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THE COFFIN CORNER - VOLUME 6 - 1984

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Number 1:

Curly Lambeau by Bob Carroll. Just when most of the small town teams were disappearing, Curly Lambeau had his Packers at the top of the NFL standings. He built a juggernaut that won league championships in 1929, '30, and '31. No team has ever topped that 3-straight record. An appreciation of the man who kept Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the world's most successful sports league.

Lifetime Receivers Rated by Bysina System 1984 by Rich Bysina. This is a follow-up to "RRS: Rating the Catchers" (Volume 5, Number 9). A look at the 20 receivers (as of 1983) with the most receptions.

1920-21 All-Pros by John Hogrogian. In that first season, sports editor Bruce Copeland of the Rock Island Argus "ignored the existence of the APFA and continued to talk of all pro teams as the free lance operations they had always been." He limited his picks to those from what he called the "big eight": Rock Island, Decatur, Chicago Cardinals, Chicago Tigers, Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Dayton.

Charley Conerly by Bob Carroll. A biography of Charley Conerly, who quarterbacked the Giants from 1948 to 1961 and put them into the 1958 title game with a surprise play.

Number 2:

The Tonawanda Kardax by Joe Horrigan. "Quick! What is the only NFL team ever to lose just one league game during its entire existence? Don't look for the answer in the NFL's Official Standings; it's not there." But after this 1984 article, it was added in 1987. Tonawanda, New York was granted a franchise on August 27, 1921. The team's only loss was 45-0 to Rochester. They finished at 0-1-0.

1948 by Bob Carroll. The Browns and the 49ers, the Eagles and Cardinals, had the best players in pro football that year. While the AAFC and the NFL were at war, their soldiers couldn't meet on the battlefield.

Massacre in Cincinnati by Bob Barnett. Reprinted from Bear Report. How a team from Ironton, Ohio, defeated the NFL's Chicago Bears. The Bears had beaten beat Frankford in a Saturday game, 13-6. On the overnight train ride between Philadelphia and Cincinnati, Halas and the Bears didn't suspect the ambush that lay ahead the following day. On Sunday, November 23, 1930, it was Ironton Tanks 26, Chicago Bears 13. Luckily, it was just an exhbiition, and the Bears could laugh about it half a century later.

Number 3:

FRE! Or Why Pro Football Is Doomed by Jim O'Brien. The abbreviation stands for Falling Rate of Excitement. The basic cause of the FRE is that with game films and (increasingly) computers, professional teams are able to come up with defensive formations that can eventually stymie every new offensive tactic. In other words, what happens to the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl every year will eventually happen to everybody. Published in 1977 in Cultural Correspondence.

Al Mahrt: Wonder Athlete by John Dye. Al Mahrt was one of the greatest players of the pre-NFL era of pro football. Founder of the Dayton Triangles in 1916, Quarterback Mahrt played in the first three years of the NFL's existence before going on to making a fortune in business. Reprinted from Dayton Daily News of January 10, 1965.

Number 4:

1924 All-Pros by John Hogrogian. The Green Bay Press-Gazette conducted a poll of "about a dozen sports writers and six game officials" and published their selections for a first, second and third team.

Roosevelt Brown by Don Smith. He was selected by the Giants in the 27th round of the 1953 draft, and only then after someone happened to have a copy of the Pittsburgh Courier Negro All-America Team. Brown, one of the premier offensive linemen in pro football, played 13 seasons and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1975.

Number 5:

Joe Carr: NFL President 1921-38 by Joe Horrigan. After the losses of the 1920 season, the Columbus Panhandles boss persuaded his fellow APFA owners to stay on for at least another year. During his tenure, the NFL went from small town clubs to major league cities.

Stat Stuff: Passing by Bob Carroll. The most important page is missing, but a study of 14 starters in 1979 confirms that the key to wins is not the pass completion rate, but getting touchdowns more often than interceptions.

Crew Chief: Jack Christiansen by Don Smith. Christiansen was one of the greatest defensive backs in football, but almost didn't go out for the game because of a shooting injury. At Colorado A&M, he was a sprinter on the track squad, and was a walk-on for the grid team. He was so effective as a punt returner that he caused an entire pro league to change its defensive ways to the spread punt formation.

Number 6:

Why Canton? by Don Smith. Although the historical reasons are obvious, a newspaper editorial in the Canton Repository inspired the locals to beat out the competitors. Canton's chief employer, The Timken Company, business leaders, foundations and ordinary citizens raised $378,026 in 1959 and land was donated to the city.

Ray Flaherty: Hall of Fame Coach by Don Smith. Before Flaherty coached even one NFL game, he put himself squarely behind the eight ball with a rare vow. he would offer his resignation if his Boston Redskins did not win the 1936 NFL title! Although the Redskins played in the championship game that year, Flaherty's offer wasn't accepted. Washington won the next year (1937) and again in 1942, He coached in five NFL title games, and (with the New York Yankees), two AAFC title games.

That Indoor World Series by Don Smith. The oldest known pro football uniform is on display at Canton. Harry Mason wore it when the Syracuse All-Stars won the 1902 tournament at Madison Square Garden. Syracuse beat Orange, 36-0 for the title. Subject also covered in 1980 Annual.

Number 7:

Len Ford by Don Smith. Ford was such an outstanding pass rusher, the Browns changed their defensive alignment in 1950 to "take full advantage of his unusual abilities". Besides being one of the great defensive ends of the 1950s, Ford also was an outstanding wide receiver for the Los Angeles Dons in the AAFC. He was inducted to the HOF in 1976, four years after dying at 46 from a coronary failure.

Stat Stuff: Passing by Jack Clary. The NFL's pass rating system measures success by average yards per passing attempt. Clary proposes that the better measure would be average yards per pass completion. While short passes lead to a higher completion rate, a great quarterback looks downfield for the best yardage. In addition, a dropped pass is counted against the quarterback, and yards per completion reflects the effectiveness of the team's passing system.

Arnie Herber by Don Smith. A Green Bay native, Herber was the Packers' quarterback from 1930-1940 and was one of the first long passers. "Handicapped by short fingers, he put his thumb over the laces to prevent the ball from wobbling and to assure plenty of spiraling action. Arnie's passes quickly became noted for two qualities: distance and accuracy." Herber averaged 19 yards per completion in 1939.

California Dreamin': West Coast Pros of 1930s by Bob Gill. "California pro football in the '30s was, if not thriving, at least hanging in there, keeping the doors open until the public was ready to welcome its product." The first Pacific Coast League played in 1934 with six California teams. In 1935, the Westwood Cubs were the best of the four team American Legion League, , and won the right to play the Detroit Lions (losing 67-14). By 1939, strong teams like the Los Angeles Bulldogs helped the growth of pro football in the west.

Number 8:

O.J.: HOF Exhibit by Don Smith. Written in conjunction with a new exhibit at Canton, that included Simpson's jersey from the 1973 game where he reached 2,003 yards.

Let George Do It: HOF Blanda Exhibit by Don Smith. The Canton exhibit included Blanda's 1970 Raiders jersey (#16) when he "saved the day" in five consecutive games.

Art Donovan by Don Smith. "Many great players wore the Colts' blue and white, but the first elected to Pro Football's Hall of Fame was Art Donovan." The defensive tackle also wore green and silver for the Colts as a rookie in 1950. In 12 seasons, he was not only "one of the best the game has ever seen", but also "one of history's most popular football players." When his #70 jersey was retired in 1962, the fans cried along with him as he thanked them: "Up in heaven there is a lady who is happy that the City of Baltimore was so good to her son -- a kid from the Bronx."

Rough Stuff by Staten Island Advance 1926. The Staten Island Stapletons and the Orange (later Newark) Tornadoes both played in the NFL in 1929 and 1930. On November 28, 1926, the Stapletons beat Orange 25-7 in a slugfest. NFL lineman John Alexander, who also played for the Giants in 1926, shared a clipping about the mayhem filled game.

Number 9:

Research Notes:

"What Do They Have in Common?" by Tim Gallagher. George H.W. Bush, the Lions' Bobby Layne, and baseball's Jackie Jensen had one thing in common-- they all played in the very first College World Series in 1947. Centerfielder Jensen's U. of California team defeated pitchers Bush (Yale) and Layne (Texas), and the latter two men did not go on to professional baseball careers.

"That '27 Dee-fense" by Donald Kosakowski. The first great New York Giant defense shut out 10 of its 13 opponents in 1927 (including five straight shutouts) and allowed only 3 touchdowns and 2 extra points.

"Strong vs. Newman" by Bob Gill. The two most famous players in the 1936 American Football League were also the AFL's best placekickers. Harry Newman (Rochester) made six of 11 attempts. Strong (Pittsburgh) was the next best with 5 field goals, against 15 misses.

"Something for Nothing" by Bob Barnett. Because of a quirk in the college and NFL rules, a team could be given an extra point without having to kick the ball through the uprights. From 1920 to 1930, a point would be awarded if the defense was penalized during a conversion attempt. At least one exhibition game in 1930 was won in that manner.

"Losing" by Bob Carroll. An article about various types of football pools played at the faculty lounge. One was based on the last digit for the Steelers and their opponents in Sunday's game. The "33 pool" awarded half the kitty to the person whose team scored the most points, and the other half to whoever's team scored exactly 33 points, with the money carried over if no team did so. (In 1984, the Jets lost to the Cardinals 34-33).

Chuck Howley by Bob Barnett and Bob Carroll. "It's less than a three-hour jet flight from the hills of Appalachia to Dallas, but a million miles from pumping gas in Wheeling, W.Va., to the Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium. Chuck Howley made that trip. The linebacker was cut from the Bears in 1959 after a knee injury, and was working at a gas station when the Dallas Cowboys called him in 1961. His former Bears teammate, Don Healy, had suggested him. Howley went on to become MVP of Super Bowl V.

Bonus Picks by Donald Kosakowki. "Can you imagine a group of NFL owners anxiously standing around, awaiting their turn to select a specially marked paper from a hat which would entitle one of them to take home the top prize of the collegiate ranks? " The practice existed from 1947 to 1958, until all 12 teams had gotten a chance at the #1 pick. Players who were bonus picks were Chuck Bednarik, Paul Hornung, Kyle Rote, and Leon Hart.

Number 10:

Red's First Game by Chicago Herald-Examiner 1925. "It settled no championship nor set any records on the field, but pro football was never again the same. It was the day that Red Grange turned pro." The Grange's Bears and Paddy Driscoll's Cardinals played to a 0-0 tie.

Running Against the Score by Bob Gill. A study of statistics indicates that the rusher on a losing team has to work harder than one on a winning team. "I'd say that in order to gain 100 yards in a losing effort, a runner needs to average one yard per carry (more or less) better than a comparable runner on a winning team." The difference was 6.1 yards vs. 5.0 per carry. "I also suggest applying this measure to 1,000-yard seasons. I can assure you that the whole project won't take very long; it involves a lot of basic arithmetic and little else."

Tom Fears by Don Smith. After playing service club ball for the Second Air Force, he was all-America at UCLA and an all-NFL receiver for the Rams. "Fears wasn't the first to run specific routes on a pass play, but he was one of the most precise pattern-runners the game has seen. Fears made up for his lack of unusual speed with the fierce determination to do something with the ball after he caught it."

Number 11:

Research Notes:

"Dub Jones" by Stan Grosshandler. Interviews with Don Kindt and Dub Jones about November 25, 1951, the day that their Chicago Bears first faced the Cleveland Browns.

"Ed Danowski" by Johnny Shevalta. He played for three of the greatest coaches in football-- Frank Cavanaugh (Fordham), Jim Crowley and Steve Owen (both of the New York Giants)

"Spec Sanders" by Stan Grosshandler. An interview with "a great forgotten runner who played in a good forgotten league" in the pre-TV era. Spec Sanders of the New York Yankees was the only man to rush for more than 1,000 yards in AAFC history , with 1,432 yards in 1947.

Mr. Mara (Tim) by Don Smith. New York Giants' founder Tim Mara made his fortune as a bookie before Joe Carr offered him first bid for an NFL franchise in New York, for $500. "A New York franchise to operate anything ought to be worth $500!" he would say later. Mara "knew virtually nothing about football", but his associate, Dr. Harry March, built the team for him. Less well-known is that by the end of 1928, Mara owned three of the NFL's ten teams-- the Giants, the Yankees and the Detroit Wolverines -- and had a lease agreement with Staten Island. He was a charter member of the HOF.

The Racine Legion by Paul LaRose. Reprinted from the Racine Journal of August 5, 1979. In 1922, American Legion Post 76 paid $100 for an NFL franchise. The team from Racine, Wisconsin, played three NFL seasons (1922, 1923, 1924) before folding. In 1926, new owners fielded the Racine Tornadoes, who won their opener (6-3 over Hammond), then scored only 2 more points and finished 1-4-0.

Frank Gatski by Bob Barnett and Bob Carroll. "Frank 'Gunner' Gatski makes John Wayne seem like a talkative milquetoast." However, the laconic Cleveland Browns' center took the time to give an interview after his election to the HOF in 1985.

Number 12:

G.P.M.: George Preston Marshall by Don Smith. The Washington laundryman turned pro football owner, in 1932, immediately saw the advantage of splitting the league into two divisions with a final championship game between the winner of each division The same 1932 title game inspired him to propose hash marks, moving the goal posts and making a forward pass legal from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. Written for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the biography makes no mention of Marshall's position on black players. Ironic quote: "The Grafton, W. Va., native was the first to introduce true color and showmanship on pro football gridirons.

Jim Otto by Don Smith. A biography of the legendary Oakland Raiders' HOF center. He was a starter in all 210 of his regular season games with Oakland, played in all of the AFL's all-star games, and in the first three Pro Bowls after the merger. Were it nor for dozens of injuries Jim constantly battled, he might have played even longer. His medical history could fill an encyclopedia - bone chips in his elbow, 10 broken noses, a broken jaw, numerous brain concussions, dislocatcd knee, dislocated fingers, a severe pinched nerve in his neck, three left knee operations and six operations on his right knee. Some Otto trivia-- though he wore #00 in most of his career, he wore #50 in his first season.

The AFL by Bob Kravitz. "'The other league' is no more but its legends go on and on." Memories from Ron McDole, Curley Johnson, Paul Maguire, Gino Cappelletti, Lance Alworth, and Lionel Taylor about the AFL's low-budget early days. "One trip, the plane stopped in Buffalo where we picked up the Bills, we were dropped off in Denver, and they went on to the West Coast," Cappelletti said. "Ralph Wilson and Billy Sullivan had some kind of deal." Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Press in 1985.

Annual:

The Bulldogs: L.A. Hits the Big Time by Bob Gill. In 1936, the Los Angeles Bulldogs hosted six NFL teams-- defeating Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the Cardinals, tying Brooklyn, and losing to the Bears and the Packers. In 1937, they were the undefeated champs of the second American Football League, and in 1938 they had a 2-2-1 record against the NFL. "If, somehow, that 'probationary franchise' had materialized intosomething more tangible, there is little doubt that from 1936 to 1938 the L.A. Bulldogs would have been competitive in the N.F.L."

Snap Back vs. Scrimmage by Bob Sproule. Before the days when a football center would snap (hike) the football back to the quarterback, the scrimmage system required the center to kick the ball backward with his heel, and there was no time limit on starting the play. In Canada, the center snap didn't become permanent until 1921. A look at the intricacies of a forgotten aspect of the game.

Wild Bill Kelly by Howard Schwartz. William Carl Kelly was only 26 when he died. A legend in Montana, he reached the NFL in 1927 and 1928 as quarterback of the New York Yankees, in 1929 for the Frankford Yellow Jackets, and in 1930 for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His Jacket teammate, Ed Haliki, said, "If Kelly were playing today, he would be one of the greatest. The game of today was made to order for him."

The Forward Pass Is Here by Leslie Roberts. Reprinted from a 1931 issue of The Canadian. McGill University coach Frank Shaughnessy paved the way for changing the game, but not without "stepping on athletic toes". The father of Canadian Football, or the guy who ruined Canadian rugby by Americanizing it, depending on point of view. It took until 1931. "For years we have tinkered with the rules in the hope that we could give the public open football without the forward pass, but without the constant threat of a suddenly thrown ball, little could be done to break down the glutinous concentrations of humanity along the line of scrimmage."

Blondy Wallace and the Biggest Football Scandal by Braunwart & Carroll. Coach Wallace of the Canton Bulldogs has been accused of throwing the biggest game of the '06 season, but Braunwart and Carroll questioned whether he was unjustly maligned. In 1905 and 1906, the nation's two best pro football teams in the nation were in adjacent counties in Ohio-- the Canton Bulldogs and the Massillon Tigers. Both teams spent a small fortune in recruiting star lineups, but 1906 was the year the bubble burst. Revisiting and re-examining pro football in the days when the forward pass was new.

2020 Convention
June 18-21, 2020
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Canton, Ohio

This month's Coffin Corner

1958 Baltimore Colts

The 1966 Green Bay Packers

The All-America Football Conference

The Early History of Professional Football

A Minor Masterpiece