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Dec 202014
 
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Ty Sambrailo, Colorado State Rams (October 11, 2014)

Ty Sambrailo – © USA TODAY Sports Images

December 20, 2014 Bowl Games: 2015 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

NEVADA

#17 – QB – Cody Fajardo – 6’2/215

Fifth year senior that has been starting since his redshirt freshman season. Dual threat type with a really strong arm. Led the team in rushing. Runs the ball a lot. A very cheap version of Kaepernick. Only saw him once and that was against Arizona. He played really well in that game, showing some toughness/grit/comeback ability. Projects to be a late rounder but he should get drafted. He is a runner because the scheme called him to be, but there is legit arm talent there. Not just a gimmick guy.

#53 – DE – Brock Hekking – 6’4/255

Probably mostly know because of his WWF type hair style. Not the prospect that some labeled him to be earlier in the year. Lacks some of the more important tools that you look for in a 4-3 DE. Had a down year in 2014 after leading this team in sacks and TFL in 2012 and 2013. His game is based purely on energy/hustle/aggression. Saw some tape against Colorado State’s 1st round caliber OT. His lack of physical talent was apparent but he brings it every play. Doesn’t stop until that whistle blows and can make plays based on effort alone every game. Late round prospect at best but he will be in demand. Coaches like this kind of guy.

#24 – DB – Charles Garrett – 5’11/205

Versatile DB that has a lot of experience split between S and CB. May be too thick for the CB spot in the NFL, lacks that quick twitch and reaction. I actually have some intrigue here with Garrett, I want to see more of him. He plays a fast and aggressive game, physical player. Wore a fee hats for this team and performed well across the board. Does he have the movement ability? There is some trouble off the field that needs to be looked in to as well.

#2 – WR – Richy Turner – 5’11/180

Slot receiver prospect with good quickness in and out of his breaks. Really smooth catcher and route runner. Unspectacular prospect but does enough of the little things well to get a late round look. He will likely test out well athletically. Would have liked to see more production but he can play. Limited player but a lot of good slot WRs in the NFL looked like this guy in college.

LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE

#8 – QB – Terrance Broadway – 6’2/221

Only saw Broadway once in 2014, wasn’t really impressed. Another dual threat QB that has some arm talent to him. Strong player that can run with some power but wouldn’t call him a guy that keeps opposing coaches up at night. Inaccurate on simple throws. Sloppy mechanics. Will leave school near or at the top of many all time passing records. Not really interested in him but will put an eyeball on him tonight.

#67 – RT – Daniel Quave – 6’3/324

Fifth year senior that has started every game of his career. Has played RG and RT. Projects to be a G at the next level. Only have one look at him on my sheet so I need to see more. Typical squatty guard that packs a punch but struggles to move with faster defenders at a lower level of college football. Really strong upper body. Could project to be a late day three guy.

#46 – RB – Alonzo Harris – 6’1/238

In between the tackles runner that needs to be a downhill guy in the NFL. Can’t be an outside runner. Most likely limited to short yardage/goal line duty. Will struggle to make it at the next level, just doesn’t have that quick twitch and vision to make things happen. Pretty basic player and athlete that lost carries to a talented sophomore they have. Doesn’t catch a lot of balls. Unspectacular guy that will likely get a look late in the draft or in free agency from a team that wants a power back.

#6 – DT – Justin Hamilton – 6’2/310

First team all Sun Belt. Probably the highest upside player in this game. Hamilton carries 300+ pounds with ease. Athletic mover in space but also plays a violent game. Angry player that beats guys up, plain and simple. I think he could be a solid 3-4 DE and/or 4-3 DT. The hybrid defensive schemes will love him.

#7 – CB – Corey Trim – 5’11/192

Again, I have not gotten a lot of looks at Trim. He is a good sized corner that was avoided for the most part in the game I saw. Looking forward to seeing if he has a physical side to him because he isn’t much of a speed guy.

****************************

UTAH STATE

#74 – OT – Kevin Whimpey – 6’5/295

Fifth year senior. Wide-shouldered team captain with a lot of strength. Needs to gain mass. Has the feet to play in the NFL but lacks the technique. His feet get stuck too often and his hand placement is too high. Late rounder at best here but I think he gets a look from someone based on his frame and experience.

#52 – LB – Zach Vigil – 6’/240

Probably the top prospect in this game. Productive and experienced leader. Fun guy to watch because he’ll do anything. Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year (19.5 TFL and 9.5 sacks) He shows ability to run with tight ends down the seam that are more athletic than him. But he can also blitz inside/out and push linemen through the pocket. Just a quality football guy that teams like to have on their team. I think he has an outside shot at being a top 100 pick if he can grade out well in workouts.

#99 – DE – BJ Larsen – 6’5/275

Another guy I like based on frame/speed alone. Larsen is a strong presence outside with a violent style. He shows some intriguing athletic ability as well. Reads and flows towards the action. Demands a lot of attention from the opposition but still makes an impact. Guys at this size with his movement ability almost always get drafted. I think he could be a 5th rounder.

UTEP

#14 – WR – Ian Hamilton – 6’5/229

Team’s leading receiver in 2014. Upside guy that will draw the attention of scouts based purely on long term upside. He has the tools. Big, tall, and long with some speed. Averaged over 20 yards per catch in 2014. I want to get another look at him, looking forward to looking at more position-specific traits here.

*******************************************

UTAH

#8 – DE – Nate Orchard – 6’4/255

All American. Led the nation in sacks per game, finished with a total of 17.5. Not just a pass risher though, he has a complete game to him. Initially came to Utah as a WR, has added 60 pounds since high school. He won’t test out in the top tier athletically, but he is a football player. Does so many things really well. Gravitates towards the action better than most pass rushers. Functionally strong. Uses his long arms and strong hands well. He could be a sneaky 4-3 DE prospect. He was considered a raw guy with upside heading in to 2014 and then he blew up. Tough matchup against the Colorado State LT, huge game for his draft grade. Could be a 3rd rounder.

#18 – DB – Eric Rowe – 6’1/201

4 year starter. Over 45 career starts on his resume, most of them at FS. Played CB this year and I think it really increased his draft grade. He has the height/length that the NFL looks for, but also legit sub 4.4 speed. Ball skills are there, as are the reaction times and instincts. Get involved often. Active player with a lot of aggression. Not sure he has the functional speed downfield, he’ll be tested by an All American WR in this game. Probably a round 3 or 4 guy.

#80 – TE – Westlee Tonga – 6’4/244

Will be an old rookie (27). Has a laundry list of injuries over his college career. Missed all of 2013 with a knee. He was a question mark for 2014 but he played really well. I saw him against USC and he was able to get open against their athletic LBs. Quick twitch guy in fort and intermediate routes that catches the ball when it’s near him. Physical guy with a lot of effort to his game. Works hard as a blocker, can control guys and at the very least stay between them and the ball carrier. Late round prospect that would be drafted if it weren’t for his age.

COLORADO STATE

#51 – OT – Ty Sambrailo – 6’5/315

The top prospect in this game. Big matchup for him being against Orchard for most of the game. Sambrallo has 1st round tools, traits, and skills but he isn’t mentioned with the top guys. I can remember seeing him whole scouting Richburg last year and thinking he had 1st round ability. His game is all about consistent body control and technique. He isn’t a power guy, but he is powerfull/strong enough. Easy mover that always looks balanced. You see some left tackles that lack body control when going after a blocker, not this guy. Sambrailo has the size and movement to be a 1st rounder. Just a consistent, no-nonsense kind of blocker that you rarely see make mistakes. NYG should be giving him a hard look.

#18 – QB – Garrett Grayson – 6’2/220

One of the day 2 or 3 QBs that could shoot up the draft boards in the coming months. Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. Very strong arm, good decision maker and can make all the throws. Footwork and throwing mechanics are all there. Would love to see what he can do at the Senior Bowl. I think he is just as talented as Ryan Nassib but with more upside.

#37 – LB – Aaron Davis – 6’1/221

A lot of guys like Davis, but I haven’t seen a good game yet. He is a poor tackler that doesn’t have a major physical impact on the game. There is a lack of size and power here and he doesn’t exactly have superb athletic ability. At best I see him as a late rounder.

#23 – CB – Bernard Blake – 6’0/185

Average corner with some height and length. Gets thrown at a lot, hence why he has some quality pass break up numbers. He isn’t a guy that strikes fear in to the opposing offense. Just another guy that could be drafted somewhere on day 3.

Nov 262014
 
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Amari Cooper, Alabama Crimson Tide (November 8, 2014)

Amari Cooper – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft – November 26, 2014 Report

By Colin Lindsay (Great Blue North Draft Report)

After posting some draft comments last weekend, a couple of erstwhile, not to mention discerning, BigBlueInteractive.com regulars asked if I would consider posting some draft thoughts based on where the Giants stood regarding the 2015 draft between now and the end of the season given there isn’t much else to really get excited about in Big Blue land. Along the way, I’d also hope that at least when it comes to the draft that folks really try and think like a pro rather than carry on like a pampered frat house sophomore or a drunk hollering in a bar.

First off, people just have to stop talking about Jerry Reese’s draft picks. JERRY REESE DOESN’T MAKE THE PICKS! Neither does Marc Ross for that matter. The fact is that the Giants invest literally millions of dollars and hundred of man hours putting a grade on every draft eligible player out there and then coalescing as a collective around the guys they like.

Second, if guys are going to talk about the draft, it would be nice if they understood how it really works. In particular, when people say the it’s a lottery or a crapshoot what they mean is that the draft IS a lottery or a crapshoot. It is like flipping coins. George Young probably said it best when he said that when it comes to the draft you gather as much information as you can get, make the best picks you can, and then you cross your fingers. Hit a bunch of heads and they call you a genius; hit too many tails and they start calling your 4th round picks – that only had a 25% or so probability of ever working out in the first place – that don’t work out BLUNDERS!

Thirdly, folks could really humor this old draft guy by not posting who they’d take. Trust me, nobody cares! Fact is nobody should care who I’d take. Folks might care a tad, though, who I think the Giants might be looking because I have a pretty good track record of dissecting and predicting what they might be thinking, although nobody’s perfect!

Where we stand … If the draft were held this week the Giants would have the 7th pick in the opening round, the same as last week as each of the team’s just ahead of the Giants also lost. Of course, the lay of the land could change for the Giants as the next couple of weeks as they head into what can only be described as the ‘easy’ part of the schedule. Indeed, the Giants next four opponents have a combined record of 10-34, whereas during the current 6-game losing streak the opponents combined W-L record was 45-21. In fact, if its any small consolation to Giants’ fans, the 8 losses so far this year came against teams with a combined winning % of almost 70%; indeed, even throw out the wins against the Giants and they are still 53-27 or 66% against the rest of the league.

The good news for the Giants is that even if they are able to win the majority of their remaining games, although that’s hardly a given, they won’t lose all that many draft spots as there are just aren’t a whole lot of teams within striking distance ahead of them in the standings. In fact, even were the Giants able to run the table the rest of the year, they aren’t likely to draft much higher than the 13-14 range.

The less good news for the Giants if indeed their 2015 first round pick is to be in the #7 range is, at least how looks right now (although of course a whole bunch is going to change between now and April 30), that it appears that there is a major drop-off after the top 4-5  players in this year’s draft which right now look to be QBs Mariota and Winston (assuming he doesn’t get red-flagged), DEs Williams and Gregory and WR Cooper. Of that group, Alabama WR Amari Cooper is the most likely to somehow slip down to the 7th spot – and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise that if the Giants had their druthers they would love to add a big-play receiver like Cooper to pair with Beckham and hopefully Cruz, but it could very well take a trade up to guarantee getting the Tide star.

At the same time, again at least at this point in time, it does not appear as if there would be a particularly neat match between the top players available and the Giants’ draft priorities. The next best guys, at least on a consensus NFL board, for example, look like Alabama SS Landon Collins and OTs Brandon Scherff of Iowa and A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi. Each would fill a need, but none is the kind of real impact player that a team like the Giants would likely like to add if they were to get a top 10 pick this year. Collins, for example, is more an in-the-box type SS and the Giants would almost certainly prefer a rangy FS type. Of course, the Giants would be very intrigued by a so-called Blue Goose-can’t miss OT, but I am not sure there is such an animal in this year’s draft. Scherff, who has been described as this year’s Zach Martin, might be the most interesting OL option if it came to that. He’s not that athletic, but is a big, really tough, physical guy who you could start out at OG, but ultimately move to either OT if the need arose.

That said, I don’t see the Giants entering the draft with the OL the #1 priority. The one real gap they have is RG and there other ways to address that than use the highest pick you have had in almost two decades. My best guess is that heading into the 2015 draft the Giants top priorities will be a) upgrading the pass rush; b) adding some more weapons on offense including another WR and RB; and c) adding some speed and athleticism to the defensive back 7, along with the OL. Obviously, they likely won’t be able to accomplish everything with just three premium picks, but obviously some of those issues can be addressed just as well in free agency.

In fact, in the end, if the Giants were ultimately to pick around #7, there is a very good chance that the player they take isn’t rated quite in that area at this time as there are a bunch of players hovering just outside the top 10-15 right now with the upside to go higher. That group includes WRs Kevin White of West Virginia, Michigan tweener Devin Funchess, Davante Parker of Louisville, Jaelen Strong of Arizona State, along with enigmatic 6-5 Dorial Green-Beckham of Oklahoma, 6-9 Baylor DE Shawn Oakman, and dynamic Washington OLB Shaq Thompson. Time will tell.

Of course, the draft runs more than one round and if the draft were held this week the Giants would also have the 38th and 71st picks. And if there is some good 2015 draft news for the Giants its that it appears there will be excellent depth at several positions of interest including RB, WR, and safety, while there should also be some decent depth at positions like OG, OT and MLB. There could also be a couple or three DE prospects available in the second round, including Nate Orchard of Utah, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree and LSU junior Danielle Hunter; however, DE does not look like it will be particularly strong at the 2015 draft and any team that wants to upgrade at the position won‘t want to dawdle.

Meanwhile, the list of other players that could be on the Giants’ radar in the second round include RBs Tevin Coleman of Indiana, Miami’s Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska; WRs Sammie Coates of Auburn and Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, South Carolina OG A.J. Cann; and safeties Gerod Hollimon of Lousiville, Cody Prewitt of Ole Miss and Derron Smith of Fresno State. For the record, there could also be a number of very good OT candidates in the 2nd round including Tyrus Thompson of Oklahoma, Ty Sambrailo of Colorado State, Ereck Flowers of Miami, and Spencer Drango of Baylor.

Oct 262014
 
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Perry Fewell, New York Giants (January 8, 2012)

Perry Fewell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Outsider’s Report: Special Defensive Pressure Package Edition

By BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Daniel in MI

The warden finally allowed us to watch the tape of the Giants-Cowboys game now that we have been released from the Hole. (Editor’s Note: When your job is in the prison cafeteria, people need to be specific when they ask for a tossed salad. ‘Nuff said.) The Outsider Report (TOSR) staff carefully examined the tape, and then asked to be put back in the Hole. That request denied, we decided to write up our report. As always, although we lack any contacts, inside information, derrière millinery, or media passes, we nevertheless bring you the truth beyond the facts. Although much of what we write is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over pedestrian media in two important ways: 1) it’s free; and 2) we use only the most effervescent fonts.

In our view, the key to this game was the inability of the Giants to get any pass rush. Some observers astutely note that when you give quarterbacks 8-10 minutes in the pocket, they tend to find open WRs. It seemed like no matter what the Giants did, there was little pass rush. This was especially true in the second half when Dallas QB Tony Romo had exactly zero incomplete passes. (This, sadly, negated the usual Giants second half D motto, “It could have been worse!”)

So, it was gratifying for TOSR sources to learn that the league this week launched an investigation into the whereabouts of the Giants LBs and what happens to them when they rush the passer. At a press conference held by Rodger Goodell he said,

It has come to my attention that during games, defensive players for the New York Football Giants seem to be disappearing from the field of play. Our film analysis shows that this is taking place on plays in which Linebackers rush the passer. They leave the defensive backfield toward the opposing Quarterback and then… just, well, vanish. It has happened game after game. Fans have asked us to look into it, and we are responding. We have used the chips embedded in their pads this year to try and track them with telemetry, but the signals just go blank. It’s as if they enter the Bermuda Triangle on the field. Then after the pass is complete, the data begin again as the player appears jogging to the new line of scrimmage, typically 8 or more yards downfield.

To try and learn more, we asked Giants LB Jacquian Williams some incisive questions:

TOSR: What kind of name is Jacquian?

JW: What? I don’t know, it’s just what my parents named me. I thought you wanted to talk about pass rush?

TOSR: Ok, ok. What do you experience when you rush the passer?

JW: It’s very spooky. I begin to rush. I see an offensive player, usually a lineman or back, and then, it all just kind of goes blank. There’s flashes of light, I see sky sometimes, or turf, I hear weird grunting noises. Then, nothing. The play is over and they’ve made another first down. I can’t really remember anything that happened.

TOSR: And, do you think you’ve been abducted? Do you get anal probed at any point?

JW: What?

TOSR: Nothing, never mind. Do you see a QB at any point during this process?

JW: I thought I saw one once. I can’t be sure. It was blurry.

TOSR: Can you show me on this doll where they blocked you?

JW: Here and here. And, sometimes, …here.

TOSR: So, shoulders, chest, and sometimes legs?

JW: I think so. I like I said, it’s all sort of a blur. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

TOSR: And, do you ever try and avoid these blocks? How do we know you’re really trying to get to the QB?

JW: What are you saying? That I’m ‘asking for it’ by the way I rush? That it didn’t really happen? Look, I don’t know what happens out there! It’s not my fault. IT’S NOT MY FAULT!

TOSR: Just one more question. Seriously, what kind of name is Jacquian? Do we pronounce the “i” or…

JW: I’m outta here.

Looking to go more in depth, we caught up with Giants DC Perry Fewell to ask him more about this mystery. We asked him whether he had any insight into the disappearance of his pass rushing LBs. “We had veteran players. We run a sophisticated pass rush scheme. You have to take into account and communicate a lot out there — the down, distance, game clock, opponent tendencies, the QB, the personnel package, the field conditions, the strong side of the formation, wind speed, barometric pressure, biorhythms, astrological charts, whether there’s an ebb tide, polling results, electrical resistance, shear stress, the partial pressure of nitrogen, hydrostatic pressure, ovulation, market fluctuation, centripetal force, and charmed quarks.” We suggested that it seemed complex. He responded, “It is! It’s much harder than rocket science, it’s football. But, as a coach you simplify it for the players to help them understand. I have boiled it all down to easy to understand three point schemes for pass and run pressures.”

To validate this information, I got my hacker roommate who is part of the mysterious group known only as Anonymous — but whose name is Ed Tergarian, and he lives in his mom’s basement in West Caldwell — to hack Coach Fewell’s computer, and steal a copy of the defensive playbook. (Editor’s note: “password123” is not a secure password, Perry) In a TOSR exclusive, here for the first time is the Giants LB blitz package reproduced in its entirety. We ask you to PLEASE do not share this information for obvious reasons, to avoid giving away our strategies. Once this is published, our sources will leave for Russia like that NSA leaker guy. (Although, in this case, it’s just to pick up the mail-order bride. Welcome, Anastasia!)

NY Football Giants Pressure Packages for SAM, MIKE, and WILL

Passing Pressure Package: Three-Step Plan
A) Directly engage opposing blockers
B) ???
C) Really big sacks!

Run Blitz: Three-Step Plan
A) Synergy
B) Think Outside the Box
C) Empowerment!

That’s it. That’s the whole damn thing. Well, he definitely boiled it down. I see why they disappear now. I want to disappear now, too.

Tune in next week when we examine the Giants run blocking scheme. Spoiler alert: “Just kinda get in the way of someone if you can” could be in there! Until then, thank goodness it’s a bye week so we can pretend we’re fans of a functional football team. “They just look like the Broncos, but really that was the Giants. See? Manning is the QB.”

Sep 302014
 
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Todd Gurley, Georgia Bulldogs (September 27, 2014)

Todd Gurley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft: Quarter-Point Thoughts

By Colin Lindsay (Great Blue North Draft Report)

What have we learned so far… Truth is we may not have actually learned a whole lot through the New York Giants first four games of the year. We did learn that the weeks after wins are a whole lot more fun than the weeks after losses.  We also learned that if the Giants are plus multiple turnovers (Houston, Washington) they probably win, but if they are a net minus multiple turnovers (Detroit, Arizona) they most likely lose.  Now the test for the Giants will be can win their share of games where there is no real difference in the turnovers.

And it is going to be a test because there are no gimmies over the next 7-8 weeks on the Giants’ schedule. However, with a offense that appears to be getting into sync – although they’d probably still like to see a few more big plays – and a defense that has guys who can rush the passer and other guys that can cover – although they’ll likely be having to paper over weaknesses at both linebacker and safety – the Giants figure to be reasonably competitive the rest of the way, again assuming they don’t end up -2 or more too many weeks in turnovers. At the same time, they may have just a few too many deficiencies (see above), not to mention the SOS difficulty, to win more than 9-10 games.

As such we are kind of thinking the Giants currently look like a team that will end up with a mid-round pick at the 2015 NFL Draft – say somewhere between 14 and 18 – although that’s why they actually play the games. We also note the qualifiers that (a) team needs can change quite literally from week to week, and (b) that the ultimate quality of the upcoming draft is still to be determined based on a number of factors including how many underclassmen opt to turn pro this winter. However, the draft is a process and to paraphrase “we are where we are!”

For starters, it certainly appears that much of the doom and gloom about Eli, the TEs and the offensive line – not that some of it wasn’t warranted at the time – may have been somewhat overblown hysteria. Certainly, the emergence of Larry Donnell as a legitimate receiving threat – for the record, he’s on pace to catch over 100 passes this season – has arguably been the best storyline for the Giants so far this season. If nothing else, should the emergence of Donnell continue the rest of the season, it will almost certainly take TE off the board for the Giants early at the 2015 Draft, although it is still possible the team could address the position in later rounds this coming May.

There is something of a similar story along the offensive line. Indeed, heading into the season it appeared that the Giants #1 priority heading into the 2015 off-season would be to figure out to do at LT with incumbent starter Will Beatty continuing to struggle through the pre-season. However, after a somewhat rocky start in the season opener against Detroit, Beatty has been pitching shutouts. And breaking down the game tape suggests that there are indeed some things Beatty appears to be doing differently of late. For starters, Beatty appears to be getting off the snap much more crisply that he did last year and in the pre-season. In particular, Beatty had been tending to just stand up off the snap before moving toward his assignment, whereas this year he‘s coming off the snap much lower and more assertively toward the point of attack. Beatty also appears to be taking somewhat better angles in the pocket. In the past, for example, Beatty has tended to drift out toward the DE when the latter takes a wide route, which in effect shortened the distance the DE had to go to get around him; this year, though, Beatty has been staying tighter to the pocket and has been letting the DE come to him. It also appears that Beatty has simply been battling harder his year. Against Washington, for example, he had his knees buckled on 2-3 occasions, but he still managed to throw his body between the rusher and the QB and disrupt the rush.

At the same time, though, Beatty still displays some really labored footwork, especially when back-peddling. Indeed, Beatty’s feet look like a couple of pistons when he’s moving in reverse; in particular, there’s just way too much up and down movement in his footwork which tends to limit his lateral range. And because he lifts his feet so far off the ground when back-peddling, Beatty struggles to maintain his balance when he has to absorb contact from a defensive linemen when one of his feet is off the ground. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to see how its supposed to be done only needs to look down the line at RT Justin Pugh who has a smooth, easy slide step and really does kind of glide around the pocket without a whole lot of wasted motion.

What it all may mean is that OT may not be quite the priority at the 2015 draft that it appeared to be at the start of the season. While he’s far from the most polished guy at the position, Beatty likely won’t be going anywhere – at least in the short term – this off-season, and even if the Giants did decide that #65 wasn’t worth the cap figure, it appears that Pugh is likely the LT in waiting. That doesn’t mean the Giants won’t address the position at the 2015 draft, it just may mean that it may be more a RT/depth type player rather than a pure LT with a premium pick. And that may be a good thing because the 2015 OT draft class hasn’t developed as well had been expected. Its still likely that the top LT prospects like Ogbuehi, Scherff and Peat will be off the board by the middle of the opening round, but there is something of a drop-off to the next level. And that may have the Giants looking at RT prospects like Corey Robinson of South Carolina, Oklahoma‘s Tyrus Thompson or Ty Sambrailo of Colorado State in the 3rd or 4th rounds. (And for anyone actually checking out Robinson, #50 next to him is A.J. Cann, arguably the best OG prospect in this year’s draft, who’d bring a little of that old Chris Snee intensity to the unit were he still there in the second round, although that’s probably a longshot.)

In fact, assuming that the Giants pick somewhere toward the middle of this year’s opening round, its not clear that there will necessarily be a great match between their needs and the talent available. Of course, the one thing about the draft is that its hardly static and a whole bunch can and likely will change between now and May. Right now, though, it also looks like there won’t be any mid-first round locks at DE to fill the Giants other big need for a quality edge rusher to pair with Jason Pierre-Paul. Again the elite DE prospects like Leonard Williams and Randy Gregory look like they will be long gone by the time the Giants get on the clock, and while the second tier group has some talent including guys like Mario Edwards of Florida State, Florida’s Dante Fowler or Shilique Calhoun of Michigan State there are no locks at the position outside the top 2-3 guys and the team might be just as well served looking at one of several underrated emerging prospects at the position rising like BYU junior or Alvin Dupree of Kentucky.

Of course, its almost impossible to project what other general goals a team like the Giants might have entering an off-season that is still months away. However, it would not be a surprise at all here if the Giants head into 2015 looking to upgrade both the speed and athleticism in the back seven, especially at WLB and at safety, on defense, as well as continue to add impact players on offense. Unfortunately, for a team like the Giants, it does not look like 2015 is going to be a very good year at all at either safety or linebacker. Alabama’s Landen Collins is a potential top ten pick at safety, but he’s another player likely to be off the board when the Giants make their opening round pick and there is a real drop-off at the position after that, although a team could get lucky  in the 3rd round with someone like Derron Smith of Fresno State, Ole Miss’ Cody Prewitt, Kurt Drummond of Michigan State or Syracuse junior Durrell Eskridge. Meanwhile, there’s a better than even chance no LB will be chosen at all in this year’s opening round, although Washington WLB Shaq Thompson and Miami ILB Denzel Perryman look to be good value in the middle of the second round.

On the other hand, the 2015 Draft looks like it will be very deep at the offensive skill positions. Indeed, WR is quietly emerging as the deepest position in this year’s draft. And while the Giants did select Odell Beckham with their #1 pick this past May, they are hardly set at the position behind Beckham and Cruz. In fact, if there is a player who could be described as a perfect fit for the Giants’ offensive scheme it could very well be Stanford WR Ty Montgomery, a bigger (6-1, 215), faster version of what the Giants had hoped they’d get in Jerrel Jernigan. For the record, Montgomery has already scored receiving, rushing and return TDs this fall, after catching 61 passes in 2013 when he also was #2 in the country in KO returns with an average of over 30 yards per pop. Like last ear, though, the 2015 draft looks like it will be rich with receivers such that teams should be able to get players who can contribute right through the second day and into the 4th round.

Meanwhile, the $64K question for the Giants at the 2015 draft just might be whether they pull the trigger if Georgia RB Todd Gurley were still available when they make their opening round pick. For those that don’t follow college football, Gurley is being described as the best player in all of college football this fall with AP type ability (as a football player not a parent!). Its possible, however, that he slips out of the top 10 because of the position he plays. You’d have to figure, though, that while Rashad Jennings has been solid enough this year, new OC Ben McAdoo would just love to get his hands on a big back like Gurley who can break tackles in the open field and really put pressure on opposing defenses to really have to think about devoting extra resources to stopping the Giants running game, in the process hopefully opening things up even more for the passing attack. And while ending up with a stud like Gurley is probably still something of a longshot, we’d still expect the Giants to look to add another back with a premium pick next year from a draft that like the situation at WR. is exceptionally deep at the position.

Sep 222014
 
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New York Giants at Washington Redskins (September 22, 1940); Tuffy Leemans with the ball.

New York Giants at Washington Redskins (September 22, 1940); Tuffy Leemans with the ball.

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

Part of the early NFL’s success in distinguishing itself from the more popular college game was splitting the league into two divisions and having the first place finishers meet to decide the league championship. Fan interest spiked, newspaper coverage increased, statistical documentation improved and the league stabilized.

In their eight seasons prior to the divisional format, the New York Giants had two sets of rivals. The first was the teams they regularly competed with for first place, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. The second set was the various geographical rivals within the New York City area. Most were short lived incarnations: the New York Yankees (1926-1928), the Brooklyn Lions/Horsemen (1927), the Staten Island Stapletons (1929-32), and the Newark Tornadoes (1929-30). The longest-tenured and most-viable franchise was the Brooklyn Dodgers/Tigers (1930-44).

Most of those local teams were unsuccessful and not much of a threat to the Giants on the field, but they were more than a nuisance. They competed with the Giants for talent and occasionally were successful in outbidding the established franchise for players. They also were an unneeded distraction when home dates conflicted. It was hard enough getting fans to come to the Polo Grounds without having games coincide within the city limits.

At the outset of divisional play in 1933, the usual teams were at the top. The Giants won the Eastern Division title and the Bears won the Western. In fact, over the first 14 seasons of this format, there was very little variety in the NFL Championship game. The Western Division was represented by the Bears eight times, the Packers four times and the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Rams once each. The domination in the East was even more stringent; all 14 titles belonged to just two teams. The Giants represented the East eight times and the other six by their first true rival, the Boston/Washington Redskins.

The 1933-35 seasons saw the Giants dominate the Eastern Division with little competition. Although New York’s record against Boston was 5-1 in that span, the rivalry with the Redskins grew to be so spectacular in the late 1930’s through the mid 1940’s that it was compared to famed college clashes in the vein of Yale-Harvard and Army-Navy. The league schedule-makers wisely capitalized on this feud, and often scheduled the Giants and Redskins to meet in the final week of the regular season. The December Giants-Redskins games at the Polo Grounds regularly had larger crowds than their Championship Games against the Bears or Packers the following week. The Redskins final season in Boston was the launch point, and it featured what would become almost an annual rite of passage to the Championship match – a winner-take-all, head-to-head season finale.

The New Contender Emerges

In 1936, former Giant end Ray Flaherty, who served as Steve Owen’s assistant coach in 1935, was in his first season as head coach of Boston and he had his team playing sharply, physically and confidently. Joining Flaherty was rookie Wayne Millner, a strong two-way end who proved to be a clutch receiver. The Redskins arrived in New York with a 6-5 record while the Giants stood at 5-5-1, which included a 7-0 win at Boston in October. Only a victory would vault the Giants into first place.

Much of the hype leading up to the game included a subplot of who would lead the NFL in rushing. Giants’ rookie sensation Tuffy Leemans entered the final week with 806 yards. New York’s practices were shortened in the early part of the week, first due to the Polo Grounds field being frozen, later from torrential rains falling. One of the practice reports from midweek described the scene of the Giants sloughing through ankle-deep mud in the patch of field close to the center field bleachers, as the grounds crew had the field of play covered with a tarp. “The ball carriers slipped and passes found the water-soaked pigskin wobbling through the air.”

The weather was not much better on game day, and kept what was expected to be a near capacity crowd to 18,000. The New York Times described the contest as not “even being a football game, but rather a parody of one.” Ball carriers “skidded as far as they ran” in “the clammiest mud imaginable.” The downpour lasted through the first three quarters and floodlights were turned on in the second half to illuminate the mud caked players through the foggy haze that settled inside the dreary Polo Grounds. The pileups became dangerous as the field deteriorated. The hazardous conditions were blamed for Les Corzine’s broken ankle and Tony Sarausky’s concussion “that narrowly missed being a fracture of the skull.”

The Redskins put the Giants in a hole early and held the field-position advantage throughout. Future Hall of Fame tackle Glen “Turk” Edwards partially blocked Ed Danowksi’s punt from the Giants end zone, setting up Boston on the New York four-yard line. Three plays later Don Irwin plunged over from one-yard out to put the Redskins ahead 7-0.

Boston Redskins at New York Giants (December 6, 1936)

Boston Redskins at New York Giants (December 6, 1936)

New York’s offense never found any tread. Passing the ball was a near impossibility, and Boston played a virtual 10-man line to clog the line of scrimmage and stuff the New York rushing attack in the “veritable quagmire.” Boston threatened twice more in the first half, but failed to capitalize as their scoring chances failed with a missed a field goal and lost fumble. Battles’ 74-yard sloshing punt return in the third quarter sealed the Giants fate.

Ironically, despite the Giants 14-0 loss, the Polo Grounds would still host the NFL Championship Game the following Sunday. Redskins Owner George Preston Marshall was dissatisfied with the small crowds at Fenway Park and decided his team would not return to Boston. Green Bay defeated the Redskins 21-6 in a defensive slugfest. After the game, Marshall told his team (which had three All-Pros in Battles, Edwards and center Frank Bausch) they were good enough to win a championship, all they needed was a quality passer.

That passer was taken with the Redskins first pick of the draft: tailback Sammy Baugh, whom Marshall personally scouted. Baugh was more than a ground breaking passer, he was an all-round player who also was a hard tackling safety on defense and exceptional punter. Meanwhile, Owen and the Giants believed they were more than one player away from going back to the Championship Game, and populated their roster with a significant number of rookies, including backs Ward Cuff and Hank Soar, ends Will Walls, Jim Poole and Jim Lee Howell, and guard Orville Tuttle.

In 1937, the new-look teams met under the flood lights for a night contest in front of 25,000 Washingtonians. They marveled at Baugh’s aerials, which twice drove the home team to field goals. The real ace for the Redskins though was back Riley Smith, who not only accounted for all of Washington’s points in the 13-3 victory, but who also made the game-altering play on defense. New York trailed 6-3 in the fourth quarter and was advancing on Washington’s rugged defense. Twice earlier, New York had been stopped on downs in goal-to-go situations. Riley intercepted Danowski’s pass and returned it 58 yards for the clinching score.

Despite the loss, Owen had to be encouraged with his young team’s performance on a big stage against one of the best outfits in the league. New York actually had the statistical advantage in most categories, including a lop-sided rushing-yards advantage of 226-105. The teams were almost even in the forward passing department. Baugh was 11-17 for 116 yards and Danowski 9-17 for 85 yards, but Danowski threw two interceptions, the second of which being the most costly.

Busy at the Blackboard

New York won their next four games and entered the season finale with a 6-2-2 record. Part of their success was a new two-platoon system where Owen had his team divided into interchangeable sub units. Beginning with the home opener in October versus Philadelphia, Owen swapped out 10 players at the end of the first and third quarters – the lone exception being Mel Hein who usually played the full 60 minutes. Not only did this keep his team fresh, it gave all the young players plenty of game experience.

A friendly rivalry known as “the soda pop derby” developed between the two squads (known as Team A and Team B) and they charted their net score throughout the season. The team with the highest net point differential would be treated to a round of sodas (or perhaps a more adult beverage) by the other.

The 7-3 Redskins won five of six following a 2-2 start. Rookie Baugh hit his stride in mid-October and led the league in forward completions and passing yards. He was most comfortable operating from the Double Wing formation. This formation featured the Single Wing’s unbalanced line, but had the quarterback or blocking back moved just outside the end, potentially giving the tailback four receiving options on every snap. Since the backfield was more balanced in this setup, the defense had a more difficult time anticipating where the ball would go after the snap. Flaherty also devised a new strategy where a back moved laterally to receive a pass behind a group of pulling linemen, which would later become known as a screen pass. Washington also featured the league’s #1 defense and leading rusher, Battles, who became the first player to lead the league in rushing twice (having first done so in 1932.)

T-Formation and Single WingThe Giants-Washington game at the Polo Grounds again fell on the final Sunday of the regular-season schedule and would determine which team played the Western Division Champion for the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy. The anticipation was high and ticket demand heavy – the Giants had hopes for a sellout. Marshall did his part to drum up interest in his own pompous way. He brought a caravan of approximately 10,000 football crazy fanatics from the DC region north on the Amtrak to Manhattan, including the Redskins 75-piece matching band, who paraded from Penn Station to the Giants offices at Columbus Circle. New York had never seen anything like it.

The Redskins boasted of being at both psychological and physical peaks for the December showdown, not a man on their roster missed practice. The press highlighted the fact that Flaherty held a 2-1 advantage against his mentor Owen.  The Giants had several key personnel nursing injuries, including Leemans, but had a statistical advantage in the standings. New York would be awarded first place in the event of a tie. Owen was also ready to fully deploy a scheme he’d been experimenting with throughout the season – a twist on the Single Wing that he called the A-Formation.

The A-Formation had three aspects that made it unique:

  • First, the line was unbalanced to one side and the backfield strong to the opposite side. The Single Wing was a power formation that attacked the edges of the defense with slant runs. The line and backfield were always strong to the same side, having the intent of delivering the most men to the point-of-attack as possible. The A-Formation’s asymmetry offered more opportunity for deception.
  • Second, the line splits were very unusual. The ends were moved a few yards further way from the tackles (a tactic Owen no doubt observed in November when the Giants hosted Green Bay, as Earl “Curly” Lambeau moved end Don Hutson further away from the collisions at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of his speed and route running ability) and spread the defense laterally. The over and under guards were close to Hein at center, but the right tackle took a wider split, almost as an end would. This created natural running and passing lanes and caused confusion in the defense’s pre-snap alignment.
  • Third, Hein was the multi-talented catalyst for the execution. His unique combination of range and strength allowed the line to deploy in this unorthodox manner. No other center possessed the capability of snapping the ball (Hein was the only center at the time to snap with his head up looking at the defense), getting out of his stance and engaging a defender effectively.  Every man in the backfield was eligible to take the snap. In Single Wing and Double Wing schemes, the snap almost always went to the tailback. In the A-Formation, Hein would snap the ball to the tailback, halfback or fullback on any given play. Not only did the defense have little idea where the play would be going, they did not know from where it would originate.  Being a highly-regarded defensive strategist throughout his career, Owen’s offensive system was derived from the places that gave defenses the most trouble, uncertainty and hesitation.

Double Wing and A-FormationNew York would also prepare with a new defensive alignment to deal with Baugh’s aerial assault: a 5-3-2-1 defense instead of their usual 6-4-1. The Giants practices were lively and the team brimmed with confidence. They had extra time to prepare as their last game was against Brooklyn on Thanksgiving Day (a disappointing 13-13 tie, a win would have clinched the East.) A case of beer was present at the Sunday practice as players were ready to celebrate the anticipated Green Bay victory over Washington. When word spread that the Redskins upset the Packers 14-6, guard Johnny Dell Isola told Owen, “Don’t let that bother you Steve. We’ll get that championship for you next Sunday anyway.”

Despite all the preparation, conceptualization and scheming, football games are decided on the field of play.  The second largest crowd in pro football history to that point, 58,285, witnessed a masterful performance by the visitors. The New York Times described the scene eloquently: “There is not a superlative in the English langue that can quite describe the magnificence of the Washingtonians. Their charging had the New Yorkers rocked back on their heels, their passing had them absolutely bewildered and the running was a gem of football perfection.”

Despite all Owens best intentions, the Redskins were clearly the better team, and dominated the game 49-14.  Although the Giants passers actually accrued more yards than Baugh, they were far less efficient. Baugh was 12-of-17 for 212 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception while the Giants combined for 18-of-33 for 154 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. The real story of the domination was told in the trenches. Edwards and his crew were powerful along both fronts. Washington outrushed New York 238-18, including -5 for the Giants in the second half. Battles had 165 yards rushing and also a 75-yard interception return.

The Redskins caravan traveled to Chicago, where they upset the favored Bears at frozen Wrigley Field in 15 degree temperatures, 28-21, to win the NFL Championship.

The Giants exacted revenge on their new favorite team to hate in 1938. New York upset the Redskins in Washington 10-7 in a fourth-quarter comeback in October, then throttled them 36-0 in the season finale at the Polo Grounds. The Giants defeated Green Bay 23-17 for the NFL Title the following week.

 

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (December 4, 1938); Mel Hein (#7)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (December 4, 1938); Mel Hein (#7)

(See “The 1938 New York Giants” for more detail.) 

In 1939, the meeting of the NFL’s previous two champions took place at Griffith Stadium in the first week of October. Both teams were 1-0, with wins over Philadelphia (Washington entered the game on a week’s rest) and New York was riding a 10-game unbeaten streak that had begun with the fourth quarter come-from-behind victory over the Redskins the previous year. This game would be played without one of the heroes of that win, end Jim Lee Howell was sidelined with an injury, as well as Leemans, Soar and guard Tarzan White.

The anticipated capacity crowd was held to 26,341 by driving rains that turned the field “into a miniature lake,” but they were treated to a primal battle featuring “bone shattering line play” as described in The New York Times. The Giants defense kept New York’s unbeaten string to eleven games with opportunistic play, as Washington controlled the field position and the ball throughout. The Redskins had the advantage in first downs 12-7 and total yards 208-74 (the Giants had -3 yards passing.) Three interceptions, a fumble recovery and a goal-line stand resulting in a missed 15-yard field goal by Washington enabled the Giants to survive with a 0-0 tie.

Ascending Tension

New York continued clutch play throughout the season. They did not usually dominate, but big plays at key moments earned them the moniker of “money team.” At 8-1-1 entering the season finale, the Giants only blemish was an 18-14 loss at Detroit in November. Washington was equally impressive and also 8-1-1. Their only loss was a 24-14 setback to the Packers, who had already clinched the Western Division. Both teams were confident, and the demand for tickets was so strong 4,000 bleacher seats were installed at the Polo Grounds. The Redskins were expected to arrive with approximately 15,000 in tow.

An interesting development from Washington this season was the addition of tailback Frank Filchock to their roster. While Filchock favored running, he was very capable throwing the ball and at times performed as a near equal with Baugh. “We made the defenses change,” Flaherty explains. “They’d get all set for Baugh’s passing and then would have to change when we put the running unit in. We tried to keep them constantly off balance and usually succeeded.” Filchock not only led the NFL in scoring strikes in 1939 with 11, he also earned the distinction of throwing the first 99-yard touchdown in NFL history (to Andy Farkas at Pittsburgh.) Balancing out the throwing tandem of Slingin’ Sammy and Flingin’ Frank, as they were known as in Washington, was fullback Farkas leading the league in scoring with 68 points (five rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns, a kickoff return touchdown and two point afters.)

The Giants clutch defense would be put to the test. New York led the league in key categories of fewest points surrendered and most takeaways, and was second in yards yielded. Most of the Giants were in good health, save for Leemans who continued to nurse nagging injuries that he tried to keep discreet, “I’m not going to let them know where I’m banged up. They’ll have to find that out themselves.”

Refusing to take a cue from his boastful owner Marshall, Washington coach Flaherty only predicted “a good, close game.” Owen was equally guarded, “We’ve got a tough ballgame ahead of us. The boys are ready for it and I know they’ll do their best. That is all.” In the event of a tie, a playoff would be held the following Sunday in Washington.

The weather was not ideal. A chilly rain fell and the field was somewhat muddy, but would hold up well.  The crowd of 62,530 jammed into the Polo Grounds was the second largest in NFL history to that point (the largest was the Red Grange at the Polo Grounds in 1925 that exceeded 70,000) and they were treated to an intense, thrilling contest that ended with a legendary controversy.

The Giants dominated the first 30 minutes. Their physical play limited Washington to four rushing yards and sent several key Redskins to the sidelines with injuries, including Baugh, Farkas and Edwards.  Despite their dominance, the lead was just six, coming on Cuff and Strong field goal placements. Washington’s lone drive into New York territory ended with a Leemans’ interception of a Filchock pass in the end zone just before the half.

While the Redskins offense remained in capable hands with Filchock, Baugh was missed in the punting game. A poor third quarter punt set the Giants up with a short field at the Washington 40-yard line. After Danowski completed a pass Soar, two rushes placed the ball on the 16-yard line. The drive stalled and New York came up empty when Cuff’s 21-yard field goal attempt missed. The Giants came right back. Soar intercepted Filchock and returned the ball 25 yards to the Redskin 19-yard line. Washington’s defense was stout again, but this time Cuff’s 15-yard placement was good. New York led 9-0 going into the fourth quarter.

Filchock led Washington on their first advance of the second half, but New York put the threat to a close when Leemans, on his bad leg, intercepted his second pass of the afternoon.  Washington held and forced a New York punt. The Giants intercepted another Filchock pass, but it was the Redskins who were about to alter the tenor of the contest. They held New York again. Then Willie Wilkin blocked Len Barnum’s punt, giving Washington possession on the Giants’ 19-yard line with hope and a jolt of momentum.

After a run lost a yard, Filchock went back to the aerial attack. Fading to his right as he dropped back, Filchock launched a high arcing long ball to the left, which was timed perfectly to miss being deflected by the diving Barnum into the hands of Masterson just across the goal line. Masterson added the point-after and Washington was very much alive, trailing 9-7 with 5:34 on the clock.

Detonation

The rejuvenated Washington defense held the Giants to another three-and-out. Dick Todd returned the punt 30 yards to the New York 47-yard line. Filchock and Todd each advanced the ball once while their line creased New York’s forward wall. On first and ten from the Giants 19-yard line, Filchock completed a pass to Frank Spirida inside the eight-yard line. Filchock ran a keeper to the five and Washington called time out with 45 seconds left. Flaherty was penalized for calling consecutive time outs as he sent Bo Russell out for the placement attempt and the ball was moved back to the 10-yard line. Those five yards would prove to be critical.

There were no hash marks visible on the field to judge where the ball was spotted, but the spot was right-of-center, and Russell’s straight-ahead kick from short range went up in a straight line and appeared to pass almost directly over the right upright. It is impossible to tell with any degree of certainty whether or not it was inside, as the goalposts were much shorter in this era. The ball cleared the field of play and landed in the Polo Grounds grandstand. It appeared to have traveled a diagonal line of trajectory, but the possibility remains that it may have been just good enough.

The fans in the end zone seats celebrated as the ball landed among them while some of the Washington players also celebrated on the field. The mood changed dramatically as referee Bill Halloran walked into the middle of the players, waving his arms indicating the kick was no good. Several Redskins players stomped behind Halloran who conferred with umpire Tom Thorp.  Players and coaches from the Washington sideline swarmed around the officials.

Order was restored long enough for Danowski to twice hand off to John “Bull” Karcis, who was assaulted by enraged defenders each time he went into the line, and run the remaining time off of the clock. When the final gun sounded, seemingly every man from the Redskins sideline went right for Halloran while Giants fans stormed the north end zone and dismantled the goal posts. A mob of Washington players allegedly threatened Halloran and Thorp who were surrounded by police and Polo Grounds ushers, while the enraged Flaherty gesticulated that the kick was good. Wingback Ed Justice was alleged to have thrown several punches at Halloran (without any landing) and was dragged off of the field by several officers. The scene was riotous, brawls broke out amongst the horde of fans running rampant on the field, while the argumentative mob followed the officials into the tunnel toward the dressing rooms. It was a full half hour before the Polo Grounds was settled again.

Several spectators stated the kick was wide – by anywhere from two feet to a few inches – while in the locker room Washington players insisted it was good. In the post-game press conference, Flaherty seethed, “If that Halloran has a conscience, he’ll never have a sound night’s sleep again.” The kicker Russell himself said, “It was close; it could’ve been called either way.” Most surprising was the refusal to comment from owner Marshall.

The day after the game, NFL President Carl Storck revealed that if an investigation revealed Justice had thrown a punch he would be banned from the league for life, “If Justice was guilty of attacking an official, as has been alleged, he is deserving of the most serious penalty we can impose. Our officials must be protected.” Justice was ultimately exonerated and played with Washington through the 1942 season. Regarding the field goal decision, Storck said, “The decision on a play of that type must rest entirely on the referee’s judgment, and I have every confidence in Bill Halloran’s judgment. He is highly competent.”

At the press conference opening championship week, Owen said, “I was in no position to see whether it was good or not. No one on the sideline is in a position to see. Bill Halloran never hesitated in giving his decision.” The Giants went on to play the Packers in Milwaukee for the NFL title but were handled ruthlessly in a 27-0 rout.

The 1940 season saw the emergence of a new contender in the East. The young Brooklyn Dodgers with their star tailback Clarence “Ace” Parker found themselves on equal footing with the two dominant teams. New head coach Jock Sutherland had them operating an efficient, and at times explosive, offense and rugged defense. They were no longer a team to be taken for granted as an easy win.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (November 24, 1940)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (November 24, 1940)

While the Giants and Redskins split a pair of 21-7 home wins between one another, the Dodgers handed New York a 21-6 defeat at the Polo Grounds on December 1, burying the Giants in third place, their lowest finish in four years. It was their first loss to Brooklyn since 1930, ending a 17-0-3 unbeaten run versus their inter-borough rivals. Despite leading the NFL is scoring during the regular season (and forging the distinction of being the last Wing-style team to do so) Washington found out firsthand what the future of the professional football was going to look like when the Chicago Bears unleashed George Halas’ new version of the T-Formation. The final score of 73-0 remains the most one sided score in NFL history.

A Period of Perseverance

In 1941, the Giants swept Washington, including the second game where the Giants scored 10 points in the final 53 seconds for a come-from-behind win at the Polo Grounds to clinch the Eastern Division. The Dodgers, however, swept the Giants, including the game on December 7th when a chill went through the crowd as the PA called upon all active duty servicemen report immediately for duty. Nobody knew at the time that Japan had just attacked the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor. Brooklyn’s victory also knocked the Redskins into third place. New York played an anti-climactic championship game in front of a small crowd at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Bears the next week. The Monsters of the Midway gave New York their own dose of the modern T-Formation and won the game 37-9.

By the time the 1942 training camps rolled around, the NFL landscape was very different. The most able bodied young men were called to duty in service of their country. Young men from college who were deemed undesirable for service mixed with aged veterans coaxed out of retirement, including Hein.

The Giants opened their season at 1-0 Washington in one of the most peculiar and unexpectedly significant outcomes in NFL history. The game conditions were miserable: blustery winds, heavy rain and a muddy field. The Giants won the coin toss and the normally conservative Owen elected to receive (he was the first coach to ever win the toss then elect to kick, being more comfortable with his defense to open a game). The first play from scrimmage was a 30-yard pass from Leemans to end Will Walls, who caught the ball at the 20, evaded a defender and sloshed his way into the end zone for a surprising 7-0 lead. Owen said later, “When the game opened, it seemed sure to rain, and I instructed Tuffy Leemans to try for a touchdown pass as soon as he got the ball.” That was New York’s only pass attempt of the game. The Giants were seemingly comfortable with the touchdown lead and content to run into the line a few times before punting and playing defense.

Baugh’s short passing game worked fairly well given the conditions. Several completions moved his team to the Giants 5-yard line where halfback Bob Seymour would go over for the score on his second plunge. Despite controlling the ball and amassing a huge advantage in yardage – Washington would end up outrushing New York 113-1 – the game remained deadlocked 7-7 late into the third quarter. Owen rolled the dice a second time and adjusted his defensive backfield during a Redskin advance. O’Neal Adams snared a Dick Poillon pass and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown to give the Giants a 14-7 advantage. It was a lead that would hold up, despite the Giants inability to register a single first down over the game’s 60 minutes. [Note: In modern scoring a touchdown is recorded as a first down.]A final Washington drive ended with another interception in New York territory in the fourth quarter.

The final statistics belied logic. Washington’s advantages of 15 first downs to 0 and 233 total yards to 51 left seemingly intelligent observers flummoxed. Members of the press corps credited the Giants with playing “smart football,” noting New York did win the turnover battle 3-0. Owen said of the game changing Adams interception, “That was not luck; we had gambled on stealing a favorite play of the Redskins, a wide flat pass, and had our ends play inside their ends.” New York’s strong punting game also served them well, as they forced Washington to drive long distances on the soft, muddy Griffith Stadium field. Marshall remained incredulous however: “One yard! Gadzooks, I could make more yardage than that just by falling down!”

Marshall was likely placated by the rest of Washington’s dominant season. This proved to be the Redskins lone loss of the campaign as they were hardly tested the remainder of the season. The roll to a 10-1 record included a 14-7 win at the Polo Grounds in November. The Giants meanwhile had a mediocre 5-5-1 year, only good enough for third in the East. The Redskins hosted the most impressive Bears team of the period for the NFL Championship. Chicago led the NFL in total offense and defense while boasting an average margin of victory that was nearly 27 points (one of those wins was a 26-7 decision over the Giants at the Polo Grounds) despite having lost Halas to the Navy mid-season (Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos served as co-coaches for the final six games ).

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (November 15, 1942)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (November 15, 1942)

Baugh, and the other Washington players who were embarrassed two years earlier, earned a semblance of revenge as they deprived the Bears of a perfect season in a 14-6 upset. The end result, given the Giants unlikely September victory, was that the NFL would have to wait another 30 years before it would see a perfect team, when Don Shula’s 1972 Dolphins emerged 17-0 after beating George Allen’s Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

Reinvigorated Competition

In 1943, the manpower drain from World War II forced the NFL to trim roster size, shorten the season schedule and loosen restrictions on in-game substitution to allow coaches game management flexibility. Cleveland lost its team for the season, as the league granted the Rams request to suspend operations for a year as they had lost too many players as well as their owner to the armed services. Washington lost its coach Flaherty to the Navy as well, and was now lead by Dutch Bergman.  The Redskins didn’t seem to notice the difference as the reigning NFL Champs picked up where they left off the year before. They extended their unbeaten streak to 17 games before losing to the Pitt-Phil amalgamation. The Giants meanwhile still hovered around 0.500. Back-to-back wins over two of the league’s weakest teams, Brooklyn and the Chicago Cardinals, boosted New York’s record to 4-3-1 and gave them a longshot opportunity to steal the Eastern Division title from Washington if they could sweep the final home-and-home series with the Redskins. The first game at the Polo Grounds was originally scheduled to be the season finale, but a conflict forced the game at Griffith Stadium to be tacked on at the end of the season.

New York entered the game in mostly good shape. Walls, who had been out since injuring his knee in a game against the Bears three weeks earlier, was tentatively scheduled to return, which was just in time as Adams broke his jaw in the Dodgers game. Second year man Frank Liebel would also be relied upon heavily. Owen was counting on a good performance from his battle tested veterans like Hein, Cuff, Leemans, Cope and Soar to lead the mostly inexperienced team against the tough Redskins. Very few of the young players had ever faced a passer the caliber of Baugh, who would end the season as the league leader in three categories: passing, punting and interceptions, to become the first “Triple Crown” winner. Baugh though, would miss the protection from his All-Pro guard Dick Farman, who had injured his knee a week earlier, and wingback Wilbur Moore.

The crowd of 51,308 was treated to another Giants-Redskins late-season thriller. Early on there did not seem to be much potential for drama. Washington controlled the ball for most of the first half but did not take the lead until 18 seconds before the intermission with a 26-yard Masterson field goal. New York’s sound defense kept Washington out of the end zone. Owen explained his strategy for Baugh, who completed 16 passes for only 154 yards, “The Giants had good luck with Baugh because, unlike other teams, we figured out it was a waste of manpower trying to rush him. He could throw too fast to be stopped. We didn’t try to stop him. Instead, we covered his receivers closely to hold all gains to short ones and to tackle those receivers so hard that they had to pay full price for every yard.”

Washington seemed to solve the Giants scheme on the first drive of the third quarter. Farkas carried the load, pounding the ball eight times for 63 yards before landing on pay dirt to give the Redskins a 10-0 advantage.  The Giants responded with a revived running game of their own, starting from their 28-yard line. Two Paschal rushes totaled 31 yards; a Cuff reverse advanced another 21 yards to the Washington 20-yard line. Paschal carried the ball four consecutive plays before going over for the score to bring the Giants back to 10-7.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (December 5, 1943); Al Blozis (#32), Len Younce (#60), Frank Cope (#36)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (December 5, 1943); Al Blozis (#32), Len Younce (#60), Frank Cope (#36)

The New York defense held and the Paschal-Cuff tandem went back to work while the buzz in the Polo Grounds grandstands grew to a roar. The Giants marched from their 34-yard line to the Redskins 21 on three rushes, with only a touchdown-saving tackle from Baugh on Paschal preventing New York from taking the lead. Ultimately Baugh’s defensive effort kept Washington ahead, as the drive stalled and Wilkin blocked Cuff’s 22-yard placement.

Both defenses tightened, the two teams repeatedly traded punts as the game became a struggle for field position. Tackle Al Blozis in particular was a force in New York’s clampdown on the Redskins futile advances while Masterson spearheaded the Washington resistance. Time became an ally for Washington, as even escaping with a tie would lock up the division. Just over five minutes remained when Paschal returned a punt 20 yards to the New York 44-yard line. Paschal plunged once for three yards to set up what Owen later described as the “perfect” play.

Paschal took the hand-off from Leemans after an end-around fake, charged through right tackle, paused, then outraced Baugh to the end zone. The play’s success was a result of both scheme and slick ball handling. Owen said, “Emery Nix was the left half, Dave Brown the wingback. Brown faked his end-run reverse so well he drew off the Redskins secondary. Meanwhile, Paschal roared through the quick opener hole over guard after their guard had been trapped. All Bill had to do was sprint – along the shortest distance to the touchdown, a straight line – to win the game.” Baugh explained his reaction from the safety position, “I expected a pass, particularly since Brown a fast runner and a fresh man, had just been put in there. I wasn’t fooled by the ball-handling, but was going over on pass defense assignment to pick up either the end or the wingback.”

New York was ahead for the first time 14-10 and every fan in the Polo Grounds was on their feet in a state of bedlam. Washington returned the kickoff to their 45-yard line, but the excellent starting field position went for naught as the Giants secondary defensed four Baugh aerials in a  row, allowing New York to take over on downs. “Baugh was seldom dangerous on the long ones because he lofted the ball so high,” said Owen.

Karcis and Leemans took turns on line plunges and moved the chains once for a first down before kneeling down to expire the game clock. Paschal had earned the reprieve, his work for the day established a franchise record with 188 rushing yards on 24 carries, most of which came in the second half. No doubt Owen wanted to preserve him for the next game. His two touchdowns gave him 10 on the season, good for a first place tie with Green Bay’s prodigious Hutson. More good news for the Giants arrived from out of town, the Packers defeated Pitt-Phil, allowing New York to ascend to second place.

Owen stated he was “delighted” with the Giants line as they limited Washington’s ground game to 69 yards on defense while opening holes in the Redskins front for 270 yards on offense.  However, the New York passing game was dreadful – seven attempts yielded a meager two completions for seven yards. The Giants won the league’s coin flip, enabling them to host the divisional playoff in the event they were able to upset Washington again. It would be the second playoff since divisional play began in 1933 and the first in the East (the Packers and Bears participated in the first playoff in 1941). Owen said he did not expect a let down from his team, “I think most of the boys realize next Sunday’s battle is merely the second half of one and the same ballgame. We’re leading at the end of the first half.”

While Masterson of the Redskins boasted his enthusiasm toward a championship rematch with the Bears, Chicago co-coach Anderson offered his observation, “I saw the Giants play Washington in New York Sunday. It was such a viciously fought game… officials told me afterward that it was one of the toughest games they worked all year.” The Giants appeared in relatively good health for the week of practice, while the Redskins training staff was busy tending to several key players, including Farkas, Wilkin and Masterson who nursed an assortment of injuries incurred the previous week. Farman and Moore would also miss their second consecutive games.

Griffith Stadium was filled to the brim with 35,504 rabid fans anticipating a blowout. They got one, but it was the Redskins who were on the receiving end. The New York Times stated “the once-haughty champions of the National Football League were bounced all over Griffith Stadium” and “were thoroughly outplayed in every department, including that of effective passing.” There was little mystery as the statistics told the complete story. After Washington took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on a Baugh touchdown pass, the tide turned quickly. Frank Cope blocked a Baugh punt that was recovered by Steve Pritko for the tying touchdown. Emery Nix completed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Frank Liebel soon after for a 14-7 halftime lead. All told, New York intercepted five of Baugh’s 28 attempts over the course of the game, and they capitalized often in the 31-7 romp. Paschal churned out 92 yards rushing for the Giants as they dealt Washington their third consecutive loss, the first time they had endured such a streak since 1937.

First Playoff in the East

Practices at the Polo Grounds included lineup shuffling, as they hoped to extend the Redskins doldrums one more week in the playoff. Liebel was out for the playoff, having suffered a broken nose in the season finale. Guard Charley Avedisian had his arm in a sling after suffering a shoulder separation. Adams, who had missed the first two Washington games was being fit with a special face guard for his still healing broken jaw. The Redskins hoped to change their fortunes by altering their normal routine. They arrived two days earlier than normal for a road game, and sequestered themselves in Westchester County rather than Manhattan. Despite Farman and Moore being out of the lineup again, Bergman said his team was in overall better shape.

Commissioner Elmer Layden decreed the game required a victor. Should the score be tied after 60 minutes, there would be a 15-minute sudden death overtime period following a three-minute period of rest. If the game remained tied after the initial overtime, the process would repeat itself until a team scored.

The advance planning for such a contingency proved completely unnecessary. Much to the dismay of most of the 42,800 fans in attendance, the Redskins returned the previous week’s favor by whipping the Giants in front of their own fans, 28-0.

Owen believed that “as Baugh goes, so go the Redskins.” That proved to be true once again. In the first game, Baugh played well but not spectacularly. In the second game he was dreadful. In the playoff he was magnificent, completing 16-of-21 for 199 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on offense. He also intercepted one he returned 38 yards to set up a score, and added a 65-yard punt for good measure. His sharp passing forged three scoring drives that were capped off by short Farkas touchdown plunges.  Overall, the Washington defense held New York to eight first downs and 112 total yards. Leemans was 4-of-20 passing with three interceptions while the Giants three-headed rushing attack was held in check.

Despite the disappointment of the one-sided defeat, the Giants were lauded for coming from seemingly nowhere and extending their season while pushing the defending champions to the brink. The conjecture was they were spent by the chase and had little left, while Washington shook off their malaise and finally performed to their full capability. The Redskins won the Eastern Division for the third time in four years, but failed in their attempt to become the first team to win consecutive championship games, as the Bears – who were on a week’s rest – defeated them handily in Wrigley Field 41-21.

The 1944 season saw more change in the NFL. The Pitt-Phil combine ceased and the Card-Pitt was formed, the Rams resumed operations and the Brooklyn Dodgers were now known as the Tigers. More significantly though, was the catching on of the T-Formation. The Bears had led the league in scoring three consecutive seasons and convincingly won three of the last four championships running the system that was now spreading through the colleges. Washington was now on the bandwagon, although their chief operator was reluctant at first, “I hated the T when we went to it on 1944,”said Baugh years later, “but my body loved it. I probably could have lasted a year or two more as a single wing tailback, my body was so beat up, but the T gave me nine more seasons.”

Power T-Formation

The Giants and Redskins were involved in another back-to-back season-closing pressure cooker that set the fate for three teams in the East. New York won out and lost to Green Bay in the NFL Championship Game at the Polo Grounds 14-7. That game holds the distinction of being the last time two Wing-style teams squared off in a title game (the Giants base set was the A-Formation and the Packers the Notre Dame Box.)

(See “Missing Rings: The 1944 New York Football Giants” for more detail.)

Washington represented the East in the championship game for the sixth time in 10 seasons in 1945 with an 8-2 record as Baugh became comfortable operating from the T-Formation. They swept the Giants, who declined significantly to a 3-6-1 record. The Redskins lost the Championship Game at frozen Cleveland Municipal Stadium against the Rams where a safety proved the difference in a 15-14 game, forging a significant rule change. In the first quarter, the Redskins had the ball on their own five-yard line. Baugh dropped back to pass from his own end zone, but the attempt struck the goal post and the ball bounced dead in the end zone. The rules at the time declared this to be a safety and gave the Rams a 2-0 lead. The following off season the rule was changed so any pass striking the goal post was called incomplete.

Ignominious End

The Giants revamped their roster for 1946. Hein retired for good after a record 15 seasons, tied with Jack Blood who played with Green Bay and Pittsburgh from 1925-39. Tailback Arnie Herber also retired, so New York signed Filchock away from Washington to the very first multi-year contract in New York’s history – three years for $35,000. Filchock had made a smooth transition from the Double Wing to the T-Formation in 1944, Owen hoped he could do the same learning the nuances of the unique A-Formation.

Filchock did, and he led the Giants in both passing (1,262 yards with 12 touchdowns) and rushing (371 yards and two touchdowns). New York won the East with a 7-3-1 record while Washington slumped to 5-5-1. Washington won the October match-up at Griffith Stadium 24-14 and had a chance to force a playoff with the Giants with a win in the season finale at the Polo Grounds.

The most notable points from New York’s 31-0 whipping of their rivals was the crowd of 60,337, the Polo Grounds largest since the 1939 Redskins game; Ken Strong tying Ward Cuff as the Giants career leading scorer; and Filchock outplaying former teammate Baugh. Although Baugh accrued more yards through the air (240-142), Filchock was more efficient, threw two touchdown passes and was on the receiving end of one of Baugh’s three interceptions. The Giants won the Eastern Division for the eighth time in its 14 years.

Unfortunately for Filchock, his legacy is usually focused on an attempted fix of the Championship Game with the Bears. Fluctuation in the point spread triggered an investigation; undercover police observed Giants practices and wiretaps were installed on the business phone of a known gambler, Alvin J. Paris. No New York players were ever heard on the phone, but Paris mentioned Filchock and Merle Hapes by name to his associates.

Mara and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell were summoned to New York City Mayor William O’Dwyer’s office Saturday afternoon to meet with Police Commissioner Arthur Wallander. The two players were interrogated there at 2:00 AM. Filchock denied any involvement, while Hapes admitted to being offered $2,500, the profits of a $1,000 bet that Chicago would cover the 10-point spread and an offseason job that would earn him $15,000.

Both players were cleared by the police and Paris was arrested and held on $25,000 bail (he ultimately served one year in prison after testifying against other members of his syndicate). Bell publically stated the morning of the game that the NFL would continue with its own investigation into the offers. Hapes was barred from playing in the game for failure to report the bribe offer being made.

Fans heard of the late night intrigue over the radio that morning, and Filchock was robustly booed and hackled when he stepped on the Polo Grounds field. According to all reports he played valiantly in defeat, even if his statistics may not have born this out. His six interceptions were detrimental in the Giants 24-14 loss, rendering the 10-point spread a push. Angry Chicago players took umbrage in dealing extra punishment to Filchock whenever the opportunity allowed, but he played just over 50 minutes of the contest.

Flichock ultimately acknowledged he did receive a bribe offer from Paris. Both he and Hapes received lifetime bans from the NFL for being “guilty of actions detrimental to the welfare of the National Football League and of professional football.” Hapes retired from football altogether and Filchock, after being rejected by the AAFC, played seven more seasons in the CFL.

New York and Washington’s shared reign in the Eastern Division came to a close in 1947. Earl “Greasy” Neal’s Philadelphia team, whose version of the T-Formation was powered by the dynamic Steve Van Buren, won out the final three seasons of the decade, capturing the NFL title the last two. The Giants began an uneasy transition to the T-Formation in 1949, but never fully committed to it until Owen’s departure after the 1953 season as he routinely reverted to his A-Formation.

A new rivalry for the Giants was born in the new decade. The merger of the NFL and AAFC introduced New York to the Cleveland Browns, whose innovative coach Paul Brown explored the Halas T-Formation further and developed it into a pass-first scheme. The Eastern Division was renamed the American Conference for three seasons, then the Eastern Conference through 1966. Over the 17-season span from 1950 through 1966 Cleveland and New York dominated their half of the league, as the Giants and Redskins had previously. New York and Washington would renew their battles for division supremacy in the post AFL-NFL merger in the mid 1980’s.


Overall Regular-Season Record: Giants led series 13-8-1

Overall Playoff Series Record: Washington led series 1-0 (1943 Divisional Playoff)

1936

10/4       Giants 7               at            Boston 0

12/6       Giants 0                vs            Boston 14

1937

9/16       Giants 3                at            Washington 13

12/5       Giants 14             vs            Washington 49

1938

10/9       Giants 10             at            Washington 7

12/4       Giants 36             vs            Washington 0

1939

10/1       Giants 0                at            Washington 0

12/4       Giants 9               vs            Washington 7

1940

9/22       Giants 7                at            Washington 21

11/24     Giants 21             vs            Washington 7

1941

9/28       Giants 17             at            Washington 10

11/23     Giants 20             vs            Washington 13

1942

9/28       Giants 14             at            Washington 7

11/15     Giants 7                vs            Washington 14

1943

12/5         Giants 14             vs            Washington 10

12/12     Giants 31             at            Washington 7

*12/19  Giants 0                vs            Washington 28

1944

12/5       Giants 14             vs            Washington 10

12/12     Giants 31             at            Washington 7

1945

10/28     Giants 14             vs            Washington 24

12/12     Giants 0                at            Washington 17

1946

10/13     Giants 14             at            Washington 24

12/12     Giants 31             vs            Washington 0

Aug 282014
 
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Brandon Scherff, Iowa State Hawkeyes (January 1, 2014)

Brandon Scherff – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Early New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft Preview

By Colin Lindsay (Great Blue North Draft Report)

The college football season kicks off this weekend, and while it is way to soon – like by about 5-6 months – for people to start saying ’this is THE guy I want for the Giants in 2015,’ it is never too early to start watching the top prospects for the upcoming draft. And while there is still much sorting out to be done before next spring‘s draft, the early signs are that the strengths of the 2015 draft could match up reasonably well with the primary needs the Giants are likely to be trying to fill this coming off-season.

Offensive Line

For starters, it certainly appears that it could be yet another banner at OT, which could be good news for the Giants if LT Will Beatty continues to struggle this fall and the Giants feel they need to go in another direction at the position. Indeed, there are as many as 4-5 potential top-10 left tackles, including Cedric Ogbuehi of Texas A&M, Cameron Erving of Florida State, Iowa’s Brandon Scherff and La’el Collins of LSU. All four had expected to enter the 2014 draft where each was projected to be at least a first-round prospect, but they ultimately opted to return to class for one more year. Ogbuehi, for example, is a better overall athlete than former teammate Jake Matthews, the 6th player picked this past May, while the Hawkeyes’ Scherff is a little ragged around the edges, but he’s a huge guy with freakish strength and athleticism. Meanwhile LSU’s Collins is a rugged run blocker who could ultimately play inside at the next level, but he also has the long arms, light feet and surprising agility of a prototype left tackle. FSU’s Erving, who has played only one year at LT after converting from DT, may have the most upside of the bunch. In the end, though, the top OT prospect this year may end up being Stanford junior Andrus Peat, who hasn’t received as much national ink to date, but who has remarkable size and strength, along with excellent agility and a nasty disposition.

The bad news part of the OT story for the Giants, if in fact they head into the 2015 draft in search of an elite pass-blocker OT to pair with Justin Pugh, is that all the best ones could come off the board early and there is something of a drop-off to the next level at the position. However, there are several second-tier OTs this year who will be worth a look on the second day including 6-7, 350-pound Corey Robinson of South Carolina, along with Sean Hickey of Syracuse, Cincinnati’s Eric Lefeld, Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson of Oklahoma, Rob Havenstein of Wisconsin, Oregon’s Jake Fisher and unheralded Ty Sambrailo of Colorado State, who could just be the best prospect in the country nobody has heard of! And the depth at OT this year could be augmented if any of a small army of good, solid, although not yet elite, junior OT prospects enter the draft, including Spencer Drango of Baylor, D.J. Humpries of Florida, Le’Raven Clark of Texas Tech, Brandon Shell of South Carolina, Donovan Smith of Penn State, Miami’s Ereck Flowers, Jason Spriggs of Indiana, Taylor Decker of Ohio State, Tyler Marz of Wisconsin and Georgia’s John Theus.

Needless to say, the Giants also still have issues at OG, although they are probably less likely to use an early pick on the position than say at OT. Which is probably just as well as it does not look like there will be many, if any, OGs who are locks to be opening round picks next spring anyway, although Tre Jackson of Florida State and South Carolina’s A.J. Cann could be close. Jackson is a wide-body road-grader who is a dominating drive blocker with some short-area quickness, but isn‘t necessarily a great athlete, while Cann isn’t as big or physical, but is a better athlete and more polished technician. Meanwhile, there are some solid later second-day candidates at the position including Jackson’s FSU teammate Josue Matias and Alabama’s Arie Kouandjio, the brother of Cyrus Kouandjio who was considered to be a near-elite OT prospect last year, before a balky knee bumped him into the second round where he was selected by Buffalo. That second-day second-tier group could also get a boost if junior OGs Vadal Alexander of LSU and/or Landen Turner of North Carolina opt to enter the 2015 draft. However, even without much input from the underclassmen, there is some impressive depth at OG including the Miami’s Jon Feliciano, former teammate Malcolm Bunche who‘ll line up with UCLA this fall, 345-pound Quinton Spain of West Virginia, underrated Laken Tomlinson of Duke, John Miller of Louisville and Notre Dame’s Christian Lombard among others. Bottom line is that there could be potentially useful options at OG come next April/May well into the third day of the draft.

Defensive End

The Giants could also very well head to the 2015 draft looking to upgrade at DE if (1) Jason Pierre-Paul does not have a bounce back year this fall and/or (2) nobody really emerges to replace Justin Tuck on the other side. And like the situation at OT, defensive end looks like it will be one of the real strengths at the upcoming draft, although a lot will be depend on how many of this year’s top underclassmen ultimately opt to turn pro this winter. There are, for example, at least three junior DEs – Shilique Calhoun of Michigan State, Southern Cal’s Leonard Williams and Randy Gregory of Nebraska – with the top 5-10 potential, although they are very different players. USC’s Williams, for example, at 6-5, 295, is built more like a DT – and could ultimately play there in the NFL – but for now looks like a prototype 5-technique 3-4 DE in the J.J. Watt mold. The Huskers’ Gregory is a long, lean edge rusher who needs to add some bulk to better play the run – and at 6-6 has the frame to do so – but who has freakish athleticism and may have the most upside of the trio. Meanwhile, Calhoun won’t blow away anyone with his measurables, but he’s strong, quick, and relentless coming off the edge.

There is also some really intriguing potential depth at DE in this year’s draft class. Florida State’s Mario Edwards, for example, could ultimately challenge USC’s Williams for the top-grade among 5-technique DEs, while juniors Dante Fowler of Florida and Ohio State’s Noah Spence and Trey Flowers of Arkansas are solid second-day types. So is 6-8 Baylor junior Shawn Oakman, the former Penn State transfer who is still learning the game, but who has a really unique size/speed combination. However, no DE is likely to draw as much attention through the pre-draft process as former TCU redshirt sophomore DeVonte Fields, who won’t play at all this fall. Fields looked all of the part of an emerging pass-rushing star as a true freshman two years, but played little last fall because of a foot injury and then got suspended this year when he allegedly threatened an ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile, other solid DEs to watch include James Rouse of Marshall, Ray Drew of Georgia, Jermauria Rasco of LSU and Nate Orchard of Utah, while other juniors that could have an early impact at the upcoming draft include Danielle Hunter of LSU, Charles Tapper of Oklahoma, Eli Harold of Virginia, BYU‘s Bronson Kaufusi and Missouri’s Shane Ray.

Tight End

It is hard to imagine that the Giants won’t want to do something at TE this coming off season. (In fact its hard to imagine that the Giants wouldn’t really like to do something at the position this week!) Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t appear that 2015 will be a banner year at the position. Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, for example, is currently the only tight end even remotely close to carrying a first-round grade and even he’s no lock to be taken all that early. O’Leary, the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, is something of a throwback type in that he’s a willing blocker with nice hands and that 6th sense to get open. But he isn’t all that big at around 6-3, 240, and he lacks the explosive speed and athleticism to be a true field-stretching receiving threat. Plus, there are going to be health concerns after O’Leary was involved in a second serious motorcycle accident this past spring. Meanwhile, Ben Koyack of Notre Dame and Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman are both solid two-way TE prospects with prototype size and decent athleticism, although neither has been all that consistently productive to date in their college careers. Moreover, neither brings the skill set that the Giants are now looking for at the position. And there is another drop-off to the next level of TEs which includes pass-receiving specialists like Rutgers junior Tyler Kraft, unheralded Wes Saxton of South Alabama, Rory Anderson of South Carolina, MyCole Pruitt of FCS Southern Illinois, Clive Walford of Miami and Gerald Christian of Louisville. E.J. Bibbs of Iowa State and USC’s Randall Telfer are the next best two-way type TEs.

Quarterback

For the record, the other real strong position at the 2015 draft will be QB with as many another 4-5 possible top-10 candidates including juniors Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Brett Hundley of UCLA, and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan leading the way, along with Florida State redshirt sophomore Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, and senior Bryce Petty of Baylor. Let’s hope the Giants aren’t interested as it would mean Eli had another bad year, but throw 27 picks again and all best just might be off. Just saying …

The Rest

Meanwhile, other positions that appear that they could be relatively strong in 2015 include running back with Todd Gurley of Georgia, Wisconsin’s Mel Gordon and T.J. Yeldon of Alabama leading the way. Safety could also be something of a strength with a deep class headed by juniors Landen Collins of Alabama and LSU’s Jalen Mills, as well as underrated Derron Smith of Fresno State. There is also some real talent at outside linebacker, although many of the top guys there including Vic Beasley of Clemson and rising star Benardrick McKinney of Mississippi State are more 3-4 edge rushers. Juniors Shaq Thompson of Washington and Oklahoma‘s Eric Striker, though, do have more than a little Ryan Shazier-type speed and explosion. There should also be a relatively strong middle linebacker group, although the top guys – including Denzel Perryman of Miami, UCLA‘s Eric Kendricks, Ramik Wilson of Georgia and A.J. Johnson of Tennessee – all look more like second-day types.

On the other hand, it may be a down year at wide receiver, cornerback and defensive tackle, although there will certainly be some good players at those positions this year. The top wide receivers, for example, should include juniors Amari Cooper of Alabama, Nelson Agholor of USC, Jaelen Strong of Arizona State and Maryland’s Stefon Diggs, along with seniors Rashad Greene of Florida State, Davante Parker of Louisville (if healthy), Antwan Goodley of Baylor and Stanford’s Ty Montgomery. Meanwhile, Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a potential top-10 cornerback, although he’s not overly long at just 5-9, while Florida State junior P.J. Williams also has mid-to-late first round potential. At the same time, Michael Bennett of Ohio State, appears to be the consensus #1 defensive tackle prospect this year, although he’s still not considered to be more of an early-to-mid second round prospect as he is somewhat undersized at barely 290 pounds and has limited upside. Indeed, if any defensive tackles are likely to have an opening round breakthrough this coming spring, it may come from one or more of a solid second-tier group at the position including rising juniors Ellis McCarthy of UCLA (an imposing 6-5 330-pound specimen), Arik Armstead of Oregon (who at 6-8 is also physically imposing), Rice’s Christian Covington, and Malcolm Brown of Texas, along with seniors Carl Davis of Iowa, 335-pound Washington, NT Danny Shelton and underrated Tyeler Davison of Fresno State. As of now, though, each of these guys rates as more a second or third rounder. If there is a positive angle to the 2015 DT picture, though, its that it is a pretty deep class, such that there could very well be some potentially useful prospects at the position well into the third day of selections.

Jul 062014
 
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1944 New York Giants

1944 New York Giants

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

The NFL was in a struggle for survival as the manpower shortage created by World War II put a strain on the league’s primary resource, healthy young men. The War Manpower Commission had first dibs on able-bodied young men and it did not take long for the depletion to evoke improvisational counter measures.

A player’s physical talent became a secondary characteristic; his availability to his team was paramount. Many of the players signed during this period of belt-tightening had been turned down by the armed services. Fullback Bill “Bazooka” Paschal was one such example. Scar tissue in his knee made him undesirable to the Army, but the New York Giants were happy to have him in for a tryout on the recommendation of Grantland Rice, who had seen him play at Georgia Tech. Paschal set New York’s single-game rushing record with 188 yards in his first season in 1943, and led the NFL in rushing yards in 1943 and ’44, the first man to do so in back-to-back seasons. He also led the NFL in rushing touchdowns both years.

Sometimes healthy specimens made their way to the gridiron, as in the case of tackle Al Blozis. The Army believed his 6’5” 250 pound body was too large to be of use for them. The Giants selected him in the fifth round of the 1942 Draft, and Blozis went to become a consensus All-Pro in 1943. While Blozis usually draws acclaim for his defensive prowess, much of the success Paschal experienced running the ball came from following Blozis’ powerful blocks. Blozis even scored a 15-yard touchdown on a tackle-eligible play that year. Ultimately, Blozis followed his higher calling. After multiple attempts, he finally persuaded the Army to waive their size restrictions for him and Blozis was commissioned in 1944. During a furlough late in the season, he returned to play for the Giants while awaiting deployment. Blozis was killed by German fire in France in January 1945 while searching for members of his squad.

By February 1943, 330 NFL players were in the armed forces. The Brooklyn Dodgers had just seven players return from their 1942 roster when they opened training camp. Among the contingencies enacted by the league to manage the manpower shortage were various forms of contraction. The Cleveland Rams suspended operations and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles merged into the Pitt-Phil Steagles in 1943. Attempting to stay in the good graces of the Office of Defense Transportation, the league lowered roster limits from 33 to 28 (though some teams would choose to carry less), and the schedule was shortened from 11 games to 10.

Bill Paschal, New York Giants (1944)

Bill Paschal, New York Giants (1944)

The Rams resumed operations in 1944, but the talent pool depletion worsened. Of the 330 prospects selected in the NFL Draft, only 12 appeared in a football uniform. The Eagles re-emerged as an independent team and the Steelers merged with the Chicago Cardinals. They were officially known as The Card-Pitt Combine, but the 0-10 team was so dreadful they became tagged as the “Carpets” by fans. The Steelers and Cardinals resumed independently in 1945, but the Brooklyn Tigers (formerly the Dodgers) and Boston Yanks merged into one franchise without a city designation. They played four of their five home games in Boston and the other versus the Giants at Yankee Stadium.

Instituting their own version of a recall, the NFL looked to some of its heroes from the 1930’s. Mel Hein had told the Giants he was retiring after the 1942 season, but Head Coach Steve Owen was amenable to Hein’s request to miss practices during the week, being designated a “Sunday Center.” Hein would spend the next three years working at a Naval training program at Union College in Schenectady, NY for five days, and then riding the Amtrak to New York to meet his team. Ken Strong, who had not played since 1939, returned as a kicking specialist. His terms were that he not be required to wear a helmet or shoulder pads.

Arnie Herber, the former passing great from Green Bay who battled the Giants for the NFL title in 1938 and ’39, was wooed out of a three-year retirement by Owen, who sought to stabilize a roster that was otherwise mainly filled with first- and second-year players (including three who did not play college football.) Only five players remained from the 1941 Eastern Division Championship team: Hein, wingback Ward Cuff, tackle Frank Cope, guard Len Younce and all-purpose back and defensive star Hank Soar. The veteran Soar was an Owen favorite who also had an arrangement where he worked at an Army camp in Pennsylvania during the week and arrived on game day. He would not finish the season, however, as his unit would be deployed overseas. Paschal had enlisted in the Maritime Service, but was granted a special dispensation for leave on game days.

Fighting for Every Inch

New York opened their 1944 regular season with an unremarkable win at Fenway Park against the Boston Yanks. The Giants offense was far from a well-oiled machine as the young, old and slightly-damaged parts had yet to fully integrate. Herber struggled as he was still playing himself into shape. He completed just one pass for 12 yards, was intercepted twice and fumbled once, the latter being returned for Boston’s only touchdown. The Giants defense was its formidable self and the special teams made clutch plays. The defense recorded a safety and Cope blocked a punt that was recovered for a touchdown by Victor Carroll. Strong made both his field goals in the 22-10 victory.

New York Giants at Brooklyn Tigers (October 15, 1944)

Frank Cope (36) and Len Younce (60), New York Giants at Brooklyn Tigers (October 15, 1944)

The Giants offense struggled even more the following week as they gained a paltry four first downs in front of 25,854 fans at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn against the re-christened Tigers. New York completed just six passes on the day, but two were for touchdowns from the arm of Soar. The second came in the fourth quarter and lifted the Giants to a 14-7 win.

New York Giants vs. Card Pitts (October 22, 1944)

Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

The Giants opened their home schedule the following Sunday before 40,734 faithful and treated the fans to a feel-good 23-0 win over The Card-Pitt Combine. The passing game improved and the running game was dominant. New York totaled 224 yards on the ground and Paschal rushed for three touchdowns. Cope blocked a punt through the end zone for a safety while the Giants defense recovered five fumbles. If the game felt somewhat like a scrimmage, it was because Card-Pitt was a recent convert to the T-Formation that was gradually gaining favor over the Single and Double Wing throughout the league. While Card-Pitt lacked the talent to run the T-Formation effectively, the next opponent on the schedule did.

The Next Wave

The 1940 NFL Championship Game was a seminal moment. George Halas’ Chicago Bears obliterated the Washington Redskins 73-0 with his new version of the T-Formation with wider line splits and a man-in-motion. Just a few days later, the NCAA’s only T-Formation team, the Stanford Cardinal, headed by Halas associate Clark Shaughnessy, defeated Nebraska in the Rose Bowl 21-13. The Bears led the NFL in scoring from 1941-1943 after winning the 1940 title and coaches everywhere took notice as Halas proved the T-Formation was no fluke. Chicago repeated as champions in 1941 when they defeated the Giants 31-9 in the title game, had an undefeated regular season in 1942, and made it three titles in four years in 1943 when they defeated Washington 41-21 in the NFL Championship Game.

The first NFL team to jump on the T-Formation bandwagon was the Philadelphia Eagles in 1941. The results were not immediate for Earl “Greasy” Neal’s team, as colleges were slow to convert from the Single and Double Wings. But Neal was a believer in the new system and committed to it. The Eagles saw incremental improvement each season.

The 1944 NFL Draft was a major coup for Philadelphia. The talented and relentless halfback Steve Van Buren from LSU vaulted Neal’s offensive attack straight to the top. The T-formation was still primarily a running offense, with two halfbacks and a fullback lined up behind the quarterback under center. Its success came from the balanced offensive line and the added deception provided by a skilled ball-handling quarterback. The Eagles would finish the season first in rushing yards and total points scored. Van Buren was fast, powerful and a team leader. He contributed 444 rushing yards and led the NFL in punt return yards his rookie season.

Owen spent extra time preparing for the Eagles and their T-formation at practices that week. A major challenge for Owen was overcoming the unexpected absence of his best defensive halfback and leader, Hank Soar, who wired Owen the night before the game that his unit was being deployed overseas. The 42,639 fans at the Polo Grounds watched Owen’s preparation pay off beautifully for the game’s first 25 minutes. After the Giants defense spotted Philadelphia a field goal, they stifled the Eagles’ attack. The Eagles fumbled the ensuing punt and Frank Liebel returned the loose ball for a 20-yard touchdown. This ignited a 17-point run for the Giants, who seemed to be getting by without defensive leader Soar. Paschal added a 68-yard touchdown himself and the Giants had a 17-3 lead with about five minutes left before halftime.

However, Philadelphia quarterback Roy Zimmerman found a rhythm and engineered a drive that culminated with a 6-yard Van Buren rushing touchdown to trim the lead to 17-10 at the intermission. Throughout the second half, the Giants offense sputtered in fits and starts while the Eagles T-Formation engine purred, accumulated yards and moved the chains.

Typical of many latter-day Giants-Eagles contests, Philadelphia found an uncommon way to score. Midway through the third quarter, the Eagles had the ball on the New York 22-yard line. Zimmerman connected with end Tom Miller on a 7-yard pass. As Miller was being tackled, he lateraled to the trailing Zimmerman who ran for pay dirt from the 15-yard line. Zimmerman then kicked the point-after to tie the game at 17-17.

The Giants hung on through much of the fourth quarter, and seemed likely to escape with a tie after Zimmerman missed a 48-yard placement attempt. However, Van Buren intercepted a Howie Livingston pass at midfield and returned it to the New York 36-yard line. A handful of Van Buren rushes set up Zimmerman’s 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown. The Giants did not quit, but they had more fight in them than luck. After New York’s desperate advance moved them into Philadelphia territory, the game came to a close with two Herber passes into the end zone. The first seemed like a sure touchdown to Liebel until it was defensed by Ernie Steele at the very last instant. The second was intercepted by Steele off of a tip by receiver O’Neal Adams as the clock expired. The 24-17 loss dropped the previously unbeaten Giants into third place at 3-1 behind Philadelphia and Washington.

Len Calligaro (2), New York Giants (November 5, 1944)

Len Calligaro (2), Boston Yanks at New York Giants (November 5, 1944)

The Giants released their frustrations on the Boston Yanks the following week. The 28,634 fans at the Polo Grounds cheered on as Paschal led the way with 113 rushing yards in the 31-0 win. Owen and his team couldn’t afford to get complacent though; the next game scheduled was a trip to first-place Philadelphia.

Crunch Time

Shibe Park was a raucous, packed stadium with a record 33,248 enthusiastic fans, who reveled in the home team’s performance. Van Buren’s 97-yard first-quarter kickoff return touchdown triggered a 21-point run. The Eagles led the Giants 21-7 after three quarters. The comeback role was reversed in this re-match and Herber finally found the rhythm the Giants passing attack had lacked all season. The stunning rally began with just under 6:00 on the clock, and it occurred with the Giants best offensive threat, Bill Paschal, on the bench with a leg injury. The first score was a 22-yard Herber strike to Livingston, who caught the ball in the middle of the end zone while surrounded by three Philadelphia defenders. Strong’s placement trimmed the lead to 21-14. The New York defense held and Herber went back to work. Another long-ball from the Giants 42-yard line was caught at the Eagles 24-yard line by Liebel, who outraced Steele – the hero from two-weeks earlier – to pay dirt. Strong’s placement was successful and deadlocked the score at 21-21.

New York’s defense again held and the Giants got the ball back quickly. Herber advanced the Giants deep into Philadelphia territory with just seconds left. Strong was good on his field goal from the 43-yard line, but the field goal was waived off on a late flag for delay of game. The next attempt from 48 yards was blocked as time expired. Owen exploded. His first argument was that on the play before Strong’s initial attempt, it appeared that Herber had completed a pass to the 20-yard line after a catch-and-run. However, an official had ruled that the receiver had stepped out on the 35-yard line. Secondly, while Owen argued, the clock mistakenly continued to run. The Giants were forced to attempt the field goal without a huddle. Owen’s third grievance was that Philadelphia had put a soft ball in play before the second try that was blocked.

Although the Giants did not get the win to move up in the standings, Owen at least had to be somewhat satisfied the Giants had avoided a seemingly imminent loss that would have crippled their championship chances. Plus, the passing game which had struggled most of the season finally showed signs of life. Herber was magnificent in the clutch as he completed 5-of-6 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. This was welcome news as the stretch run promised to be a grind.

A season-high crowd of 56,481 jammed the Polo Grounds to watch the 4-1-1 Giants entertain the 7-1-0 Western Division-leading Packers. Most were surprised by the efficiency displayed by the Giants defense as they confounded Green Bay’s prolific offense in a 24-0 shutout. The primary star of the game was Livingston, who Owen challenged by locking him up one-on-one with the NFL’s premier pass catcher, Don Hutson. In past encounters, Owen employed zone configurations to contain the Packer passing attack. But on this occasion he followed a hunch to play man coverage. This handsomely paid off as Hutson was limited to four catches for 31 yards. Livingston also had the first of the Giants five interceptions on the day. The other star for New York was Younce, who plowed open holes for the Giants 221-yard rushing attack. Cuff led the way with 103. Younce also had an interception on defense.

Good news arrived on the out-of-town scoreboard as well; the 5-1-1 Giants moved up to second place as Washington fell to Philadelphia. New York maintained their position in the standings the following Sunday in a tough 7-0 win over Brooklyn at the Polo Grounds. Most of the 28,387 fans would probably agree that the 0-9 Tigers were a feisty unit with a tough defense. After scoring a first-quarter touchdown, the Giants fought for every inch of turf. Strong missed two field goal attempts in the second quarter and the Giants defense twice halted Brooklyn drives inside the 10-yard line. The unsung hero was the newly-commissioned Lt. Blozis, who arrived at practice the Friday before the game. The New York Times said, “It’s doubtful the Giants would have won without him.”

Al Blozis, New York Giants (December 3, 1944)

Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

A leaner Blozis, whose weight of 242 was eight pounds lighter than the previous season, was just the boost Owen felt his team needed with back-to-back games against 6-1-1 Washington to close the regular season. Spirits were high in practice as the Giants had moved into a first-place tie with Philadelphia when the Eagles lost to the Bears. Owen acknowledged the Giants had no miracle fixes in store for their inconsistent offense. They spent the week at practice stressing fundamentals and fine tuning their rugged defense that had already shut out four opponents.

The sensational Sammy Baugh split passing duties during 1944 as the Redskins made a mid-year switch from the Double Wing to T-Formation. Statistically, Baugh appeared to be off his game, but as always, he had the Redskins in contention by season’s end. He was backed up ably by Frank Filchock. Not only did the duo combine for the most passing yards in the league, they were most efficient in doing so. Washington’s 56.9 team completion percentage was well ahead of the second-place Bears (49.3). The Giants 37.6 completion percentage placed them in eighth place in the 10-team league.

It was almost always a forgone conclusion that the Giants-Redskins games would decide the Eastern Division title. Since divisional play began in 1933, New York won the Eastern Division six times and Washington five times. The 1943 regular season culminated in the rivals engaging in a playoff. The Giants had chased the Redskins all season and eventually caught them at 6-3-1 after winning the two head-to-head games in the final weeks. The chase apparently drained New York however, as Washington trounced the Giants 28-0 in the Polo Grounds.

The Polo Grounds crowd of 47,457 braved intense cold, ready for revenge. Baugh went most of the way for Washington and had the visitors ahead 13-10 with 5:00 left in the fourth quarter. But Livingston intercepted Baugh and returned the ball to the Washington 35-yard line. Herber once again was strong in the clutch. He completed two passes before Cuff’s 21-yard reverse set up Paschal’s 2-yard touchdown plunge with approximately 3:30 left. However, the Giants did not make the critical point-after. Baugh, who finished 25-of-35 for 273 yards on the day, fearlessly led the Redskins down the field. Joe Aguirre kicked a 36-yard field goal to tie the game, but that kick was nullified by a holding penalty. The subsequent 52-yard attempt (holding was a 15-yard penalty at the time) fell well short. The Giants won 16-13.

Philadelphia defeated Brooklyn and moved up to second place at 6-1-2, while Washington dropped to third at 6-2-1. Nevertheless, the Eastern Division title was still up for grabs. If 7-1-1 New York won the finale at Washington, the Giants would win the Eastern Division title. If Washington won, they would be tied with the Giants at 7-2-1, making the Philadelphia-Cleveland game critical. If the Eagles won, they would take the Eastern crown. If Philadelphia lost, for the second consecutive year, a playoff between New York and Washington would decide who advanced to the NFL Championship Game. In the event of a Philadelphia victory and a tie between Washington and New York, the Giants would play the Eagles in a playoff. Unfortunately, New York would be without Blozis, who was called away for military duty.

The capacity crowd of 35,540 at Griffith Stadium was silenced early. Baugh fumbled on the first two possessions and the Giants capitalized both times. The first was a 25-yard Herber-to-Cuff touchdown connection less than four minutes into the contest. Then Herber connected with Liebel from 11 yards out for a second touchdown. Owen’s defense quashed any hopes of Baugh leading his Redskins in a comeback. Filchock relieved Baugh in a desperate attempt to spark a reversal of momentum, but the results were the same. In all, New York intercepted six passes on the day, en route to their fifth shutout of the season.

Limping to the Finish Line

Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, 1944 NFL Championship Ticket Stub

Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, 1944 NFL Championship Ticket Stub

The enthusiasm of the 31-0 victory was dampened after the game when the Giants learned that league-leading rusher Bill Paschal had severely sprained his ankle in the second quarter and his availability for the NFL Championship Game was in doubt. Worry increased during the week as Paschal tested the ankle several times during the practice but was unable to go full speed. Rookie Len Calligaro took Paschal’s reps in practice and Owen had the team focus on sharpening the passing game that had shown improvement over the latter course of the season. The good news for the Giants was Blozis was on a short leave and available to play. The Packers on the other hand were healthy and rested, not having played a game in three weeks.

An NFL Championship Game record 46,016 fans nearly filled the Polo Grounds on a crisp but not unpleasant afternoon. Commissioner Elmer Layden declared before the game that if the score was tied after 60 minutes, there would be no overtime period. Green Bay and New York would be declared co-champions.

Owen devised a new scheme to deal with Packer receiver extraordinaire Don Hutson, who had led the NFL in catches and yards for the fourth consecutive season, and who was tied with Paschal for the league-lead in touchdowns with nine. (Hutson’s were all receiving, Paschal’s all rushing.) The Giants deployed a five-man line. But when a pass play was read, Younce would drop back from his middle guard position and assist in covering Hutson.

This strategy worked through the scoreless first quarter while both teams repeatedly exchanged punts. The bad news for the Giants was Calligaro severely injured his shoulder making a tackle on the first play of the game and did not return. Meanwhile, Packers coach Curly Lambeau countered New York’s defensive strategy by sending halfback Ted Fritsch or fullback Joe Laws, who’d had just one carry all year, into Younce’s vacated position in the middle. Fritsch began a long drive with a 21 yard ramble from the Green Bay 25-yard line. Laws followed several plays later with a 15-yard rush to the Giants 27-yard line. On the next play, Fritsch crashed through right tackle to the 1-yard line. New York’s forward wall tightened up for a goal-line stand. Two rushes by Fritsch each lost a yard, and Laws advanced back to original line of scrimmage on third down. Lambeau went for it on fourth down. Fritsch took the ball, found a crease behind Charles “Buckets” Goldenberg and went over for the score. Hutson was good on the point-after and Green Bay led 7-0.

Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, 1944 NFL Championship Game Program (December 17, 1944)

1944 NFL Championship Game Program

The Giants offense struggled badly. With Calligaro out, Owen was forced to put the injured Paschal on the field as little more than a decoy. Making matters worse, the passing game was out of sync. New York punted every time they had the ball, netting a paltry 24 yards in the first half with no first downs.

Green Bay began their final possession of the second quarter on their own 38-yard line. On third-and-three, Hutson shook free from coverage and hauled in a 24-yard pass from tailback Irv Comp to the New York 30-yard line. On third-and-eight, the Giants obsessive focus on Hutson would prove costly.

As Comp received the snap, Hutson crossed the New York secondary from his left end position, drawing multiple defenders with him. Noticing this, Fritsch alertly released to the vacated left flat. Comp pump faked right to Hutson, and then lobbed the ball to Fritsch at the 11-yard line where he jogged into the end zone untouched with just over one minute on the clock. Hutson’s point-after was good and the Packers had a seemingly-comfortable 14-0 halftime lead.

Fight to the Finish

The Giants returned to the field in the third quarter with a new urgency. Paschal gave it one more try on the first possession before his ankle gave out and he returned to the bench for good. New York engineered two first downs despite his absence and advanced to midfield before punting. The defense held and the Giants moved from their own 14-yard line to the Green Bay 42 on four plays, including two completions by Herber and one by Cuff. But Laws halted the drive with an interception.

Livingston got the ball right back for the Giants with a pass theft of his own on the New York 45-yard line. Herber kept to the air as New York capitalized on the good field position. Following a pass interference penalty on the Green Bay 42-yard line, Herber launched a deep pass to Liebel, who was initially covered by Comp before the defender lost his footing. Liebel made the catch and was pushed out of bounds on the 1-yard line as the third quarter expired. Cuff finished the drive on the first play of the final quarter. Strong’s point-after was good. The Giants were within one score of at least a share of the NFL title at 14-7.

From this point both teams played the clock. The Packers kept the ball on the ground while Herber valiantly fought for the tying score with his arm. Both defenses held strong for most of the period. Herber led the Giants on one final drive into Packer territory but was intercepted inside the 20-yard line by Paul Duhart with less than five minutes to play. This essentially settled the outcome and preserved the title solely for Green Bay.

1944 NFL Championship Game, Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (December 17, 1944)

1944 NFL Championship Game, Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (December 17, 1944)

Herber and Cuff were valiant in defeat for the short-handed Giants, but both defenses ruled the day. The Packers and Giants combined for seven interceptions against 11 completions. Hutson was limited to just two catches for 47 yards. “Don’t let anyone tell you the Giants are not a good team,” the All-Pro receiver said after the game. “Defensively, they are the best in the league. They always hamper our offense when we play them.”

Blozis and Hein were cited for their powerful line play while Paul Berezney and Charley Brock received similar accolades for the champion Packers. Owen lamented key injuries but was complimentary to Green Bay: “We didn’t have it today. They did. We were bottled in our own territory throughout the first half and had to kick on third down repeatedly. Without Paschal to threaten them, the Packers were able to play wide open. We went as far as we could.”

Looking back on the season as a whole, the 1944 New York Giants performance was historically great for the defense. Over the 10-game regular season, New York surrendered only 75 points. The 7.5 points-per-game average was well below the league average of 18.0. The next closest team from the start of the T-Formation era in 1940 was the unbeaten 1942 Chicago Bears who allowed 7.64 points per game (84 points over 11 games). The Giants defense surrendered only eight touchdowns during the regular season: five rushing and three passing. They were third in total yards surrendered, second in yards-per-play at 3.6 (Philadelphia was first with 3.5), first in rushing yards allowed, and first in take-aways with 45. Paschal and Younce were recognized with All-Pro status for their individual contributions.

The Giants legacy entering their 90th season of play in 2014 includes the most post-season appearances of any franchise with 31. When the NFL was aligned in its two division format from 1933 through 1966, New York won the Eastern Division/Conference 13 times, more than any other team. Their record in the NFL Championship Game was three wins against 10 losses. Those teams that fell just short of the title are woven into the fabric of New York history and are part of the standard to which today’s New York Giants teams are held.

Jun 292014
 
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1929 New York Giants

1929 New York Giants

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

The New York Football Giants have won eight world championships in their 90 seasons in the National Football League, and trail only the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in that regard. The three franchises post-season histories are intertwined so deeply with one another that they share some of the same DNA. One cannot recount the history of one of these teams without including the others.

The Giants have tangled in the post-season eight times with the Bears and seven times with the Packers. In the 30 year span from the start of divisional play in 1933 until 1963, New York met these two ancient Western Division/Conference rivals 11 times in NFL Championship Games. Unfortunately for the Giants, they only won three of those games. They were twice victorious over Chicago (1934 and 1956) and once over Green Bay (1938). All three wins were in New York. The first two occurred in their original home, the Polo Grounds, and the third in venerable old Yankee Stadium. But the competitive roots of these three flagship franchises go even deeper.

Prior to divisional play, the NFL was stacked top-to-bottom in a heap of random, unbalanced, make-it-up-as-you-go scheduling that was sometimes interspersed with non-league exhibitions. It was such a mess at times that the league didn’t even calculate ties in win percentages. Disputes over final standings were commonplace and interested parties often resorted to politicking for several months after the season closed, lobbying for votes at the spring owners meeting where a ballot was cast to officially declare the previous season’s champion.

The Giants fate was often determined during November and December contests with Chicago and Green Bay. The Giants earned their first NFL title in 1927 after a pivotal December Polo Grounds slugfest against the Bears that was such an epic struggle it rendered the subsequent sweep of the hated New York Yankees anti-climactic.

Some of the Giants strongest teams, ones that set records and had the biggest stars of their day, fell just short of the ultimate goal. This is the story of one of those bitter disappointments. The 1929 New York Giants were remarkable in their own unique way and are worthy of remembrance and celebration of their accomplishments.

The Rising Star

There is little wonder why Giant co-owners Tim Mara and Dr. Harry March were obsessed with passing sensation Benny Friedman. While his NFL-best 20 touchdown passes his first two years in the league may not seem impressive, consider the league’s next highest scoring team in 1927-28, the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Their leading passer, Ken Mercer, combined for nine touchdown passes in those two seasons. Moreover, the Yellow Jackets played 34 games during that timeframe while Friedman’s two teams played 23. Yardage statistics from this era are incomplete and unreliable, but the box scores don’t lie. Nobody has ever questioned the value of a passer who gets the ball into the end zone.

Even more impressive was the fact that Friedman accomplished this with two different franchises. In his rookie season, Friedman and the 1927 Cleveland Bulldogs led the NFL in scoring. However, the financially strapped Bulldogs disbanded after the season. Friedman and several of his teammates signed on with the Detroit Wolverines (most player contracts were one-year deals anyway), where they led the NFL in scoring again in 1928. In those two years, Friedman and his rag-tag squads squared off with the defensive-minded Giants four times without a loss; the best New York managed was two ties. One of the defeats was thoroughly embarrassing, as Friedman torched the Giants with his legs and arm in a 28-0 blowout at the Polo Grounds. Mara resolved this problem with his purchase of the entire Wolverines franchise in early 1929. To ensure Friedman would agree to play for the Giants, Detroit coach LeRoy Andrews was installed as the head man of the Giants squad.

Jack Hagerty, Benny Friedman, and LeRoy Andrews; New York Giants (1929)

Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

In an era dominated by power struggles on the line of scrimmage, punts and drop-kicks, it did not take long for Friedman to become noticed with his passing wizardry. He was the lead man in newsreel highlights with the NFL’s two other transcendent stars, halfback Harold “Red” Grange of the Chicago Bears and fullback Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals. While all three played defense as well as offense, Friedman and Nevers were triple threats who handled the bulk of their respective teams kicking duties.

The Giants gained one star but lost another. The indomitable Cal Hubbard, who was a catalyst for the Giants championship 1927 season, was unhappy living amongst the hustle and bustle of New York City. He preferred a quieter and simpler existence. After playing in a Giants-Packers game in Green Bay in 1928, Hubbard decided that was the place for him. He requested a trade after the season and was accommodated.

Warming Up the Engine

The Giants opened the 1929 regular season in front of 9,000 fans at Knights of Columbus Stadium when they visited the Orange Tornados. The results were familiar in that the defensive battle lacked any portent of offensive genius. New York had a golden opportunity to take the lead early in the second quarter when Ray Flaherty, who jumped from the Yankees to the Giants late in 1928, intercepted a pass at the Giants 45-yard line and returned it to the Orange 10. The Tornados thwarted New York on second-and-goal when they intercepted a Friedman throw. The Giants star had an opportunity to redeem himself in the closing minutes of the game. Friedman drove New York into Orange territory, but his attempted field goal was blocked as time expired, and the game ended in a 0-0 tie.

New York Giants Roster (October 20, 1929)

New York Giants Roster – Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

Another defensive battle took place in front of a record throng of 14,000 in Providence when the Giants visited the defending champion Steam Roller. The Providence Journal described the contest as “one of the most bitterly fought games ever seen at the Cycledrome.” The Giants first touchdown of the year came early in the first quarter, and it was mostly a Friedman effort. He set the drive up with a 25-yard punt return before completing successive passes totaling 43 yards. Len Sedbrook then scored from nine-yards out and Friedman’s point-after was successful. That was all of the scoring for the day, but there was plenty of action on the field. First-hand accounts described the Steam Rollers defense as being “savage.” The Giants drove twice more into goal-to-go situations, many of the advances coming from Friedman off-tackle slants, but the Giants were halted on the 1- and 6-yard lines, respectively. Providence was never able to harness any momentum offensively, as New York limited them to just 10 first downs. The Giants won 7-0.

Friedman shared the spotlight with Jack Hagerty the following week at the Polo Grounds for the home opener versus the Staten Island Stapletons. Of the 30,000 spectators, approximately 5,000 enthusiastically supported the visitors. Friedman threw the Giants first touchdown pass of the year in the second quarter, but Ken Strong’s 50-yard touchdown rush and point-after gave Staten Island a 9-7 lead at the half. Hagerty sparked New York with a second-half kickoff return to the 30-yard line and two rushes for 11 and 25 yards, setting up a Friedman-to-Hap Moran touchdown connection. In the fourth quarter, Moran caught a scoring aerial from Hagerty to cap off the 19-9 win. So impressive was Hagerty that The New York Times tagged him as “Ghost Hagerty,” a moniker closely associated with the legendary Grange. Future Giant Ken Strong (1933-35, 1939, 1944-47) drew acclaim for his effort both running and kicking. At the close of the third quarter, his punt from the Stapleton’s 18-yard line flipped field position as the ball was downed on the New York 20. The New York Times estimated the ball traveled close to 75 yards in the air.

Frankford Yellow Jackets at New York Giants (October 20, 1929)

Frankford Yellow Jackets at New York Giants (October 20, 1929)

The Giants momentum carried over to next week’s game against the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Former New York Governor Al Smith was among the 30,000 fans at the Polo Grounds who were treated to a rare offensive showcase. “Friedman, the Giants passing wizard, was the man behind the New York surge,” wrote The New York Times. In the second quarter, Friedman “suddenly began to complete passes all over the lot,” which included scoring strikes of 18, 43 and 25 yards. Leading 19-0 at the half, the Giants switched to the ground game, but the big plays kept coming. Mule Wilson romped 55 yards for a touchdown and in the fourth quarter. Then center Mickey Murtagh was given a turn in the backfield and rambled for a 33-yard touchdown. Frankford only completed two passes for 12 yards on the afternoon while the Giants front stonewalled the run in the 32-0 victory.

Frankford Yellow Jackets at New York Giants (October 20, 1929)

Frankford Yellow Jackets at New York Giants (October 20, 1929)

Full Throttle

Big scoring plays and one-sided wins now became the norm for the Giants. The first four games in November were dominated by Friedman’s passing and an unyielding defensive front wall. Shutouts over aforementioned Frankford (32-0) and Providence (19-0) preceded a tough 26-14 win at Cubs Park over the 4-1-1 Chicago Bears. The road trip resumed just two days later in Buffalo for a Tuesday 45-6 win at Bison Stadium. New York’s first scoring drive took two plays, both Friedman-to-Flaherty connections. Sedbrook later scored on a 70-yard pass from Friedman and Flaherty caught a 50-yard scoring pass from Moran. Things were so bleak for the Bisons that after they scored their only touchdown, Hagerty returned the kickoff 97 yards for another Giants tally. Five days later, the Giants soundly defeated the Orange Tornados 22-0. The Giants overall record now stood at 7-0-1.

The re-match with the Bears at the Polo Grounds was shockingly similar to the game against the Bisons. Chicago came to New York on a skid, having lost to Green Bay and Frankford, and nobody expected anything but a stout effort from George Halas’ squad. The looming threat of bad weather limited the crowd to 15,000, but the ones who braved the elements were rewarded with a record performance. The Friedman aerial circus was unstoppable. The heavy air above the Polo Grounds was filled with 49 New York pass attempts, five resulting in touchdowns. Four of those scoring tosses came from the arm of Friedman, and one by Moran, who was also on the receiving end of two scores.

Glenn Campbell (no helmet, with ball), New York Giants (November 17, 1929)

Glenn Campbell (no helmet, with ball), Chicago Bears at New York Giants (November 17, 1929)

Early on though, Chicago had the edge. The action was mostly on the New York side of the field and Grange, who played with a dislocated shoulder, looked to be the star of the game. After a catch-and-run by the Galloping Ghost gave Chicago a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, New York forced a fumble and recovered. The momentum swing sparked the Giants, whose drive carried over into the second quarter, and ended with Friedman’s first scoring pass. The remainder of the first half saw numerous punt exchanges, including a 70-yarder by the Giants off of the foot of Tony Plansky. The Giants 20-point third-quarter eruption quickly put the game out of reach. Unofficially, Friedman was 13-of-25, four touchdowns, and no interceptions while the Bears as a team were 11-of-24 and intercepted four times. When it was over, New York won 34-0.

Showdown

There was considerable buzz anticipating next week’s match-up against Green Bay. The 9-0 Packers were tied atop the standings with the 8-0-1 Giants (ties did not factor into win percentage.) Green Bay’s strength was their defense. Cal Hubbard had been moved inside to the tackle position where he continued to wreak havoc. Also on the line were future Hall of Fame guard Mike Michalske and All-Pro end Lavvie Dilweg. Halfback Johnny “Blood” McNally, who played end on defense, would also be enshrined in Canton, along with head coach Curly Lambeau, who had finally hung up his cleats and was on the sideline full time.

Benny Friedman, New York Giants vs Green Bay Packers Game Program (November 24, 1929)

New York Giants vs Green Bay Packers Game Program – Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

Green Bay went straight at the Giants on the cold, muddy field. Hubbard punched holes in his former team’s first line of defense for fullback Bo Molenda’s advances. The Polo Grounds crowd of 25,000 remained enthusiastic despite Green Bay taking an early 7-0 on a Verne Lewellen touchdown pass to Herdis McCrary. The Giants had an opportunity to answer when Friedman connected with Flaherty for a 65-yard gain. Flaherty was headed for the end zone until he was caught from behind by McNally and dragged down at the 10-yard line. It was a significant play as Freidman’s next attempt was intercepted and the 7-0 score held. The remainder of the first half was scoreless while both powerful lines slugged it out. Lewellen kept the Packers out of danger with 60- and 70-yard punts. Friedman and the Giants struggled to find the rhythm of their passing game that had propelled their success over the past seven games. Even when Friedman wasn’t feeling the rush of Green Bay’s line, his favorite target, Flaherty, struggled to find open space against his counterpart McNally.

Green Bay controlled most of the first 30 minutes of action, but New York fought back. In the third quarter, Friedman completed three passes, interspersed with several line plunges, on a 70-yard drive. Plansky caught the final pass in the end zone to trim the lead to 7-6, as Friedman missed the point-after attempt. The game resumed its tenor from the first half as the lines engaged in their contest of will. The New York passing attack struggled under the Packers pass rush while Green Bay ran plunges and slants into the Giants defense.

The balance of the game tipped suddenly in the fourth quarter. New York seemed to have stopped an advance on third down and set up for a return. Having witnessed Lewellen boom punts consistently all day, the Giants dropped back on fourth down to ready themselves for a return. Lewellen received the snap, skillfully mimed a punting motion, and then connected with McNally on a 26-yard pass. The gain in field position was secondary to the emotional blow dealt to the Giants – they sagged while Green Bay surged. Molenda and McRary ran with confidence through the Giants front wall and finished the 80-yard drive with a touchdown run and a 14-6 lead.

Friedman’s comeback bid ended in disaster. Harassed in a collapsing pocket, he was intercepted by middle guard Jug Earp. The Packers kept the ball on the ground, consuming both time and yards . They put the game away when McNally went over for the touchdown, finishing the 37-yard drive and the Giants bid for first place. Green Bay left the Polo Grounds with a 20-6 victory and 10-0 record while the Giants slipped to 8-1-1.

Finishing Strong

Bruised and beaten, but not without hope, the Giants had a chance to force a tie if they won out and Green Bay dropped a game. It was a short week for both teams as they both played four days later on Thanksgiving. The Giants handled rival Staten Island 21-7, while Green Bay showed some signs of exhaustion as their road trip continued. The game account from Frankford noted the Packers exhibited signs of fatigue after their strenuous effort at the Polo Grounds. The Yellow Jackets advanced to the Packer 2-yard line in the first quarter before turning the ball over. In the fourth quarter, a final promising drive by Frankford ended with a blocked field goal. The game ended in a 0-0 tie and the Packers still sported a perfect 1.000 winning percentage.

1929 New York Giants

Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

The race continued three days later. Green Bay romped over the Steam Roller in Providence 25-0, while the Giants entertained the Polo Grounds faithful in a thriller against Ernie Nevers and the Chicago Cardinals. Bitter cold temperatures held the crowd to 5,000 but New York turned up the heat early with two Friedman scoring passes. Nevers brought his squad back, throwing a touchdown pass of his own. Chicago added a safety just before the half, and trailed at the break 14-9.

Gene Rose went over for a touchdown in the third quarter to give the Cardinals a 15-14 lead as the point-after attempt failed. Nevers extended the lead to 21-14 with his plunge early in the fourth quarter, again, the point-after failed. Led by Plansky, the Giants came back. When he wasn’t carrying the ball on the 80-yard march, Plansky was leading the way with clear-out blocks. He carried the ball on three of the four first-down conversions and went over for the touchdown to complete the drive. Friedman’s placement was good and the game was tied at 21. Although a tie score would not hurt the Giants in their race against Green Bay, a victory could only help their cause.

After forcing a Cardinals punt, New York advanced on a long drive. As the clock ran under five minutes, Friedman was intercepted by Rose at the Chicago 10-yard line. After moving the chains for a first down on two line plunges, Chicago lost a chance to run the clock out when Rose fumbled and Joe Westoupal recovered at the 22-yard line for New York. Friedman was thrown for a 13-yard loss on first down, which pushed the Giants out of sure field-goal range. A completion to Len Sedbrook moved the ball to the 24-yard line. Friedman connected with Sedbrook again at the nine-yard line while the clock ran under one minute to play. On first-and-goal, Friedman was thrown for a loss at the 20. There was time left for just one play. Plansky received the snap from center and booted a drop-kick from the left hash on the 32-yard line, which went through the uprights as the timekeeper’s whistle blew. The Giants escaped, pulling out the 24-21 win.

New York rolled through the remainder of their schedule. Back-to-back shutouts over Frankford (12-0 and 31-0) preceded a 14-9 win at Cubs Park again over the Bears. Unfortunately for the Giants, Green Bay held serve and finished their schedule with a 25-0 romp over the Bears to close their unbeaten campaign 12-0-1, just ahead of New York’s 13-1-1 tally. In a league yet without a championship game, the Green Bay Packers were crowned NFL Champions.

The Giants still had much to be proud of. Friedman’s 20 touchdown passes set a standard that would stand until 1942. For the third season in a row, Friedman’s team led the NFL is scoring. The Giants scored 312 points (no other team reached 200), averaging 20.8 points per game while the league as a whole averaged 9.6. The output was the second-highest total in NFL history up until that point. The record of 326 had been set by Frankford in 1924, but they accomplished it in a very different style. Of their 43 offensive touchdowns, 38 came on the ground and only five through the air. The 1929 New York Giants scored 45 touchdowns from scrimmage, 19 rushing and 26 passing. The Giants scoring differential was the best in the NFL at +226. The champion Packers were second with +176.

Ray Flaherty, New York Giants (1929)

Ray Flaherty, New York Giants (1929)

It is not surprising that the top three scoring receivers in the NFL were all Giants. Flaherty was first with eight, Sedbrook second with six and Moran third with five. Individual honors were bestowed upon four Giants. Named first-team All-Pro were center Joe Wostoupal, tailback Benny Friedman, fullback Tony Plansky and end Ray Flaherty.

The difference in the season was the November meeting between what were clearly the two best teams that year. The balance of power undoubtedly swung with the offseason trade of future Hall of Famer Cal Hubbard. Green Bay was able to control the tempo of much of that 20-6 win with their line play. It was the only contest that season where the Giants were outplayed on the line of scrimmage. Their front could not contain the Packers running game nor protect their passer. It is no stretch to believe that had Hubbard been amiable to staying in New York, the Giants would have won their second title in 1929.

History would repeat itself as Green Bay and New York continued to be the top two teams in the NFL again in 1930. The Giants led the NFL in scoring on Friedman’s right arm while they chased the methodical Packers in the standings. They split their head-to-head meetings that year, with each team victorious on its home field. At season’s end, Green Bay was first at 10-3-1 and the Giants second at 13-4-0. The NFL’s preposterous practice of not counting tie games was significant here. Not counting the tie, the Packers finished with a 0.769 win percentage and the Giants with a 0.765 win percentage. Retroactive application of the current method of calculation where a tie game is treated as a half-win and half loss, the Packer’s win percentage drops them into second place at 0.750. In other words, the Giants would have been crowned NFL Champions using the current formula.

The Giants slipped to 7-6-1 in 1931. Friedman suffered a serious knee injury that forced him to miss six games and limited his effectiveness the remainder of his career. He left the Giants during the offseason in 1932 after a contract squabble with Tim Mara. Friedman wanted the interest in the team that had been surrendered by Dr. March. Friedman moved on to become player/coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers for the next three seasons, while also serving as the head coach for the Yale football team. The Giants drafted tailback Harry Newman from the University of Michigan in 1933 as Friedman’s replacement. The Giants would play in the NFL’s first Championship Game that same year against the Chicago Bears.

Jun 152014
 
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1927 New York Giants

1927 New York Football Giants – Photo Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

The early attempts to organize professional football were no doubt sincere. But results were minimal. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that trial-and-error was the guiding principal for many of the organizational efforts by the nascent National Football League (NFL). Even its first name, the American Professional Football Association (APFA), required refinement. At least that was a quick-and-easy fix; many others were not.

APFA President Joe Carr (who served from 1921-39 and is known as the man who brought respectability to professional football) was quick and decisive to correct faults. His simple philosophy was the sport should always strive for the highest possible standards and the public should be considered first, last and always.

The lack of standardized player contracts, make-shift schedules and franchise instability were paramount issues that were gradually rectified over time. However, with no post-season play until 1933, the most public controversies were the ones that came after the close of each season (the end to each season being sometimes ambiguous itself) when more than one team claimed itself league champions. Four of the first six APFA/NFL titles were publically disputed, hurting the credibility of the pro game with a sporting public who clearly preferred the college game at the time.

It didn’t help any that the first controversy came after the APFA’s inaugural 1920 season. The lack of structure was astounding and nobody had the foresight to recognize that it was lacking. There were 14 teams stacked top-to-bottom, with a convoluted method of calculating win percentage (remarkably, the all-too-common ties were discounted); no coherent tie-breakers; unbalanced, makeshift schedules that teams modified during the season; and a lack of a clearly defined conclusion to the season. This was a recipe for disaster.

Even worse, most of the early championships were not awarded until an oft-contentious vote at the spring meetings, months after the last game had been played. The title outcome was inevitably anti-climactic.

A Litany of Confusion, Confrontation and Conspiracy

Intrigue surrounded the 1920 Championship as three teams claimed ownership of the title. It also illuminated the folly of treating tie games as non-entities.

The Akron Pros appeared atop the APFA with a record of 8-0-3. However, the unbalanced schedule saw two teams with more victories than Akron. The Decatur Staleys (soon to be known as the Chicago Bears) were second with a 10-1-2 record, and third were the Buffalo All-Americans at 9-1-1. Both challengers supported their bids by highlighting the fact that the Pros did not beat either of them, having played both to 0-0 ties.

Regardless, the vote at the April owners meeting went to Akron. Interestingly, applying the tie-breaker principle that was put in place in 1972 that calculates tie games as a half-win and half-loss, Akron and Buffalo would have tied for first place with a win percentage of 0.864 and Decatur third with 0.846. Buffalo and Decatur may have left dissatisfied, but this was nothing compared to what they would be embroiled in next season.

As the 1921 season was coming to a close, the renamed Chicago Staleys and Buffalo All-Americans found themselves in a fight for first place. They met on Thanksgiving Day with the All-Americans coming out on top 7-6. The win vaulted Buffalo to the top of the APFA standings with a 7-0-2 record and dropped Chicago to second at 6-1-0. Buffalo won their remaining two games to finish 9-0-2 and publically touted themselves as league champions. The Staleys played one more game against Green Bay, which they won, and finished their schedule at 7-1.

At this point, the Staleys owner-player-coach George Halas challenged Buffalo owner Frank McNeil to a rematch on his turf. McNeil accepted, but allegedly on the grounds that the game be treated as an exhibition contest. The 10-7 Chicago win served as a catalyst for turmoil. Now within a win of 9-1-2 Buffalo, Halas quickly scheduled two more games on his home field against Canton and the Chicago Cardinals, winning one and tying the other.

Halas successfully petitioned the league’s owners to award his 9-1-1 team the league crown. His claim was unique, and the ultimate decision at the April owners’ meetings set a significant precedent, despite McNeil’s objections. Halas argued not only that the aggregate score of the two Buffalo-Chicago contests (which favored the Bears 16-14) be taken into consideration, but that the second game be given more weight in that it had more importance being nearer the close of the season. The majority of owners decided that the outcome of the second head-to-head contest should carry more weight. That policy would remain through 1932.

Fortunately for Carr and the rest of the now renamed National Football League, the 1922 and 1923 seasons were without title dispute as player-coach Guy Chamberlin’s Canton Bulldogs trucked through the competition with nearly unscathed records of 10-0-2 and 11-0-1. Despite their on-field success, Canton struggled financially and suspended operations for the 1924 season.

Sam Deustch, owner of the Cleveland Indians franchise, quickly signed seven members of the Canton roster, including Chamberlin, and signed Michigan Wolverine passing sensation Benny Friedman after his college graduation. The bolstered Cleveland team, which included a late-season addition of tackle Steve Owen from the Kansas City Cowboys, defeated the Chicago Bears 16-14 in their opener and faced little competition the rest of the season, losing and tying the Frankford Yellow Jackets on their way to a 7-1-1 record. All of this factored into another convoluted, off-field fight to determine the league’s championship, but in this case to the betterment of the league’s reputation as a loop-hole would be closed in the process.

The league standings, at the still-ambiguous close of the 1924 season, stacked up in this order: Cleveland 7-1-1 (0.875 win percentage), Chicago 6-1-4 (0.857) and Frankford 11-2-1 (0.846). Halas attempted similar tactics that worked in his favor in 1921. After a Thanksgiving Day win boosted the Bears record to 5-1-4, he scheduled a game against the weak Milwaukee Badgers, which Chicago won 31-14, then challenged Cleveland to a rematch.

Carr stepped in and ruled that the schedule retroactively officially ended November 30. Teams were permitted to continue playing, but those contests would be rendered with an exhibition status and would not count in the official league standings. Cleveland was awarded the championship, Chamberlin’s third in a row.

The next season in 1925, another precedent was set, one which would significantly support the New York Giants tenuous franchise.

College football was still a significantly larger draw than professional football. The Pottsville Maroons and Frankford Yellow Jackets had an agreement that the better team in the region would host the Notre Dame All Stars in Philadelphia. The teams split their head-to-head games, but Pottsville’s 49-0 advantage in the second game and their better record was decisive. Frankford ostensibly believed Pottsville ran up the score in their landslide victory, and petitioned the league office that Pottsville hosting the game in Philadelphia was an infringement on their territory. To underscore their point, Frankford scheduled a game versus Cleveland at Frankford Stadium, which was just outside of Philadelphia, on the same date. Moving or cancelling the game would be a financial disaster the Maroons would not be able to absorb, as the All Stars would not appear for a game at Pottsville’s high school stadium at Minersville Park.

Carr sided with the plaintiff Yellow Jackets and telegrammed the Maroons to move or cancel the exhibition contest. Pottsville owner John Streigel declared his intent to still play the game. Streigel later said he received verbal permission from Carr to play the All Stars at Shibe Park, even though Carr issued two subsequent statements claiming the opposite.

Carr suspended Pottsville from the league immediately following the exhibition contest, and awarded their scheduled game at Providence on December 13 to Frankford. Nevertheless, Pottsville’s 10-2 record and convincing head-to-head win against the Chicago Cardinals paced them ahead of the 9-2-1 Cardinals. However since the league’s end date had been previously set at December 20, Cardinals owner Chris O’Brien scheduled two more home games against weaker teams to pad his team’s win total.

When the season finally ended on December 20, the top of the standings had the Cardinals in first at 11-2-1 and Pottsville 10-2-0. Pottsville was not represented at the owners meeting when the crown was given to the Cardinals since they were still barred from the league.

New York, New York

Given all that tumult, it is easy to forget that professional football finally placed a permanent foothold in the nation’s largest city, New York, which had been a part of Carr’s vision for long-term league success. Carr had originally envisioned boxing promoter Billy Gibson to be the founder, but he deferred instead to friend Tim Mara. Present at the meeting was also the football-knowledgeable Dr. Harry March. March had been vital in the success of the APFA/NFL’s predecessor, the Ohio League, where he had served as the team physician for the Canton Bulldogs. Mara took March on as a minority owner and installed him as team President to take charge of assembling a quality roster.

The Giants fared reasonably well for their first season of competition in 1925, finishing the year 8-4, but they struggled to attract paying customers. In fact, tickets for games at the Polo Grounds were routinely handed out free of charge to fill empty seats. It wasn’t until a visit from Illinois superstar Harold “Red” Grange, who had made the mid-season leap from college to the Chicago Bears, that the Giants could declare a profit and decide to move forward with their franchise. The possibility of the Giants dissolving after one season was very real, as nine other franchises had disbanded or left the NFL during or after their inaugural season of play.

The Polo Grounds seating capacity for football was normally around 55,000, but the demand to see the already legendary Grange was so irresistible that temporary seating was put in place in the outfield and standing room only tickets were issued. The gate was estimated to be in excess of 70,000 and photographs from the event support this claim. The only other time the Polo Grounds was that full was for the game against the Notre Dame All Stars in 1930. Not even the five post-season contests the Giants hosted in the Polo Grounds in later years against stalwart franchises Chicago, Green Bay and Washington had as many.

Irony reared its head just a few short months later when Grange’s manager, Charles C. Pyle, found a loophole in the contract with the Bears and signed Grange. Pyle prematurely leased Yankee Stadium before he even had a team. But Pyle had Grange so he had leverage. When Pyle approached Carr on the idea of expansion in New York, Mara and March balked. The prospect of having a team with Grange playing within walking distance of the Polo Grounds would spell the Giants doom. As tempting as it was to have Grange headlining the marquee in New York, Carr had no choice but to follow the precedent he’d set the prior season in the dispute between Frankford and Pottsville. Carr upheld Mara’s claim to having “exclusive right to anything in New York.” Being spurned but resolute, Pyle formed his own league to feature his star player, the first-ever American Football League (AFL).

This was now a league-wide threat for Carr and his constituents. The AFL attempted, and sometimes did, lure players from the established but still tenuous NFL. The Giants lost both their best lineman Century Milstead and head coach Robert Folwell to the upstart league. Part of Carr’s response to the new threat was to reinstate the Pottsville franchise, being fearful that team would sign with Pyle. Also, he forged an agreement with the Giants to allow a franchise in Brooklyn. Carr feared the AFL establishing two franchises in New York and wanted to beat them to the punch. He assured the Giants that the Brooklyn team’s schedule would not conflict with the Giants. This was keen foresight on Carr’s part, as the AFL then placed a franchise in nearby Newark, New Jersey. Just one year after having a single professional football team in New York, the metropolitan area now had four! The man most responsible for saving the Giants franchise in 1925, Red Grange, now threatened to render them irrelevant.

The 1926 season played out much like the one before for the Giants. Their 8-4-1 record was similar and so was their attendance. With no draw like Grange to fill the house and player salaries increasing with the competing league, the Giants finished in the red financially. They did win the war against Pyle however. Following the season, Mara and March hosted a game at Yankee Stadium against the AFL Champion Philadelphia Quakers. The motivated sixth-place Giants team manhandled the Quakers at the Polo Grounds 31-0, leaving no doubt as to which league was superior. Fortunately the crowning of the NFL champion was not business as usual. All was calm and everyone was in agreement when the title was bestowed upon Chamberlin’s 14-1-2 Frankford team. It was his fourth championship with his third team in only five seasons, a feat that has yet to be equaled.

Contraction and Contrition

The AFL disappeared just as quickly as it emerged. Although the Yankees drew well wherever they went, the rest of the league seemed to go unnoticed. The debts incurred by the NFL teams were a fraction of those compared to the ones suffered by the AFL. The Giants fortunes seemed to turn around quickly following that boastful triumph over the Quakers.

The dissolution of the nine-team AFL was a significant coup for the NFL, which had fielded 22 teams in 1926. The available talent was spread thin over the total of 31 teams in operation between the two leagues. A series of difficult ownership meetings that off season resulted in the contraction of the NFL. Gone were sentimental favorites with Ohio League roots like Canton, Akron, Hammond and Columbus. It was just not practical for the league’s survival to maintain franchises in locations lacking growth potential. For the NFL to become a big-time league it had to play in big-time cities, and having better players on those teams improved the quality of the product on the field.

The NFL would field 12 teams for the 1927 season. Ten were NFL survivors of the great purge of 1926, plus the return of the Cleveland Bulldogs following a year of suspended operations. Pyle’s Yankees team, which had the distinction of becoming the forty-first franchise in the APFA/NFL’s seventh season of operation, was the sole newcomer from the now-defunct AFL . The only small market team continuing on was publically-owned Green Bay.

Part of the consolidation directly benefitted the Giants. The Brooklyn Horsemen disbanded, but Carr kept its charter active. It was awarded to Mara as payment for unresolved debts. Soon after, Pyle returned to Carr’s office seeking admission to the NFL. This time Mara and March had no objections. Mara leased the former Brooklyn charter to Pyle, who would continue to feature Red Grange at Yankee Stadium. But the Football Yankees schedule would be tightly restricted. The Yankees would primarily be a traveling team, and their few home games would not coincide with Giants home games. Lastly, the season would end with a home-and-home competition for the City Championship.

With Pyle being reduced from threat to nuisance, the focus of the New York Giants was now on team building. Having less competition and a larger talent pool to select from, Mara confidently told March, “I don’t care what it costs but get the players you need. I want a winner this year.”

March’s vision was simple and the approach primal. After installing Earl Pottieger the Giants third head coach in just their third season, this Giants team would be built for power and control both sides of the line of scrimmage. The roster was composed mostly of veterans and was unusually deep; there would be little drop-off in performance when a sub was called upon.

Joe Alexander and George Murtagh, New York Giants (1927)

Joe Alexander and George Murtagh – Photo Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

Mickey Murtagh returned at center from the 1926 team. Hec Garvey and Al Nesser were well-traveled and experienced guards. Nesser was familiar to March as he was one of the seven famed Nesser brothers who played for Carr’s Columbus Panhandles in the Ohio League. They were professional football’s original “royal family” and their reputation was rock solid. Legendary Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne competed against them as a member of the Massilon Tigers and famously stated, “Getting hit by a Nesser is like falling off a moving train.” Al brought championship experience, having been a member of the 1920 Akron Pros. Joe “Doc” Alexander, a remnant from the inaugural 1925 Giants, backed them up when available, as his medical practice demanded much of his time.

The left tackle was one of the largest and toughest players in all of professional football, Steve Owen. March brought Owen to the Giants the prior year after observing him as a member of the 1925 Kansas City Cowboys. The Cowboys had visited the Polo Grounds that season and later served as the Giants barnstorming team after the regular season. Owen was a man who relished having his hand in the dirt, “We were pretty much a smash and shove gang. We were bone crushers, not fancy Dans.” Wilbur “Pete” Henry, a member of the 1922 and 1923 champion Canton Bulldogs, served as the right tackle for the early portion of the season. The sub for Owen and Henry was Dick Stahlman.

The athletic Chuck Corgan, who had been a teammate of Owen in Kansas City, was a good receiving end. On the other side was the rookie wunderkind Cal Hubbard. At 6’4” and 245 pounds, he was the largest member of a team stocked with big men. But it was his unusual speed and agility that made him one-of-a-kind. He did more than just set the edge for end runs. Hubbard would routinely knock his counterpart on his back and continue his path of destruction downfield, springing Giant ball carriers for long gains. He was also a premier defender, patrolling the line of scrimmage as an end or prototype linebacker. His ascension to stardom was as brutal as it was quick. Wellington Mara recalled Hubbard years later, “You could tell when Cal hit a man. You would hear it on the bench – a hard, dull boom.”

The backfield may have lacked the notoriety of the group blocking for them, but it was talented and versatile. The mainstays were tailback Hinkey Haines and fullback Jack McBride, both members of the 1925 Giants. They complimented one-another with a blend of power and speed. McBride was the power back who bulled through the line while Haines rushed around the corner with elusiveness and speed. Atypical of the common trend though, the fullback McBride was the Giants primary passer, whereas the tailback for most teams performed that role. McBride was also the primary kicker, whether from a drop-kick or placement. The versatile Doug Wycoff subbed both positions. Mule Wilson was the lead blocking back, and he was backed up by Jack Hagerty, who was moved from the halfback position he’d played during the 1926 season. A veteran presence was provided by the former Ohio Leaguer Joe Guyon, who played multiple roles including wingback. Guyon had been a teammate of Jim Thorpe’s with the Canton Bulldogs in the Ohio League in 1919 and also with the NFL’s Oorang Indians in 1921 and 1922. Phil White served as a utility sub for halfback and fullback.

Power Football

Steve Owen and Cal Hubbard, New York Giants (1927)

Steve Owen and Cal Hubbard – Photo Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

Following a dress rehearsal against the Orange Athletic Club, the Giants opened their regular-season campaign by disappointing 7,500 Providence fans with a stifling 8-0 victory over the Steam Roller. The local press lauded the Giants “great forward wall” and singled out Cal Hubbard, “He put on one of the greatest displays of line work ever seen on a Providence gridiron.” The rookie set up New York’s only touchdown by blocking a punt that Owen recovered at the Providence 2-yard line. Hubbard was also instrumental in limiting the home team to five first downs.

The defense continued its good work at Cleveland the following week, but the offense sputtered. It was surprising that only 3,000 fans attended given that it was their first opportunity to witness the home debut of rookie passing sensation Benny Friedman. Friedman moved the ball well but the Giants defense was stout when most needed. Doug Wycoff returned a punt 70 yards for New York, but the rest of the special teams performance was dreadful. The Giants missed five field goals and left Cleveland with a 0-0 tie.

Following a 19-0 win in front of 5,000 fans in Pottsville, where New York’s subs enjoyed plenty of second-half playing time, the Giants returned home to the Polo Grounds, unfortunately to second billing.

New York Giants vs Cleveland Bulldogs (October 16, 1927)In the re-match against Cleveland, Friedman arrived several days ahead of his Bulldog teammates and was lavished with several honors, not the least of which was a gala event in his honor at the Hotel Majestic. Despite this being just his fourth professional game, he was easily one of the NFL’s marquis attractions among the likes of newsreel sensations Red Grange and Ernie Nevers. The Giants even printed the tickets for the game to read: “N.Y. Giants vs Benny Friedman’s Bulldogs”.

All of the pomp may seem excessive, but to his credit, Friedman lived up to the billing. Even as a rookie he was audacious in his play calling, throwing the ball on first down and from deep in his own territory when the common practice at the time would call for conservative line plunges or a punt. Although the crowd at the Polo Grounds was not nearly as large as the one to see Grange two years earlier, the Giants had to be pleased with the turnstile count of 25,000.

The Giants strong line controlled most of the first half, but the game was tied 0-0 at halftime after Jack McBride missed a field goal attempt. The third quarter began with an exchange of punts, then Cleveland’s speed got the better of New York’s muscle. Friedman connected on a 35-yard pass to Tiny Feather down to the Giants 30-yard line, followed by a 15-yard completion to Jim Simmons to the 14. Friedman and Simmons alternated rushes until Simmons went over for the score from the one-yard line. This was the only score of the game (Friedman was wide on his point-after attempt) and the first of the season yielded by the Giants. But Cleveland won the game 6-0 and the Giants fell to 2-1-1. Friedman ended the afternoon 11-17 passing, which was very respectable for the time and unheard of in a winning effort. Normally that many pass attempts came in desperate, come-from-behind situations.

Although New York fielded a quality team, something was amiss. Aside from the poor tackling exhibited in the second half of the loss to Cleveland, the running game on offense was sporadic. The Giants made a move by sending the powerful but slowing Pete Henry to Pottsville. They then signed Century Milstead, who was idle after a one-year hiatus with the rival AFL’s Philadelphia team. He had been the best lineman on New York’s 1925 team.

Al Nesser, New York Giants (1927)

Al Nesser – Photo Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

The infusion of relative youth and tangible athleticism was appreciably noticed during a home-and-home weekend against the defending-champion Yellow Jackets. As was their custom, Frankford played their home games on Saturday as Sunday spectacles were prohibited by local blue laws. Often they would follow up a Saturday game at Frankford Stadium with an away game against the same team on Sunday. The rushing game was greatly improved, as the Philadelphia press cited Haines for “having an outstanding game” for New York in their 13-0 victory.

At the Polo Grounds rematch, a 20-point second quarter for New York was highlighted by a spectacular defensive play that brought the crowd of 15,000 to its feet. Jack Hagerty intercepted a pass at his own 47-yard line, sidestepped two Yellow Jackets, cut up-field, stiff-armed a would-be tackler along the sideline, and eluded several others until he was dragged down from behind at the 3-yard line for a 50-yard return. Phil White went over for the touchdown and the Giants subs held Frankford off the scoreboard in the second half to finish the 27-0 victory.

The following week saw a physical, altercation-filled scrum with Pottsville. The New York defense was dominant once again, registering a safety in a 16-0 win. The 20,000 Polo Grounds faithful must have been amused when a second safety was awarded after the Maroons punter had lined up beyond the end line to receive the snap despite several warnings to correct his position from the closest official.

The Giants played host to another of the NFL’s early stars the next week when Ernie Nevers arrived with his traveling Duluth Eskimos. They represented Duluth in name only, having played in the city only once in 1926. The Eskimos counted on lucrative visitor’s shares of the gate by playing an all-road schedule in large venues such as the Polo Grounds. The 15,000 who showed up may have been a mild disappointment to the Giants, but it was far more than Duluth could realistically hope for in northern Minnesota.

Jack McBride, New York Giants (1927)

Jack McBride – Photo Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

Nevers was the second most famous player in the league after Grange, and some observers believed him to be of equal talent. Nevers was a triple threat on offense, played rock solid defense and could be counted on to play close to the full 60 minutes every game, occasionally completing the duration without a trip to the bench. Glenn “Pop” Warner, who coached Nevers at Stanford famously called him, “the football player without a fault.”

The Giants powerful defense did yield yardage to Nevers, who was cited by the press for giving “a strenuous effort,” but again refused to yield a point. The Eskimos penetrated the New York 30-yard line five times but came away empty. Three of those drives ended with interceptions while the other two saw them halted on downs. Jack McBride engineered three scoring drives for New York. The final one featured an exclamation-point 25-yard touchdown pass to Hinkey Haines to close out the 21-0 win.

At 6-1-1, the Giants may have been pleased with their place in the standings. But a three-way race with the Packers and Bears for the number one spot in the league made it clear that there was no time to rest on laurels. Tuesday was Election Day and the Providence Steam Roller was coming to the Polo Grounds, while on the other side of the Harlem River the Bears would be visiting their old teammate Red Grange and the Yankees. This would be Grange’s first game back after tearing a ligament in his knee at Cubs Park back in October, and it was the Yankees first home game of the season.

The Giants played in front of their largest house of the year; 38,000 fans showed up for a football triple header, as the Giants and Steam Roller played following two high school games. The headliners did not disappoint. The Giants capitalized on three big plays in all three phases of the game: Mule Wilson’s 54-yard interception return, Jack McBride’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Jack Hagerty and Hagerty’s 53-yard punt return. Most of the fans probably forgave the Giants for missing three of their four point-after attempts in the 25-0 victory after learning the rival Yankees, with a limping Grange, upset Chicago 26-6. End Ray Flaherty, who would join the Giants in 1928, starred for the Yankees that afternoon by hauling in three touchdown receptions. The Giants now held the top spot in the NFL and had the inside track to the championship if they could win out the rest of the way.

The Giants had next been scheduled to play the Buffalo Bisons, but the Bisons disbanded mid-season. Instead, the Giants played a non-league exhibition at Staten Island against the Stapletons. Showing no fear of travel or injury, the Giants then visited Boston to play another exhibition game against Pierre Marquette the Saturday before a crucial league contest against the Chicago Cardinals, who were now coached by Chamberlin. The Cardinals held no advantage as they played at Frankford on Saturday as well.

The Giants jumped all over the visiting Cardinals early, scoring three touchdowns in the game’s first 10 minutes. New York’s subs played to a stalemate as the Giants coasted to a critically important 28-7 victory that maintained their slim advantage over the Bears who were next on the docket. Chicago was in a second place tie with Green Bay, but both of the Packers losses were to the Bears so the Packers only hope for first place would be both teams above them collapsing.

Strength Versus Strength

Again, the Giants participated in a non-league exhibition at Staten Island the Thursday prior to their biggest game of the season. The 8-1-1 Giants knew owner-player-coach Halas would have his 7-2-1 Bears ready to go, as he had been in this situation many times before. A Chicago win would give the teams matching 8-2-1 records and the Bears a late-season head-to-head victory. Should both teams win out after that, history had already demonstrated Halas’ persuasiveness among the league’s owners in regard to championship votes. Ironically, the situation could even have been in reverse. In the event of a tie, the Giants would be the team in position to challenge the Bears to a rematch. Knowing the precedent set in 1921 with the Bears and Buffalo, would Halas have even accepted and risked a title he may have believed already belonged to him?

Were it not for miserable cold and the threat of snow, the crowd of 15,000 at the Polo Grounds probably would have been much larger, as the local press had well-publicized the significance of the game. Although no official NFL championship game yet existed, this was as close to it as you could get. The winner in all likelihood would end up being crowned champion, even if they had to wait until April for it to be declared official!

If any team were capable of matching the Giants on the line of scrimmage it was the Bears. They had two future Hall of Famers at the tackle positions: Link Lyman and Ed Healy. Center George Trafton was an All-Pro. The backfield featured future Hall of Fame halfback Paddy Driscoll and tailback/quarterback Dutch Sternaman. Sternaman co-coached the Bears with Halas.

The Bears front line asserted itself early. After receiving the opening kickoff, Chicago pounded away at New York’s defense, moving the chains until facing a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. Three line plunges set the Bears up with fourth-and-goal on the one. Halas wanted six and ordered Sternaman to go for it. Fullback Jack White took the ball on a handoff, but as he attempted to vault over the wall of crashing bodies, White was hammered in mid-air and knocked backward by Al Nesser.

Hinkey Haines and Jack McBride, New York Giants (1927)

Hinkey Haines and Jack McBride – Photo Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

The scoring threat was thwarted, but New York was still in trouble. Not surprising for the era, the Giants lined up in punt formation of first down. Mule Wilson was deep to receive the snap. The up-back Hinkey Haines cautioned him to line up correctly with his heels in front of the end line, recalling the incident with Pottsville’s punt several weeks earlier, and requested that the referee wipe mud off of the ball with a towel for a more accurate snap. Chicago realized the predicament the Giants were in and jammed nine men on the line of scrimmage. While the official wiped the ball down, Haines discreetly deepened his position a few steps and surveyed Chicago’s deployment as he called the signals. Haines received a direct snap and lofted a perfect pass to Chuck Corgan over the unguarded middle. The Bears had only two men deep and did not take Corgan down until he had advanced beyond midfield to Chicago’s 41-yard line.

Although the Bears kept the Giants off of the scoreboard, the stunning 58-yard play not only tipped the field position back to the Giants favor, it also quelled the surge of momentum the Bears had in their favor with the long opening drive. The action largely took place around mid-field for the remainder of the first half with the teams exchanging punts. At the half, the game was deadlocked 0-0.

The third quarter began much the same way, but the Giants received a jolt in an unlikely fashion. On the Giants second possession of the half, Halas attempted to clip Joe Guyon. Guyon had heard him coming though. As Halas launched himself, Guyon pivoted and rammed his knees into Hala’s chest, sending him to cold turf breathless. As Halas was helped off the field with two broken ribs, Guyon slyly told his Giants captain Steve Owen, “That fellow ought to know you can’t sneak up behind an Indian.”

The ensuing 15-yard penalty on Halas was the spark New York had been looking for. Jack McBride punctured the Chicago front for a total of 53-yards on the 60-yard drive and went over for the touchdown from the two on a fourth-and-goal. The point-after was missed so the score held at 6-0. Another exchange of punts had the Bears pinned on their own two, and a poor punt only moved the ball out to the 30. McBride mixed runs with passes. Three line plunges from goal-to-go gave him his second touchdown of the quarter. And this time the point-after was good. The Giants led 13-0 as the quarter came to an end.

Undeterred, Driscoll took the Bears down the field as he did to start the game. Noticing that the New York front seemed to be growing fatigued, Sternaman kept calling for rushes as Chicago pushed and pounded the ball to the Giants 10-yard line. Here the Bears reached deep into their playbook and changed up their strategy entirely, lining up in a spread formation. Sternaman caught a pass from Laurie Walquist and darted into the end zone. The point after was good and the lead was trimmed to 13-7.

The concluding 10 minutes of action was fierce and physical, both powerful lines traded blows but neither offense could advance until Chicago’s last possession. A trade of punts preceded a last valiant effort by the Bears. The Chicago running game found a few creases and moved into New York territory with the clock running after each carry. The tiring Giant defense was bending and Chicago had the ball on the 17-yard line. Perhaps feeling a sense of desperation with the clock now just under 2:00 or recalling how the Bears last scoring drive ended, Sternaman called the first pass play of the possession. Mule Wilson made the play for New York and intercepted the throw. The Giants ran three plays to run out the clock. The chilled crowd celebrated the thrilling win, but the victors and losers were too spent to react.

“It was the hardest game any of us ever played,” said Steve Owen. “I played sixty minutes at tackle opposite Jim McMillen, who later became a world wrestling champion. When the gun ended the exhausting game, both of us just sat on the ground in the middle of the field. He smiled in a tired way, reached over to me, and we shook hands. We didn’t say a word; we couldn’t. It was fully five minutes before we got up to go to the dressing room.”

Once inside the locker-room, little changed. Hinkey Haines described the ironic scene, “That victory just about gave us the championship, but you’d have thought we all were just given walking papers.”

March tended to his battered victors, “Some of them looked like they’d never walk again.”

The key plays in the first quarter still reverberated. “Al Nesser (who stopped the Bears on fourth-and-goal from the one) was the real hero,” said Century Milstead. “Bare-headed and with no shoulder guards, he just kept submarining their running plays. He was battered but he never quit.” Owen complimented the selling of the fake punt, “Haines called one of the smartest plays I’ve ever seen to win for us. He stage-managed it perfectly.”

The New York Times led off the Monday game summary superlatively: “The Giants powerful forward wall met their equal in the Chicago Bears’ line yesterday and the battle that ensued was one of the most brilliant and savagely fought in the three years of professional football in New York…The play was spirited through sixty minutes of action, both elevens traveling at a fast and furious pace.”

The New York Daily News singled out the Giants touchdown maker: “Jack McBride was the outstanding figure in this grim grid struggle, counting both Giant touchdowns in a wild burst of ground spurning in the third quarter after the first half had been scoreless.”

Settling One Final Score

The Giants truly needed the full week off following their most important triumph in the franchise’s short history. They must have been relieved to not have any exhibition contests interrupt their recovery. The season-ending home-and-home matches with their neighboring Yankees were most likely anti-climactic for most observers. But there is no doubt some within the Giants organization relished watching “arrogance being humbled” first hand as the Giants swept Pyle’s team 14-0 and 13-0 in miserable weather in front of small crowds. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were among the 10,000 fans who braved the snow and sleet to watch the first game at the Polo Grounds in support of Grange’s team. Haines quickly dampened any enthusiasm they may have brought as he returned a first quarter punt 75 yards for a touchdown. Only 8,000 came through the turnstiles the following week to watch the two teams slosh around in the Yankee Stadium mud. Ball handling was treacherous in a fumble-filled contest. Joe Guyon was a featured ball carrier in these two games and contributed significantly to both Giants victories.

To his credit, Grange’s heart was stronger than his damaged knee. He played as long as he could and suffered a beating as the Giants repeatedly gang-tackled him after short gains. He hung tough, finished the first game and came out late in the second only after the outcome had been decided. Unfortunately the fans chose to express their disappointment in his performance by booing him, despite the fact he was the Yankees leading passer and had several good punt returns.

A Team For The Ages

It was a relatively inglorious end to an 11-1-1 season that had been anything but that. Yardage statistics from the 1920’s and early ‘30’s are sketchy. Some beat writers compiled such stats for the teams they covered, as did some teams. Over the years, historians have attempted to make calculations from news stories, but all such attempts are fragmentary and therefore not officially recognized. Jack McBride may have led the Giants in both passing and rushing in 1927. There is no doubt he led the Giants in passing yardage by a wide margin; the rushing total could be up for debate. He and Hinkey Haines carried the ball close to the same number of times. Given Haines’ break–away ability, a missing long gainer or two could easily tip the scale in his favor.

Hinkey Haines, New York Giants (1927)

Hinkey Haines, New York Giants (1927)

Scoring records are reliable though. McBride led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with six. Including his two field goals and league-leading 15 point-afters, McBride also led the NFL in total scoring. McBride finished second (behind Friedman) in touchdown passes with six. His favorite target on scoring plays was Haines, who finished tied for first in the NFL with Ray Flaherty with four scoring receptions.

The post-season accolades, albeit diverse and unofficial, were abundant and adulatory. Various media outlets that covered professional football would comprise their own All Pro-style lists of players after each season. Not surprisingly, the most consistent over the early years was the daily paper from the football-crazed town of northern Wisconsin, The Green Bay Press-Gazette.

New York Giants who appeared on more than one first team list included: Cal Hubbard, End; Steve Owen, Tackle (though sometimes on these lists he was slotted in the Guard position); Jack McBride, Fullback (surprisingly usurping the great Ernie Nevers on occasion here); and Al Nesser, Guard.

Of course, the ultimate personal recognition is receiving a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio. Four members of the 1927 Giants have their likeness on display there for future generations of fans to admire: Steve Owen, Cal Hubbard, Joe Guyon and Wilbur “Pete” Henry.

In terms of perpetuity, New York set a record that realistically is not likely ever to be broken: the Giants shut out 10 of their 13 opponents, surpassing the nine shutouts by the Canton Bulldogs in 1922. Cumulatively, the Giants only gave up 20 points all season (Canton only gave up 15 points over 12 games in 1922).

The legacy of the 1927 Giants was power and control at the line of scrimmage. They were built to succeed in an era where the rules and equipment demanded conservative play in battles of field position. The few times New York exhibited weakness was when encountering speed (the two games they failed to win were the loss and tie against Friedman’s Bulldogs) and when they were spread horizontally (the touchdown they surrendered against the Bears.) After he retired, Red Grange summed up the 1927 champions succinctly: “It was the best football team of its time. Their line beat the hell out of you and wore you down, and their backs could move the ball. But they would have been passed off the field by the top teams of the 30’s.”

May 262014
 
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Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (January 2, 1983)

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (January 2, 1983)

90 Years of New York Football Giants: New York Giants All-Time Team

By Larry Schmitt with contributions from Daniel Franck, Rev. Mike Moran, and Eric Kennedy
Special thanks to John Berti for use of his exclusive All-Time Giants roster.

The 2014 season will be the New York Football Giants 90th campaign, giving them the fourth-longest tenure in the National Football League. The franchise has won the third-most titles in league history, has the third-largest membership enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and has retired the second-most jersey numbers.

A legacy with such breadth and depth requires an adjustment by the observer to appreciate the men whose shoulders the players and coaches of today stand upon. The timeline of professional football is a continuum of experimentation, change, evolution, and adaptation.

Over that span of time, the franchise has played 1,289 regular- and post-season games with 1,631 players on their active game-day roster. Some might consider the intent of distilling those numbers in a qualitative manner to be sheer absurdity. To do so in a mass manner probably would be.

Identifying and defining specific eras that represent the main epochs the players performed in was the first step. How many times have you heard an announcer describe a current player as being a “throw-back”? Certainly a remark like that is intended to be a compliment, but upon further analysis, what specific attributes make him a “throw-back”? What point in time are you throwing him back to? The 1980’s…1950’s…1920’s? They are all significantly different, and that is where we started.

I say “we” because this admittedly ambitious task proved to be far more than I could absorb on my own. I felt it to be of great importance to be done properly and respectfully. I was quick to reach out for assistance in both research and critical feedback. My underlying theme the entire time was to “be objective without being arbitrary.” The distinct rosters of players and coaches are not simply a reflection of my opinion. I removed and added names in deference to the beliefs of others.

Recognizing the player’s unique talents within the framework of the period they performed in is essential. I do not buy into the belief that players today are superior to the ones prior because they train year round and are allegedly stronger and faster. Most today would not fare well at all in the single-platoon era. The linemen are too heavy and would lack the stamina to play both sides of the ball for at least 45 minutes. The receivers and defensive backs are too small and would not withstand the pounding. The pocket quarterbacks are too immobile to play defense.

I am not saying the players of the early era are better either. The truth is the game has become specialized. Coaches have different philosophies and expectations, rules have changed, and equipment has evolved. All of these variables have influenced what a football player needed to be in his respective time.

Once the periods were defined, the next challenge was deciding who was worthy. The theme that arose numerous times was weighing a steady performance over a lengthy period of time versus a high level of performance in a relatively brief span. The answer to that question is not an easy one. The example that illustrates this best is the careers of Charlie Conerly and Y.A. Tittle. Hence the decision to include the “honorable mention” designation. Of course, this presented a new challenge. While we strove to keep this project as inclusive as possible, we walked a tight rope of mentioning so many other players that the honor would become diminished.

Statistics were taken into account of course, but they are just a reference and not the sole basis for analysis. Passing and receiving records are reset at such a pace today that they are a blur and easy to ignore. Are the passers and receivers that much better than the ones of yesteryear? Of course not. Ed Danowski would have loved to have been able to throw a pass behind a pocket where his linemen were permitted to block with their hands, giving him time to read through his progressions to find a receiver freely roaming through a defense that was bound with restrictions on contact before and after the ball arrived.

Conerly’s season-high of 2,175 passing yards in 1948 is no more or less impressive than Eli Manning’s 4,933 in 2011. At the dawn of the passing era, teams typically had one end who was considered a receiving end while the other was essentially an in-line blocker. There were usually three backs behind the quarterback as well. The passing options were limited, the strategies still primitive, and the rules prohibitive. Teams ran the ball more because that was their best chance for success.

How does one evaluate a player with no measurable numbers in his body of work? One constant remains true in every era: offensive linemen toil in selfless service to their teams. They almost never appear in game write-ups or scoring summaries beyond the listing of the starting lineup. The same is true in yearbooks: little more than a tabulation of game appearances and starts can be expected to be found. In these cases, tenure and team success became the accepted measure. The voices of those closest articulate it best:

It’s the plight of the offensive lineman. He’s expected to pull his weight, do his job and the only time he is noticed is when things go wrong. Let’s face it, linemen just don’t get the ink running backs, quarterbacks and receivers do. (John McVay, former Giants head coach.)

Offensive linemen are the last ones to be recognized, and unfairly too. Star ends and backs don’t mean a darn unless you have the linemen. (Allie Sherman on Darrell Dess.)

It’s important to be there for my teammates and not let anyone down. You want to be part of a group that consistently stays on the field. (Kareem McKenzie when discussing the possible implications of a knee injury.)

In 1925, a statement like that was taken literally. The Giants starting 11 were just that. And the team that took the field for the New York Giants first game in Providence, Rhode Island in October of 1925 looked a lot different than the one that will be on the field in September of 2014.

The 2014 Giants will have 22 starters, 11 for each side of the ball. That number rises even higher when specialists for place kicking, punting, long snapping, and returners are taken into consideration. In the early years, roster size demanded versatility. Players who were singularly-talented in 1925 were a luxury who could not be afforded. The NFL roster in 1925 was 16 players – a contingent that would not even comprise a single platoon in 2014.

Versatility was not the only attribute a player in 1925 needed. Endurance and toughness were equally important. When Benny Friedman threw an interception, he did not walk over to the Giants bench to put on a headset and talk to a coach in the press box. First, there was no such coach to review misreads, coverages, and progressions. Second, he just stepped into the defensive huddle and dropped back to his safety position. His best response was to intercept his counterpart and get the ball back, if they chose to even pass the ball.

The factors influencing this have to do both with rules and equipment. The ball in use at the time had a broad circumference that was far better for drop kicking than passing. A rugby-style underhanded toss gave a more accurate trajectory than an overhand aerial, which was more like a heave of desperation. The rules of the day provided even greater risk. The passer had to be five yards behind the line of scrimmage to legally attempt a down-field throw; this usually alerted the defense that a forward pass was coming. A pass out-of-bounds or two successive incompletions resulted in a loss of possession, and an incompletion in the end zone was a touchback. When the offensive team was in an unfavorable position, the accepted strategy of the era was to quick kick or punt the ball away, maintain favorable field position, and wait for the opponent to make a mistake.

Generally speaking, following a change in possession, players would most often line up against the same counterpart. The offensive center was usually the middle guard or linebacker on defense. The offensive guards were the defensive tackles, the offensive tackles were the defensive ends, the fullback was the linebacker, the tailbacks and quarterback were the defensive halfbacks and safeties, and any number of the above would kick or punt.

Wing-style football offered deception and faking in the running game. The tailback was the primary ball handler, while the quarterback, who had the play calling responsibilities, was primarily a blocker. The off tackle slant was the basic play, and the tenet was to get to the point-of-attack and mow the defensive front down. Pass protection was weak due to the unbalanced line and backfield; the tailback often made his throws on the move.

Offensive lines were often unbalanced while defensive lines were spread out wide, usually covering the outside shoulders of the offensive ends. The center could snap the ball to any member of the backfield. Passes were thrown up for grabs in rudimentary fashion while the most complex execution was displayed on end-around runs, reverses, laterals, and spinners.

The style of play was different as players needed to preserve their bodies. Blocking and tackling were done with the shoulders and side body; players avoided pile-ups and rarely launched themselves at the opposition. Enduring the full 60-minute contest was considered a badge of honor. Anyone who asked out of a game risked his reputation among his peers. If a player was taken out of a game for injury, he was ineligible to return until the start of the next quarter. Free substitution, which was not experimented with until World War II, put constraints on rosters and was not adopted full time until 1949.

The NFL followed the college rule book until 1933 and did not distinguish itself until it began to craft its own style. The football itself was gradually streamlined until it reached its current dimensions of 11 inches in length and 21.25 – 21.50 inches in circumference at the center in 1934. The pros first step forward toward innovation was the exploration of the passing offense, while the colleges remained firmly grounded with the run.

While football slowly became more strategically complicated, it remained brutally fundamental. Mass interference at the line of scrimmage remained the favored method of advancing the ball until the early 1950’s. Significant steps to facilitate ball movement and scoring were taken in 1933: goal posts were moved up from the end line to the goal line, hash marks were placed 10 yards in from the sidelines (called “in-bounds lines”), and forward passing was allowed from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. Players emerged from the morass and became more visible in the open spaces, occasionally offering hints of technical specialization. The league was divided into two divisions, with the first-place teams meeting to decide the championship.

In 1936, the first organized college draft was held, just in time for the Giants first training camp featuring tackling dummies and blocking sleds. The following year the NFL formed its own rules committee to look for ways to improve the game. Their first major decision was to institute the roughing-the-passer personal foul in 1938. All of this differentiated the professionals (still commonly referred to as “post graduates”) from the colleges, stimulated fan interest, and helped to stabilize league. Franchises folded and relocated far less frequently. Schedules remained unbalanced and unorganized but rosters became more settled. By the close of the 1940’s, rosters had doubled in size to 32, and finally, pro football re-integrated in 1946.

The All-Time New York Giants Team from professional football’s nascent era represented New York as well as any group of players and coaches from any other era. Although they won three world championships, they were not glamorous and many have faded toward obscurity. But that does not diminish their significance nor diminish their importance. These New York Giants played for the simple love of the game more than any generation that has come since.

Single-Wing / Single-Platoon Era (1925 – 1949)
Ward Cuff (14), Tuffy Leemans (4), New York Giants (1939)

Ward Cuff (14), Tuffy Leemans (4), New York Giants (1939)

Head Coach – Steve Owen (1931-53), Left Tackle (1926-31)

  • All-Decade Team 1920’s (Tackle 1926-31)
  • HOF Class of 1966
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro*: 1927

One of the NFL’s best tackles in the 1920’s. Won three championships with the Giants; one as a player in 1927 and two as head coach in 1934 and ’38. Giants all-time leader in coaching victories, his teams won eight NFL Eastern Division titles. Considered a defensive coaching genius of his era. Pioneered early implementation of hybrid linebackers as far back as the 1930’s. Devised the Umbrella Defense in 1950, which included early implementation of zone coverage, to neutralize the Cleveland Browns passing attack. Offensively, created his signature A-Formation that featured an unbalanced line and backfield. “The best offense can be built around ten basic plays. Defense can be built on two. All the rest is razzle-dazzle, egomania and box office.” Owen’s Giants defenses led the NFL in fewest yards allowed six times, fewest points surrendered five times, and most takeaways eight times.

Left End – Red Badgro (1930-35)

  • HOF Class of 1981

Fierce competitor, superior defender, big-play receiver, and an excellent blocker who often lined up against the opposition’s best defender. Scored the first touchdown in an NFL Championship game in 1933 on a 29-yard reception. Tied for most pass receptions in NFL in 1934. Red Grange: “I played with Red one year with the New York Yankees and against him the five seasons he was with the Giants. Playing both offense and defense, he was one of the half-dozen best ends I ever saw.”

Left Tackle – Frank Cope (1938-47)

  • All-Decade Team 1930’s

Stout on both sides of the line. Driving run blocker and aggressive defender. In 1944, he blocked four punts, all of which were returned for touchdowns.

Honorable Mention – Bill Morgan (1933-36)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 1935

Columbia University Head Coach Lou Little said after “The Sneakers Game,” where Morgan was outweighed by an average of 25 pounds by the Bears: “Morgan’s was the greatest exhibition of line play I’ve ever seen. It’s a perfect example of what a one-man rampage can do to a great running attack.” Also cited by Wellington Mara for “perhaps the greatest single game ever played at defensive tackle for us.”

Honorable Mention – Len Grant (1930-37)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 1931, ‘32

Started in the first three NFL Championship Games. Team captain in 1936. Strong and agile. Inspirational leader.

Left Guard – John Dell Isola (1934-40), Assistant Coach (1957-59)

Started at center, moved to guard. Great run blocker on offense. Courageous performer in 1938 NFL Championship Game. Vicious linebacker on defense. Instinctive and competitive player. Very physical.

Center – Mel Hein (1931-45)

  • All-Decade Team 1930’s
  • NFL 75th Anniversary Team
  • NFL All-Time Two-Way Team
  • HOF Class of 1963
  • NFL MVP 1938
  • #7 retired 1963
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1934, ’35, ’38, ’39, ‘40

One of the finest centers ever to play football. Was also a fantastic middle guard/linebacker who could impact the course of a game. Had the speed to cover ends like Don Hutson while making bone-jarring tackles of power backs such as Bronko Naguski. Had an interception return for a touchdown in a key late-season victory over Green Bay in 1938. The NFL’s version of Lou Gehrig: a true 60-minute player who never left the field during Steve Owens’s two-platoon system. His 15 seasons played have only been matched twice in Giants history. Combined great stamina, mental alertness, and superior athletic ability to become an exceptional star. Giants captain for 10 seasons. Linchpin of the A-Formation’s success. Powerful and intelligent, exceptional at angle blocking defenders.

Right Guard – Len Younce (1941, 1943-44, 1946-48)

  • All-Decade Team 1940’s
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1944

The New York Giants selected Younce in the eighth round of the 1941 NFL Draft. Played six seasons on the offensive line, helping the team reach the NFL Title game three times. Strong run blocker. Also played linebacker, and handled punting and placekicking duties at times. Set the Giants record for longest punt with a 74-yard effort in 1943 which lasted 58 years. Returned an interception for a touchdown versus the Steagles in 1943, led the league in punting yards in 1944, and made 36-of-37 extra-point attempts in 1948. Finished his career with 10 interceptions.

Right Tackle – Al Blozis (1942-44)

  • All-Decade Team 1940’s
  • #32 retired 1945
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1943

Considered to be on his way to becoming an all-time great before being killed in WWII, possibly a Pro Football HOF talent. Possessed tremendous strength and athleticism. As a rookie in 1942, had a one-handed sack of Sammy Baugh. Coach Steve Owen told Wellington Mara, “He’ll be the best tackle who ever put on a pair of shoes.” Hein, who played alongside Blozis on offense and behind him on defense, said, “If he hadn’t been killed, he could have been the greatest tackle who ever played football. I felt comfortable having him next to me. He was real strong and real fast. He made tackles all over the field. He was good his first year; the second year he was great.”

Honorable Mention – Cal Hubbard (1927-28, 1936)

  • HOF Class of 1963
  • All-Decade Team 1920’s
  • NFL All-Time Two-Way Team
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1927

A stalwart of the 1920’s era. Key member of the 1927 Giants who outscored their opposition 177-20. 6’5”, 250 pounds, ran the 100-yard dash in 11 seconds. Powerful blocker, destroyed opposing lines. Sometimes used on tackle-eligible pass plays. Given pursuit responsibility on defense. Steve Owen said, “He was fast and hit like a sledgehammer.”

Right End – Ray Flaherty (1928-29, 1931-35)

  • HOF Class of 1976
  • #1 retired 1935
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1929, ‘32

The Giants first team captain. Led the NFL in receptions, yards, and touchdown receptions in 1932, the first year statistics were officially recorded. Had very good speed and made big plays. An excellent defensive player. Suggested the Giants switch to sneakers during the 1934 NFL Championship Game. Served double-duty as player/coach for two games during the 1933 preseason while Steve Owen tended to his wife with a terminal illness, and was a player/coach for the full 1935 season.

Honorable Mention- Jim Poole (1937-41, 1945-46)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 1939, ‘46

Large player for his era. Crashing end on defense and strong blocker on offense. Reliable receiver. Blocked two punts in the 1938 NFL Championship Game. Led Giants in receptions in 1946. Cited by Steve Owen as one of the best the Giants ever had.

Tailback – Ed Danowski (1934-41)

  • First-Team All-Pro 1935, ‘38

Led the NFL in passing yards in 1935. Won two NFL Championships as starting tailback. Passed and ran for touchdowns in 1934 NFL Championship Game versus Chicago in 1934. Threw winning touchdown in NFL Championship Game versus Green Bay in 1938. Has the longest Giants punt in a post-season contest.

Honorable Mention – Benny Friedman (1929-31)

  • HOF Class of 2005
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1929, ‘30

The NFL’s first great passer of the 1920’s. Helped to attract the public’s attention to the pro game with his passing highlights featured in newsreels. Also a premier ball-carrier who ran with power. The Giants scored 312 points in 1929 (no other team even scored 200) with Friedman setting an NFL record with 20 touchdown passes. He also rushed for two touchdowns and led the NFL in point-after-touchdowns. Intelligent player/coach. Was in line to become the Giants head coach in 1932 but left the team following a contract dispute.

Halfback/Wingback – Ken Strong (1933-39, 1944-47), Assistant Coach (1940, 1961-65)

  • All-Decade Team 1930’s
  • HOF Class of 1967
  • #50 retired 1947
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1933

One of the most versatile players of his era: triple-threat rusher, receiver, and passer from the backfield. Place kicked and punted. Vicious blocker – considered one of the best of his era. Also one of the best defensive players of his era. Accurate straight-ahead kicker. Scored 17 points, an NFL Championship Game record that stood for almost 30 years, including two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the 1934 NFL Championship Game versus the undefeated Bears. Returned to Giants as place-kicking specialist in 1940’s. Served as kicking coach after playing career ended. Led the NFL in scoring in 1933 and retired as the Giants all-time scoring leader. Has the Giants longest punt return in a post-season game. Also scored on a 42-yard touchdown reception from Ed Danowski in the 1935 NFL Championship Game.

Honorable Mention – Ward Cuff (1937-45)

  • #14 retired 1946

Never missed a game in 15 years. His 170 regular-season games still ranks 10th all-time for the Giants. Also played in eight championship games and one divisional playoff. Multi-positional player: halfback, wingback, defensive halfback. Also punted and place kicked. Led second-half effort in Giants 1938 NFL Championship Game. Led the Giants in receiving yards twice, the NFL in field goals three times, and the NFL in PAT’s once. Scored on a then-team record 96-yard interception return in season-finale versus Washington in 1938. Solid blocker as a wing back, fast enough to run a reverse, excellent coverman on defense. Exceptional straight-ahead kicker.

Fullback – Tuffy Leemans (1936-43), Assistant Coach (1943-44)

  • All-Decade Team 1930’s
  • HOF Class of 1978
  • #4 retired 1943
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1939

Led the NFL in rushing in 1936. Threw 25 TD passes over career during regular season, one in 1939 NFL Championship Game. Retired as the Giants career rushing leader in 1943. Scored a touchdown in 1938 NFL Championship Game versus Green Bay. Steady defensive player. Commissioner Bert Bell: “Leemans makes all tacklers look bad.” Fierce competitor, played through injuries. Known by fans as “Mr. Giant.” Strong short-yardage back with break-away speed. Also lead the Giants in passing twice.

Honorable Mention – Hank Soar (1937-44, 1946)

Multi-position player on offense; outstanding defensive halfback and safety. One of Steve Owen’s favorite players. Called the Giants defenses, which led the NFL in fewest points allowed four times during his career. Scored the winning touchdown in the 1938 NFL Championship Game.

Blocking Back/Quarterback – Dale Burnett (1930-39)

Versatile offensive player with speed and agility. Blocked and handled the ball well. Very good in coverage on defense. Returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown (a team record at the time) in a late-season win versus Green Bay in 1933. At the time of his retirement, his 25 touchdowns scored was the franchise record.


Leather helmets, the Single Wing, and six-man defensive lines were relegated obsolete by the middle of professional football’s most romanticized decade – the 1950’s. Pocket protection, men-in-motion, and coordinated defenses attracted a new, more analytical audience. Nevertheless, the game was still as physical as ever as the NFL signed its first network television contract with DuMont in 1953.

In 1951, interior linemen were no longer permitted to run interference downfield on pass plays. Offensive strategies calibrated their timing and exploited space as they attacked further away from the line of scrimmage. Defenses responded by emphasizing athleticism over brute force. In 1954, all players entering the league were required to wear facemasks, even if some of them were Lucite.

Schedules were better organized as teams played a set 12-game schedule that featured round robins within their respective conference and rotations with half the teams in the other conference. As the league prospered, player salaries gradually increased. Coaches deepened preparation with film study, scouting, and staffs that now had coordinators and position coaches. The players unionized with the formation of the NFL Players Association in 1956.

The 1960’s was a decade of expansion. New teams joined the NFL as it competed with the new AFL. A league-wide television deal was finalized in 1961 ensuring that every game would be broadcast. That same season, the 14-game schedule was introduced. In 1965, the game-day officiating crew increased from five to six when the Line Judge was added.

By the end of the decade, defenses gained the advantage over complex offenses by employing more involved strategies of their own – lateral movement, play recognition, and zone coverages were a part of every defensive scheme. For the first time in three decades, scoring was on the decline.

Part of the reason for a decrease in offensive touchdowns was a quantum leap in the quality of place kicking. The new breed of soccer-style kicking had an immediate impact on the game. In 1968, the NFL experimented during the preseason by not allowing teams to kick the point-after-touchdown during inter-league NFL-AFL matchups. Instead, teams had to run a play from scrimmage.

Following the AFL-NFL merger, two waves of drastic changes to tip the advantage back to the offense were implemented by the rules committee. The first came in 1974. Kickoffs were moved back from the 40-yard line to the 35-yard line and the goal posts were moved back from the goal line to the end line. The penalty for offensive holding was reduced from 15 yards to 10 yards. Also, a 15-minute overtime period was added to regular season games, making the anti-climactic tie games a rarity. Rosters grew past the 40-player plateau and reached 43 by 1977. The age of specialization was dawning.

The New York Giants who played during this era may have only claimed one world championship of their own, but they were just as talented as the players from the other two eras. They grew with the times and gained their own unique recognition as professional football ascended to the forefront of public consciousness. There are more Giant players and coaches enshrined in Canton from this era than any other.

Pro T / Two-Platoon Era (1950 – 1977)
Frank Gifford (16), Ray Wietecha (55), Alex Webster (29), New York Giants (November 13, 1955)

Frank Gifford (16), Ray Wietecha (55), Alex Webster (29), New York Giants (November 13, 1955)

Head Coach – Jim Lee Howell (1954-60), Right End (1937-42, 1946-47), Assistant Coach (1951-53)

  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

Played end and coached ends under Steve Owen. Blocked a punt in the 1938 NFL Championship Game. As head coach, led the Giants to three Eastern Conference titles and the 1956 NFL Championship. Never had losing season as head coach. Was the first head coach to explicitly delegate authority to offensive and defensive coordinators, which gave rise to the modern coaching staff.

Offensive Coordinator – Vince Lombardi (1954-58)

  • Pro Football HOF Class of 1971

Implemented modern T-Formation offense with the Giants. Made the sweep his signature play. Helped make stars of Roosevelt Brown and Frank Gifford. The Giants ranked in the top three in the NFL for fewest turnovers in four of his five seasons as coordinator.

Defensive Coordinator – Tom Landry (1956-59), Defensive Halfback/Punter (1950-55), Player/Assistant Coach (1951-53), Player/Defensive Coordinator (1954-55)

  • Pro Football HOF Class of 1990
  • First-Team All-Pro 1954

Intelligent player, sure tackler. Served as player/coach and quasi-coordinator under Steve Owen. Revolutionized how defensive football is understood and coached. Emphasized charting tendencies and reading keys. Holds Giants record with an interception in seven consecutive games. The first Giant to return interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive games. Also punted. Owen called him “the quarterback” of the defense. The Giants defense led the NFL in fewest yards allowed 1956 and 1959 and the fewest points surrendered in 1958 and 1959. The 1954 Giants defense led the NFL in takeaways.

Split End – Del Shofner (1961-67)

  • All-Decade Team 1960’s
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1961, ’62, ‘63

The Giants first 1,000-yard receiver. Holds team record with 269 receiving yards in a game. Second highest yards-per-reception in team history (18.1) for a player with over 150 catches. Had four games where he scored three touchdowns, a team record. 13 career 100-yard receiving games.

Honorable Mention – Homer Jones (1964-69)

NFL’s all-time leader in yards-per-reception (22.3). Holds team record with 13 touchdown catches in a season. Fifth all-time for Giants in receiving yards and touchdowns. Led the NFL with 13 touchdowns in 1967. 10 touchdowns of 70 or more yards are the most in Giants history. Seventeen 100-yard receiving games second most in team history.

Left Tackle – Roosevelt Brown (1953-65), Assistant Coach (1967-70), Scout (1971-2003)

  • HOF Class of 1975
  • All-Decade Team 1950’s
  • NFL 75th Anniversary Team
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1956, ’57, ’58, ’59, ’61, ‘62

Starting left tackle for 13 consecutive seasons. Played in nine Pro Bowls. Powerful drive blocker with the speed and athleticism to run interference downfield and on sweeps. Played defense in short yardage and on the goal line. Was only the second modern era offensive lineman enshrined in the Pro Football HOF.

Honorable Mention – Willie Young (1966-75)

Came to Giants as a defensive tackle, switched to offense during second season. Somewhat undersized but strong, quick, and athletic. Appeared in 135 games.

Left Guard – Darrell Dess (1959-64, 1966-69)

Excellent pass blocker who was adept at pulling to lead sweeps. Smart and efficient player who was able to block and control larger defensive opponents. Played in 120 games.

Honorable Mention – Bill Austin (1949-50, 1953-57), Assistant Coach (1979-82)

Appeared in 75 games. Began as a two-way player before being permanently entrenched at offensive guard. Was a key component in the Giants Power-T formation in the mid 1950’s pulling on sweeps. Started in the 1956 NFL Championship Game.

Center – Greg Larson (1961-73)

Versatile – started at tackle and guard before moving to center. Tough player who led by example. Returned from a severe knee injury in 1964 and played in the 1966 Pro Bowl. Played in 179 games.

Honorable Mention – Ray Wietecha (1953-62)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 1958

Retired with Giants team record 133 consecutive games played. Quick and aggressive. Referred to by Allie Sherman as “the quarterback up front.”

Right Guard – Doug Van Horn (1968-79)

Steady performer at multiple positions. Giants team captain in 1976. Great technician who used quickness and footwork to redirect opponents. Played in 172 games with 169 starts.

Right Tackle – Jack Stroud (1953-64)

Tough, multi-position performer. Played through injury and was respected by both teammates and opponents. Athletic, excelled as a pass-blocking tackle and pulling guard on sweeps. Was the Giants offensive captain. Appeared in 132 games.

Tight End – Bob Tucker (1970-77)

Led the NFC in receptions 1971. Sure-handed receiver. John Mara: “Bob was revolutionary for his time.” Was a very reliable performer despite playing with numerous quarterbacks throughout his career. Had five 100-yard receiving games.

Flanker – Kyle Rote (1951-61)

Giants team captain. Adept at underneath routes to covert third downs. Started as a halfback, but knee injury necessitated change of position after rookie season. Combined power, polish, and determination in all his roles. Franchise touchdown-receiving record stood for 47 years.

Honorable Mention – Joe Morrison (1959-72)

  • #40 retired 1972
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

Played six different positions over 14 years with the Giants, including defensive back. Retired as the team franchise leader in receptions and receiving yards. Holds team record with touchdown receptions in seven consecutive games. As a receiver, third all-time team leader in catches, fourth in yards, and third in touchdowns.

Halfback – Frank Gifford (1952-60, 1962-64)

  • HOF Class of 1977
  • All-Decade Team 1950’s
  • NFL MVP 1956
  • #16 retired 2000
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1955, ’56, ’57, ’59

One of the most versatile athletes ever to wear a uniform. The only player in NFL history to play in the Pro Bowl on offense and defense, and at three different positions: defensive halfback, halfback, and flanker. Retired as the Giants all-time leader in all-purpose yards. Scored the most touchdowns in Giants history (34 rushing, 43 receiving, one interception return). Also threw 14 touchdown passes, kicked 10 point-afters, and two field goals. Scored touchdowns in three NFL Championship Games. Holds team record for touchdowns in 10 consecutive games. Led the NFL in all-purpose yards in 1956 and retired with team record 9,862 all-purpose yards.

Fullback – Alex Webster (1955-64), Assistant Coach (1967-68), Head Coach (1969-73)

  • NYG Ring of Honor 2011

Inspirational leader who often played through injury. Great runner who became a reliable blocker and receiver. Retired as the Giants all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns (still ranks fifth in both). Scored two touchdowns in the 1956 NFL Championship Game versus the Chicago Bears. Retired as the Giants third all-time leading receiver in catches, fourth in yards, and fifth in touchdowns.

Quarterback – Charlie Conerly (1948-61)

  • #42 retired 1962
  • NFL MVP 1959
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

Retired with all Giants major passing records. Started as tailback in A-Formation. Set NFL record for passing touchdowns for a rookie in 1948 – a record which stood until 1998. Quietly tough, led by example. The Giants leading passer for 12 consecutive seasons. At the time of his retirement, his 14 years of service were second only to Mel Hein’s 15. His single-season records of touchdowns passing and yards passing stood until Y.A. Tittle broke them. Threw two touchdown passes in the 1956 NFL Championship Game and rushed for the game’s only touchdown in the 1958 Eastern Conference Playoff versus Cleveland.

Honorable Mention – Y.A. Tittle (1961-64)

  • HOF Class of 1971
  • #14 retired 1965
  • NFL MVP 1961, ‘63
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1962,’63

The quality of his quarterbacking over a three-year span has never been surpassed in team history at a time when his career was thought to be finished. Set the NFL single-season passing touchdown record in 1962 and surpassed it in 1963, a record that lasted until 1984. Led the Giants to three consecutive Eastern Conference titles. Set Giants record for passing yards in a season in 1962, which lasted until 1984. Exuberant leader. His 18 games with three touchdown passes were a team high at the time of his retirement. Was the first Giant to achieve a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in 1963.

Weakside End – Andy Robustelli (1956-64), General Manager (1974-78)

  • HOF class of 1971
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1956, ’58, ’59, ‘60

Leader of the Giants defenses of the late 1950’s and early ’60’s. Masterful pass rusher with a variety of moves. Saved his best for big plays near the end of games. Unofficially had 79 career sacks. Served as player/coach in 1962-64. Supplied the entire Giants team with sneakers for the 1956 NFL Championship Game.

Defensive Tackle – Arnie Weinmeister (1950-53)

  • HOF Class of 1984
  • All-Decade Team 1950’s
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1950, ’51, ’52, ‘53

Combined speed, power, and a relentless desire to become one of the most disruptive players from the defensive tackle position in history. One of the first defensive players to cultivate fan interest and gain notoriety. Keen instincts, diagnosed plays at the snap. Sometimes unstoppable interior pass rusher. Talents allowed Steve Owen to drop ends into coverage in the Umbrella Defense.

Honorable Mention – Dick Modzelewski (1956-63)

Stabilizing force in the middle of the defense. Strong and smart, covered multiple gaps. Steady performer who excelled in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Defensive Tackle – John Mendenhall (1972-79)

Stout run defender who also provided consistent interior pass rush. Unofficially had 39.5 career sacks, including 11 in 1974 and 10 in 1977. Harry Carson: “He made me look good. He was hard to block, he was very quick. We played off each other.”

Honorable Mention – Roosevelt Grier (1955-56, 1958-62)

  • First-Team All-Pro 1956

One of the first large tackles, out-weighing most offensive linemen. Physically became the prototype. Sometimes an inconsistent performer, but on his good days was among the best of his era and would wreak havoc on the opposition.

Strongside End – Jim Katcavage (1956-68)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 1961, ‘63

Physical player – the perfect book end for counterpart Andy Robustelli. Penetrated the line and redirected plays back inside. Has the most defensive fumbles recovered in Giants history and the most safeties with three (the latter also an NFL record). Unofficially had a 7-sack game and 96.5 over his career.

Weakside Linebacker – Harland Svare (1955-60), Defensive Coordinator (1961, 1967-68)

Tough, quick, aggressive, smart. Served as player/coach in 1960.

Middle Linebacker – Sam Huff (1956-63)

  • HOF Class of 1982
  • All-Decade Team 1950’s
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1958, ‘59

Anchored the Giants great defenses that won six Eastern Conference titles and the NFL Championship in 1956. Elevated the stature of defensive players in fan consciousness with one-on-one confrontations with Jim Brown and Jim Taylor. Was the prototypical middle linebacker in Tom Landry’s intricate defense. Took full advantage of every opportunity the opposition allowed him. Powerful run stuffer. Also provided good coverage skills evidenced by 18 interceptions. Scored four return touchdowns (two interceptions and two fumbles).

Strongside Linebacker – Brad Van Pelt (1973-83)

  • NYG Ring of Honor 2011

Excelled in pass coverage, had 18 career interceptions. Played in five Pro Bowls and was named Giants Player of the Decade of the 1970’s. Also played on special teams throughout entire career.

Cornerback – Erich Barnes (1961-64)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 1961

Aggressive, physical player and a good athlete. Occasionally played split end on offense – caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from Y.A. Tittle in 1961. Has the longest touchdown in franchise history – a 102-yard interception return in 1961 (which at the time tied the NFL record.)

Cornerback – Dick Lynch (1959-66)

  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1963

Savvy player. A strong tackler in run support. Excelled in man-to-man coverage. Led the NFL in interceptions twice. Tied for first with most interception returns for touchdowns in Giants history, including team-record three in a single season. Had three games with three interceptions.

Weakside Safety – Emlen Tunnell (1948-59)

  • HOF Class of 1967
  • All-Decade Team 1950’s
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1951, ’52, ’55, ‘56

The Giants first African-American player. Retired as the NFL’s career-leader in interceptions. Tied for first with most interception returns for touchdowns. In 1952, he had more return yardage on punts and interceptions than the NFL’s rushing leader. Incredible ball instincts, soft hands, fluid moves. Played offense as well in first two seasons. A key to the Umbrella Defense’s success. Was the only defender permitted to freelance through zones. Sure tackler.

Honorable Mention – Carl “Spider” Lockhart (1965-75)

Hard hitter and sure tackler despite lack of size. One of only three Giants to return interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive games. Third in Giants history in career interceptions and second in defensive fumbles recovered. Also returned punts.

Strongside Safety – Jimmy Patton (1955-66)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 1958, ’59, ’60, ’61, ‘62

A stalwart of the Giants secondary. Consistently solid and occasionally spectacular performer. Second in team history with 52 career interceptions, and tied for first with 11 in a single season in 1958, which led the NFL. Fearless player and strong tackler despite lack of size. First player in NFL history to return a punt and kick for a touchdown in a game in 1955.

Place Kicker – Pete Gogolak (1966-74)

  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

Professional football’s first soccer-style kicker. The first player to jump from the AFL to the NFL. The Giants all-time leader in field goals, extra points, and total points scored.

Punter – Don Chandler (1956-64)

  • All-Decade Team 1960’s

Solid punter who performed at his best in crucial situations. Also doubled as place kicker later in his career. Led the NFL in punting in 1958. Holds the Giants top two spots for highest punting average in post-season contests.

Kick Returner – Clarence Childs (1964-67)

Giants all-time leader in kickoff return yardage. One of only three Giants to return two for touchdowns. His 987 yards returned in 1964 remained a team record for 39 seasons. His 100-yard return in 1964 remains tied as the longest in franchise history.

Punt Returner – Emlen Tunnell** (1948-59)

Scored 10 return touchdowns with the Giants: five punts, four interceptions, and a kickoff. One of the best punt returners in NFL history. Second in Giants history with five punt returns for touchdowns. Was a master at faking the oncoming tackler into a move then sliding into the opening with a fluid side-step.

** Appears on team more than once.


The second wave of rule changes designed to liberate the passing offense and increase scoring took place in 1978; the same season the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, added a second Wild Card team to the post-season tournament, and bolstered rosters to 45 players.

The 5-yard bump rule was imposed on defensive players. Double touching of a forward pass by the offensive team became legal. Offensive linemen could now block with extended arms and open hands. The intentional grounding penalty was reduced from 15 yards to 10. Also, the Line Judge was added as the game-day seventh official. Enter the era of the frustrated defense.

It did not take long for the impact of these rules to achieve their desired impact: rushing attempts fell from 58% in 1977 to 56% in 1978 to 52% in 1979 to 49% in 1980. The NFL has remained a pass-first league ever since.

From 1982 through 1984, the game-day roster size increased to a high of 49 players, then dropped to 45, where it has remained. The larger rosters allowed players who were less well-rounded but more highly specialized to carve out niches for themselves on teams that valued their distinctive skill sets.

At one time there was little difference between a left end and right end on offense or between a safety and a halfback on defense. Today a team will stock a roster three deep at the tight end position alone: one who is an in-line blocker, one who flexes out as a receiver, and one who moves as an H-Back. Defensively, corners are now desired by the scheme they fit (man-on-man or zone coverage), with tackling ability possibly a secondary concern. The same is true of safeties; some play close to the line of scrimmage as a hybrid linebacker, some fill in a slot corner role. Linebackers are touted as 3-down players if they have multiple skills. Some offensive backs only play on third down. Since the advent of full free agency in 1993, players have had the opportunity to select the best fit for their careers, whether it is suitable for their talent or simply financial remuneration.

This current group of Giants players has won half of the franchise’s eight world championships. Some are still active and have not completed their stories. Few will spend their career with a single team, as they follow the current of the open market when they reach free agency. This is an echo from professional football’s earliest era when 60-minute players would sign game-to-game contracts as a supplementary income to their full-time jobs.

Post-Modern Era (1978 – 2013)
Leonard Marshall (70), Harry Carson (53), New York Giants (September 21, 1986)

Leonard Marshall (70), Harry Carson (53), New York Giants (September 21, 1986)

Head Coach – Bill Parcells (1983-90), Assistant Coach (1981-82)

  • HOF Class of 2013
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

Joined Giants staff as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator. Coached Lawrence Taylor as a rookie to All-Pro status. Culminated the revival of the struggling Giants franchise with their first league title in 30 years as head coach in 1986. That team’s 14 regular-season and 17 total wins stand as franchise single-season highs. Led the Giants to another NFL title in 1990. His eight career post-season wins are tied for first in Giants history.

Honorable Mention – Tom Coughlin (2004-present), Offensive Assistant Coach (1988-90)

Won three Super Bowls as member of Giants, first as receivers coach under Bill Parcells from 1988-90, then head coach in 2007 and 2011. Won at #1 and #2 NFC seeds in both post-seasons and defeated #1 AFC seed in both Super Bowls. Eight post-season wins tied for first in Giants history.

Offensive Coordinator – Ron Erhardt (1982-92)

Architect of versatile Giants offense that won two Super Bowls with two different quarterbacks and two different offensive lines that emphasized different blocking styles. Three times his offense was ranked in the top three for fewest turnovers.

Honorable Mention – Kevin Gilbride (2004-13)

Quarterbacks coach who assumed offensive coordinator position late in 2006 season. Offense led NFL in rushing in 2008, and featured two 1,000-yard backs for only the fourth time in NFL history. The 2007 Giants were fourth in the NFL in rushing while the 2011 Giants were fifth in the NFL in passing. Three performances in the 2011 post-season rank in the top six in franchise history in terms of single-game offensive yardage output.

Defensive Coordinator – Bill Belichick (1985-90), Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Coach (1979-84)

Began his career as special teams coach under Ray Perkins. Coached linebackers under Bill Parcells and took over defensive coordinator responsibilities in 1985. The 1989 Giants were second in the NFL in points allowed and the 1990 Giants were first in that category.

X Receiver – Amani Toomer (1996-2008)

  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

The Giants all-time leading receiver in catches, yards, and touchdowns for both the regular- and post-seasons. Holds the Giant regular-season record for most 100-yard receiving games. Has the second-most punt returns for touchdowns. Giants second-leading scorer in the post-season (leading non-kicker). Twenty-two 100-yard receiving games most in Giants history.

Honorable Mention – Plaxico Burress (2005-08)

Holds franchise record for most receptions in a post-season game. Had 12 touchdown catches in 2007 and caught the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII.

Left Tackle – John “Jumbo” Elliott (1988-95)

Powerful, aggressive player and dominant run blocker despite battling back problems for much of his career. Appeared in 112 regular-season games with 98 starts; started in four post-season games including Super Bowl XXV. Received the Giants first ever “Franchise Player” designation in 1993.

Honorable Mention – David Diehl (2003-13)

Starting left tackle in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. Durable, started 120 consecutive games from 2003-2010. Started at all line positions except center.

Left Guard – Rich Seubert (2001-10)

One of the toughest players ever to wear a Giants uniform. Earned a roster spot as an undrafted free agent in 2001. Suffered a serious leg injury in 2003, but rehabilitated and returned in 2005. Started all four post-season games in 2007.

Honorable Mention – William Roberts – (1984-94)

Played multiple positions. After missing the 1985 season with a knee injury, became a fixture at left guard beginning in 1987. Often played left tackle when Elliot struggled with back problems. Appeared as a reserve in Super Bowl XXI; started in Super Bowl XXV.

Center – Bart Oates (1985-93)

Played in 140 regular-season games and started 11 in the post-season, including Super Bowls XXI and XXV. The Giants had a 1,000-yard rusher in eight of his nine seasons.

Honorable Mention – Shaun O’Hara (2004-10)

Started 97 regular-season games and games six in the post-season, including Super Bowl XLII.

Right Guard – Chris Snee (2004-13)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 2008

One of the Giants most reliable linemen. Has started 141 regular-season games, plus 11 post-season games including Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.

Honorable Mention – Ron Stone (1996-2001)

Primary starter all six seasons, including all three games in the 2000 post-season. Powerful run blocker.

Right Tackle – Kareem McKenzie (2005-11)

Started 105 regular-season games and 11 post-season games, including Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.

Honorable Mention – Doug Reisenberg (1987-95)

Played in 135 regular-season games with 122 starts, plus six post-season games including Super Bowl XXV.

Tight End – Mark Bavaro (1985-90)

  • NYG Ring of Honor 2011
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1986, ‘87

Most 100-yard receiving games for a tight end in Giants history. Only Giants tight end to gain 1,000 yards in a season. Great in-line blocker. Scored go-ahead touchdown in third quarter of Super Bowl XXI. Nine 100-yards receiving games most for a tight end in franchise history.

Honorable Mention – Jeremy Shockey (2002-07)

  • First-Team All-Pro 2002

Eight 100-yard receiving games. Had a club high six 10-reception games.

Z Receiver – Victor Cruz (2010-present)

Holds Giants record for most receiving yards in a season with 1,536 in 2011. Seven touchdowns of 70 or more yards; second most in team history. Sixteen 100-yard receiving games third most in franchise history.

Halfback – Tiki Barber (1997-2006)

  • First-Team All-Pro 2005
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

Giants career rushing leader. Holds single-season records for most yards rushing, all-purpose yards, and receptions for a back. Had a club record thirty-eight 100-yard rushing games – including five 200-yard games which is tied for second most in NFL history. An excellent receiver, had three 10-reception games.

Honorable Mention – Rodney Hampton (1990-97)

Retired as Giants career-rushing leader. Holds team record for most rushing touchdowns in a game with four. Tied for the franchise record for most rushing yards in a post-season game and longest touchdown run in a post-season game. Had seventeen 100-yard rushing games and five consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Fullback – Maurice Carthon (1985-92)

Lead blocker for three different 1,000-yard rushers.

Honorable Mention – Charles Way (1995-99)

In 1997, became most recent fullback to lead the Giants in rushing yards; also second on the team in receptions that season.

Quarterback – Eli Manning (2004-present)

Giants all-time leader in pass completions, passing yards, and touchdowns thrown in both the regular-season and post-season. NFL’s third all-time in consecutive games played. Has the most 300-yard passing games (38) and 400-yard passing games (4) in Giants history, plus one 500-yard passing game. His 30 games with three touchdown passes are a club record. MVP of Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. Eight post-season victories are the most in franchise history. Holds the team mark with six games with 30 or more pass completions.

Honorable Mention – Phil Simms (1979-93)

  • #11 retired 1995
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

MVP of Super Bowl XXI, his 88.0% completion percentage (22-for-25) is second all-time in NFL post-season history. Retired with all Giants passing records and most post-season victories. His 15 seasons played are tied with Mel Hein’s team record. The first Giant to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. Had 21 career 300-yard passing games, two 400-yard passing games, and his 513 yards are the franchise record for passing yards in a game. His 18 games with three touchdown passes are tied for second in team history. Set the club record with 40 pass completions in a game in 1985.

Weakside/Right Defensive End – Leonard Marshall (1983-92)

Officially has the franchise’s third-most career sacks (since 1982.) Led team in sacks twice. Second most post-season sacks in Giants history. Had two sacks in Super Bowl XXI and one in Super Bowl XXV. One of only two players in franchise history to record more than one safety. Had five career three-sack games.

Honorable Mention – Osi Umenyiora (2003-12)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 2005

Led or tied for the team lead in sacks six times. Holds team record with six sacks in a game. Had 5.5 sacks in the post-season. Tied an NFL record by blocking two punts in a game in 2003.

Defensive Tackle – Keith Hamilton (1992-2003)

Began career as strongside end in the 3-4; moved to tackle in the 4-3 and started at both interior positions. Was stout against the run but also provided interior pocket pressure. Led the Giants in sacks three times. Compiled 63 sacks and 14 fumble recoveries during his career and also registered a safety.

Nose Tackle Tackle – Jim Burt (1981-88)

Anchored a 3-4 line. Had two sacks in the 1985 Wild Card Playoff. Tough player who battled chronic back issues most of his career. Led Giants down linemen in tackles in 1984 and 1986.

Honorable Mention – Erik Howard (1986-94)

Forced Roger Craig fumble in waning moments of 1990 NFC Championship Game. Led Giants down linemen in tackles in the 1989 and 1990 regular-seasons and had the most tackles in the 1990 post-season.

Strongside/Left Defensive End – Michael Strahan (1993-2007)

  • HOF Class of 2014
  • All-Decade Team 2000’s
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1997, ’98, ’01, ‘03

His 15 seasons played matched Mel Hein and Phil Simms franchise record. Most games played as a Giant. Has the fifth-most sacks in NFL history, most in a single season, and second-most in Giants history (unofficially). Held the edge against the run as well as he rushed the passer. Led the NFL in sacks twice and the Giants seven times. Had seven games with at least three sacks. Most post-season sacks in Giants history.

Honorable Mention – George Martin (1975-88)

  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

Retired with the most touchdowns scored as a defensive lineman in NFL history. Unofficially has 96 career sacks. Also caught a touchdown pass as a tight end. Scored a safety in Super Bowl XXI.

Honorable Mention – Justin Tuck (2005-13)

  • First Team All-Pro 2008

Had 60.5 sacks in the regular season and 5.5 in the post season. Two sacks each in super Bowls XLII and XLVI with a forced fumble and forced safety. A strong two-way defender who held the edge against the run while totaling four seasons with double-digit sack totals.

Strongside/Left Outside Linebacker – Carl Banks (1984-92)

  • NYG Ring of Honor 2011
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1987

Led the Giants in tackles in 1986 and 1987. Had two 10-tackle games in the 1986 post-season, including Super Bowl XXI. Led the defense with seven forced fumbles in 1989. Excellent in coverage, led Giants in passes defensed in 1991.

Inside Linebacker – Pepper Johnson (1986-92)

  • First-Team All-Pro: 1990

Led the Giants in tackles in 1990. Played a critical role in Bill Belichick’s “Big Nickel” defense in Super Bowl XXV – was on the field almost every snap. Had 14 tackles in the 1990 post-season while also playing special teams. Led the defense in tackles 1990-1992. Set a then-team record with 4.5 sacks in a game in 1992. Returned interceptions for touchdowns in 1988 and 1989.

Honorable Mention – Gary Reasons (1984-92)

Excellent in pass coverage. Had 30-yard rush on 4th quarter fake punt in 1990 NFC Championship Game. Led the Giants in fumble recoveries in 1990 and led the defense with six tackles in Super Bowl XXV. Intercepted 10 passes and recovered nine fumbles during his career.

Middle/Inside Linebacker – Harry Carson (1976-88)

  • HOF Class of 2006
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010

Was a 13-year starter and 9-time Pro Bowler at two positions: middle linebacker in the 4-3 and inside linebacker in the 3-4. Had 20 solo tackles in a 1982 game vs Green Bay. Stout run defender who also intercepted 11 passes and recorded 17 sacks. Returned an interception for a touchdown in the 1984 NFC Divisional playoffs.

Weakside/Right Outside Linebacker – Lawrence Taylor (1981-93)

  • HOF Class of 1999
  • All-Decade Team 1980’s
  • NFL 75th Anniversary Team
  • NFL MVP 1986
  • #56 retired 1994
  • NYG Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1981, ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85’, ’86, ’88, ’89

The most decorated player in Giants history. Retired with the second-most sacks in NFL history. Revolutionized the way outside linebacker is played. One of the most disruptive defensive players in NFL history. Had 12 games with at least three sacks. Played in the most post-season contests in franchise history.

Honorable Mention – Jessie Armstead (1993-2001)

  • Ring of Honor 2010
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1997

Made the Giants as a special teams player and became a five-time Pro Bowl linebacker. Led the team in tackles three consecutive seasons 1996-1998; led the Giants in sacks in 1999.

Cornerback – Mark Collins (1986-93)

Led the Giants in interceptions twice. Led secondary in tackles in 1991. Sure tackler, strong in run support.

Honorable Mention – Corey Webster (2006-13)

Intercepted pass in overtime of 2007 NFC Championship Game to set up game-winning field goal. Defensed desperation pass to preserve win in Super Bowl XLII.

Cornerback – Mark Haynes (1980-85)

  • First-Team All-Pro 1982, ‘84

Recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the 1981 Wild Card Playoff at Philadelphia. Led the Giants with seven interceptions in 1984.

Honorable Mention – Jason Sehorn (1994-2002)

Tied with most interceptions returned for touchdowns in Giants history. Also returned an onsides kickoff for a touchdown. Led Giants in interceptions three times and has the most post-season interceptions in team history.

Free Safety – Antrel Rolle (2009-present)

A versatile playmaker who has played both safety positions and also slot corner. Led the Giants in tackles in 2011. His six interceptions in 2013 were a team high.

Honorable Mention – Terry Kinard (1983-89)

One of only four Giants to record three interceptions in a game. A hard hitter and exceptional tackler. Led the Giants secondary in tackles in 1984 and 1985 and interceptions in 1986 and 1989. Scored touchdowns on two interception returns.

Strong Safety – Greg Jackson (1989-93)

Strong run defender who made a lot of tackles. Led the defense in interceptions in 1992 and 1993, totaling 14 during his career.

Long Snapper – Zak DeOssie (2007-present)

Played in two Pro Bowls as a specialist. Has served as special teams captain three seasons and is often among the team leaders in special teams tackles.

Place Kicker – Lawrence Tynes (2007-12)

Second all-time leading scorer in Giants history. Only player in NFL history to successfully make two overtime field goals in the post-season. Kicked field goals in 26 consecutive games, a team record. Giants all-time leading scorer in the post-season. Successfully converted five field goals of 50 yards or more, third-most in team history. His 83.6% field goal conversion rate is the highest for all Giants kickers with at least 100 attempts.

Punter – Sean Landeta (1985-92)

  • All-Decade Team 1980’s
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1986, ’89, ‘90

Led the NFL in punting in 1990. Second highest punting average in franchise history.

Honorable Mention – Dave Jennings (1974-84)

  • NYG Ring of Honor Class of 2011
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1979, ‘80

Led the NFL in punting in 1979 and ’80. Holds the record for most punts in team history.

Kick Returner – David Meggett (1989-94)

Has the second-most kick return yards in Giants history. His kickoff return touchdown in 1992 was the Giants first in 20 seasons. More than just a great returner, was also the Giants third-down back. Set a then-team record with 1,807 all-purpose yards in 1989. Led the Giants in all-purpose yards four times. Threw three touchdown passes on the halfback option. Was the Giants leading receiver in 1990.

Punt Returner – David Meggett** (1989-94)

Returned a team-record six punts for touchdowns. Has the Giants most career punt return yards. Led the NFL in punt return yards in 1989 and 1990.


*A note on the All-Pro designations. Since the beginning of organized professional football in 1920, various media outlets created their own lists of All-Pro teams, using their own criteria. For the sake of simplicity and consistency we have chosen to use Pro-Football-Reference.com as our singular source. They acknowledge First-Team All-Pro selections from The Green Bay Press-Gazette 1925-1930, United Press International from 1931-39, and The Associated Press from 1940 through the present.

** Appears on team more than once.

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