New York Giants – Washington Redskins
New York Giants 9 • Washington Redskins 7
Date: December 3, 1939 Location: Polo Grounds, New York Attendance: 62,530 Significance: Season finale to determine the Eastern Conference title Box Score:
Redskins tackle Willie Wilkins got Washington back in the game by blocking Len Barnum’s punt at the 19, and Filchock quickly capitalized with a 20-yard strike to Masterson with 5:34 left to play. Trailing 9-7, the Redskins got still another big play from Dick Todd when he returned a punt 30 yards to the 47-yard line. A mix of runs and passes moved the ball to the 5.
After a delay-of-game penalty on Washington, Bo Russell came onto the field to attempt a 15-yard field goal with 45 seconds left in the game. The snap came to Filchock, who placed the ball squarely, and Russell booted it high over the upright. As the Redskins began to celebrate what they thought was a good kick, they saw referee Bill Halloran signaling “no good.” Led by their coach Ray Flaherty, whose jersey had been retired by the Giants to honor his playing career in New York, the Redskins stormed the field to protest the call, but to no avail. Halloran ruled that the ball indeed went over the upright, but that it needed to be entirely within the plane of the uprights to be good.
While the Redskins Bo Russell made only one of six field-goal attempts in 1939, his reliable Giants counterpart, Ward Cuff, led the NFL with seven field goals that year. It was one of four seasons in which the versatile Giants back led the league in three-pointers.
Cuff was a fourth-round pick out of Marquette in 1937 who had never place-kicked before coming to New York. Steve Owen saw his potential and trained him so well that when Cuff left New York nine years later, he was the Giants’ all-time leading scorer with 305 points. Owen often called the five-time All-Pro “the greatest Giants back of all time.” Cuff was a wingback in Owen’s A-formation and was especially skilled as a blocker and receiver, in addition to being a scourge on defense and a top kicker. It was only later in his career that he was called upon to do much running, and he ultimately proved himself more than able as a ball carrier, leading the league in rushing average in 1943.
Cuff was known as a quiet, placid, pleasant man who always had a smile on his face on and off the field. In training camp, he roomed with Wellington Mara, three years his junior, and the two remained friends the rest of their lives. In 1945, the Giants traded Cuff to the Chicago Cardinals at his request so he could be closer to his Milwaukee home. Cuff spent one season with the Cardinals and a final season in Green Bay before retiring in 1946. Both he and Mara lived to be 89.
Giants great Ward Cuff kicked New York to victory against the Redskins in 1939. (Photo courtesy of AP Images)
Head coach Steve Owen led his Giants to a controversial win over the Washington Redskins in the 1939 season finale.
The Giants ran out the clock, but the action didn’t end there. Fist-fights broke out on the field between players and fans. The Redskins’ Ed Justice went after Halloran and just missed him with a punch. New York police and Giants players helped escort Halloran off the field, and the drama shifted to the league office, which was prepared to fine and ban Justice for hitting an official. A few days later, though, Halloran reported that he had not been struck by Justice, and the angry Redskins player was spared.
Both Halloran and the Giants went on to Milwaukee the next week for the title game with the Packers. It would be the fifth Giants game he refereed in 1939. On that day, the Giants were overwhelmed by the Packers’ two-armed passing attack of Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell and they lost 27-0 in the first ever championship game shutout.
It wasn’t even close. It was plenty inside. All the players said so. Every cop in back of the goal posts said it was good. If Halloran has a conscience, he’d never again sleep an untroubled night.
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RAY FLAHERTY REDSKINS’ HOPES BOOTLESS Tittle Toppled Steelers and Age Conquer Giants From 1961 through 1963, the Giants lost one of the first two games of the season and recovered to win the East handily each year. So when New York dropped its 1964 opener to a blitzing Eagles team that sacked quarterback Y. A. Tittle five times causing him to fumble three times and throw two interceptions it was cause for concern but not panic. After all, Allie Sherman’s teams had never lost two in a row. After the next game, though, against the Steelers, it was time to admit the obvious: the dynasty was crumbling.
All appeared well at the outset of this September day. Thirty-five-year-old Steelers quarterback Ed Brown got off to a slow start, throwing two interceptions in his first five passes. Erich Barnes returned one for a touchdown and a quick Giants lead. A 64-yard pass from 38-year-old Y. A. Tittle to 29-year-old Del Shofner led to a touchdown run by 33-year-old Alex Webster and a 14-0 first-period lead.
However, the second quarter brought devastation.
As halftime approached, Tittle called an ill-fated screen pass from deep in his territory. While Tittle looked left for Joe Morrison, Steelers defensive end John Baker slipped by second-year tackle Lane Howell and came free. Baker crashed full-bore into Tittle’s right side, with his forearm hitting Y. A. in the mouth and knocking off the quarterback’s helmet. The force of the blow lifted Tittle off the ground as he floated a wounded-duck pass that defensive tackle Chuck Hinton gathered in at the 8-yard line and ran in for the score.
A dazed Tittle knelt in the end zone with a bloodied head and no helmet. This sad image was captured by local photographer Morris Berman, who won a National Headliner Award for the affecting shot. Tittle was unable to breathe and was helped to the locker room with bruised ribs.
This is a moment I have dreaded. I don’t want to come back and be a mediocre football player again. I was one last fall.
Perhaps the most famous photograph in pro football history, the image of a bloody Tittle captures the rough, violent nature of the game. Ironically, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette chose not to run the picture at the time because there was not enough action in it. It now hangs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy of AP Images)
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