October 23, 2010

1960: Late Walston Field Goal Gives Eagles Key Win Over Browns

The Philadelphia Eagles were off to a good start in 1960, but faced their toughest test in traveling to Cleveland to face the Browns at Municipal Stadium on October 23. The Browns had beaten the Eagles decisively in the season-opening game at Franklin Field and were undefeated at 3-0. Philadelphia had recovered to win three straight games and arrived in Cleveland with a 3-1 tally (the Browns had already had a bye week).

The Eagles had a veteran head coach in 61-year-old Buck Shaw and were led on offense by the tough 34-year-old QB Norm Van Brocklin, in his 12th season overall and third in Philadelphia after being obtained from the Rams. The running game was average, at best, and it was the passing game that made the difference thanks to The Dutchman having outstanding receivers in flanker Tommy McDonald and ends Pete Retzlaff and Bobby Walston (pictured above; he was also the team’s placekicker).

The Eagles came into the game as 13-point underdogs and had not won in Cleveland since 1952. Head Coach Paul Brown’s club had the best one-two running back punch in pro football with FB Jim Brown and HB Bobby Mitchell, and also featured the precision passing of QB Milt Plum.

Eagles LB John Nocera was out with an injury, and his replacement Bob Pellegrini went down early in the contest. As a result, 35-year-old Chuck Bednarik, once one of the top linebackers in the game but now the starting center, had to return to linebacking duty in addition to his role on the offensive line.

Less than four minutes into the first quarter, after stopping the Browns on their opening series, Philadelphia scored on its first play from scrimmage as Van Brocklin threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Walston that gave the Eagles the early 7-0 advantage.

Cleveland drove down the field but came up short of a touchdown thanks to a goal line stand by the Eagles defense. They settled for a 12-yard field goal by Sam Baker. Baker, who had been obtained from Washington to replace the retired Lou Groza (who would return the following year), booted another field goal, of 23 yards, early in the second quarter to narrow Philadelphia’s lead to 7-6.

Plum put the Browns ahead later in the period with an 86-yard scoring pass to flanker Leon Clarke, who was substituting for the injured Ray Renfro. Baker’s extra point attempt failed, but he added a 44-yard field goal to extend Cleveland’s lead to 15-7 at halftime.

The Browns led by 22-7 early in the third quarter after Jim Brown took off on a 71-yard touchdown run. The Eagles came back, though, as FB Clarence Peaks ran up the middle on a draw play for 57 yards to put the Eagles in scoring position. Van Brocklin followed up with a six-yard pass to Walston and HB Billy Barnes plunged into the end zone for a touchdown from a yard out.

Shortly thereafter, Philadelphia struck again as Van Brocklin connected with McDonald for a 57-yard TD that cut Cleveland’s margin to 22-21 after three quarters.

Van Brocklin put the Eagles in the lead at 28-22 early in the fourth quarter with a swing pass to Barnes that covered eight yards for a touchdown. But the Browns responded with an 88-yard drive the ended on a three-yard TD pass from Plum to Mitchell. Cleveland was back in front at 29-28 with just over six minutes remaining to play.

The Eagles again drove into Browns territory, but safety Don Fleming intercepted a Van Brocklin pass. The Eagles defense held the Browns and forced them to punt, giving the Eagles one more shot.

With time running down, the Eagles took over at their 10 yard line. Van Brocklin passed to Retzlaff for 27 yards and then McDonald for 12 to just short of midfield. However, it appeared that Cleveland would win when safety Bobby Franklin came up with an interception, but LB Vince Costello was flagged for pass interference and the Eagles, instead of losing the ball, now had a first down at the Browns 30.

With 15 seconds remaining, Walston kicked a 38-yard field goal and the Eagles came away with a big 31-29 win.

Both teams put up plenty of yards, with the Browns outgaining Philadelphia by 451 yards to 428; they also had more first downs (21 to 18).

Norm Van Brocklin (pictured at left) completed 17 of 26 passes for 292 yards with three touchdowns and the one interception. Thanks to the long run in the third quarter, Clarence Peaks had a season-high 102 yards on 13 carries. Billy Barnes, who ran for 25 yards on 9 attempts and a TD, caught 7 passes for 48 yards and another score. Bobby Walston, in addition to kicking the winning field goal, also led all receivers with 94 yards on four catches. Pete Retzlaff and Tommy McDonald contributed significantly, with the former gaining 80 yards on three receptions and the latter 66 yards and a TD on two catches.

Jim Brown, as usual, put up big numbers for the Browns with 167 rushing yards on 22 carries, including the long touchdown run, and added another 57 yards on four pass receptions. Bobby Mitchell, who had devastated the Eagles in the opening game with 156 yards on 14 carries, was held to 35 yards on 14 rushes this time, although he still caught 7 passes for 70 yards and a TD. Milt Plum had 16 completions in 22 pass attempts for 289 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Costello, who was flagged for the interference call, was angry afterward. “I didn’t think there was any interference.” Coach Paul Brown avoided controversy, saying “You couldn’t tell anything from the bench. Vince was pretty hot about it.”

But Van Brocklin insisted the call was correct, saying “(Halfback) Ted Dean had been knocked down and I had to throw to the other side. The call was made right away. Two of the Browns linebackers seemed to sandwich Dean and he went down.”

Regarding the performance by the Eagles’ quarterback, Coach Brown summed up after the game, “As for Van Brocklin, he is one of the finest football players of all time.”

The Eagles were able to rest up with a bye the following week and then kept on winning to end up atop the Eastern Conference with a 10-2 record. They defeated the Green Bay Packers for the NFL Championship. Cleveland went 2-2-1 over the next five games and finished second with an 8-3-1 tally.

Norm Van Brocklin received unanimous MVP recognition (AP, UPI, NEA, and the Bert Bell Award) in his greatest – and last – season. He ranked second in the league in pass attempts (284), completions (153), yards (2471), and touchdowns (24).

Bobby Walston finished second in the league in scoring with 105 points. He had the best field goal percentage (70 %) as a result of connecting on 14 of 20 attempts. Walston also caught 30 passes for 563 yards (18.8 avg.) and four TDs.

Chuck Bednarik (pictured at right) played 59 minutes against Cleveland and led the club with 15 tackles, 11 of them unassisted. With the injuries plaguing the linebacking corps, Concrete Charley showed the critics who said he was too old to play linebacker that they were wrong, and did so while playing both ways (the last NFL player to do so regularly) all the way to the title game (he averaged over 50 minutes per game).

Jim Brown led the NFL in rushing for the fourth consecutive season with 1257 yards on 215 attempts (5.8 avg.) and nine touchdowns. Milt Plum was the league’s top passer - by the current system, his 110.4 rating was the best until Joe Montana’s 112.4 in 1989.