December 13, 2009

1936: Packers Defeat Redskins for NFL Title

The NFL Championship matchup on December 13, 1936 took place at the Polo Grounds in New York even though the Eastern Division had been won by the Boston Redskins. Owner George Preston Marshall, upset at the lack of fan support in the franchise’s home city, had the game moved to a neutral site. The weather was at least cooperative – it was sunny with temperatures in the mid-30s, and 29,545 fans showed up.

The Redskins, under first year Head Coach Ray Flaherty, won the division with a 7-5 record, just ahead of the 6-6 Pittsburgh Pirates. The passing game was ordinary, but not the rushing of star FB Cliff Battles (fourth in the NFL in rushing with 614 yards), plus FB Pug Rentner and tailback Eddie Britt behind a line anchored by tackle Turk Edwards. However, Marshall, the imperious owner, had alienated both fans and press in Boston, especially by raising ticket prices on game days without notice.

The Green Bay Packers were the heavily favored opponents, with an outstanding team that carried the tougher Western Division with a 10-1-1 record under Head Coach Curly Lambeau. Lambeau was the first NFL coach to significantly utilize the passing game, and the Packers had a very good one with tailback Arnie Herber (pictured above) throwing primarily to star second-year end Don Hutson (pictured at bottom). Herber led the league in passing for the third time in his career, and also led in attempts (177), completions (77), yards (1239), and TD passes (11). Hutson set new records in pass receptions (34) and receiving yards (526), and also led the NFL in TD catches (8). Green Bay could run the ball, too, with a backfield led by FB Clarke Hinkle (also an outstanding linebacker on defense).

The tone for the game was set on the tenth play from scrimmage, when Battles, who had gained 18 yards on two carries for the Redskins, was injured and lost for the remainder of the day. On the play, his lateral to blocking back Riley Smith was fumbled and recovered by T Lou Gordon of the Packers on the Green Bay 48 yard line. Three plays later, Herber found Hutson on a long pass that covered 48 yards for the first touchdown of the game.

The Redskins came back in the second quarter with a solid 78-yard drive that culminated in a two-yard TD plunge by Rentner. However, Smith’s extra point attempt was wide, and the score at halftime was 7-6 in favor of the Packers.

Green Bay took the second half kickoff and went 74 yards in six plays. A pass from Herber to veteran HB Johnny McNally (aka Johnny Blood) covered 52 yards and set up an 8-yard scoring pass from Herber to end Milt Gantenbein that extended the Packers lead to 14-6.

Things continued to get worse for Boston as their only healthy center, Frank Bausch, was ejected for fighting. Then, in the fourth quarter, Green Bay effectively put the game out of reach when guard Lon Evans blocked a punt by the unfortunate Riley Smith. The play started at the Redskins 22, and once Hinkle recovered the ball, Green Bay was on the three yard line. Bob Monnett, spelling Herber at tailback, ran two yards for the TD. The final score was 21-6 in favor of the Packers.

Green Bay accumulated 220 total yards (to 130 for Boston) with 153 by passing. Herber accounted for 140 yards through the air as he completed 6 of 15 passes with two touchdowns and an interception. Don Hutson led all receivers with 5 catches for 76 yards and a TD. Clarke Hinkle rushed for 56 yards on 19 attempts.

With Cliff Battles sidelined early, FB Don Irwin led the Redskins in rushing with 37 yards on 13 carries. Rentner was Boston’s top passer with 4 completions in 6 attempts for 60 yards. End Wayne Millner caught two passes, the only Redskin to do so.

George Preston Marshall moved his franchise to Washington for 1937; he also signed a passing tailback from TCU, Sammy Baugh, who would elevate the aerial attack and take the team to the next level. But on this day, it was Curly Lambeau’s Packers at the top of the NFL heap.