October 17, 2010

1954: Adrian Burk Throws 7 TD Passes as Eagles Beat Redskins

The Philadelphia Eagles were off to a 3-0 start in 1954 as they traveled to Washington to take on the Redskins on October 17 at Griffith Stadium. Since taking over as head coach in 1953, Jim Trimble had split the duties at quarterback between Adrian Burk and Bobby Thomason. That was the case again in ’54 and each threw at least one touchdown in each of the three wins. Washington, under first-year Head Coach Joe Kuharich (who would later coach the Eagles as well), was 0-3 and had been beaten badly in each instance.

Washington’s defensive backfield was inexperienced and the Eagles capitalized. On their second possession midway through the first quarter, Burk tossed his first (and longest) touchdown pass of the game, connecting with end Bobby Walston for 26 yards.

QB Al Dorow led the Redskins on a 35-yard drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to end Ed Barker. But Burk hit star end Pete Pihos twice for touchdowns in the second quarter, covering 18 and 19 yards, and the Eagles held a 21-7 lead at the half.

Burk’s fourth touchdown pass of the game came in the third quarter, finding Walston in the end zone from five yards out. The Redskins made it interesting when rookie FB Dale Atkeson returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, which at the time set a team record. But Burk tossed two more TD passes to pull the Eagles away - to Walston for a third time for four yards and to HB Toy Ledbetter from nine yards out.

The Redskins made another big play, although it was too-little, too-late, as QB Jack Scarbath threw a pass to end Hugh Taylor that covered 60 yards. Scarbath then connected with Taylor again for a five-yard touchdown.

Up 42-21, Burk was relieved by Thomason. But when Philadelphia’s publicity director realized that Burk was just one short of Sid Luckman’s NFL single-game record of seven touchdown passes, Trimble reinserted him into the contest. In the final seconds, he threw the record-tying seventh touchdown pass to Pihos. Characteristically, it was short, covering three yards, and the Eagles won, 49-21.

Adrian Burk completed 19 of 27 passes for 232 yards with the 7 touchdowns against just one interception. Pete Pihos was the top receiver with 9 catches for 132 yards and three of the TDs. Bobby Walston scored three as well, in addition to the one by Ledbetter.

Burk, the team’s regular punter, also had an outstanding game punting the ball. On three occasions he managed to angle kicks out of bounds inside the Washington 10 yard line (at the two, three, and nine yard lines, to be exact).

Overall, the Eagles outgained Washington with 432 yards to 115 and compiled 30 first downs to 9 for the Redskins. In addition to 289 passing yards, Philadelphia rolled up 172 yards on the ground, while the defense held the Redskins to just 28 yards on 20 carries. The Redskins further hurt their cause by turning the ball over seven times, against two committed by the Eagles.

Philadelphia failed to maintain its winning momentum, losing the next two games and four of five on the way to a 7-4-1 record and second place finish in the Eastern Conference. Washington ended up in fifth with a 3-9 tally.

Burk had another big performance later in the season when the Redskins came to Philadelphia, throwing for more yards (345) as well as five more TD passes. Not surprisingly, it was the best year of his seven-season career as he led the NFL in touchdown passes (23) and percentage of TD passes (10.0) and was selected to the Pro Bowl. He also had career highs in passing yards (1740) and completion percentage (53.2). Of course, the two games against Washington certainly fueled his success, as he threw for a combined 577 yards and 12 touchdowns.

With 60 catches, Pete Pihos (pictured at left) tied for the league lead with San Francisco’s Billy Wilson. His 872 yards and 10 touchdowns ranked third. In the last three seasons of his Hall of Fame career (1953-54-55), Pihos led the NFL in pass receiving in each and in receiving yards twice.

Bobby Walston was leading the league with 45 points heading into the game and helped his cause by adding another 25 to give him 70 after just four contests. The team’s placekicker as well as a starting end, he went on to lead the NFL in scoring with 114 points. In addition to 11 touchdowns scored (all on pass receptions), he booted 36 extra points and four field goals.

The record of seven TD passes in a game has been tied three more times (George Blanda of the Oilers in the AFL in 1961, Y.A. Tittle of the Giants in ’62, and Joe Kapp of the Vikings in 1969) – Burk’s yardage total remains the lowest of any of the seven-TD performances (the others, including Luckman, were all over 400, and Tittle passed for 505).

Coincidentally, Burk, who went on to become an NFL official (as well as a successful lawyer in his hometown of Houston) following his retirement as a player, was a member of the officiating crew when Kapp had his seven-TD game. He also was the back judge who signaled touchdown when RB Franco Harris of the Steelers scored the “Immaculate Reception” TD in the 1972 postseason against Oakland.