November 28, 2009

1929: Ernie Nevers Scores 40 Points vs. Bears

Perhaps no player has ever so dominated a game as fullback Ernie Nevers did on November 28, 1929 when he scored all 40 points for the Chicago Cardinals in a Thanksgiving Day matchup at Comiskey Park against the usually more successful crosstown rivals, the Chicago Bears.

Nevers was an outstanding all-around athlete (he also played baseball and basketball professionally, although not nearly as successfully) who played his college football under legendary coach Pop Warner at Stanford and entered the NFL in 1926. After two years with the Duluth Eskimos, he was forced to sit out the 1928 season with an injury and then joined the Cardinals. In this era of smaller rosters and less specialization, the 210-pound, 26-year-old star was not only the starting fullback, but the placekicker, punter, and a linebacker as well.

The weather for the game against the Bears was bitterly cold, causing the field to be frozen and footing less than ideal. Six minutes into the first quarter, Nevers scored his first touchdown on a 20-yard run, but was wide on the PAT attempt. He plunged five yards for another before the opening quarter was done, and this time was successful on the extra point. Nevers scored another seven points with a six-yard TD and successful PAT in the second quarter to give the Cardinals a 20-0 lead.

The second half was more of the same: three Nevers touchdown runs followed by two successful Nevers extra points; another 20-point half. When it was over, the Cardinals had beaten the Bears soundly, 40-6. Nevers pulled himself out of the game with about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and received a tremendous ovation from the crowd.

The six touchdowns remain the single-game record, since tied by Dub Jones of the Browns in 1951 and Gale Sayers of the Bears in 1965. However, Nevers remains the only player to score all six by rushing, and his 40 points are still the most ever accumulated by a player in a game; it is the oldest NFL record still unbroken.

Nevers had also scored all of the Cardinals’ points in the previous week’s game against the Dayton Triangles, a 19-0 win, so while it doesn’t show up in the record books, he actually scored 59 consecutive points for his team.

As it was, the Cardinals finished with a 6-6-1 record for fourth place in the twelve-team NFL. Ernie Nevers played a total of five years, taking a great physical toll – he was not an elusive outside dasher like his contemporary, Red Grange, but a straight-ahead inside runner who was also a rugged linebacker on defense. However, he was a first team All-NFL selection in all five seasons and, in 1963, became a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.