October 1, 2016

1967: Eagles Defeat Steelers with Snead to Hawkins Combination

The Philadelphia Eagles were at 1-1 as they hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 1, 1967. Coached by Joe Kuharich for the fourth year, the Eagles had looked impressive in an opening-week win against Washington but decidedly less so in being flattened by the Colts in their second game. QB Norm Snead was talented but inconsistent, although the arrival of two veteran receivers, split end Gary Ballman and TE Mike Ditka, helped and flanker Ben Hawkins (pictured at right), a disappointment as a rookie the previous year, was showing signs of improvement. The defense lacked a strong pass rush and had given up lots of passing yards in both contests.

The Eagles would not be seeing the likes of Washington’s Sonny Jurgensen or Johnny Unitas of the Colts lining up against them with Pittsburgh coming to town. With starting QB Bill Nelsen injured, backup Kent Nix would be making his first pro start for the Steelers. They would also be without TE John Hilton, further hampering the passing game. But Head Coach Bill Austin’s club had a tough defense and was also at 1-1, having whipped the Bears in the first week before losing to the Cardinals.

There were 60,335 fans in attendance at Franklin Field. The Steelers shuttled running backs to bring in plays in an effort to help the inexperienced quarterback, but the receiving corps was depleted further when flanker Roy Jefferson went out with a leg injury in the early going. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh scored first after flanker Chuck Hughes of the Eagles was nicked by a punt and FS Paul Martha recovered at the Philadelphia 43. Four plays later, FB Willie Asbury ran 25 yards for a touchdown and Mike Clark added the extra point for the early 7-0 advantage.

The Eagles responded with a 79-yard drive in seven plays. Norm Snead completed four passes and FB Israel “Izzy” Lang added an option toss to Gary Ballman for a gain of 26 yards to the Pittsburgh seven. Two plays later, Snead rolled to his right and connected with Lang in the corner of the end zone for a five-yard TD. Sam Baker added the game-tying point after.

Prior to the end of the period, Clark attempted a 36-yard field goal into the wind that fell short, but early in the second quarter, Baker was successful from the same distance to put the Eagles ahead by 10-7. Shortly thereafter, a Nix pass was intercepted by FS Joe Scarpati at the Pittsburgh 29. Snead immediately went long to Ben Hawkins, who outmaneuvered SS Clendon Thomas for a TD. Baker converted and the home team was up by 17-7.

The Steelers got a break on their next possession when, forced to punt, DE Mel Tom was flagged for roughing-the-kicker. A third down pass by Nix was complete to Asbury for 21 yards to the Philadelphia 25 and, with Hoak and Asbury carrying, the visitors ground away to another touchdown, this time on Hoak’s three-yard run. Clark added the extra point to narrow the score to 17-14.

The Eagles responded quickly, advancing 68 yards in six plays. Snead (pictured at left) threw to Hawkins for 40 yards to the Pittsburgh 28 and again on a third-and-10 play for 19. He then lobbed a throw to TE Jim Kelly, who caught it over LB Andy Russell for a four-yard touchdown. Baker converted, and with 33 seconds remaining in the first half Philadelphia was ahead by 24-14. Pittsburgh got one last shot to add points before halftime, but Clark missed a 52-yard field goal try and the tally remained unchanged.

The Eagles were forced to punt following their first series of the third quarter and Baker’s kick was shanked, traveling just 29 yards to give Pittsburgh the ball at the Philadelphia 49. The Steelers reached the 15 before Clark kicked a 24-yard field goal to make it a seven-point game.

Neither team scored again during the period. The Steelers missed two opportunities, the first after reaching the Philadelphia 34 when CB Jim Nettles picked off a Nix pass and the second when an apparent 76-yard scoring run by Hoak was nullified by a holding penalty. The Eagles also missed out when Snead barely overthrew Hawkins near the Pittsburgh goal line.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Steelers put together their most impressive drive of the game, moving 93 yards as Nix completed two passes along the way and Hoak tossed an option pass to Asbury for 21 yards. The long series ended with Nix completing a TD throw to split end J.R. Wilburn, who made a leaping catch from 18 yards out. Clark converted to tie the score at 24-24 with 11 minutes to play.

With the game knotted, Hawkins returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to give the Eagles good starting field position in Pittsburgh territory. Snead threw to Hawkins for 19 yards and FB Tom Woodeshick ran the ball effectively on four plays before Snead connected with Hawkins once again on a post pattern for an eight-yard touchdown. Baker again booted the PAT and the Eagles were back in the lead at 31-24.

There was still time for the visitors but, following an interception of a Nix pass by LB Mike Morgan, Snead threw to Hawkins for 24 yards and the possession resulted in Baker adding a game-clinching field goal from 35 yards. Philadelphia came away with a hard-fought 34-24 win.

Total yards were almost even, with the Eagles having the edge (319 to 318) while Pittsburgh had more first downs (19 to 17). The Steelers were effective running the ball, gaining 153 yards, while Philadelphia accumulated just 48 yards on 29 carries. But the Eagles had far more net passing yards (271 to 165) and turned the ball over once, to three by Pittsburgh. Philadelphia mistakes on special teams proved beneficial to the Steelers and the Eagles were also hurt by committing eight penalties, at a cost of 71 yards, as opposed to three flags that were thrown on Pittsburgh.

Norm Snead completed 16 of 24 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns while giving up no interceptions. Ben Hawkins had a huge performance with 8 catches for 187 yards and two of the TDs. Tom Woodeshick, who caught three passes for 33 yards, topped the Philadelphia runners with 30 yards on 16 carries.

For the Steelers, Kent Nix (pictured at right) had a respectable showing as he succeeded on 12 of 26 throws for 159 yards and a TD while giving up three interceptions. HB Jim “Cannonball” Butler rushed for 81 yards on 17 attempts and Willie Asbury contributed 54 yards on 7 carries that included a touchdown while also gaining 42 yards on two pass receptions. Split ends Dick Compton and J.R. Wilburn caught a team-leading four catches apiece, for 70 and 50 yards, respectively, and Wilburn scored a TD.

“They gave us single coverage on Hawkins and appeared to be more worried about (Gary) Ballman,” explained Norm Snead. “I called three-man patterns most of the time but ended up going to him (Hawkins) pretty much.”

“Nix ran the team well enough to win,” said Coach Bill Austin of his quarterback. “When you score 24 points, you should have enough to win.”

Philadelphia won again the next week to rise to 3-1, but could not do so consistently and finished at 6-7-1 and second in the Capitol Division of the Eastern Conference. The Steelers lost their next three games before edging the first-year Saints on the way to a 4-9-1 record that put them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference’s Century Division.

Norm Snead had the biggest statistical year of his long career, achieving career highs in pass attempts (434), completions (240), yards (3399), and TD passes (29). The big performance by Ben Hawkins proved to not be a fluke as he broke out with 59 catches for a league-leading 1265 yards (21.4 avg.) and 10 touchdowns. He had five hundred-yard performances and his 187 yards against the Steelers were not his highest total – thanks to an 87-yard TD catch, Hawkins compiled 197 yards on six receptions in a game at St. Louis (albeit one that the Eagles lost by a score of 48-14).

Kent Nix started a total of nine games for the Steelers , continuing to see action even after Bill Nelsen’s return. He completed 136 of 268 passes (50.7 %) for 1587 yards and 8 TDs, but also gave up 19 interceptions. The son of Emery Nix, who had a brief career with the Giants in the 1940s, he spent another two years with Pittsburgh, but saw decreasingly less action before departing for the Bears and Oilers.