There have been many players that displayed versatility in their career, and recently John Turney detailed in his excellent article one of those men in Chet Mutryn.
Today's narrative is about another of those men who were productive, and therefore successful due to his versatility in his seven-year career—Lynn Chandnois
The title is a quote from Ray Didinger in the chapter on the Steelers' overwhelming victory over the Giants in late November of '52 from his book on the Steelers: Great Teams, Great Years
Assistant coach Walt Kiesling was not only convinced Chandnois was lazy, but he had head coach Joe Bach contemplating letting Lynn go after the '52 season was over. This was his third year in the league, and as always best to start at the beginning of a career that is chock full of twists and turns.
What kind of twists and turns you ask? Well, stay tuned 'cause here we go. The NFL was about to undergo changes for the '50 campaign, and the Steelers in the draft with the 8th pick took All-American Lynn Chandnois.
Nine rookies make the team in '50 in Pittsburgh, yet the only other rookie of note was an undersized combative tackle named Stautner. Since the AAFC had closed up shop, the most talented players from that league that were not members of the 49ers, Browns, and Colts were joining the established league . .. therefore the talent level would be even better and deeper in the NFL.
Since the established teams would soon learn just how powerful the Browns were, and the Giants roster was now chock full of hard-bitten studs, and talented backs the Steelers faced a daunting task. Add to this that the Eagles are two-time defending league champions and you have a recipe for some outstanding match-ups in the American Conference.
Pro Football Reference only lists 10 men as starters on offense for Pittsburgh in 1950, thus difficult to know how many games the #1 draft pick would start. That dilemma could be solved if there was film available for all twelve games?
Chandnois is left-handed (a key to the beginning of his career), and is almost always aligned at wing back on the right just outside the flexed right end. Sometimes he would be aligned at tailback with the strength of the formation to the left. Opening day against the powerful Giants at Forbes Field on September 17th is one of those games you have to see to believe. Turnovers, rock 'em sock 'em football, and a final of 18-7 as New York comes out on top.
Believe that the Steelers set a new standard in that six different men attempted passes in this game?
If anyone knows of a game where there are seven, please let me know. Chandnois is not one of the passers and plays sparingly. In fact, in the first six games of the year, he carries the ball 30 times, catches just three passes, and attempts only three passes.
Understanding the single-wing offense is easy, and of course, each of the four backs needs different skill traits, but two traits all four of them must be able to do—block and pass.
Chandnois is always going to be running to his left with the ball and is going to continue to sweep outside or cut back. October 29th in the rematch with the Browns should be heralded as Marion Motley day (he not only set a record) for how explosive, and powerful he was in the Cleveland victory.
Chandnois starts and gains 18 yards on his first two carries, and made a spectacular leaping catch of a Joe Geri pass for 35 yards. He gains just seven more yards on his final five carries, but with Pittsburgh so far behind the single-wing offense will pass almost as much as run (36-pass, 40-run).
Chandnois does not make sharp cuts on his pass routes, he uses his number one skill: SPEED. As mentioned with his height and jumping ability he has the 35-yard catch on a deep seem route, and he will gain 63 yards on his other two receptions.
Lanky Joe Gasparella launches a deep ball up the right sideline and Lynn accelerates to the ball and forces the Cleveland defenders to adjust their pursuit angles on his 51-yard reception. The next two weeks the Steelers are victorious over the defending champion Eagles and the pathetic Colts and Chandnois is much more involved in the offense. Not sure why he carried the ball only nine times in the last three games of the year and did not catch a pass?
He does stand out in one category though as he is among the league leaders in kick-off returns. Chandnois on his return is all about speed and direction as he believes the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, no weave, no fake, just take off see the pathway, and GO!
John Michelosen is not going to change, as Pittsburgh is the only team in the league still in the single wing as we enter the '51 campaign. After four weeks the winless Steelers are already out of the running for the American Conference crown, and Coach Michelosen has won just 17 of the 44 games he has coached.
The final day of the '51 season at Griffith Stadium is a turning point in Steeler history. Ortmann and Geri have again struggled at tailback and both have gone out of the game against the 'Skins with injuries.
The Steelers have scored just 163 points in 47 quarters of play when safety Jim Finks enters the game at tailback.
He proceeds to pass, yes folks pass the Steelers to victory. Someone has to catch those passes, and on the sunkissed snowy field in our Nation's Capital, there are three men in black and gold who do just that—Hank Minarik at left end, Elbie Nickel at right end, and Chandnois flanked—in motion or aligned at wingback.
Chandnois catches 6 for 102 yards (his first 100-yard receiving game). The Pittsburgh 20-point fourth-quarter rally registers a win for the Steelers.
Under the heading of strange achievements, Chandnois can list the following: He is the only player in league history to attempt a pass in all twelve games, and have a 100-yard receiving game.
Additionally, he leads the league in kickoff return average with a mark of 32.5, but nary a touchdown. He finally scored a touchdown in '51, in fact, he scored six! Two rushing, and four receiving.
Art Rooney knows change must be made, and returning to Pittsburgh to coach is Joe Bach, and he brings with him Gus Dorais. These two men fashion a passing attack and while the offense is impressive, and more points are on the scoreboard the Steelers have lost four straight close contests. Chandnois is now a right halfback, and with Finks under center.
Talented second-year man Ray Mathews is the left halfback, with Fran Rogel at fullback. Pittsburgh finishes dead last in team rushing with just 1,204 yards but only a 3.1 average per rush. Mathews and Chandnois gain 613 rushing between them, and both are excellent on sweeps.
They both run hard on inside running plays, but neither man would be considered a power runner. Jim Finks ties Graham for the league lead in touchdown tosses with 20, and he has weapons to throw to. The aforementioned Mathews, consistent and reliable right end Elbie Nickel, and Chandnois. Lynn latches onto just 6 passes the first six weeks of the season, but as he learns the Bach offense, he also develops a synergy with Finks and catches 22 passes the second half of the year.
His best game by far is against the soon-to-be champion Lions with eight receptions for 109 yards. Kiesling might have thought that he could convince Joe Bach to let Chandnois go, but when Steve Owen elects to kick off to start the game on November 30th, 1952 Chandnois has his opportunity, and some men when they get that opportunity make the most of it. Right up the middle, using his speed Lynn dashes, and I mean DASHES 91 yards to score.
Since he had earlier returned an Eagle kickoff 93 yards to score, he would again lead the league in kickoff return average with a mark of 35.2. Pittsburgh has been one helluva hot team down the stretch and with the road win at Kezar the Steelers can finish with a winning record if they can upset the Rams at the Coliseum.
Have watched the highlights of this game many times; entertaining, and some great players making great plays—Bob Waterfield's last pro game, and rookie right corner Night Train Lane searing his name in the record book. Chandnois gains 51 rushing on 10 carries, and 33 receiving on five short passes in the 28-14 loss. Chandnois has earned his first pro bowl berth, and proven to one and all he is one of the most versatile players in the league.
One of the categories the NFL keeps track of is all-purpose yardage, and after finishing 6th in '51 with 1,217, he finishes a strong third in '52 with 1,378.
Joe Bach had to be excited entering the '53 season, but he again faces a challenge that so far he has not been able to overcome, beating Cleveland. Twice he lost one-point decisions to Cleveland in '52 and watching those hard-fought games over and over, there is no doubt Pittsburgh is improved, but these are the classy, poised-under-pressure Browns we are talking about.
The New York Football Giants collapsed in '53, which opens the door for either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh to challenge the mighty Browns. Road losses to the defending champion Lions, and a tough Eagle team in the first five weeks have Pittsburgh a game over .500 with a rematch with Philadelphia and the two games against Cleveland on the horizon.
Pittsburgh loses all three and has two win in the last two road games of the season to finish at 6-6. Chandnois again has an outstanding season as he is an integral part of Bach's offense. He gains 470 yards rushing and is 10th in the league in receiving with 43 catches.
For a moment let's take a look at those ten men, all but one is an end or flanker; Chandnois is the only halfback to be amongst the league leaders. Yes, there are times he is aligned as a flanker, almost always on the right, but since Ray Mathews is flanked to the left much of the time, Lynn is still basically a right halfback.
Once in a while, you see the Steelers in a T-formation wing set, with a fullback, a version of today's single-back set. Chandnois now has proven he can threaten any and every secondary in the league with his speed, and proven ability to find the open area and he has excellent hands, he just does not drop passes. He must be accounted for whenever Pittsburgh is in a passing situation.
His compadre on the right Elbie Nickel picks up where he left off at the end of '52 and challenges the legendary Pete Pihos for the receiving championship, and falls just one short with 62 catches. This was once a team that was three yards and a cloud of dust in the single wing and now has the best one-two punch on the right side in the league.
After scoring 300 points in '52 to finish fourth in the league, Pittsburgh falls to seventh by scoring only 211 points. Chandnois does not repeat as the kick-off return champion, as he finishes second to cat-quick, slippery Joe Arenas of the Niners. Still, anyone who finishes among the top two over a three-year period has proven his skill in that area, and again he goes the distance with a kickoff and again it is against the Giants with a 93-yard return in the Steelers 24-14 win on October 3rd.
Lynn does not finish third in '53 in all-purpose yardage, he finishes FIRST with 1,593 yards an average of just under 133 yards a game. You would expect him to be selected for the Pro Bowl again, and he was.
Though the Pittsburgh defense has the best right side in the league with Bill McPeak, Ernie Stautner, and Jack Butler, and bowlegged Dale Dodrill holding fort in at middle guard, there are holes in the Steeler defense since they were ranked dead last in team pass defense efficiency in '53 with a mark of 68.5. Yes this is bad news, yet there is even worse news for the Steelers, and Chandnois entering 1954. Joe Bach's health forces him to retire, and flawed defensive coach Walt Kiesling is named the head man.
When you win the Heisman trophy, you have proven you are the best in college football, and when you play for the Fighting Irish you know you have faced top-notch competition. Pittsburgh drafts halfback Johnny Lattner #1 in '54, thus Kiesling is telling Chandnois, you are now a backup.
How talented was Johnny Lattner?
He gets every chance to showcase his skills, and at times he succeeds. The Steelers running backs share the carries as Rogel, Mathews, Lattner, and . . . Chandnois all carry the ball, but no one except Rogel during the season ever carries the ball more than 11 times in a game.
Jim Finks is ensconced under center, and with a much improved Ray Mathews joining Nickel as top-notch receivers. Maybe the Steeler offense will be ok under Kiesling?
Let's look at the facts/stats, and more important the wins.
After five weeks the Steelers are in first place with a record of 4-1, and the only loss was on the road to Philadelphia on a Saturday night.
Watching film of the rematch which again was on a Saturday night is just damn enjoyable to watch, oh, not all of you are Steeler fans? Pittsburgh leads 10-7 in the fourth quarter, and with the ball on the Eagle five-yard line Finks does not call on Lattner, he gives the ball to Lynn on his signature play—sweep left, and he does not disappoint. He motors past the Philly defenders inside the flag to salt away the win. This is Chandnois's only touchdown of the campaign.
After the victory, he carries the ball just six times in the next five games and catches just two short passes. Pittsburgh wins just one of those five games.
From contenders to .500 with two weeks to go.
Lattner does not carry the ball in the two games to end the season, and the Steelers lose both of those. Chandnois gets a handful of carries, and against the Giants, in December he is back to being a factor as a receiver with 5 receptions.
A season so full of promise, with such a strong beginning, the demolition of Cleveland in October.
The talented skilled offensive weapons, yet Pittsburgh falls to 9th in the league in scoring. Lattner is selected for the Pro Bowl in his only NFL season, yet the big question is, did he deserve to be chosen? Did Kiesling's dislike of Chandnois hamper the team? We can only surmise.
Every year teams look to strengthen the roster, and every year the Steelers have a boatload of rookies— fifteen in '52, thirteen in '53, eleven in '54, and now entering 1955 a new crop of twelve.
Some of these men stay awhile and prove themselves true professionals, others, a year or two and gone. Pittsburgh still has proven Black & Gold warriors, men like Stautner, Butler, Dodrill, McPeak, Nickel, Mathews, and Finks.
The Steelers finally find a right tackle in rookie Frank Varrichione in '55, and have a pepper pot of a rookie safety in Richie McCabe, and a free agent find in rookie linebacker John Reger.
Pittsburgh starts strong again in '55 and after five weeks are in first place with a 4-1 record, with the only loss being the controversial one-point loss in the Coliseum to the Rams (Kiesling charged on the field to berate the officials at the gun).
How often did offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi and defensive coordinator Tom Landry lose to the same team twice in the first five weeks of the season? Pittsburgh 49 New York 30 in the two wins.
The main question of course is can we beat the defending league champion Cleveland Browns the second half of the season? Since Lattner is in the air force guess who is back in the starting line-up at right halfback?
Chandnois is simply at his best early in '55 as he ranked seventh in rushing after the first three weeks of the campaign. He had given his team the lead in that fateful loss to the Rams in the Coliseum with his second rushing touchdown of the game and scored the winning touchdown in the October triumph against the Giants. He is back to returning kickoffs (he shares that role with Sid Watson).
Pittsburgh finishes in last place in the Eastern Conference in '55. Chandnois scores only once the last seven games of the season. During the back-to-back losses to the Cardinals and Lions at mid-season he carries the ball 24 times for 77 yards, and none after that.
He misses playing time, and there is no mention of injury. Buddy Parker's Lions own the Steelers, and they beat Pittsburgh every time they play from 1950 through 1956. The game on November 13th is one of those games that NFL Films would have made its signature Game of the Week or Game of the Season in '55.
The stirring comeback with Finks & Marchibroda firing 47 passes, and gaining 367 yards. Mathews and Nickel, of course, have their moments, but here he is again against Detroit running his routes, and nabbing every spiral in sight; 8 receptions for 108 yards (his last 100-yard receiving game).
Watson kicked up chalk at the goal line on the final play, but the referee ruled no touchdown in the 31-28 loss. Art Rooney is loyal to all fault, and as such with back-to-back seasons where he won one and lost eleven the second half of the year Walt Kiesling is back in the saddle in '56.
The only way to explain this is Art himself, and he is loyal to a fault, or he believed that the Steelers could maintain their hot start all the way through the year at least once? Pittsburgh again has a roster makeover with twelve rookies on the team in '56, highlighted by a once-in-a-lifetime talent in Lowell Perry. Chandnois is again at right halfback, and as usual, carries the ball as a runner (44 times in the first five games).
He is not a factor in the Steeler passing game in '56 as he catches just seven passes in those first five games. Perry is the left end, while an aging Elbie Nickel is still at right end. Ray Mathews continues to threaten opposing secondaries deep, but since Finks is retired, we have a new signal caller in diminutive Ted Marchibroda.
He just does not have the strong arm that Finks does, and he is learning on the job. Opening day at Forbes against a Washington Redskin team that beat the Steelers twice in '55. When Chandnois fields the Washington kick-off in his endzone (about 6 or 7 yards deep) he does not hesitate, and there he goes, long-striding, intense, straight ahead up the right sideline for 91 yards before the pursuit hauls him down. Four weeks into the season and Lynn has returned 7 kickoffs for 264 yards!
Since he has Lowell Perry back there with him; the Steelers just might have had the two most dynamic kick-off return men paired together in league history up to that point in time? We are at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland on October 28th, and for the first time in the decade, the Steelers will beat the Browns on the road.
Yes, this is a Cleveland team minus Otto, and are rebuilding, but a win over the Browns is always welcome. Trailing 13-7 in the second quarter Lynn Chandnois scores the last touchdown of his career as he gives the Steelers the lead. Late in the fourth quarter, he separates his shoulder, and his career is over. Was he healthy enough to return in '57?
We will never know since new coach Buddy Parker (Kiesling is finally dismissed after his third consecutive losing season) decided that to get the attention of his team he had to make a statement, so he CUT Chandnois, only to respond later after studying film that he made a mistake after he saw how hard he played, and how instrumental he was in any success in the Steeler offense and return game.
Page 283 of the Neft & Cohen Pro Football: The Early Years has the listing for kickoff returns and it shows Chandnois returned 92 for 2,720 for the best lifetime average at that point in league history of 29.6.
During the victory over the Browns in October of '56 his final kickoff return was for 27 yards—damn Lynn, if you could have gone 67 instead of 27 you would have finished your career right at 30.0! The Kansas Comet eventually passed Chandnois, yet that tells you how effective he was on the runback.
Football today has backs who catch passes from the slot formation, return kicks, and once in a while carry the ball on a reverse and have to believe Chandnois was ahead of his time and could play today.
Oh yeah, today is his birthday, thanks Mr. Chandnois for the hours of joy you have given me watching you play on film!