October 25, 2012

1959: Eagles Overcome 24-Point Deficit to Defeat Cardinals

In the second season under Head Coach Buck Shaw, and after four straight losing records, the Philadelphia Eagles began to show improvement in 1959. Veteran QB Norm Van Brocklin (pictured at right) brought strong leadership qualities as well as skill to the offense, flanker Tommy McDonald had emerged as one of the NFL’s most potent deep receivers, and the combination of HB Billy Barnes and FB Clarence Peaks was a good, if not flashy, one. Chuck Bednarik, once a great linebacker was now a capable center and provided stability to the line. The Eagles were off to a 2-2 start, with one of the wins an upset of the Giants.

On October 25 the Eagles faced the Chicago Cardinals in a game played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, auditioning as a future expansion locale (the Vikings would arrive in 1961). The Cardinals, in what would be their final season as a Chicago-based team, moved two of their home games to the Twin Cities due to the lure of a substantial guaranteed gate. While second-year HB John David Crow was developing into a formidable player in Head Coach Frank “Pop” Ivy’s intricate offense, the Cards were 1-3 and John Roach was starting his first game at quarterback due to injuries to King Hill and M.C. Reynolds.

Attendance was 20,112 in near-freezing weather. They saw the Cardinals dominate the first half. In the first quarter, Crow scored on a 10-yard pass from Roach. In the second quarter, DB Jimmy Hill returned a blocked field goal attempt by Paige Cothren for a 77-yard touchdown for the Cards (Cothren, a newcomer to the Eagles, had a tough debut as he failed on all three of his three-point attempts). A 15-yard field goal by Bobby Joe Conrad made it 17-0 at the half.

Early in the third quarter, the lead for the Cardinals increased to 24-0 when DHB Dick “Night Train” Lane intercepted a pass and returned it 37-yards for a TD. However, that proved to be the high water mark for Chicago.

The Eagles came right back on their next possession as Van Brocklin went long to Tommy McDonald for a 71-yard gain to the Chicago 14. HB Billy Barnes plowed in from a yard out for a touchdown that finally put Philadelphia on the board.

On the next series, LB Bob Pellegrini intercepted a pass by Roach that set up a 29-yard touchdown pass play from Van Brocklin to McDonald. The next Chicago series also ended with an interception, this time by LB Chuck Weber. Barnes covered 17 yards in two carries, the second for a two-yard TD. The Eagles were down by just three points heading into the final period.

Late in the fourth quarter, Philadelphia completed its comeback. Van Brocklin again threw to McDonald, this time in the end zone for a 22-yard TD that put the Eagles in the lead with just over three minutes left to play. The Cards were unable to respond offensively and Philadelphia won by a final score of 28-24.

The Eagles led in total yards (399 to 313) and first downs (22 to 14). While the rushing totals were nearly identical (each team ran the ball 38 times, with Philadelphia gaining 168 yards to Chicago’s 163), Philadelphia was the more proficient passing club. The Cards turned the ball over six times, four on interceptions, to two turnovers by the Eagles.

Norm Van Brocklin passed for 207 yards and two TDs in the second half as he led Philadelphia back. Tommy McDonald (pictured below) caught three key passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Billy Barnes rushed for 111 yards on 23 carries and scored twice. As for the Cardinals, HB John David Crow gained 74 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for 51 yards.

“We loosened up in the second half and once we started hitting we were on our way,” said Buck Shaw on behalf of his Eagles.

“That Van Brocklin, you can’t give that fellow any openings,” lamented Cardinals DT Frank Fuller. “We put a hard rush on him in the first half but they gave him a split second more time to throw in the second half. He doesn’t need any more than that.”

The Eagles continued their improved play, ending up with a 7-5 record to finish in a tie with Cleveland for second place in the Eastern Conference. The Cardinals won their next game but lost the remainder to close out the long run in Chicago at the bottom of the conference with a 2-10 tally.

Norm Van Brocklin ranked second in the NFL in pass attempts (340), completions (191), and yards (2617). His 16 touchdown passes were third and he was selected to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time.

Tommy McDonald tied for second in catches (47, along with Lenny Moore of the Colts and Del Shofner of the Rams) and third in receiving yards (846, tied with Moore). His 10 touchdowns via receiving placed second. He earned a second trip to the Pro Bowl as a result.