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THE COFFIN CORNER - VOLUME 11 - 1989

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Number 1:

Charlie Trippi: A Success Story by Bob Barnett & Bob Carroll. "[T]here was a time -- a decade, in fact -- when he was arguably the best football player in the country and certainly the most famous in the South Interview with Hall of Famer Trippi, who played running back and defensive back for the Chicago Cardinals from 1947 to 1955. In 1951 and 1952, the Cards even made him their starting quarterback.

The Cards' Dream Backfield by Bob Carroll [Angsman, Christman, Harder, Goldberg]. Besides Trippi, the Cards included Elmer Angsman ("his average gain per rush [6.8 yards] topped the NFL in his rookie year [1946]"),Pat Harder ("the NFL's first great fullback after World War II") Paul Christman ("he ranked only behind Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman in the NFL during the 1945-47") and Biggie Goldberg ("An unselfish star, Goldberg sacrificed personal headlines for team wins.")

Still the Enforcer: John Baker by Bill Utterback. Everyone has seen the classic photo of Y.A. Tittle dazed after a powerful hit, Baker was the man who delivered it in 1964 while playing for Pittsburgh. "I didn't think there was anything special about it, but I guess the photographer did. My mind was on the game and getting to the quarterback again." In 11 NFL seasons (1958-68), the 279 pound defensive end also played for the Rams, Eagles and Lions.

Other Minor Leagues by Bob Gill. "With the publication of the latest edition of David Neft's Pro Football: The Early Years, the push for a full account of the NFL's formative years is nearing an end. As I see it, there are two frontiers still left in pro football research: the days before NFL (the Thorpe years, if you will), and--by far the bigger task--the minor leagues." Gill, along with Tod Maher and Steve Brainerd, crossed that second frontier in the years that followed. From the Anthracite League to the WFL, a list of lesser circuits.

All for One: Minors Big 3 in 1946 by Bob Gill. The Association of Professional Football Leagues was an alliance of the Pacific Coast League, the Dixie League and the American League, and seemed to be the beginning of"a football counterpart to Organized Baseball", but the three AAA level partners split after one season.

It's a Minor Thing: Part 2 by Steven Brainerd. From the first team to put the players names on the jerseys (Hollywood Bears 1946) to the first soccer style kicker (Bob Kessler in 1962) to the first women to play on a men's team (Pat Palinkas and the lesser known Joann Ramirez), the minor leagues did it first. Interesting facts about the most popular team nickname and a plethora of unusual ones, including the Willimantic Wreakers, the Lakeland Brahmas, the Batesville Quickicks, the Northwest Chicago Fighting Turkeys, etc.

Hicksville's Fine Sports Reputation by Tom Nikitas. Located on New York's Long Island, the town was crazy about its semi-pro champions during the 1920s and 1930s. Whether known as the "Hicksville Team" or the "Hicksville Football Club", the team never had a formal nickname.

Number 2:

Mel Blount by Don Smith. "When Mel first entered the NFL, it was legal for a defensive back to maintain contact with a receiver until the pass was thrown. Blount did the job with awesome efficiency. Frustrated by the way Blount and other talented defensive backs were shutting down the offenses, the NFL's competition committee simply changed the rules, outlawing Mel's favorite "bump-and-run" tactics more than five yards beyond the scrimmage line. Nobody adjusted more quickly or effectively than Blount. No longer able to usher receivers downfield on his terms, Mel merely played behind them, appearing to be beaten, before swooping in like a starved vulture to deflect the pass or gobble up an interception."

Terry Bradshaw by Don Smith. "Possibly no pro football superstar ever experienced more absolute highs and lows, more criticism and applause, more disdain and adulation than Terry Bradshaw did during his 14 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bradshaw's career statistics are impressive but his performances in 19 post-season playoff games are awesome. His career records show that he completed 2025 passes for 27,989 yards, 212 touchdowns and a solid 70.7 passing rating, which improves to 78.2 if you delete his five "learning seasons." He also rushed 444 times for 2257 yards and 32 touchdowns. He holds numerous Super Bowl career marks including most yards passing (932) and most touchdown passes (9). His 3,833 yards and 30 touchdowns passing are both records for all post- season games."

Art Shell by Don Smith. "During his 15-season career from 1968 to 1982 with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, left offensive tackle Art Shell became widely recognized as the NFL's premier performer at his position."

Willie Wood by Don Smith. "Willie Wood thought pro football had passed him by when, following the completion of his three-year tenure at the University of Southern California in 1960, he was overlooked in the annual draft by every team in the National Football League and the emerging American Football League. Wood finally signed as a free agent with the Green Bay Packers. .. The 5-10, 190-pounder with good but not great speed and superb desire and tenacity was named all-NFL seven times in an eight-year period from 1964 to 1971. He played in eight Pro Bowls with only one miss in the years between 1962 and 1970. Wood won the NFL individual punt return title in 1961 and the interception championship with nine in 1962."

Number 3:

Who Was the Best Blocking Back? by Greg Kukish. Short answer-- John Henry Johnson ("I loved to block. It's because it gave me an opportunity to hit the guys who were always hitting me when I carried the ball."). Listed among the unsung heroes who created the holes for others to rush through are Rocky Bleier (for Franco Harris), Jim Braxton (for OJ Simpson), John David Crow, Cookie Gilchrist, Jim Kiick (for Larry Csonka), Bill Mathis, Tom Rathman, Jim Taylor, and John L. Williams.

Mini-Bios: Parker Hall, Frank Sinkwich by Stan Grosshandler. Parker Hall of the Cleveland Rams was the league's MVP in 1939. "As a single wing tailback and defensive back he rushed for 458 yards and two touchdowns, topped the leagues passers as he completed 51% of his passes for nine TD's and averaged 41 yards per punt."

"Frank Sinkwich of the Detroit Lions completely dominated NFL statistics in 1944 as he finished first in punting, second in scoring, third in rushing, fourth in punt returns and sixth in passing. He accounted for 62% of the Lions' total yardage." However, he injured his both knees while in military service in 1945, and had only two more seasons

Henry Jordan was a defensive tackle for the Packers from 1959 to 1969, after playing his first two seasons for the Browns. He was all-NFL for five consecutive years (1960-64). "'I actually came to the Packers by mistake,' Jordan once said. "The Browns offered Lombardi another player who was bigger than I. However, Vince got the names mixed up and took me. He was really surprised when he saw me as he thought I would be much bigger. Vince then turned this into an advantage as I was fairly fast; so he used myself and Willie Davis to rush the passers, while Dave Hanner and Bill Quinlan played the run.'"

Between 1940 and 1949, Ben Kish was a blocking back for 9 NFL seasons for the Dodgers, the Steagles and the Eagles. He was a starter in 36 of his 86 games

Football in History Journal. A bibliography by Jim Sumner "Although the scholarly literature on football is not as voluminous as that on baseball, history journals have published numerous articles on football that should be of interest to PFRA members." Several of the articles have been reprinted in the CC. Others, such as the Journal of American Culture (Fall 1981) article "Professional Football as Cultural Myth", have not.

Number 4:

Outside the Pale: Blacks Excluded 1934-46 by Thomas G. Smith. After Joe Lillard was cut from the Cardinals in 1933, the NFL avoided signing African-American players for twelve seasons. Quote from Tex Schramm (who did sign Kenny Washington and Woody Strode for the Rams in 1946) "You just didn't do it --it wasn't the thing that was done."

Among the college players from that era who were passed over by the NFL:

Oze Simmons, University of Iowa running back, "perhaps the most talented and celebrated player in the Big Ten in the 1930s";

Homer Harris, Iowa's captain in 1937;

Wilmeth Sidat-Singh of Syracuse University, 1937-38 ("one of the finest passers in the nation. Sportswriters compared his skills to Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman and Benny Friedman ")

Jerome "Brud" Holland of Cornell, 1936-38 ("named to five different All-American teams")

Jackie Robinson of UCLA (as of 1987, he "still retains the school football record for highest average per carry in a season (12.2 yards in 1939)"

In 1946, black players were signed again, for different reasons: The Los Angeles Rams backfield coach Bob Snyder "later conceded that the team signed [Kenny Washington] as a precondition to obtaining a coliseum lease". Coach Paul Brown invited Bill Willis and Marion Motley to the AAFC Cleveland Brown's training camp. "Brown was aware of the unwritten black ban, but had no intention of adhering to it."

Number 5:

Pass Masters: Rating System by Bob Gill. A sequel to the 1986 article "Bucking the System". Using Bob Carroll's relative context passer rating formula, Gill looked at 1937 to 1952. Sid Luckman, Cecil Isbell and Sammy Baugh were the top three career passers in the adjusted system. Bob Monnett was a backup QB for the Packers from 1933 to 1938 who rates high in retrospect, and Frankie Filchock, more famous for being banned for gambling, was outstanding.

Va.-Carolina League of 1937 by Jim Sumner and Bob Gill. "The 1937 Virginia-Carolina Football League". The VCFL had "a single, troubled season" with five teams-- the Durham Bobcats, Norfolk Tars, Richmond Rebels, Sewanee Athletics, and South Norfolk Aces, and an unofficial 6th member, the Roanoke Rassler-Dazzlers, which included several pro wrestlers.

Before Bengalmania by Bob Gill. Besides the original Cincinnati Bengals, there were also the Cincinnati Models, the Cincinnati Treslers and the Cincinnati Blades. The Bengals played in the 1937 AFL and the 1940-41 AFL, as well as a minor 8-team AFL in 1939 that had been the Midwest League.

1945 Title Game by Jack Ziegler. "The 1945 championship game had it all--arctic winds, and icy playing surface,hard-hitting offense and defense, crucial substitutions, a missed extra point, and a freak safety. When all was measured and weighted, columnist Shirley Povich of the Washington Post coined the game's fittest epitaph: '...the goal posts have been the twelfth man in the Rams' lineup'" Final score, Cleveland Rams 15, Washington Redskins 14-- and the margin of victory was when Sammy Baugh's pass from the end zone hit a goal post and landed back in the end zone. In 1945, that counted as a safety.

Bob St. Clair: The Golden Geek by Bob Carroll. Nicknamed "The Geek", after a character in an old Tyrone Power movie (Nightmare Alley), because he ate raw meat. The diet took him from a 5'9, 150 pound high school sophomore to a 6'9, 270 pound 49ers offensive tackle. St. Clair ignored pain, playing with back fracture and a shoulder separation before a second Achilles tendon injury ended his career.

Trigger-Man of the Eagles: Tommy Thompson by Bob Carroll. "Surprisingly for a passer, Thompson had full sight in only one eye, the result of a boyhood stone-throwng accident. Yet, despite any loss of depth perception, he became one of the most accurate passers of his time." Thompson played 9 NFL seasons. When he retired in 1950, "he ranked second in NFL career completion percentage (51.4), third in career pass receptions (732), yards (10,400), and touchdowns (90)."

Cleveland A.C.: Pioneer in Pro Football by Tod Gladen. "It was a team that did little of any importance or interest. So why in 1989, almost a hundred years later, is there a sudden interest in this faceless team? The answer is simple. The Cleveland Athletic Club may fall into that important "Historical First" category. The Cleveland A.C. may be the first team that we can prove paid some of its players to play. Gladen notes an article in the November 20, 1892 Ohio State Journal which said that the Cleveland team "consists of many professionals."

Not Only the Ball Was Brown: Blacks in Minors by Bob Gill. "As most of you know, between 1933, when Joe Lillard played for the Chicago Cardinals and Ray Kemp for Pittsburgh, and 1946, when Kenny Washington and Woody Strode joined the Los Angeles Rams, the NFL had an unofficial ban on black players. That raises an interesting question: Where did comparable black players of the '30s go?"

Number 6:

The Polo Grounds Case: Part 1 by John Hogrogian. Home of the New York Giants 1925-55, the New York Titans 1960-62 and the New York Jets 1963, the site was on 17 acres of Manhattan Island. Two-part article about condemnation proceedings that weren't resolved until 1967.

Pro Football's Decade Records by Bob Kirlin. Data on some teams who had an outstanding ten year run.

The Sports Scholar (Stan Grosshandler) by George Robinson. A bio of the late PFRA biographer whose day job was a Professor of Anesthesiology at the UNC Medical School. He played for Ohio State and did get a letter from the Cleveland Rams, but "had no illusions about the extent of his prowess". In writing the team history of the Bills, Dr. Grosshandler had occasion to interview former congressman and current Housing secretary Jack Kemp. 'He was one of the least pleasant interviews I've ever done,' says Grosshandler. 'He was very curt, and treated me as if I were annoying him. He had very little to say, and generally acted as if I were a nuisance.'"

Annual:

The Birth of Pro Football by Beau Riffenburgh and Bob Carroll. "All of the up-to-date research had not been compiled in one place until Carroll, the executive director of PFRA, and Beau Riffenburgh, the senior writer for the National Football League's publishing branch, NFL Properties, put together this study. It is not only the first-ever 17-year history of the Ohio League, the NFL's predecessor, but also the first work to correct many commonly held misconceptions about historical events in pro football and to discount myths that were created by Harry March. "

2020 Convention
June 18-21, 2020
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Canton, Ohio

This month's Coffin Corner

1958 Baltimore Colts

The 1966 Green Bay Packers

The All-America Football Conference

The Early History of Professional Football

A Minor Masterpiece