September 24, 2016

1950: Layne & Walker Lead Lions to Win Against Steelers

The Detroit Lions were coming off of a big opening-week win as they hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 24, 1950. Coached by Bo McMillin, the Lions had not had a winning season in five years, but there were several promising newcomers on the roster. QB Bobby Layne (pictured above) was obtained from the New York Bulldogs, HB Bob “Hunchy” Hoernschemeyer came over from the defunct AAFC, and the rookie crop included the last two Heisman Trophy winners, HB Doak Walker and end Leon Hart. There were also good young veterans such as end Cloyce Box, MG Les Bingaman, and DHB Don Doll. Detroit thrashed Green Bay the previous week by a score of 45-7.

The Steelers, under the guidance of Head Coach John Michelosen, were operating out of the NFL’s last remaining single-wing offense. They also had a tough defense with a line anchored by DE Bill McPeak who was joined by rookie DT Ernie Stautner. Pittsburgh put up seven points in losing to the Giants in the opening game.

There were 19,600 fans in attendance at Briggs Stadium. The contest was a defensive struggle, although Detroit moved the ball more effectively. In the first quarter, the Lions missed a scoring opportunity when Doak Walker missed a 35-yard field goal attempt. Interceptions of Bobby Layne passes in Pittsburgh territory, at the two and the 20, kept the Lions off the board as well. Finally, Detroit advanced the ball to the Pittsburgh five when time ran out and the game remained scoreless at halftime.

In the third quarter, and following a fumble by Detroit FB Ollie Cline at the Pittsburgh 28, the Steelers struck for the game’s first score. TB Bob Gage had runs of 10 and 18 yards before passing to end Elbie Nickel for a 43-yard touchdown. Joe Geri added the extra point.

The Steelers had another shot when DB Jim Finks intercepted a pass by QB Fred Enke at midfield and returned it to the Detroit 25. A second-down pass by back Charlie Seabright for Gage in the end zone just missed the mark and, on fourth down, Geri was wide on a 27-yard field goal attempt.

Now the Lions put together an 80-yard drive that culminated in a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter when Layne threw to Walker, who just pulled away from safety Lynn Chandnois for an 11-yard touchdown. Walker also added the game-tying point after.

Neither team seemed capable of adding points during the final period, and when the Lions were forced to punt with three minutes remaining to play, a tie appeared likely. But, in the game’s pivotal play, Gage fumbled after fielding the kick when hit by Detroit end Dick Rifenberg and end Barney Hafen recovered at the Pittsburgh 15. The home team managed to pick up three yards in three plays before Doak Walker came on to boot a 20-yard field goal and the Lions held on to win by a final score of 10-7.

Detroit had significant edges in total yards (372 to 176) and first downs (24 to 8). But while the Lions outgained Pittsburgh’s single-wing attack on the ground (265 to 54), the Steelers had more yards through the air (122 to 107). Detroit also turned the ball over five times, to two by Pittsburgh.

Bobby Layne completed 10 of 24 passes for 78 yards but also ran for 118 yards on 15 carries. Doak Walker (pictured at right), who scored all of Detroit’s points, contributed 87 yards on 16 rushing attempts. For the Steelers, Bob Gage was successful on 8 of 22 passes with a touchdown while rushing for 45 yards on 11 carries, although the pivotal fumble on the punt diminished an otherwise solid performance.

The Lions split their next two games and were at 3-1 before losing four straight. They finished strong for a 6-6 record that placed fourth in the National Conference. Pittsburgh also went 6-6, tying for third with the Eagles in the American Conference. With the league’s lowest-scoring offense, the Steelers maintained the pattern established in the contest against Detroit as the defense typically kept games close.  

Bobby Layne led the league in pass attempts (336) and yards (2323). His 16 touchdown passes ranked fourth, and he added another four TDs carrying the ball as he ran for 250 yards. Doak Walker continued to be a prolific scorer, leading the NFL with 128 points. He accounted for 11 touchdowns, 8 field goals, and 38 extra points and received first-team All-NFL honors from the Associated Press and UPI as well as selection to the Pro Bowl.