Y.A. Tittle’s Greatest Game
Y.A. Tittle played the game of his life in a regularly scheduled afternoon contest against the Washington Redskins 65-years-ago this month on October 28, 1962. Fifty-one degrees at the 2:05 PM kickoff, bright and sunny with a mild breeze of 17 mph; a perfect day for football. A sellout crowd of 62,844 Giants faithful witnessed the event in Yankee Stadium.
The game didn’t start well for the Football Giants. Tittle had been beaten up by the Lions the previous Sunday, had a lousy week of practice and didn’t feel well as game time approached. His 36-year-old body wasn’t happy but he was determined to play. He convinced head coach, Allie Sherman, that he should start.
Tittle had joined the Giants the previous year after playing eleven years for the San Francisco 49ers. He had been a starter and a star most of those seasons but the Niners and their head coach, Red Hickey, had installed a new offense for, John Brodie, their young stud quarterback to run. Y.A. became superfluous and put on the trading block. The Giants were one of the few teams interested but only offered Lou Cordileone, a lineman, in return. Tittle wrote that on being informed of the trade he told Hickey: “Who the hell is Lou Cordileone?” He noted with sadness, “They didn’t even bother to trade a name player for me.”
Wellington Mara recalled Cordileone’s reaction: “Me, even up for Y.A. Tittle? You’re kidding.”
Tittle started the game against the Redskins poorly completing only two of his first six pass attempts. The Skins second-year QB, Norm Snead, completed a 44-yard touchdown pass to halfback, Bobby Mitchell, to take a 7-0 lead. (An aside of note, Bobby Mitchell was the Redskins first Afro-American player. Under pressure from the White House, the NFL forced owner, George Preston Marshall, to integrate his team. Mitchell was traded from the Cleveland Browns for Washington DC’s Number 1 Draft Pick the previous spring.)
Tittle retaliated with a drive of his own culminating in a 22-yard TD pass to Joe Morrison making the score 7 to 7 at the end of the first quarter. The Giants established a lead by the end of the first half with a score of 21 to 13. Y.A. threw two more TD passes, his first for five yards to Joe Walton and the second, to Morrison for one yard.
The third quarter belonged to the powerful right arm of Yelburton Abraham who threw three TD passes in the quarter, the first for 53-yards to Del Shofner, the second, a 26-yard toss to Walton and the third, a 63-yard bomb to Frank Gifford making the score 42-20. The game had turned into a rout. Sherman asked Tittle what he wanted to do since he’d already thrown six touchdowns.
Up until that time only two players in the NFL and one player in the AFL had thrown for seven touchdowns in a single game, Sid Luckman for the Chicago Bears in 1941, Adrian Burke for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1951 and George Blanda for the AFL Houston Oilers in 1961. Tittle elected to return for the fourth quarter throwing a six-yard TD to Walton to tie the record thereby joining the seven-touchdown quarterback club.
Even though the score was 49 to 20 Snead had enough time and talent to score two more times, one on a one-yard run and the other on a 35-yard pass to Steve Junker. Final score, Giants 49, Redskins 34. In all, Snead threw four TD passes and ran for one accumulating 316 passing yards. Tittle passed for 505 yards. Giants players and fans wanted Y.A. to remain on the field and go for that record-breaking pass but Tittle insisted that it just wasn’t the right thing to do.
Much later in life, an interviewer caught up with Y.A. to ask him about that memorable day. His answers appeared in a 2012 Football Giants documentary. This is Tittle in his own words:
“I really didn’t know if I could throw because I didn’t throw all week. The first seven passes were incomplete and badly incomplete. I knew any moment he (Sherman) was going to take me out, then I hit about 13 in a row. I don’t know why but everything went for touchdowns and 500 and something yards.
“We already had 49 points. For me to go out and throw the ball didn’t seem to be in good taste…then.
At this point in the film Tittle’s mouth widens into the smile of a Cheshire Cat. His eyes light up as the smile becomes a mischievous grin as he says:
He pauses and licks two fingers on his throwing hand…
“I’d of thrown it.”
Y.A. Tittle’s death was reported on Monday, October 9, 2017. He was 90.
R.I.P. Y.A. Tittle, my first football hero.