November 22, 2012

1962: NY Titans Pull Out Wild Win Over Broncos

As the 1962 American Football League season progressed, the state of the third-year league’s New York City franchise, the Titans, was precarious, at best. Flamboyant and controversial owner Harry Wismer was in serious financial straits and the club was a poor draw at the decrepit Polo Grounds. By early November the league had taken over the running of the Titans.

The team’s original head coach, all-time great quarterback Sammy Baugh, had been demoted to assistant coach following the ’61 season and replaced by ex-Bears star Bulldog Turner. Still, despite all of the chaos, the Titans were competitive and showing signs of life on the field. Starting out at 2-1, they lost four straight before running off consecutive wins against the Chargers and Raiders prior to succumbing to the Dallas Texans. Coming into their Thanksgiving Day matchup at Denver on November 22, New York’s record stood at 4-6.

The Broncos, under first year Head Coach Jack Faulkner, had gotten off to a 7-2 start but were losers their two most recent games. The passing attack, with QB Frank Tripucka primarily throwing to split end Lionel Taylor and flanker Bob Scarpitto, made Denver exciting and capable of putting points on the board, but the running game and defense were suspect. They very much needed a win against the Titans to remain in contention in the Western Division.

There were 15,776 fans in attendance at Bears Stadium for the nationally televised game. It was all Titans in the early going. FB Bill Mathis ran for a one-yard touchdown and HB Dick Christy caught a pass from QB Johnny Green (pictured above) for a six-yard score that put New York ahead by 14-0 in the first quarter.

It was 17-0 in the second quarter following a 28-yard field goal by Bill Shockley (pictured below) before the home team finally got on the board. Tripucka threw to Scarpitto for a 35-yard touchdown and Gene Mingo added the extra point. The Titans responded with another score, however, as Green threw to split end Art Powell for a four-yard TD. But Denver managed to whittle away at New York’s lead with two field goals by Mingo, of 45 and 8 yards, to make it 24-13 at the half. It still seemed to be a comfortable margin for the Titans.

In the third quarter, the tables turned in favor of the Broncos. First, star DT Bud McFadin picked up a fumble and ran 69 yards for a touchdown. Then QB George Shaw, in for the injured Tripucka, tossed a six-yard TD pass to Scarpitto. Denver was in front by a score of 27-24.

The Titans narrowed the margin to 27-26 when Shaw recovered a loose ball in his own end zone for a safety. New York regained the lead thanks to a Green pass to flanker Don Maynard for a 35-yard touchdown. While the attempt to run for a two-point conversion failed, New York was on top by 32-27 heading into the fourth quarter.

Once again the Broncos rallied. Shaw connected with Taylor for a three-yard TD, followed it up with a two-point conversion, and then CB Jim McMillin intercepted a pass and returned it 59 yards for another touchdown, followed by Mingo’s kick. When Mingo kicked a 49-yard field goal with the wind at his back, Denver held a 45-32 lead with six minutes remaining to play.

The Titans proceeded to drive for another touchdown, this time on a five-yard pass from Green to Christy. Shockley’s extra point narrowed the score to 45-39, but the six points still seemed formidable as time was running down. Denver took over at its own 20 following a long kickoff by Shockley and New York proceeded to get a huge break when HB Al Frazier fumbled a handoff and FS Lee Riley recovered for the Titans.

With the time now down to three minutes, New York capitalized when Green tossed his fifth touchdown pass, of three yards, to Powell. Shockley’s extra point was successful and the Titans were staked to a one-point lead.

The Broncos still had a chance, and managed to get into New York territory, but with time running out Mingo attempted a 52-yard field goal that was straight but too short. The Titans came away with a thrilling 46-45 win.

The Titans led in total yards (381 to 294) and first downs (25 to 19). Each club turned the ball over four times. Denver was especially hurt by penalties, drawing 11 flags at a cost of 130 yards to four for 27 yards on New York.

Johnny Green had a noteworthy performance, completing 22 of 46 passes for 292 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Bill Mathis rushed for 49 yards and a TD on 13 carries. Dick Christy (pictured below) caught 9 passes for 82 yards and two scores, ran the ball 9 times for another 30 yards, and returned a kickoff 28 yards. Don Maynard had 105 yards on four pass receptions that included a TD and Art Powell had three catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns.

For the Broncos, Frank Tripucka was successful on 9 of 15 throws for 113 yards with a TD and two interceptions before leaving the game and George Shaw added 12 completions in 26 attempts for 117 yards with two TDs and an interception. FB Bo Dickinson was the leading rusher with 48 yards on 6 carries and also contributed 5 catches for 57 yards. Lionel Taylor had 6 pass receptions for 60 yards and a TD and Bob Scarpitto gained 89 yards and scored twice on his 5 catches.

The exciting win at Denver was the last for the Titans – they lost their remaining three games to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Division with a 5-9 record. The franchise was sold during the offseason to an ownership group headed by Sonny Werblin and was revamped and rechristened the Jets for 1963.

The loss wiped out any lingering hopes for the Broncos of winning the Western Division title. They, too, lost their remaining games and closed out at 7-7 for second place. It would prove to be their best record until 1973.

Johnny Green, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, saw the most action at quarterback for the Titans in ’62 and completed 49.6 percent of his passes for 1741 yards with 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. While he had a strong arm, he lacked accuracy and consistency and saw little action in his last year with the Jets in 1963.

As the numbers from the Denver game indicated, Dick Christy was a productive all-purpose halfback who led the AFL in total yards with 2147 (535 rushing on 114 carries, 538 on 62 pass receptions, 824 on 38 kickoff returns, and 250 on 15 punt returns). He was selected to the AFL All-Star Game.

Don Maynard caught 56 passes for 1041 yards (18.6 avg.) and eight touchdowns and went on to star with the Jets. Art Powell had 64 receptions for 1130 yards (17.7 avg.) and eight TDs as well. Disgruntled after three years in New York, he moved on to the Raiders in ’63 and also continued to excel.