December 7, 2011

1952: Bud Grant Gains 203 Receiving Yards as Eagles Defeat Dallas Texans

In their first season under 34-year-old Head Coach Jim Trimble, the Philadelphia Eagles underwent several changes. It was not promising when Hall of Fame HB Steve Van Buren suffered a career-ending knee injury in training camp. But there were good additions in Bobby Thomason, a 24-year-old quarterback obtained from the Packers, and rookie LB/C Wayne Robinson. In perhaps the most extraordinary move, star offensive end Pete Pihos was shifted almost exclusively to defensive end. Replacing him, across from second-year end/placekicker Bobby Walston, was Harold “Bud” Grant (pictured above), also in his second season out of Minnesota.

An accomplished all-around athlete in college, Grant had been a seventh-round draft choice of the Eagles in 1950, but when he considered their $7000 salary offer too low, he played pro basketball with the Minneapolis Lakers instead. He finally signed with Philadelphia for the ’51 season and mostly played on defense. Coach Trimble felt his 6’3” height would be helpful as a receiver on offense.

The Eagles, who had slipped badly after winning back-to-back NFL Championships in 1948 and ’49, were much improved as the various personnel changes worked out (Pihos proved his versatility by gaining All-Pro recognition as a defensive player). By the time they hosted the Dallas Texans on December 7, 1952, they were 6-4 and chasing the Browns in the NFL’s American Conference.

The visiting Texans were a failed team playing out the string. Much was anticipated when the New York Yanks franchise was transferred to Dallas, but the club played poorly, turnout at the Cotton Bowl was dismal, and the league was forced to take it over halfway through the schedule. Playing all games on the road and based out of Hershey, Pennsylvania, the Texans were 1-9 after having won for the first time in their previous contest on Thanksgiving Day against the Bears at the Rubber Bowl in Akron. Head Coach Jimmy Phelan’s team had talent, including halfbacks George Taliaferro and Buddy Young and future greats such as DE Gino Marchetti and DT Art Donovan, but there was not nearly enough.

There were 18,376 fans in attendance at Shibe Park and they saw the home team take control of the game in the first quarter. The Eagles scored the first time they had the ball, driving 41 yards in seven plays. FB John Huzvar powered over from five yards out for a touchdown.

On the next possession, Philadelphia went 70 yards in four plays with Thomason tossing a pass to Grant for a 41-yard TD. Walston kicked a 29-yard field goal before the period was over and the Eagles were up by 17-0 after a quarter of play.

It didn’t get any better in the second quarter for the Texans. QB Bob Celeri fumbled when attempting to throw from his end zone and Eagles safety Ebert Van Buren, brother of the rushing star, recovered to make it 24-0. Dallas did finally get on the board thanks to a one-yard run by Buddy Young and the tally was 24-7 at the half.

In the third quarter, Grant scored for the second time on a 23-yard pass play from Thomason. The Eagles scored again when eleventh-year veteran DT Vic Sears intercepted a pass for the only time in his career. Celeri was in punt formation for the Texans, but the snap went over his head. He made the recovery and dodged tacklers until hit by DT Mike Jarmoluk, at which point he lateraled, with the ball going directly to Sears. Sears lumbered nine yards into the end zone and Philadelphia led comfortably by 38-7 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Texans scored two meaningless touchdowns in the final quarter, one when DB Stan Williams returned a fumble 24 yards for a touchdown. The last was on a pass from QB Frank Tripucka to end Dick Wilkins that covered 42 yards. The Eagles won by a final tally of 38-21.

The Eagles outgained Dallas, 391 yards to 241, although the Texans gained more first downs, 17 to 15. The game was sloppy and had many penalties - 18 for 165 yards in all, 13 of which were called on the Eagles. There were also eight fumbles, seven of which resulted in turnovers. Four of those were by the Texans, who turned the ball over a total of seven times, to five by Philadelphia.

Bud Grant was the game’s biggest star as he shredded the Dallas secondary to catch 11 passes for 203 yards and the two TDs. Bobby Thomason completed 10 of 14 passes, two for touchdowns. Grant caught six passes from Thomason and the other five from Adrian Burk who, in an arrangement that would remain in effect for the next few years, split the quarterbacking with Thomason.

The Eagles kept their slim postseason hopes alive, but they lost the season finale to the Redskins to end up tied for second with the Giants at 7-5. Dallas finished the sorry year at the bottom of the National Conference with a 1-11 record and headed into oblivion (the remnants of the team, including Marchetti and Donovan, resurfaced as the Baltimore Colts in 1953).

Bud Grant had an outstanding season overall, placing second in the NFL in both pass receptions (56) and yards (997). His seven touchdowns tied for fifth with Gordie Soltau of the 49ers and 17.8 average gain-per-catch placed seventh. Having gone through the season without signing a contract, Grant went to Canada in ‘53 and played for Winnipeg for four years, where he continued to excel as a receiver. Named the team’s head coach at age 30 in 1957, he enjoyed great success as his clubs won two Grey Cup titles. He returned to the NFL in 1967, this time as coach of the Minnesota Vikings, and lasted a total of 18 years with four Super Bowl appearances along the way.