September 30, 2014

1962: Tittle’s 4 TD Passes Propel Giants Past Steelers

The New York Giants, defending champions of the NFL Eastern Conference, were 1-1 as they met the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had the same record, on September 30, 1962. In their second year under Head Coach Allie Sherman, the Giants were an outstanding passing team, with a rejuvenated QB Y.A. Tittle (pictured at right), in his 15th pro season but second in New York, throwing to split end Del Shofner and Frank Gifford, once a star halfback but, following a year missed due to injury, back as a flanker. The ground game was led by 31-year-old FB Alex Webster, operating behind a good veteran line. The defense was also experienced and a tough and cohesive unit.

Pittsburgh, coached by Buddy Parker for a sixth season, still had QB Bobby Layne, who was a worn but savvy veteran. The offense also featured FB John Henry Johnson and split end Buddy Dial while the defensive line was anchored by DT Ernie Stautner. However, Pittsburgh’s normally good corps of linebackers was depleted by injury and Parker started only two against the Giants, George Tarasovic and Tom Bettis, until Ken Kirk joined them midway through the second quarter while Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, normally a defensive tackle, lined up at middle guard.

There were 40,916 fans in attendance on a sunny afternoon at Pitt Stadium. Pittsburgh had first possession and drove 84 yards in 12 plays, the highlight of which was a 36-yard carry by John Henry Johnson. HB Joe Womack ran for the last seven yards and a touchdown. Lou Michaels added the extra point and the Steelers held the early 7-0 advantage.

The Giants responded with a good drive of their own, but it stalled in Pittsburgh territory and Don Chandler kicked a 23-yard field goal. CB Brady Keys returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards with a sensational run to give the Steelers good field position at the New York 40. A two-yard loss on an end-around was followed by a 15-yard penalty against the Giants for defensive holding. Bobby Layne (pictured at left) finished the series off with a throw to flanker Red Mack in the corner of the end zone for a 28-yard TD. Michaels again converted and the home team was up by a 14-3 lead at the end of a quarter of play.

Early in the second quarter, safety Jim Patton intercepted a Layne pass and returned it ten yards to the Pittsburgh 38. The Giants advanced to the two, but after being backed up five yards by a penalty, Y.A. Tittle threw to HB Paul Dudley for an 11-yard touchdown. Chandler added the PAT and Pittsburgh’s lead was narrowed to 14-10.

Once again Keys made an outstanding kickoff return for the Steelers, running it back 57 yards this time to the New York 39. They moved inside the ten but they lost sizable yardage to a holding penalty and sack, and settled for a 41-yard Michaels field goal.

In the final two minutes of the half, the Giants came up with a big play when Tittle connected with Alex Webster (pictured at right) on a screen pass, and he went the distance for a 58-yard touchdown. Chandler’s extra point tied the score at 17-17.

The Steelers fought back in what proved to be a wild close to the first half. End Harlon Hill dropped a pass at the New York two and Michaels attempted a 53-yard field goal that was blocked, but HB Dick Hoak recovered for Pittsburgh and ran to the New York 17. With the clock down to seven seconds, the Steelers again lined up for an apparent kick, but instead tried a fake. The resulting pass by holder and backup QB Ed Brown was intercepted in the end zone by safety Allan Webb and the score remained tied at halftime.

Early in the third quarter, Keys intercepted a Tittle pass at his own 43 and the Steelers took advantage as Michaels capped the ensuing series with a 33-yard field goal. The home team was back in front by 20-17. 

New York responded with a scoring drive of its own. Tittle passed the Giants down the field and threw to a well-covered Frank Gifford, who pulled the pass away from safety Clendon Thomas for a 27-yard TD. Chandler’s conversion put the visitors in front for the first time by a score of 21-20. The Steelers threatened again late in the period, but a Michaels field goal try from 42 yards was short.

In the early seconds of the fourth quarter, Tittle threw to split end Del Shofner for a 16-yard touchdown. The Steelers fought back, helped by penalties on New York for roughing the passer and pass interference, and Johnson leaped the last yard for a TD. Michaels was good on the extra point to put Pittsburgh four points behind.

As the time wound down in the game, and with the home crowd cheering wildly, the Steelers again drove into scoring position. But after reaching the New York 16, a Layne pass into the end zone that was intended for Buddy Dial was instead intercepted by CB Erich Barnes to seal the 31-27 win for the Giants.

New York accumulated the most total yards (427 to 317) although the Steelers held the edge in first downs (23 to 19). Pittsburgh did a good job defensively against New York’s running game, at least until the fourth quarter, holding the Giants to 95 yards on 27 attempts while gaining 175 yards themselves. However, the Steelers also turned the ball over three times, including the climactic interception in the fourth quarter, to one suffered by New York. The Giants also recorded three sacks while Pittsburgh had none.

Y.A. Tittle completed 17 of 29 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns while giving up one interception. Alex Webster led the Giants with 77 rushing yards on nine carries and also in pass receiving with 5 catches for 101 yards and a TD. Frank Gifford gained 99 yards on four receptions that included a score. 
For the Steelers, Bobby Layne was successful on 12 of 23 throws for 166 yards and a TD as well as two interceptions. John Henry Johnson rushed for 113 yards on 20 attempts that included a touchdown. TE Preston Carpenter had 5 receptions for 44 yards while Buddy Dial accumulated 70 yards on his four catches. Brady Keys (pictured below) averaged 36.8 yards on five kickoff returns that included two of 55 and 57 yards.

Two weeks later, the teams met again at Yankee Stadium and Pittsburgh prevailed, but it was the only loss for the Giants the rest of the way. New York posted a 12-2 record to again top the Eastern Conference, although the Giants still came up short against Green Bay in the NFL title game. The Steelers were a mediocre 3-4 at the season’s halfway point before catching fire and winning six of their last seven games to place second in the conference at 9-5. They appeared in the Playoff Bowl, the postseason exhibition game for second place teams during that era, and lost to Detroit.

Y.A. Tittle received MVP honors from United Press International as well as consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl recognition as he passed for 3224 yards and a league-record 33 touchdown passes (Houston’s George Blanda passed for 36 in the AFL in 1961, a mark that Tittle would match in ’63). Alex Webster rushed for 743 yards on 207 carries (3.6 avg.) and caught 47 passes for another 477 yards (10.1 avg.), for 1220 yards from scrimmage and a total of nine TDs.

In his last season, Bobby Layne threw for 1686 yards and nine touchdowns and left the NFL as the career leader in several major passing categories. John Henry Johnson enjoyed a big year in his ninth season, rushing for 1141 yards and gaining selection to the Pro Bowl.