the Yank secondary. He completes four straight, but the drive ends with Martin Ruby blocking Waterfield's field goal attempt.
Ratterman gives the ball right back to the Rams as Lewis intercepts. Glen Davis gains 42 on back-to-back plays, but Waterfield's extra point attempt hits the crossbar. 13-7 Los Angeles. Surprisingly Red Strader goes for it on fourth down deep in his own territory, and Ratterman's pass to Young is incomplete, thus Waterfield boots hom a field goal from the 37 with 10 seconds left. At the half Rams 16 Yanks 7.
New York's defense stops the Rams, and the Yank attack is a strong mixture of run and pass—the eleven play drive ends with New York in a very creative wing formation, and Ratterman pitching a strike down the middle of the field to fullback Sherm Howard for 15 yards and a touchdown on a circle route. The Rams respond with an impressive drive of their own. A statue of liberty run by Vitamin T Smith for 25 sets up Dick Hoerner's dipsy doodle pitch play sweep right for 32 and a touchdown. The Yanks punt, and with Norm Van Brocklin now at the controls it is time to exploit the Yank secondary as the Dutchman completes a post/corner route to Hirsch for 58.
Martin Ruby sacks Van Brocklin, but the Rams have all the tools in the tool box. Smith on a reverse heads left, and he is left handed. The diminutive halfback stops and throws back across the field to Fears for 11 to set up another Bob Waterfield field goal attempt. It's good from 31 to up the ante to 26-14. A fine run by Taliaferro and Ram penalty position the Yanks in Ram territory, but Ratterman again misfires and Keane intercepts. Hoerner carries the ball for Los Angeles, and ultra-aggressive linebacker Ed Sharkey is kicked out of the ballgame. A naughty New York Yank! Los Angeles begins a drive that culminates early in the 4th quarter with Hoerner pushing in from 4 yards out. 33-14 at 00:56 of the 4th quarter. A promising Yank drive again is derailed with a Ratterman interception(Lewis), and a penalty on Naumetz of the Rams nearly gets him kicked out of the game. Getting hostile out there!.
The Rams must punt, and an unblocked Martin Ruby thunders in from right tackle and blocks the punt. The ensuing mad scramble in the end zone results in Bruce Alford clutching the ball for a precious seven points. First and ten Los Angeles on their own thirty-six, and here comes Hoerner bouncing his off tackle right run to the outside, and behind superb blocks from Smith and Thompson goes 64 to score. Los Angeles 40 New York 21 at the 4:13 mark of the quarter.
The Yanks come right back as Ratterman goes to Mr. Reliable...Dan Edwards back to back receptions of 31 and 16 give New York hope. Hoerner fumbles and defensive guard Joe Signaigo recovers. Taliaferro takes a reverse from Young, and lofts a long high tight spiral to left end Art Weiner. Weiner has run a deep crossing route, and though Williams of the Rams gets a hand on the ball, the rookie twists and grabs the ball one handed for a 50-yard touchdown.
Los Angeles 40 New York 35 at the 7:48 mark. Can they do it? Knock off the powerful Rams at home before over 45,000 and move back into first place? Hoerner fumbles again, and d-tackle Paul Mitchell pounces on the ball. Ratterman passes and Tom Keane again intercepts. This is the second time in Ram history that Ram teammates have intercepted three times in a game. Los Angeles eats up clock on the 46-yard drive, and Waterfield puts the game out of reach with his third field goal.
THE AFTERMATH: The Yanks and Rams gained over 1,000 yards in total offense. This game demonstrates we are in a new era of football. Creative formations, and plays, and especially with a new league standard set that of combined passing attempts per game. The Yanks and Rams combined to record 57 first downs, the most ever in a league game at the time. New York would now tailspin to a four-game losing streak as the defense is destroyed in back-to-back road losses to the Lions and Giants. They would end on a high note with a humiliation of the hapless Colts in which they outgain Baltimore by over 300 yards on the ground to finish 7-5 in third place. The story of the '51 Yanks needs to be told another day, but in 1950 they could have captured the imagination of Pro Football fans everywhere if they could have held onto first place and played the Browns for the title.