By Nick Webster
|Len Ford and Otto Graham|
Remaining at the Top
1952 was a great year for pass-rushers. The same season would see Norm Willey’s famous game in the Polo Grounds where he logged 15, er 13, er 11, er 8 sacks. Gino Marchetti (who would later join Ford on the first All-Time NFL Team) would jump onto the scene as a rookie for the ill-fated Dallas Texans and a young second-year Ram named Andy Robustelli would round into form. But sack counts aside – the numbers aren’t sufficiently complete to determine who definitively led the league in sacks in 1952 – the end the league was most concerned about was Len Ford.
The Browns opened 1952 avenging the championship loss against Los Angeles at home. Lenny, now wearing #80 as the NFL changed its uniform number guidelines after the 1951 season, had a relatively quiet day on the pass rush. However, for the second time, Lenny was dismissed from a game, this one certainly better deserved than the 1950 booting, after a fourth-quarter fight with Bill Lange. Ford exclaimed, “He’d been annoying me all afternoon and I couldn’t take it any longer”. Sounding like a player who deserved to be tossed. Though one must consider that Lange’s collegiate career ended in 1950 when he was tossed from his Dayton game against Chattanooga on Thanksgiving Day for slugging an official; this wasn’t a matchup of two choir boys. Controversy always swirled around these incidents of Ford’s. Lange later claimed that Ford was confused and that he’d only entered the game three plays earlier.
There is no film of the Rams tilt to open the year, but we do know that in the weeks following Lenny went on a tear notching sacks in seven consecutive games from Week 2 at Pittsburgh to Week 8 at home versus the Steelers. Ford topped out with 3.5 of the team’s seven sacks in the October 26 home matchup with the Redskins. Ford’s mercurial personality came out in that ‘Skins tilt, having bloodied little Redskin QB Eddie LeBaron’s nose Lenny was purported to have gently picked LeBaron off the ground and beg, “I’m awfully sorry, but I hope you understand that I’m just doing my job.” October 26 was also the day where the Eagles and Norm Willey tore into Giant QBs in the Polo Grounds and the traveling Dallas Texans, with rookie Gino Marchetti leading the charge, nailed 49er Y.A. Tittle for 95 yards lost and likely 10 sacks. Were records complete, it might have been the greatest pass rush weekend in NFL history. Ford followed the 3.5 sack Redskin game with a 2.5 sack road game against Bobby Layne and the Detroit Lions.
|Ford is still the ‘sprung-coil’, the Skins try to block him with the ‘flaring guard’ strategy here Gene Pepper|
|Doug Atkins (83)|
|Nov first, 1953 Against Washington, Ford blows by the tackle trying to block him|
|Approaching the oncoming help from the RB, Ford leaps|
|Hurdling, landing and hitting the passer causing an errant throw|
|Doug Atkins, now with the Bears, shows what he learned from Lenny leaping over a blocker in this 1957 clip|