August 13, 2016

1954: Lions Dominate College All-Stars

The 21st College All-Star Game on August 13, 1954 featured a return appearance by the Detroit Lions, NFL Champions for the second consecutive year, who had won the previous installment in the annual series by a score of 24-10.

There was one twist in that, for the first time in ten years, the game utilized the single-platoon college rule with limited substitution, which was expected to benefit the collegians. With players going both ways, Head Coach Buddy Parker chose to sit QB Bobby Layne in favor of backup QB Tom Dublinski  (pictured above) and, for the most part, used second stringers at most positions, primarily utilizing a split-T offense.

The All-Stars were coached by Maryland’s Jim Tatum and the roster contained future pro stars that included QB Zeke Bratkowski from Georgia, HB Jerry Norton of SMU, Florida FB Rick Casares, and, from Maryland, tackle Stan Jones and HB Dick Nolan.

There were 93,470 fans in attendance on a pleasant Friday night at Soldier Field. The tone for the game was set on the first play from scrimmage following the opening kickoff when HB Johnny Lattner, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Notre Dame, fumbled and DT Thurman McGraw recovered for Detroit at the All-Star 27. The Lions came away with the game’s first points when Jim Martin kicked a 46-yard field goal.

Once again the Lions took advantage of a turnover when safety Jack Christiansen intercepted a Lattner pass to give the pro champs the ball at midfield. FB Lew Carpenter took off on a 20-yard run and this time Detroit reached the end zone on a four-yard carry by HB Doak Walker. Walker also booted the extra point to make it 10-0.

Before the opening period was completed the Lions drove 73 yards in 10 plays that included another big carry by Carpenter, this time of 21 yards down the sideline, and it was Carpenter running for a two-yard touchdown to finish the series off. Jug Girard kicked the point after.

Detroit took a 17-0 lead into the second quarter and the onslaught calmed down for a time. Late in the period, the All-Stars finally threatened when Carpenter fumbled and Texas DE Carleton Massey recovered, but after reaching the Detroit 10 they came up empty and the halftime score remained unchanged.

On the first play of the third quarter, the All-Stars got a break when Tom Dublinski fumbled as he was hit fading back to pass and MG Jerry Hilgenberg of Iowa recovered at the Detroit four. Two plays later, Lattner ran around right end for a touchdown. The try for extra point by Notre Dame’s Menil Mavraides was blocked, but the collegians were finally on the board.

The Lions put together a 68-yard possession later in the period. Dublinski completed passes to end Dorne Dibble of 20 and 17 yards and Carpenter (pictured at right) plowed over from the one for a TD and, with Martin’s kick, the pro champs were ahead by 24-6.

Detroit had the contest well in hand as it headed into the fourth quarter and scored once more when DE Jim Doran grabbed the ball on an attempted handoff by QB Jim Ninowski of Michigan State to Notre Dame FB Neil Worden and rumbled 34 yards for a touchdown. The Lions came away with an easy 31-6 win.

Detroit dominated in total yards (361 to 144) and first downs (20 to 11) and the All-Stars turned the ball over five times, to three suffered by the Lions. Both teams completed 11 passes, but Detroit went to the air ten fewer times (16 to 26) than the All-Stars, who utilized a total of five quarterbacks. Tom Dublinski was an efficient 10 of 15 for 103 yards in passing for Detroit.

Detroit’s win put the pro champions ahead by 13 to 6 in the series, with two ties, and was the fourth straight for the professionals. The Lions went on to reach the NFL Championship game for the third straight year in 1954, compiling a 9-2-1 record in topping the Western Conference, but this time lost badly to the Cleveland Browns.

Tom Dublinski returned to his backup role but did start four games during the season and passed for 1073 yards and eight touchdowns, while giving up seven interceptions, in his most productive year with the Lions. He jumped to Canada in 1955 and had a big statistical year with Toronto, throwing for 3561 yards and 30 TDs, although with 34 interceptions. Dublinski shifted back and forth between the US and Canada in a career that concluded in 1962.