October 18, 2014

1964: Old Pro Matson Runs for 100 Yards as Eagles Beat Giants

The Philadelphia Eagles were 2-3 and missing star HB Timmy Brown as they traveled to New York to face the Giants on October 18, 1964. A refurbished team under Head Coach/GM Joe Kuharich, the Eagles had started the year by thrashing the Giants 38-7, and they had great success blitzing on defense, with FS Don Burroughs having a particularly notable outing. Brown, who led the NFL in all-purpose yards the two previous years, was out with a thigh injury, and in his place would be a past all-purpose star, 34-year-old Ollie Matson (pictured above).

Matson had played under Kuharich in college with the legendary Univ. of San Francisco team that went undefeated in 1951 before moving on to the Cardinals, where he was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection five times and was selected to six Pro Bowls. With both size (6’2”, 220) and speed, he was a record-setting kick returner in addition to being an excellent runner from scrimmage. However, after being traded to the Rams in a celebrated deal for nine players (including two draft picks), Matson began to fade from view, being used as a flanker and defensive back as well as halfback and fullback with a losing club. After a year in Detroit in which he ran the ball just 13 times, caught two passes, and returned three kickoffs, he was packaged to the Eagles along with DT Floyd Peters in a trade for OT J.D. Smith. There were questions as to whether he still could contribute, and now with Brown sidelined he would get his chance.

In addition to Brown’s injury, another key player on the offense, TE Pete Retzlaff, was hobbled by a rib injury and kicker Sam Baker, also newly-acquired by the Eagles for 1964, was suffering from a sprained ankle. Backup QB King Hill took over the punting and LB Dave Lloyd handled kickoffs, but the 35-year-old Baker was still available for extra points and field goals.

As for the Giants, coached by Allie Sherman and winners of the Eastern Conference title in each of the three previous seasons, things had not gotten better since the opening loss at Philadelphia. They were 1-3-1, coming off a tie at Dallas the previous week, and the once-mighty offense was notably lacking. Age had taken its toll as QB Y.A. Tittle, just days short of his 38th birthday, was struggling, in addition to other veteran stalwarts such as FB Alex Webster and flanker Frank Gifford.  The defense was missing MLB Sam Huff and DT Dick Modzelewski, who were traded away during the offseason.

There were 62,978 fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium and they saw things start off quickly for the Eagles when Giants HB Dick James fumbled after catching a pass on the first play from scrimmage and LB Mike Morgan recovered at the New York four yard line. Ollie Matson breezed off tackle for a touchdown and, with Sam Baker’s extra point, Philadelphia was ahead by 7-0 just 35 seconds into the contest.

The Giants went three-and-out on the ensuing series and punted, with Don Chandler’s short kick giving the Eagles good field position at the New York 45. Following an incomplete pass on first down, Matson ran twice for seven yards and Baker kicked a 45-yard field goal to put the visitors ahead by 10-0.

New York responded with a scoring drive, advancing 67 yards in ten plays. Y.A. Tittle completed four passes and James plunged the last yard for a TD. Don Chandler added the point after to narrow Philadelphia’s lead to 10-7.

The Eagles punted following a short series but got the ball right back when CB Nate Ramsey intercepted Tittle’s pass on first down at the New York 40. Philadelphia kept the ball on the ground with Matson and FB Earl Gros pounding away, and when the drive finally stalled at the three, Baker kicked another field goal, this time of 10 yards.

With time running down in the opening period, the Giants had to punt, and on the first play of the second quarter Matson broke away for a 54-yard touchdown as Gros threw a devastating block to help clear the way. Baker’s conversion had the Eagles in front by 20-7.

Another punt by the Giants was followed by a series in which the visitors advanced into New York territory, but Gros fumbled the ball away at the 26 and DE Andy Robustelli recovered and returned it to the 45. With rookie Gary Wood (pictured at right) now in at quarterback for New York, the Giants drove to a score. Wood showed off his scrambling ability by picking up ten yards on a third-and-six play to the Philadelphia 41 and converted another third down with a nine-yard carry. However, he was also sacked by the blitzing Ramsey and the Giants settled for a 42-yard Chandler field goal to make it a ten-point game.

There were still over three minutes remaining in the first half and FB Israel “Izzy” Lang returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to the New York 45. The Eagles got another Baker field goal, from 46 yards, and went into halftime with a 23-10 lead.

The third quarter was scoreless, with the closest either team came to putting points on the board a 43-yard Chandler field goal attempt that was wide to the left. Tittle returned to the game in the fourth quarter and helped pull the home team closer after a punt was fumbled by Lang, giving New York possession at the Philadelphia 34. A pass interference call in the end zone on a third-and-12 toss put the Giants at the one, from where Alex Webster ran in for the score. Chandler added the extra point to make it a six-point game.

The Giants went three-and-out after regaining possession following an Eagles punt, and when Philadelphia punted again, James apparently lost track of King Hill’s kick in the glare of the sun and the visitors were able to down it at the one. In the last two minutes, New York was unable to get out of its end of the field and the Eagles came away with a 23-17 win and season sweep of the Giants – the first since 1960, when Philadelphia won the NFL Championship.

New York had the edge in total yards (194 to 167) and first downs (18 to 8), with the Eagles far more successful on the ground (149 yards) than through the air (a net total of just 18 yards). However, Philadelphia’s heavy blitzing recorded seven sacks, to none by the Giants, and New York turned the ball over four times, as opposed to two turnovers by the Eagles.

Ollie Matson gained an even 100 yards on 19 carries that included two touchdowns. QB Norm Snead completed only 5 of 13 passes for 18 yards and TE Ralph Smith, in place of Pete Retzlaff, topped the Eagles with a mere two catches for 12 yards. Sam Baker (pictured below) was successful on all three of his field goal attempts, and it was thus the highly-experienced tandem of Matson and Baker, with a total of 20 NFL seasons between them prior to ’64, that accounted for all of Philadelphia’s points.

For the Giants, Y.A. Tittle made good on 14 of 27 throws for 147 yards and had one intercepted and Gary Wood contributed three completions in seven attempts for 29 yards, also tossing an interception, while gaining 24 yards on four runs. FB Ernie Wheelwright ran for 42 yards on 12 attempts to lead the team’s runners. Flanker Joe Morrison caught 6 passes for 45 yards and split end Del Shofner accumulated 62 yards on his four receptions.

The Eagles won again the next week but only twice more the rest of the way, finishing in a tie for third in the Eastern Conference with a 6-8 record. To be sure, it marked improvement after back-to-back last place finishes. New York’s collapse continued with the once-mighty Giants falling all the way to the bottom at 2-10-2.

Ollie Matson continued to play well in place of Timmy Brown and after, rushing for 404 yards on 96 carries (4.2 avg.) and catching 17 passes for another 242 yards (14.2 avg.), scoring a total of five touchdowns. He also saw action on kick returns and gained 760 all-purpose yards, his best output since he was with the Rams in 1961. Matson lasted two more seasons as a valuable reserve in Philadelphia to cap his Hall of Fame career.