November 13, 2011

1949: Conerly & Roberts Star as Giants Down Packers

The NFL game on November 13, 1949 at Green Bay’s City Stadium featured the Packers (2-5), in what would be their last season under head coach and founder Curly Lambeau, and New York Giants (4-3), a rebuilding club under long-time Head Coach Steve Owen.

The Giants featured second-year QB Charlie Conerly and HB Gene “Choo-Choo” Roberts (pictured above) on offense. Roberts, a good receiver out of the backfield as well as rusher, had a 200-yard receiving performance three weeks earlier (201 on four catches, three of them for TDs, against the Bears).

Green Bay came into the contest as the lowest-scoring team in pro football, averaging just 9.9 points per game. Beyond star HB Tony Canadeo, there wasn’t much talent. The passing game, with Jug Girard and rookie Stan Heath seeing most of the action at quarterback, was dreadful. It was a far cry from the days of Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell shredding defenses with throws to Don Hutson.

There were 20,151 in attendance at the small venue. Late in the first quarter, the Giants started off the scoring when Conerly threw a pass to Roberts that traveled 20 yards in the air and the third-year halfback ran the remaining 25 for a 45-yard touchdown. Shortly thereafter, LB Don Ettinger intercepted a pass by Heath at the Green Bay 20. The result was a 41-yard Ben Agajanian field goal.

Down 10-0 in the second quarter, the Packers got into the game with a 27-yard field goal by Ted Fritsch and the score remained 10-3 at halftime. However, the Giants took control of the contest with two touchdowns in the third quarter.

In their first possession of the second half, Conerly threw to Roberts for a 44-yard touchdown. The next was set up when tackle Bill Austin recovered a fumble at the Green Bay 32. Again it was Roberts scoring a TD on a Conerly pass, this time from ten yards out.

Visibility was poor late in the game and the lights were turned on. The Packers finally scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter when HB Ralph Earhart returned a punt 57 yards. But end Bill Swiacki added another TD for the Giants, pulling in Conerly’s pass over the heads of two defenders for a 24-yard score. The extra point attempt failed, but it didn’t matter. New York won handily by a final tally of 30-10.

While New York’s edge in first downs was only 19 to 17, the Giants significantly outgained the Packers by 451 yards to 288. Most of New York’s yardage came through the air (352 net passing yards to 99 rushing yards) while Green Bay’s was more evenly distributed (137 rushing, 151 passing). And while the Giants turned the ball over five times, the Packers suffered six turnovers.

Charlie Conerly completed 15 of 29 throws for 345 yards with four touchdown passes, although three were intercepted. Gene Roberts had another two hundred-yard receiving performance as he gained 212 on 7 catches with three TDs. For the Packers, Tony Canadeo ran for 71 yards on 14 carries.

The Giants lost three of their last four games to finish at 6-6 and in third place in the Eastern Division. Green Bay lost all of its remaining contests and ended up at the bottom of the Western Division with a 2-10 record. The team was suffering financially as well as organizationally, and it was a sad end to the Lambeau era for the Packers.

Gene Roberts had an extraordinary season. In addition to becoming the first running back to twice gain 200 receiving yards in a single season, he ranked fourth in rushing in the NFL with 634 yards on 152 carries and nine touchdowns and also placed fourth with his 711 yards on 35 pass receptions that included another eight TDs. His 17 touchdowns and 102 points led the league (the scoring total was tied by Pat Harder of the Cardinals). Roberts also led the NFL with 1345 yards from scrimmage. It was all part of a productive four-season career with the Giants that peaked in 1949 and ’50, and ended abruptly when Roberts jumped to Canada in 1951 and played with Montreal and Ottawa for another four years.

Charlie Conerly played for the Giants far longer (until 1961). In 1949, he ranked third in passing yards (2138) and touchdown passes (17, tied with Bob Waterfield of the Rams), although he also ranked third by tossing 20 interceptions.

Green Bay’s Tony Canadeo (pictured below) had an outstanding season with a bad team as he rushed for 1052 yards on 208 carries for a 5.1-yard average and four TDs. The 30-year-old, in his eighth year out of Gonzaga, ranked second in rushing to Philadelphia’s Steve Van Buren and thus became the first NFL player to rush for a thousand yards in a season without leading the league.