Tuesday, December 6, 2022

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "All the Signs Say Pick up the Pieces, All the Signs Make a Stand as One"

By TJ Troup 
The title for today's narrative comes from a song by Jay Farrar and Son Volt—"Back against the Wall."
In the final weeks of the season, there will be many a team that can point to Jay's song as a rallying cry. No doubt many of us look at the schedule when it comes out in the spring, and circle games that we believe are must viewing. That said, how many of us thought the December 18th game between the Jets and Lions would have meaning? 

This past Sunday the Packers finally passed the Bears as the all-time winning team, and sixty-two years ago Green Bay also traveled to the Windy City to take on Chicago (was at Wrigley Field in those days).

Now, we go back to December 4, 1960. The Colts are in first with a record of 6-3, and the Bears are in second with a mark of 5-3-1, the Packers are now 5-4 and tied with the 49ers, while the fifth-place Lions seemed to be a long shot at 4-5. 

Halas continued to rotate quarterbacks Bratkowski, and Brown, but the key to the Bear offense is the running game. Halfbacks Galimore and Morris have combined to gain 687 yards on 118 carries (5.8), and fullback Casares has gained 475 on 136 carries. 

The emphasis in Green Bay under St. Vince is going be his "run to daylight" ground attack with Hornung 117 carries for 495 yards and Taylor 758 yards on 162 carries. Since the Packer duo has outgained the Bear trio by only 91 yards. 

The key question to be answered is which team is going to be successful in running the ball? Neither team scores in the first quarter. The Bears gained 27 on the ground, and the Packers 34, but Starr is his usual efficient accurate self, and Green Bay is driving. Early in the second quarter, Hornung splits the uprights on a 21-yard field goal. 

Most of the second quarter is the same as the first, both teams gain yards, but each drive is stopped. Chicago is on its' own nine-yard line as Ed Brown punts - BLOCKED by left defensive end Willie Davis - who recovers in the end zone. 

Less than a minute in the half when Brown finds Dewveall wide open in the end zone, but Jordan blocks the PAT. Starr is masterful in guiding Green Bay 46 yards to the Chicago thirty-four, and on the last play of the half Hornung punches another kick between the uprights for a 13-6 lead. Green Bay dominates the second half. The famous clip of Hornung scoring and tossing the ball into the crowd at Wrigley is a signature moment, yet film study shows how crisp the blocks are by the Packer forward wall. 
Counter plays, fullback slants, sweeps, and traps are all there to be studied as Clark Shaughnessy at times has the Bear defense in some questionable alignments? Defensive tackle Fred Williams was responsible for Hornung in the flat on a rudimentary form of zone blitz. 

Starr finishes the contest with a passer rating of 133.8, while Bratkowski is a subpar 52.6. Ed Brown had his moments and finished with a sparkling 156.2. The Bears gained just 82 yards rushing in the game, while the Packers pounded away for 225 (43 attempts). 

The 41 points Chicago allowed to the Packers since November of '52 (also 41 that day). The next twenty-five home games the Bears allow Green Bay just 17.8 points per game, but on this fateful December Sunday at Wrigley the Green and Gold had the victory they needed. 

The Bears chance to move into first place has gone by the wayside, and Green Bay with the victory will now journey west to take on the 49ers. San Francisco must win to keep pace with Green Bay and easily defeats the Rams 23-7 in the Coliseum. 

The 49er offense is productive, yet the key to victory is the San Francisco secondary, and specifically the left safety Dave Baker. Twice in the first half, Baker intercepts Bill Wade on pass attempts to running back Dick Bass. Baker also intercepts twice in the 4th quarter (both errant passes are by Frank Ryan) on pass attempts to Red Phillips. 

Baker has tied the league record for most interceptions in a game, but more important is the streak he is on. Two weeks before he intercepted 3 Dallas Cowboy passes (Le Baron & Meredith both had passes picked off), and the previous Sunday in the victory over the Colts, Baker pilfered two Unitas passes. Dave Baker intercepted 9 passes over a three-week span, and no one before or since has done this. 

All nine of the interceptions came off of quarterbacks that would earn a Pro Bowl berth in their careers. The total amount of passes attempted in the three games was 89, thus Baker intercepted 10.1 % of all the opponent passes! The showdown at Kezar between Green Bay and San Francisco should determine who wins the western conference if Baltimore would lose. John Doremus does an outstanding job in narrating the film "NFL's Greatest Games" and one of the segments is the December 4th match-up of the Colts and Lions.  
Before diving deep into the action of the game, how about some background on these two teams. The Dell Sports publication that came out that summer picked the Colts to again win the west, and the Lions to finish sixth. 

Quoting from the magazine; "Colts are improving with age", "the only defensive weakness is mounting age", "the rookies are not an impressive group". Again quoting from the magazine; "the Lions passing is sub-standard in the league", "the defense is ok if the new deep defenders produce", and finally "the rookies on hand in quantity, quality"? 

"Petersen's 5th annual NFL magazine" is in-depth and has detailed write-ups from a reporter from each city. The twelve writers (none from Dallas) have the Colts winning the west with just one exception, and all twelve have the Lions sixth. Bob Latshaw of the Detroit Free Press details that head coach George Wilson is on the hot seat. 
Quoting Latshaw "although there have been no rumors of dissension on the club, Wilson will have a big job trying to rebuild the one-for-all, all-for-one philosophy that marked the great Lion teams of the past". Defensive coordinator Buster Ramsey has left for Buffalo, and while Shula is mentioned, he is listed as the secondary coach not the d-coordinator. Possibly Wilson worked with Shula in formulating the defensive game plans? 

Final quote from Latshaw, "There is little likelihood that Detroit will improve on its 3-8-1 record of last season. It could be a long winter at Briggs Stadium-once the home of champions of the West". The Lion secondary will have two new faces in the starting line-up. 

Though rookie Ted Aucerman was expected to be the right corner, he does not make the team.....thus 1959 back-up safety Dick LeBeau will be at right corner (he had played only six games the previous year), and not listed on the roster due to being published before August 22nd is Richard "night train" Lane. Yale Lary moves back to right safety, and Gary Lowe returns at left safety. 

Guided, drilled, and taught by Shula improve as Detroit improves from an 80.2 defensive passer rating in '59 to 63.7 in '60. Baltimore on the other hand has a roster filled with All-Pro's, and solid hard-nosed men who know how to win...AND HAVE FOR TWO YEARS! 

We all know the names of these legendary men with the horseshoes on their helmets, soooooo, lets go to Memorial Stadium and examine this game. The play by play states that it is clear and warm for the sold out crowd of 57,808. Lions win the toss, will receive, and as they had done many times there is a reverse on the kick-off return of Cassady to Barr. 

Deep in their own territory due to Ninowski being sacked by Shinnick on second down, Lary punts near the goal line, and coming in hard from the left outside is LeBron Shields. He blocks the punt, and the impact sends the pigskin out of the end zone. 

Excellent field position for the Colts, but they go nowhere, and Myhra's field goal attempt is short and wide. Late in the first quarter Detroit drives 68 yards to set up Jim Martin's 20-yard field goal. 

Film study shows both defenses is wide assortment of alignments, stunts, and red dogs, but the key play on the 68-yard drive was Pietrosante's 35 yard run on a trap play where Syzmanski was aligned over the guard, and not the center. Though it sounds like the Orioles are playing the Tigers....the score after one is 3-2. 

 Unitas, on Baltimore's second possession of the second quarter, rifles a pass to Lenny Moore (flanked right), he jukes the Night Train, and dashes down the sideline to complete the 80-yard scoring play. Detroit's next possession is a prime example of the Lions offensive weakness. 

Second down, and again Shinnick roars in to sack Ninowski, and on the next play Donovan & Braase take down Ninowski. During a 21-game stretch (opening day '59 through the victory over the Packers on Thanksgiving  '60) the Lion offensive line allowed over 500 yards in sacks in 14 losses and a tie, and 160 yards in their six wins. 

The Detroit offensive line has been reshuffled for 1960, but the question is simple—how well can the pass block? The loss to the Bears on November the 20th the Chicago red dogs, and line stunts resulted in 107 yards lost in sacks. 

Yale Lary punts on 4th and 37 yards to go. Alan Ameche carries twice for 8 yards on the next Colt offensive series, and these two runs are the last of his career as he goes down with a leg injury. Billy Pricer is no Ameche, thus the Colt offense lacks their inside running threat. Unitas pass to Moore is incomplete on 4th down and 5 on the Detroit 18-yard line. 

Detroit drives to the Colt forty-seven, and here Bill Pellington on a red dog knocks the ball out of Ninowski's hand and recovers at the Lion twenty-nine. Yale Lary makes a clutch interception on his own five-yard line to stave off Unitas and Baltimore again. Here come the Lions driving 66 yards deep in Baltimore territory on the Colt seven. 

First down, and here comes one of the legends....Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb pilages the pass pocket and sacks Ninowski. Second and goal from the fourteen and Ninowski rolls right, and here comes another legend—Gino Marchetti has shed the block and looks like he is on his Harley as he rushes Ninowski. 

Ninowski flinches as he throws on Marchetti's arrival. Rookie left corner Bobby Boyd easily intercepts, and the stumpy youngster motors down the sideline 74 yards. Having the coaches film we see rookie split end Gail Cogdill split left, and is running a crossing route as Boyd intercepts. 

Cogdill, who has excellent speed, is in hot pursuit and hauls down Boyd from behind at the twelve. No one has ever mentioned Gail's key hustle play since if Boyd scores Baltimore would have led 15-3 at the half. Baltimore on 1st and ten at the Lion twelve-yard line turns the ball over again as rookie Roger Brown crashes into the backfield and forces Johnny Hightops to fumble (Bill Glass recovers). 

Detroit has outgained Baltimore 98 to 40 rushing, but Unitas has gained 124 yards on his six completions. Though Detroit gained 86 yards passing, the 45 yards in sacks has kept Detroit out of the end zone. Baltimore 8 Detroit 3. Ray Brown punts on the first series of the second half, and Detroit begins at their own thirty-eight. 

Lipscomb continues to dominate the line of scrimmage, but a roughing the passer penalty on Marchetti keeps the Lion drive alive. Martin misses a 48-yard field goal attempt, and the Colts take over. Baltimore is driving on an eleven-play drive until Moore fumbles and Gary Lowe recovers on his won thirty-two. The strong pass rush by both teams stops drives until very late in the 3rd quarter. 

Unitas began the late third quarter drive on his own thirty-yard line, and now early in the fourth quarter he has a second and eleven situation on the Detroit twenty-four (Johnny Hightops has completed three passes on the drive). Right linebacker Wayne Walker is in the right place on his zone drop, and intercepts. Earl Morrall has entered the game at quarterback for the Lions, but he too is sacked, and Lary again punts. 

First and ten on their own thirty-five, and Le Beau intercepts Unitas at the sideline. Many times in the past Howard "Hopalong" Cassady had played strong football in games against the Colts, and on first down he is flanked left, and runs a seam streak inside of Milt Davis, who gets no help from right safety 

Johnny Sample. Cassady catches the ball right at goal line, crashes into the goal post....hangs on, the Detroit has retaken the lead 10-8. Unitas is passing on every down now, but his 4th down pass to Hawkins is incomplete. Jim Martin booms a 47-yard field goal at 13:41 of the 4th quarter and Detroit now leads 13-8. Watching Unitas move his Colts down the field masterfully to the Lion thirty-eight is a joy to watch. 

Third down and three:  Unitas pump fakes, and then lofts to the corner of the endzone. Moore flanked right has a step on the Night Train, and makes one of the greatest clutch receptions of all time, a fingertip diving catch and the Colt fans mob the field. Time for crab cakes, and a Bohemian right? Right?

Colts lead 15-13. Bruce Maher returns the kick-off to his own thirty-five, and the melee ensues—fists, kicks, shots, you name it. 

Order is restored, the play-by-play does not state off-setting penalties? Ten seconds left, as Morrall zips a pass over the middle to tight end Jim Gibbons. He makes the catch motors to the sideline and legs it to the end zone. 

Where is the Colt pursuit? Where is safety Johnny Sample? Nowhere to be found, out of position? His playing time the last two weeks? How many snaps for him over the course of those two games? He is in Pittsburgh in 1961. 

Raymond Berry when interviewed years later by NFL Films stated emphatically "absolute silence in the stadium as Gibbons plodded down the sideline" and "pretty much knocked us out of the race in 1960". Baltimore did lose their remaining two games in '60, while Detroit won both of theirs to earn a berth in the first playoff bowl. If you ever have a chance to see film of this game, please do so. 

Just damn entertaining.


  1. From Brian wolf ...

    Thanks Coach Troup. That 1960 season had to be the most disappointing in Coach Ewbank's career with both the Colts and Jets. The SF loss in late 1957 was huge but the Colts didnt have the expectations that they had in 1960. Especially after a 6-2 start ... Once Lombardi and the Pack took that division, Baltimore owner Carroll Rosenbloom was getting less patient with his head coach and the distractions with John Sample would jettison him away from the team followed by the retirement of Milt Davis, who was crucial to their defense.
    Dark clouds indeed for Weeb ...

  2. Not going to allow things to get personal against writers.

    If someone wants to say we need a good editor? I agree.
    If someone says I am an amateur? Agree.
    If someone wants to call me a clown? Acceptable.

    Go after someone personally? No. That just shows things are not about what I do or what I post. It shows there is some personal beef. No.

    1. From Brian wolf ...

      I agree totally, John. I have the utmost respect for all the writers on this site. NFL football desperately needs promotion and teaching of its history and you guys are thorough, with a true love for the game and its former players as I do. You have deleted some of my posts because as I try to be a better writer, I get long winded and redundant, while having a tendency to be cynical with the league's approximation to gambling but I never take it personally because its a blog everyone can soak up and chime in on.

  3. Coach, you should watch film on Joe Burrow sometime. He’s pretty good.