October 1, 2011

1961: NY Titans Overcome Early Miscues & Cappelletti to Beat Patriots

The Week 4 American Football League matchup at New York’s Polo Grounds on October 1, 1961 featured two division rivals, both with 2-1 records, that had already met in the first week of the season.

The host New York Titans, coached by former all-time great quarterback Sammy Baugh, featured an offense that could score points and a defense that gave up points just as readily. QB Al Dorow (pictured above) was mobile and had outstanding receivers to throw to in split end Art Powell and flanker Don Maynard. Much attention was drawn to the club off the field by colorful and controversial owner Harry Wismer.

The visiting Boston Patriots, under Head Coach Lou Saban, scored the fewest points in the AFL’s first season in 1960 and had taken steps to rectify the situation. QB Babe Parilli and FB Billy Lott were obtained in a trade with the Raiders, although Butch Songin, the starting quarterback in the inaugural year, continued to split time with the newcomer and was the starter against New York.

The Patriots had lost a close 21-20 decision to the Titans in the first week and considered the rematch to be a must-win game.

There were 15,189 in attendance at the decrepit venue. In the first ten minutes of the game, the New York offense played poorly and gave up the ball in its own territory on each of its first four possessions. The Patriots recovered three fumbles and gained possession after a poor snap on a punt made it impossible to get the kick away.

However, Boston was only able to get three field goals, of 34, 30, and 16 yards by Gino Cappelletti, and another attempt from 26 yards hit the goal post and was unsuccessful. Songin was 0-for-7 passing in the first quarter as the Patriots squandered the chance to bury the Titans early and the score was 9-0 after one period of play

The second quarter belonged to New York. FB Bill Mathis started the scoring with a two-yard touchdown carry. Dorow threw a five-yard TD pass to TE Thurlow Cooper, after which an attempted two-point conversion failed. Still, the Titans were ahead by 13-9.

Dorow had to leave the game temporarily later in the period due to a neck injury and backup QB Bob Scrabis threw a touchdown pass of four yards to Powell in his absence. New York took a 20-9 lead into halftime.

In the third quarter, and down by 11 points, the multi-talented Cappelletti threw a touchdown pass to HB Larry Garron on a fake field goal attempt to cut the Titans’ margin to 20-16. Bill Shockley responded with a 26-yard field goal for New York, but Songin threw to flanker Jim Colclough for a 33-yard TD, and with Cappelletti’s successful PAT, the score was tied at 23-23 going into the final period.

Mathis put the Titans back in front with another two-yard scoring run, but Cappelletti tied the game once more with a spectacular catch of a 32-yard Songin pass in the end zone, followed by his kick for the extra point.

With the tally now at 30-30, the Titans moved the ball down the field and were helped by an interference penalty that put them on the Boston 13. From there, Dorow tossed a touchdown pass to Maynard, who wrestled the ball away from FS Fred Bruney with six minutes remaining to play. The Patriots still had a chance, but a fourth-down pass was intercepted by FS Lee Riley, thus nailing down the 37-30 win for New York.

The Titans outgained Boston (353 yards to 239) and had more first downs (26 to 11). However, they also turned the ball over three times (all in the first quarter), to two suffered by the Patriots.

Al Dorow completed 14 of 29 passes for 195 yards with two touchdowns and none intercepted; he also ran the ball six times for 26 yards. Bill Mathis gained 109 yards on 19 carries with two TDs. Don Maynard (pictured at left) caught 6 passes for 87 yards and a score, while Art Powell contributed 5 receptions for 37 yards and a TD.

For the Patriots, Butch Songin went most of the way at quarterback but was successful on just 10 of 23 throws for 131 yards and two touchdowns, although he was not picked off. Babe Parilli added four completions in eight attempts for 25 yards while Gino Cappelletti tossed the one 27-yard TD pass (the third quarterback, Tom Yewcic, gave up the clinching interception). Altogether, Cappelletti scored 18 points (one TD, three field goals, and three extra points) and passed for six more. Larry Garron was the team’s leading rusher with 38 yards on 6 attempts while Billy Lott added 33 yards on three carries.

“Our defense kept us in the ball game in the first quarter,” said Sammy Baugh. “We never could have won if it hadn’t.”

As Boston’s Coach Saban saw it, “We blew our opportunity right there. We had four shots and didn’t score a touchdown. We never hit a pass. We should have been at least three touchdowns ahead right from the opening period.”

It was the third win in four games for the Titans and put them on top of the Eastern Division. They lost their next two contests, however, and ended up in third place with a 7-7 record.

Despite losing twice to New York, the Patriots managed to finish ahead of the Titans in the end. After falling to 2-3, Coach Saban was fired and replaced by Mike Holovak. The team responded by going 7-1-1 the rest of the way for a 9-4-1 overall tally.

Al Dorow ranked at the top of the league in pass attempts (438), completions (197), and more unfortunately, interceptions (30). His 19 touchdown passes ranked second and 2651 passing yards third. For the second year, he also led all AFL quarterbacks in rushing (317 yards). The 32-year-old veteran was chosen for the league All-Star Game.

Art Powell and Don Maynard weren’t as productive as they were in ’60, but still were among the young league’s best receivers. Powell caught 71 passes for 881 yards and five touchdowns while Maynard had 43 receptions for 629 yards and 8 TDs.

Gino Cappelletti (pictured below) continued to be productive as both a receiver and placekicker and led the AFL in scoring with 147 points. He also led in field goals (17) as well as three-point attempts (32) and caught 45 passes for 768 yards and 8 touchdowns.