September 29, 2011

1950: Ratterman Passes Yanks to Win Over Lions

The NFL had a new look in 1950, following the merger with the All-America Football Conference that brought three new clubs into the league. There were now 13 teams and there was realignment as the Eastern and Western Divisions were renamed American and National Conferences, respectively. Two National Conference teams that had showed promise in the early going met on September 29 in New York.

The host New York Yanks were owned by Ted Collins, who had operated the unsuccessful Boston Yanks from 1944 to ’48 and then started a new franchise called the New York Bulldogs in 1949. The Bulldogs, sharing the Polo Grounds with the Giants, went a dismal 1-10-1, but had undergone a significant transformation for ’50. Collins purchased the assets of the AAFC’s New York Yankees, and while the Giants were given first choice on the team’s best players, it still meant a significant improvement in personnel. Only three players from the ’49 Bulldogs remained on the roster of the team that was now called the Yanks, having moved into Yankee Stadium. The club also got a new head coach in Red Strader, who had guided the AAFC club to an 8-4 record in 1949.

The visiting Detroit Lions were far better established in the NFL, but were also undergoing a transformation. Under Head Coach Bo McMillan, the team had a new quarterback, Bobby Layne, who played for the Bulldogs the previous year. HB Bob “Hunchy” Hoernschemeyer was added from the AAFC and the rookie crop included HB Doak Walker, end Leon Hart, and linemen Lou Creekmur and Thurman McGraw.

The Lions had won their first two games while the Yanks split their first two contests on the road.

There were 12,482 fans at the Polo Grounds on a Friday night, where the game was shifted in order to not disturb the Yankee Stadium turf for the forthcoming World Series. In the first quarter, QB George Ratterman (pictured above), another ex-AAFC star, threw to end Dan Edwards for a 45-yard gain that set up a 21-yard touchdown pass to HB George Taliaferro. However, the Lions evened the score when DHB Bob Smith returned an intercepted pass 35 yards for a TD.

In the second quarter, Ratterman twice connected with FB Sherman Howard for scores of 36 and 31 yards to give New York a 21-7 halftime lead. The Yanks poured it on in the third quarter as Layne was tackled in his end zone by DB Duke Iverson for a safety and then Ratterman tossed his fourth touchdown pass, of six yards to end Jack Russell. It was 30-7 entering the final period.

In the fourth quarter, Detroit finally got on the board again when Walker went in from a yard out and added the extra point. However, Howard promptly returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for a TD and the Yanks maintained a commanding lead of 37-14.

New York’s last touchdown was set up when DHB Spec Sanders, yet another former AAFC star, intercepted a Layne pass at the Detroit 24 and returned it to the five. Taliaferro went the rest of the way on a pitch-out. The Lions scored one last, meaningless TD as HB Lindy Pearson ran in from two yards out, and the final tally was a convincing 44-21 win for the Yanks.

New York outgained the Lions (359 yards to 267) and had the edge in first downs (16 to 14). Both teams turned the ball over three times and were penalized on five occasions.

George Ratterman completed 15 of 29 passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns, with three intercepted. For Detroit, Bobby Layne was successful on just 10 of 30 throws for 118 yards.

The Yanks continued to put points on the board and win games, peaking at 6-1 before losing four straight. They ended up at 7-5 and in third place in the National Conference. The Lions were right behind in fourth with a 6-6 record.

George Ratterman led the NFL with 22 touchdown passes, but also 24 interceptions (tied with Jim Hardy of the Cardinals and Green Bay’s Tobin Rote). He finished second in passing yards (2251) to Bobby Layne (2323).

Sherman Howard, the second-year back who scored three touchdowns, ended up with 9 TDs for the year. He ran for 362 yards on 71 attempts (5.1 avg.) and three touchdowns, caught 12 passes for 278 yards (23.2 avg.) and five TDs, and had the score on the kickoff return (the only kick return for a touchdown by any of the Yanks).

While the Yanks were the better team on this day, and ended up with the better record (although the Lions won handily in the rematch in Detroit), the fate of the two franchises sharply diverged. By 1952, the Lions were on their way to the NFL Championship, while the Yanks no longer existed. Ratterman and several other players jumped to the Canadian League, and the team suffered on the field accordingly in ‘51. While Ratterman eventually rejoined the club, the final record was a dismal 1-9-2. Never a good draw even when the team played well, Ted Collins pulled the plug on the Yanks and sold the franchise back to the league.