September 13, 2010

1936: Eagles Upset Giants for Only Win of Season

The long rivalry between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants was in its early stages when the two teams met before a crowd of 20,000 at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium in the season-opening game on September 13, 1936. The Eagles were starting their fourth year and had done no better than the 3-5-1 tally of the inaugural ’33 season; they were coming off a 2-9 record in 1935, the worst in the NFL. The Giants, meanwhile, had won all three Eastern Division titles since the advent of divisional play, also in 1933, and were coming off of a 9-3 record in ’35 (they lost to the Detroit Lions in the league championship game).

Eagles owner Bert Bell had also made himself the head coach for the ’36 season (he was pretty much the team’s entire front office as well), replacing the club’s original coach, Lud Wray. The first NFL draft of college talent had been held the preceding offseason, and the Eagles, with the first pick, chose HB Jay Berwanger, Heisman Trophy-winner from the University of Chicago; however, Berwanger’s immediate future plans included going into business, not pro football, and he rejected Philadelphia’s offer (he also rejected the Chicago Bears, who dealt for his rights). But the Eagles did add 230-pound rookie FB/LB Dave Smukler from Temple (pictured above), who quickly became a centerpiece of the offense. Third-year tackle Art Buss had been acquired from the Bears in return for the rights to Berwanger.

The Giants, coached by Steve Owen, had a major rookie acquisition of their own in FB Tuffy Leemans (pictured at left) to go along with tailback Ed Danowski, center Mel Hein, G John Dell Isola, FB Kink Richards, wingback Dale Burnett, and end Tod Goodwin. However, they had lost all-purpose back/kicker Ken Strong, tailback Harry Newman, and end Red Badgro to the newly formed American Football League (second incarnation).

The Eagles were playing their first game at Municipal Stadium, having split their games between the Baker Bowl and Temple Stadium in the first three seasons. New York had won five of the six previous meetings between the teams and was heavily favored.

The most exciting play of the game came in the first quarter when Smukler passed to end Ed “Eggs” Manske who made an outstanding run after the catch and then lateraled 20 yards across the field to end Joe Carter, who covered the final 16 yards of the overall 55-yard play. Smukler converted the extra point and the inspired Eagles defense made the 7-0 lead hold up through the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the Giants put together a 63-yard drive that culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Danowski to Burnett and, after Tilly Manton’s kick, the score was tied. But Philadelphia came back with a drive of its own that was capped by Hank Reese’s 13-yard field goal with four minutes left in the game. The Eagles held on to win, 10-7.

It was a stunning upset as well as a signal of problems ahead for the Giants. New York went 5-6-1 to place third in the Eastern Division and under .500 for the first time since 1932. Tuffy Leemans provided a bright spot by leading the NFL in rushing with 830 yards. The Giants also got revenge in the rematch with the Eagles at the Polo Grounds, in a contest that was publicized as a showdown between the star rookies Smukler and Leemans, by a 21-17 score.

For the Eagles, the opening win was also the high point of an otherwise dreadful season. They lost their remaining games to once again finish with the NFL’s worst record, 1-11. The two games against the Giants were the only occasions in which they scored in double figures as they were shut out six times and accumulated a measly total of 51 points (they also surrendered a league-high 206 points). No player scored more than one touchdown during the season and Hank Reese (pictured at right) ended up leading the club with a grand total of 9 points (three extra points, two field goals).

“Dynamite Dave” Smukler ranked third on the team with 321 yards rushing on 99 carries. As was typical in the single-wing offense of the time, he was also the club’s leading passer – he tossed the Eagles’ only three touchdown passes. While they only completed 39 passes all year (21 by Smukler), Ed Manske caught 17 of them for 325 yards to rank fifth and fourth in the NFL in each category, respectively, and was traded to the Bears after the season for their veteran All-NFL end, Bill Hewitt.