November 3, 2015

1946: Yankees Avoid Upset by Miami with Late TD Drive

The lowly Miami Seahawks were at 1-6 in the inaugural All-America Football Conference season as they faced the powerful New York Yankees on November 3, 1946. The Seahawks had many players from Southern schools on their roster, but they were under-financed and had played only one home game thus far, which was delayed by a hurricane. Head Coach Jack Meagher was gone after six games and Hamp Pool replaced him. Pool began shifting personnel, moving tackle Don Reece to fullback, his natural position, and speedy end Lamar Davis to defensive halfback.

The Yankees were 5-2-1 and clearly established as the best team in the new league’s Eastern Division. Coached by Ray Flaherty, who had led the Washington Redskins to two NFL titles, the team ran a single-wing offense and had two effective tailbacks in Ace Parker (pictured above), a former NFL star with Brooklyn, as a capable passer and rookie Spec Sanders, who was better at running the ball. The line was solid with tackles Bruiser Kinard and Nate Johnson, and ends Jack Russell and Bruce Alford were good receivers.

There were 18,880 fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards to a touchdown, scored by back Lloyd Cheatham on a 15-yard pass from tailback Bob Perina. Harvey Johnson added the extra point. Miami responded with a 90-yard series ending when Don Reece powered in for a TD from inside the one yard line and Dick Erdlitz converted to tie the score at 7-7.

Shortly thereafter, Harvey Johnson kicked an 18-yard field goal that put the home team back in the lead. Still in the opening period, Miami FB Stan Koslowski fumbled the ball away and New York cashed in when Ace Parker recovered and ran 22 yards for touchdown. Johnson’s PAT put the Yankees ahead by ten points.

The score remained 17-7 throughout the second quarter as the defenses, aided by good punting, took control. Three minutes into the third quarter, the floodlights were turned on but the teams still were stymied on offense. Finally, in the fourth quarter a long pass from QB Kay Eakin to end Lamar Blount advanced the Seahawks into New York territory and Reece ran for a 13-yard TD. Erdlitz’s point after narrowed the score to 17-14.

The Yankees had to kick the ball away, but Parker booted a punt toward the coffin corner that went out of bounds at the Miami one. The Seahawks remained pinned deep in their territory and, kicking from his own end zone, Eakin boomed a punt that traveled all the way to the New York 31. Miami then got a break when LB Al Wukits intercepted a pass by Spec Sanders and returned it 14 yards to the New York 24. Three plays later, QB Cotton Price threw into the end zone to HB Monk Gafford for a 19-yard touchdown. Erdlitz again added the extra point and, with five minutes left to play, the Seahawks were ahead by 21-17.

Facing a potential major upset, Parker rallied the Yankees to a 71-yard drive in 11 plays. Parker threw to end Jack Russell for a 10-yard TD with 22 seconds left, Johnson converted, and New York won the hard-fought game by a final score of 24-21.

The Yankees led in total yards (375 to 214), with 210 of that total coming on the ground, and first downs (15 to 10). New York also turned the ball over twice, to one by the Seahawks.

New York recovered from the close call to win four of the remaining five games and breeze to the Eastern Division title with a 10-3-1 record. The Yankees lost the AAFC Championship game to the Cleveland Browns.

The Seahawks continued to struggle and finished at the bottom of the division at 3-11. Don Reece's two touchdowns against the Yankees were his only ones of the season and the running game continued to be the league’s least productive. Kept afloat by infusions of cash from the other owners, and lacking fan support, the franchise was sold and relocated to Baltimore in 1947.