November 7, 2011

1943: Giants and Lions Play to NFL’s Last Scoreless Tie

In this day and age, the possibility of a National Football League game ending in a scoreless tie is highly unlikely. While there have been weather-affected 3-0 contests, rules changes over the years that have encouraged scoring make it far more difficult for one team to completely whitewash an opponent, let alone both teams in a contest. In addition, the instituting in 1974 of an overtime period if teams finish in a dead heat after four quarters makes ties of any sort rare.

The last scoreless tie in the NFL occurred on November 7, 1943 in a game at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. The Lions were hosting the New York Giants before a crowd of 16,992 fans on a rainy day in muddy conditions.

Detroit, coached by Gus Dorais, had a 3-4 record coming into the contest and had lost its last two games. Considering the Lions were 0-11 the previous year, it was still a big improvement. Rookie tailback Frank Sinkwich, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Georgia, spruced up the passing game and was a good runner, too. The line that already contained center Alex Wojciechowicz and tackle Augie Lio was further strengthened by the addition of guard Riley Matheson, on loan from the Rams who were taking a one-year hiatus due to World War II.

The Giants, under long-time Head Coach Steve Owen, had a 2-2 record. Rookie FB Bill Paschal and wingback Ward Cuff provided solid running and the line was anchored by 34-year-old center Mel Hein (pictured at top) and second-year tackle Al Blozis. However, they were hindered by the loss of Paschal for most of the game due to an ankle injury - he got into the contest for the last few plays.

Neither team got inside the other’s 15 yard line. New York made it into Detroit territory once, in the third quarter. Hein intercepted a pass by blocking back Bill Callihan and returned it 31 yards to the Detroit 20. The Giants got a further boost when an offside penalty moved the ball to the 15. But on fourth down, Cuff’s field goal attempt was wide.

Augie Lio had three field goal attempts for the Lions. The first two failures were from 32 and 42 yards. In the fourth quarter, Detroit got the ball on the New York 31 after a 14-yard punt return by Sinkwich. The Lions ran three times to get a first down, but the drive stalled and Lio missed in his third try for a field goal.

Detroit generated a total of 130 yards of offense, to 84 for the Giants. Most of the yardage came on the ground – the Lions completed 5 of 12 passes for 28 yards while New York went to the air just four times with one completion for a net three yards. Detroit was more successful running the ball, too, with 102 yards on 37 attempts (2.8 avg.) to 81 yards on 40 combined carries (2.0 avg.) for New York. The Lions also had the edge in first downs, 6 to 3.

The game was remarkably turnover-free. Hein’s interception was the only pickoff of the game for either team and there were no turnovers by fumble. Frank Sinkwich (pictured at left) had three quick-kick punts that were all longer than 50 yards in the first half. He also ran the ball 16 times for 46 yards. Ward Cuff led both teams by rushing for 53 yards on 12 carries.

The next week, the Giants were devastated by the Bears, 56-7, giving up a league-record 682 yards as QB Sid Luckman also set an individual mark with seven TD passes. They recovered to win their last four games and finished tied with Washington atop the Eastern Division with a 6-3-1 record. However, they lost to the Redskins in the resulting playoff by a 28-0 score – certainly a fitting end to an up-and-down season for the Giants, who had beaten Washington in two straight games to force the tie. Detroit ended up at 3-6-1, a distant third in the Western Division.