November 27, 2012

1952: Dallas Texans Stun Bears for Only Win

The Dallas Texans entered the 1952 NFL season with great expectations, having purchased the assets of the failed New York Yanks franchise with the intent of establishing a viable team in the football hotbed of Texas. Instead, the Texans averaged just 15,000 fans per game for four losses at the Cotton Bowl and the owners pulled out, with the league taking over operation of the club for the remainder of the schedule. The team wasn’t even based in Dallas any longer, having become a traveling club based out of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Coached under these difficult circumstances by Jimmy Phelan, the Texans had talent on the roster, most notably halfbacks George Taliaferro and Buddy Young on offense and rookie DE Gino Marchetti and second-year DT Art Donovan on defense. But there were not nearly enough quality players and the team’s record stood at 0-9 as it hosted the Chicago Bears in Akron, Ohio on November 27.

Chicago, under owner and Head Coach George Halas, was suffering through a rare down year. The offense was missing the retired Johnny Lujack at quarterback and unproven quantities George Blanda, Steve Romanik, and Bob Williams split the job with inadequate results. The Bears came into the matchup with the Texans sporting a 4-5 tally, but were still a heavy favorite against the hapless road team – an opponent they had handily beaten earlier in the year at Dallas.

There were just 3000 in attendance at the Rubber Bowl for the Thanksgiving Day contest – far fewer than the 14,800 who turned out in the morning for a high school game. The first quarter was scoreless and then the Bears put the first points on the board when DHB Don Kindt tackled Buddy Young in the end zone for a safety. However, turnovers set up scores by the Texans during the second quarter.

First, LB Pat Cannamela recovered a fumble by HB Eddie Macon at the Chicago 45 and five plays later, FB Zollie Toth scored from two yards out, although the extra point attempt failed. Then, just before the half, end Gene Schroeder fumbled at his own 38 and DHB John Petitbon recovered for the Texans. The ensuing four-play drive resulted in George Taliaferro throwing to end Dick Wilkins for a 13-yard TD. This time the PAT was successful and the score stood at 13-2 in favor of Dallas at the half.

In the third quarter, DHB Stan Williams intercepted a pass for the Texans and returned it 25 yards to the Chicago 40. Dallas kept the ball on the ground, taking seven plays to score on a one-yard carry by QB Frank Tripucka. But the 20-2 lead proved to not be safe.

While Chicago had two drives end with pass interceptions in the fourth quarter, the Bears still rallied furiously to score three touchdowns and take the lead. DE Ed Sprinkle recovered a Tripucka fumble at the Dallas one to set up an easy TD for HB Billy Stone. George Blanda threw to HB Babe Dimancheff for a 41-yard touchdown and then to Schroeder for another TD from 35 yards out. Blanda successfully added the extra points after each and, with a 23-20 edge it appeared that the Bears would send the unfortunate Texans to another defeat.

However, with a minute to go Dallas drove 75 yards to score the deciding touchdown, including six pass completions by Tripucka – the last and biggest an 18-yard throw to end Tom Keane that moved the ball to the Chicago two yard line (he also hit Toth and ends Barney Poole and Ray Pelfrey along the way). For the second time Tripucka gained the last yard himself, diving into the end zone with 34 seconds left on the clock. The Texans came away with an unlikely 27-23 win.

Dallas had the most total yards (334 to 317) and first downs (22 to 15) although also the most penalties (7 for 82 yards, to 5 at a cost of 54 yards on the Bears). Chicago turned the ball over eight times, to four by the Texans.

Frank Tripucka (pictured at right) completed 16 of 26 passes for 205 yards for Dallas and also scored on the two short touchdown carries. George Blanda completed 9 of 16 aerials for 138 yards and two TDs in nearly pulling out a win for Chicago.

“Unaccustomed as I am to winning, I feel all right,” said a happy Coach Jimmy Phelan.

“It’s pretty hard for a team like ours to keep morale up with no home ties,” added Phelan. “We have nobody to play for except (NFL Commissioner) Bert Bell.”

It was the high point of a dismal season for the Texans. They lost their remaining two games to finish at the bottom of the National Conference with a 1-11 record before fading into oblivion – the last NFL franchise to fold. The Texans were replaced the following year by the re-born Baltimore Colts, and while just 13 players who had been with Dallas made the Baltimore roster, they included Buddy Young and George Taliaferro, as well as the future Hall of Famers Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan. Frank Tripucka, the fourth-year quarterback, moved on to Canada and eventually the American Football League in 1960.

The Bears ended up a spot above Dallas in the standings with a 5-7 tally – the club’s worst since 1945.