December 15, 2010

1935: Lions Beat Grounded Giants for NFL Championship

The weather in Detroit for the NFL Championship game on December 15, 1935 was gray, wet, and windy. The field at the University of Detroit’s Titan Stadium was sloppy – good news for the ground-oriented Lions, but inauspicious for the visiting New York Giants.

Detroit, under the direction of Head Coach George “Potsy” Clark, didn’t throw the ball much (a total of 142 passes all season, second fewest in the league). But two of the top four rushers in the NFL played for the Lions - second-ranked wingback Ernie Caddel (450 yards) and fourth-ranked tailback Dutch Clark (427 yards), who also led the NFL in scoring (55 points). Bill Shepherd had come to the Lions from the Boston Redskins during the season and, between the two teams, came in fifth in rushing, right behind Clark (425 yards). Clark (pictured above), along with tailback/wingback Glenn Presnell, directed the offense and was known for his shifty running style. Caddel and Shepherd provided the speed. FB Ace Gutowsky supplied the power. After a slow start, the Lions finished out at 3-0-1 to accumulate a 7-3-2 record, thus beating out the Packers for the Western Division title.

The Giants, coached by Steve Owen, were the defending league champions and had won the Eastern Division in each of the first two years of division play. They had the NFL’s best passer in tailback Ed Danowski, who led the league in attempts (113), completions (57), yards (794), and touchdowns (10). Rookie end Tod Goodwin led the NFL with 26 catches and was second in receiving yards with 432. FB Kink Richards was the top runner, with a third-ranked 449 yards. New York went 9-3 during the regular season to again top the division and earn a spot in the title contest, which they were heavily favored to win.

There were 15,000 hardy fans on hand to see if the Lions, like major league baseball’s Tigers back in October, could bring a championship to Detroit. The Lions took the opening kickoff and drove down field. They were helped by two long passing plays, including one from Gutowsky that hit Danowski, playing defense, in the chest and was caught by end Ed Klewicki. Gutowsky capped the 61-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run and Presnell kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

The Giants came back with a drive of their own, but came up empty when FB Ken Strong (pictured at left) missed a 34-yard field goal attempt. Even more costly, Goodwin suffered broken ribs when hit after making a catch and was lost for the remainder of the game. As the team’s next-most-productive receiver throughout the year, wingback Dale Burnett, was already out with a hand infection, New York’s aerial attack was hindered all the more.

The Giants got a break by recovering a Detroit fumble on the next possession, but once again failed to capitalize when they were held on downs. The Lions scored again when Clark slithered through the Giants defense for a 40-yard touchdown. While the PAT attempt failed, Detroit held a 13-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Lions came close to scoring again in the second quarter when end Harry Ebding blocked a Danowski punt but, after recovering and running to the Giants’ two yard line, fumbled the ball, which traveled through the end zone for a touchback.

Midway through the second quarter, New York finally got on the board. A Danowski pass was partially deflected by Gutowsky, but Strong managed to catch it with one hand and run for a 42-yard touchdown. Strong successfully kicked the extra point and the Lions’ lead was cut to 13-7 at halftime.

The third quarter was scoreless, but in the fourth quarter the Giants threatened, failing to get on the board in each instance. With three minutes remaining to play, Danowski attempted a quick kick that was too low and hit one of his blockers, and it was recovered by Detroit tackle George Christensen at the New York 26. The Lions ran five straight plays into the line and then, on the sixth, Clark faked a handoff to Gutowsky straight ahead and instead gave the ball to Caddel (pictured at right), who swept to the outside for a four-yard touchdown. With Clark’s kick, the Lions now held a commanding 20-7 lead.

Detroit scored once more when, after tailback Harry Newman returned the ensuing kickoff to the Giants’ 32, on first down Danowski went to the air and was intercepted by FB/LB Buddy Parker, the future head coach of the Lions, who returned it to the 10 yard line. Parker himself scored on a four-yard run on third down, although he missed the extra point. Detroit won by a final score of 26-7 for its first NFL Championship.

The Lions outgained the Giants with 303 yards to 194 and also had the edge in first downs, 16 to 9. 235 of Detroit’s yards came on the ground – the Lions threw only five passes and the two completions on the opening drive were it for the day. However, the Giants were able to complete just four of 13 passes for the one TD and gave up two interceptions.