Giant Beat Chicago for First Championship
In 1927, the NFL had been around for a scant eight years and Timothy Mara’s Giants were in just their third. It requires a leap of imagination to envision just how different pro football was in those early days. Longtime Giants coach Steve Owen told Barry Gottehrer in The Giants of New York, “Football was a different game then. The ball was bigger and harder to pass, you couldn’t pass from closer than five yards behind the line of scrimmage, and in 1927, they moved the goal posts back 10 yards from the goal line. But the big difference was the way we played the game. We were pretty much a smash-and-shove gang. We were bone-crushers, not fancy Dans” However, it was a clever trick play that helped secure the team’s first NFL title that year in a late-season showdown against the Bears.
People often refer to the style that Bill Parcells’s Giants played in the 1980s as “smash-mouth football” In the 1920s, the players weren’t as big or as fast, but they were the true smash-mouth players because of the way the game was played. Primarily, the game was about field position, with the punter featured as a prominent part of the attack as teams tried to pin their opponents deep in their own end and hoped to capitalize on fumbles. The seven men on the line stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the seven on the opponent’s line in a relentless power game. Passes were rare and scores were low. The Giants averaged just five or six passes a game. Their large, powerful line was the key element in a league-leading defense that gave up just 20 points for the entire 13-game season, with 10 shutouts.
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On November 27, the 7-2-1 Bears came to the Polo Grounds to face the 8-1-1 Giants in a showdown for first place. Early in the game, the Bears mounted a drive that gave them a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. With their backs to the goal line, the Giants line produced a massive stand, stopping each of the Bears’ four line thrusts. New York took over at the 1, and Chicago expected them to punt the ball immediately out of danger. Hinkey Haines, New York’s signal caller, shouted to Mule Wilson to be careful to avoid stepping on the end line for
It was the best football team of its time. Their line beat the hell out of you and wore you down, and their backs could move the ball. But they would have been passed off the field by the top teams of the ’30s.
Hinkey then asked for a towel from the official to clean the mud off the ball. When the ball was snapped, however, Haines took the snap and threw a quick pass to end Chuck Corgan, who ran it out to the 40, shifting the entire momentum of the game. Haines’s trickery was the play of the day.
There was no scoring in the first half, but the Giants drove 60 yards after taking the third-quarter kickoff and scored on a short Jack McBride run. New York later drove for a second McBride touchdown in the period to go up 13-0. The Bears finally got on the board on a pass to Joey Sternaman early in the fourth quarter to make the score 13-7.
The final 10 minutes of the game were fiercely fought, as Chicago struggled desperately to even the score. Steve Owen, who played tackle for the Giants in this game, later called it the hardest game he ever played in. He played 60 minutes against wrestler Jim McMillen of the Bears; at the final gun, the two of them just sat on the ground, too tired to move for several minutes. After all, this was the game in which aging Hall of Fame back Joe Guyon went back to pass for the Giants and was pursued by George Halas of the Bears. Just as Halas was about to unload on Guyon, Joe let go of the pass and whirled around to greet Halas with a knee that broke several of Papa Bear’s ribs. Now that’s smash-mouth football.
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