Yelberton Abraham Tittle, better known as “Y.A.”, an All-Pro and Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee, who spent four of his 17-seasons in Pro Football with the New York Football Giants, passed away at the age of 90.
Tittle was received by New York in a trade with San Francisco for guard Lou Cordileone during the 1961 pre-season at the age of 34 as insurance for 40-year old incumbent Charlie Conerly. They got more than they ever could have anticipated, as in his short tenure, Tittle rewrote the record books and was the catalyst for three consecutive Eastern Conference titles.
Tittle embarked on his pro career with the original Baltimore Colts of the All-American Football Conference in 1948. That franchise folded after one season in the NFL and Tittle moved on to San Francisco, where he was a member of the famed “Million Dollar Backfield” with Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenney and John Henry Johnson. Tittle became familiar to fans around the country with newsreel highlights of his jump-ball style “Alley-Oop” passes to R.C. Owens.
After 10 productive seasons Tittle was deemed old, immobile and expendable by coach Red Hickey who planned to transform the 49ers to a full-time shotgun offense.
The trade invigorated both Tittle and the Giants.
Initially, Conerly began the season as New York’s starting quarterback, with Tittle coming in later in the games as relief. Fullback Alex Webster said, “Conerly was our leader. Then, when Tittle came in, we’d never seen anything like him before.”
Sparked by a lively passing game with Tittle and receiver Del Shofner, the Giants surprised critics with an Eastern Conference title, but lost at Green Bay in the NFL Championship Game. Tittle was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player after the season.
As the full-time starter in 1962, Tittle passed the ball like no one since Sammy Baugh. Tittle set an NFL single-season record with 33 touchdown passes while sparking New York to a 12-2 record and second consecutive Eastern Conference crown. On October 28, he tied and NFL record with seven touchdown passes (with no interceptions) while passing for 505 yards in a win over the Washington Redskins. In bitter cold and harsh winds, the Giants passing game struggled in the NFL Championship at Yankee Stadium as New York lost again to Green Bay.
Remarkably, the 1963 season may have been even better. He reset the touchdown passes record at 36 – a standard that would last until Dan Marino surpassed it in 1984 – and led New York to its third Eastern Conference title in three years with an 11-3 record. Tittle again won the NFL MVP trophy.
Playing on a badly-injured knee at Chicago’s Wrigley field, Tittle and the Giants disappointingly lost the NFL championship again. Coach Allie Sherman said after the game, “(Tittle’s) a hell of a man. He played on one leg. It’s too bad. I think we could have cut them up a little better if he had not been hurt.”
Tittle retired following the 1964 season, and still owned many team single game and single season records. His 36 touchdown passes for a season still stands today. Always acclaimed for being an intelligent player, Tittle spent several years as the Giants quarterbacks coach on Alex Webster staff, while also starting and running his own insurance business for several decades.
“Y.A. was one of the finest men I have ever known,” said Giants President and Chief Executive Officer John Mara, whose late father, Wellington, was a close friend of Tittle’s. “He was a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Hall of Fame person. He brought our team to new heights in the early 1960’s, and left an indelible mark on our franchise.”
Tittle had his #14 retired by the Giants in 1965 (he was given the already-retired number in honor of Ward Cuff at his request in 1961), was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, and was a charter member of the Giants Ring of Honor in 2010.