December 15, 2015

1956: Giants Defeat Eagles to Clinch Eastern Conference Crown

The New York Giants were looking to lock up the NFL Eastern Conference title as they faced the Philadelphia Eagles on December 15, 1956. Under the guidance of Head Coach Jim Lee Howell, the Giants had roared out to a 6-1 record and, following a 1-2-1 stretch, were now coming into the season finale at 7-3-1 and could gain a slot in the NFL Championship game with a win. New York operated a power-T offense that was the responsibility of assistant coach Vince Lombardi and emphasized a strong running game that utilized halfbacks Frank Gifford and Alex Webster (pictured above) and FB Mel Triplett. A platoon system was used at quarterback where Don Heinrich started games and the more-talented Charlie Conerly relieved when needed. Assistant coach Tom Landry handled the tough and talented defense.

The Eagles were going nowhere at 3-7-1 in their first year under Head Coach Hugh Devore.  They also used a two-quarterback platoon with Adrian Burk and Bobby Thomason and there was an able receiver in end Bobby Walston, but the ground attack was average at best. The defense was particularly sound at linebacker with All-Pro Chuck Bednarik and Wayne Robinson, but the backfield was a problem, particularly after the loss of safety Jerry Norton to injury.  

There were 15,562 fans in attendance on a foggy afternoon at Connie Mack Stadium and the contest was also nationally televised. It had rained the previous three days and the field was soft. The Giants had the first possession with Don Heinrich at quarterback and punted and, while the Eagles started off with runs by HB Ted Wegert for six yards and FB Dick Bielski for 12, they were forced to punt in turn. New York advanced into Philadelphia territory thanks primarily to the running of Mel Triplett and Frank Gifford, but the drive stalled at the 43 and Don Chandler punted into the end zone.

Following another punt by the Eagles, the Giants were driving as the game headed into the second quarter. Alex Webster started the series with a 14-yard carry and Heinrich threw to end Kyle Rote for a gain of 15 yards to the Philadelphia 30. An eight-yard run by Webster and 11-yard carry by Gifford (pictured below) got the ball inside the ten and Gifford then threw an option pass to Rote for a six-yard touchdown to complete the eight-play, 65-yard series. Ben Agajanian added the extra point.

Bobby Thomason was at quarterback for the Eagles on their next possession but a clipping penalty nullified a pass completion and Thomason was sacked for a loss of ten yards on third down to force another punt. Once again the running of Triplett and Webster advanced the ball into Philadelphia territory and Heinrich completed a pass to Gifford for nine yards to convert a third down. Following a five-yard carry by Triplett, Webster ran wide to the left for 10 yards that set up a 10-yard run by Gifford for a TD. Agajanian again converted to give the visitors a 14-0 lead.

The Eagles turned the ball over on the next series when DE Walt Yowarsky recovered an errant pitchout at the Philadelphia 35. But while the productive ground game got the Giants to the 14, Heinrich’s pass was intercepted by safety Lee Riley. The score remained unchanged at the half.

The Eagles had the ball first in the third quarter but a Thomason pass was picked off by safety Emlen Tunnell, who returned it 14 yards to the Philadelphia 27. Six plays later the Giants capitalized as Webster ran seven yards for a touchdown. Agajanian again booted the point after and New York held a comfortable 21-0 lead.

The teams exchanged punts and Riley briefly provided some excitement for the home team with a 35-yard return to midfield. But with Thomason giving way to Burk, the Eagles lost yardage from there and punted once again. Chuck Bednarik recovered a Triplett fumble on the next series at the Philadelphia 45 and the Eagles advanced into New York territory. Burk completed four passes, three of them to end Bobby Walston for gains totaling 36 yards, in the closing minutes of the period. But a run for negative yardage followed by a penalty on the offense to start the third quarter and an incomplete pass set up a fourth-and-30 situation, and Burk’s throw to Walston gained just 18 yards to turn the ball over on downs at the New York 12.

The Giants were able to put together a long series that was extended by a roughing-the-kicker call on a punt by Chandler. New York failed to extend its lead when Agajanian was wide on a 46-yard field goal attempt, but time was running out on the Eagles, who again had to punt.

Philadelphia finally put together a scoring drive of 64 yards in 14 plays that was helped along by a 26-yard pass interference penalty on the Giants. Burk completed two passes, one of which converted a fourth down, and had an 11-yard scramble in a third-and-10 situation. After an incomplete pass and 13-yard sack, the Eagles faced third-and-23 and Burk threw to end Hank Burnine for 13 yards and, on fourth down, to Walston for a 15-yard touchdown. Walston kicked the extra point, but while it averted a shutout, it was of no consequence with only 1:08 remaining in the contest. New York won by a final score of 21-7.

The Giants led significantly in total yards (332 to 174), with 291 of that total coming on the ground, and in first downs (22 to 13). Both teams turned the ball over twice. New York recorded four sacks, to none by the Eagles.

Alex Webster led the New York rushers with 132 yards on 23 carries that included a TD. Frank Gifford accumulated 81 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts and Mel Triplett contributed 72 yards on 14 carries. With the Giants in control, Don Heinrich remained in for the full game and completed three of 10 passes for 35 yards. Gifford and Kyle Rote each caught two passes, for 20 and 21 yards, respectively, and Rote scored a touchdown on a Gifford pass.

For the Eagles, Adrian Burk was successful on 12 of 26 throws for 124 yards and a TD while Bobby Thomason was two of four for 17 yards. Bobby Walston (pictured at right) led the receivers with 5 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Ted Wegert rushed for 31 yards on 11 attempts.

The win allowed the Giants to finish atop the Eastern Conference with an 8-3-1 record. In their first NFL Championship game appearance in ten years, they thrashed the Chicago Bears 47-7. For Philadelphia, the loss closed out the club’s worst season since 1942, finishing at the bottom of the conference with a 3-8-1 tally.

Frank Gifford received MVP honors as he led the league in yards from scrimmage (1422, with 819 rushing and 603 receiving). Alex Webster also ranked among the Top 10 rushers with 694 yards and seven TDs and Mel Triplett added 515 yards on the ground.