September 26, 2013

1965: Stynchula Field Goals Propel Giants Past Eagles

The New York Giants were a team in transition – and an 11-point underdog – as they faced the Philadelphia Eagles on September 26, 1965. After winning the Eastern Conference for three straight years under Head Coach Allie Sherman, they crashed to 2-10-2 in 1964. Gone were many of the star players, such as QB Y.A. Tittle, flanker Frank Gifford, and MLB Sam Huff, who had played key roles in the team’s success. While some aging veterans remained, there were many new names on the roster. A group of running backs referred to as “The Baby Bulls” had begun to emerge in ’64 and were now joined by first draft choice FB Tucker Frederickson out of Auburn. A trade was swung with Detroit for veteran QB Earl Morrall (pictured above). But the Giants also had four rookies starting on defense and had been beaten badly by the Cowboys in their opening game the previous week.

Another cause of concern was placekicking. The reasonably dependable Don Chandler had been traded to the Packers in the offseason and no clear alternative had emerged to replace him. One of the candidates, FB Chuck Mercein, was unavailable due to a leg injury, leaving DE Andy Stynchula (pictured below), who had not kicked since high school, and rookie Bob Timberlake, also the team’s third-string quarterback. Stynchula had been a star lineman at Penn State and was drafted third by the Redskins in 1960, moving on to New York in ’64 as part of the deal that sent Sam Huff to Washington. The Giants were using him only for short field goals and extra points, with Timberlake handling longer field goal tries.

As for the Eagles, coached for the second year by Joe Kuharich, they were coming off a promising 6-8 season in 1964 and had beaten the Cardinals in Week 1. QB Norm Snead had ideal size and a strong arm, HB Timmy Brown was an outstanding runner and receiver out of the backfield, and TE Pete Retzlaff was one of the league’s best at his position.

There were 57,154 fans in attendance at Franklin Field. The teams traded punts to start the game. On Philadelphia’s second possession, Norm Snead finished off a 73-yard drive in the first quarter with a one-yard touchdown carry. The big plays along the way were passes by Snead in third-and-ten situations to FB Earl Gros for 27 yards and to Timmy Brown for 18.

The Eagles put together another promising drive in the second quarter that also included a long third down conversion on a Snead-to-Brown completion for 16 yards from deep in their own territory, but they were backed up by a holding penalty and had to punt. The Giants got good field position when safety Henry Carr, a rookie who was an Olympic 200-meter champ, returned the kick 17 yards to the Philadelphia 45. With HB Steve Thurlow and Tucker Frederickson (pictured below) running the ball effectively, the Giants scored in seven plays. Flanker Joe Morrison took a pitchout and went 11 yards around left end for a TD. Andy Stynchula added the extra point to tie the score at 7-7 with just over a minute remaining in the half.

The Eagles went to the air in the time remaining. Snead went long for flanker Ron Goodwin, but rookie CB Carl Lockhart leaped high and batted the ball away to prevent a sure score. Sam Baker tried for a 43-yard field goal on the last play before halftime but it was unsuccessful and the score remained tied.

Early in the third quarter, the Giants got a break when Timmy Brown fumbled and DT Mike Bundra recovered at the Philadelphia 25. The resulting possession ended with Stynchula’s first pro field goal, from 24 yards, and New York was in front by a 10-7 margin.

The Eagles responded by putting together a long drive that covered 67 yards in 12 plays. At one point they were forced to punt but King Hill was run into while kicking to draw a penalty and keep the series alive. Snead threw to Pete Retzlaff for 14 yards to the one to set up another quarterback keeper for a touchdown.

New York went 52 yards on its next possession that included back-to-back completions by Earl Morrall of 20 yards to TE Aaron Thomas and 16 yards to HB Smith Reed. The series finally stalled at the Philadelphia 8 and Stynchula booted a 20-yard field goal to make it a one-point game.

The teams traded punts before the Eagles moved into scoring territory. Brown caught two key passes for 27 yards and, on a third-and-one play, ran 18 yards to the New York 20. With 5:30 left to play, the Eagles attempted a field goal but Baker’s kick from 26 yards was blocked by Giants CB Dick Lynch and Carr returned it 19 yards to the New York 32.

A long pass completion was nullified by a penalty, but Morrall came right back with a throw to split end Del Shofner for 31 yards. Four plays later, and facing fourth-and-inches, Morrall sneaked two yards for a first down and then threw to Thomas for 16 yards. Frederickson ran the ball three times for 25 yards down to the four and from there, Stynchula kicked an 11-yard field goal to put the Giants ahead with 15 seconds left on the clock. They held on to win by a final score of 16-14.

The Eagles outgained New York (296 yards to 280) and also had the edge in first downs (18 to 14). Philadelphia suffered the game’s only turnover but the Giants hurt themselves with ten penalties, to three flags thrown on the Eagles. Ultimately, it came down to placekicking as the normally dependable Sam Baker missed both of his field goal attempts, including the crucial blocked kick in the fourth quarter, while Andy Stynchula was a perfect three-for-three.

Earl Morrall completed 12 of 18 passes for 154 yards with no touchdowns but also had none intercepted. Tucker Frederickson rushed for 76 yards on 17 carries. Aaron Thomas had three catches for 62 yards while Smith Reed also pulled in three for 30 yards along with his 13 rushing yards on three attempts and Joe Morrison, whose lone run was the 11-yard TD, gained 19 yards on his three receptions.

For the Eagles, Norm Snead was successful on 17 of 32 throws for 238 yards, also with no TDs or interceptions. Timmy Brown (pictured at right) gained 45 yards on 11 rushing attempts and added 8 catches for 106 yards. Pete Retzlaff contributed 68 yards on his four pass receptions.

“I always have practiced field goals, every day,” said Andy Stynchula, “and with Don Chandler gone this year I went to camp hoping I’d get the kicking job.”

The Giants broke even the rest of the way, finishing at 7-7 and tied with the Cowboys for second in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia had a disappointing 5-9 record and placed fifth in the conference, along with the Cardinals.

Earl Morrall, in his tenth season, had a good year as he ranked fifth in the NFL in passing with 2446 yards, averaging a healthy 8.1 yards per attempt, with 22 touchdowns as opposed to 12 interceptions. Tucker Frederickson rushed for 659 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl.

As for Andy Stynchula, the three field goals against the Eagles ended up being his only ones of the season. He missed on all four of his remaining attempts while going 12-for-13 on extra point attempts. Bob Timberlake was far worse – he was successful on only one of 15 field goal attempts as the Giants ended up with only four for the entire year. It would spur them to sign pioneering soccer-style PK Pete Gogolak away from the AFL’s Buffalo Bills in the off-season, which dramatically improved their placekicking but also was a key occurrence in the battle between the two leagues.