November 14, 2009

1943: Sid Luckman Passes for 433 Yards and 7 Touchdowns vs. Giants

November 14, 1943 was “Sid Luckman Day” at the Polo Grounds in New York. Luckman, quarterback of the visiting Chicago Bears, was a Brooklyn native who had played his college football at Columbia University. He had led the Bears to three consecutive Western Division titles and two NFL championships, and was now due to report for wartime duty as an ensign in the Merchant Marine after the season. He received two $1000 War Bonds, one each from the Giants fans and the Bears. And then Luckman proceeded to make the day truly his with a record-setting performance against the home team.

The Bears struck early in the first quarter on a low throw from Luckman that end Jim Benton scooped in and turned into a four-yard touchdown. Luckman hit end Connie Berry in stride for a 44-yard TD completion to make the score 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. The Giants put together a 73-yard drive, culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by FB Carl Kinscherf to cut the lead to 14-7. But the Monsters of the Midway came right back as Luckman threw his third TD, 27 yards to end Hamp Pool. A four-yard run by HB Harry Clarke closed out the scoring for the first half, with the Bears holding a commanding lead over the Giants of 28-7.

Luckman threw his fourth and fifth scoring passes of the game in the third quarter, 62 yards to Clarke and 15 yards to Benton. Number six came in the fourth quarter on a three-yard pass to end George Wilson. Head Coach George Halas had wanted to pull Luckman once it was apparent that the Bears had the game well in hand, but the other players revolted, wanting the star quarterback to get a chance to break the record of six touchdown passes in a game that Washington’s Sammy Baugh had set just two weeks earlier. He did, passing for his seventh TD on a 40-yard completion to Pool with six minutes remaining, and the Bears wrapped up a 56-7 win.

Not only did Luckman set a new standard for touchdown passes in a game (tied four times but never surpassed), but he also became the first QB in NFL history to pass for 400 yards in a game (433). He completed 21 of 32 passes, with one interception as the only blemish on a dominating performance.

The Bears finished the season with an 8-1-1 record that kept them atop the Western Division. The Giants, a strong team under Head Coach Steve Owen in spite of being demolished by the Bears, ended up at 6-3-1 and tied with the Redskins for first place in the East, losing the divisional playoff. Chicago defeated Washington for the NFL championship, with Luckman beating his quarterback rival, Baugh, and steering the Bears to three titles in four years.

For the season, Luckman led the league in passing yards (2194) and touchdown passes (28), both of which set new NFL records (the record for TD passes didn’t fall until 1959). His yards per attempt average of 10.86 was also a record and remains the second highest to date (Luckman also ranks second all-time with his 8.42 career yards per attempt). Luckman was a unanimous All-NFL selection and received the Joe F. Carr Trophy as league MVP. For a quarterback who had difficulty mastering the complexity of the T-formation when he first joined the Bears, he became a masterful performer, and the 1943 season was the pinnacle of his Hall of Fame career.