One of the earliest stories I read in my formative years learning about the NFL was on YA Tittle. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was celebrated for his effort in trying to obtain an NFL title but never did. He was a part of the legendary Million Dollar Backfield in San Francisco where he teamed with Hugh McElhenny, Joe “The Jet” Perry, and John Henry Johnson. The first complete backfield to make the Hall of Fame ad we’re talking all four players.
Tittle quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers throughout the 1950s but couldn’t overcome the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions in the Western Conference to play in the NFL Championship game. The most glaring was the 1957 season where they finished 8-4 and in a tie with the Lions. Detroit was the vanguard of the West having played in 3 title games in the previous 5 years, winning 2. Tittle had a career year completing 63% of his passes while throwing for 2,157 yards and 13 TDs on the season. He also rushed for 220 yards and 6 scores.
Hosting the playoff game with Detroit in old Kezar Stadium, Tittle and the 49ers took a commanding 27-7 lead in the 3rd quarter. In many accounts the 49ers thought the game was over. They became victims as the Lions roared back to win 31-27. Over the next few years the Baltimore Colts emerged as the best of the west and the 49ers were broken up.
Tittle and McElhenny wound up in New York with the Giants who were afflicted with not fulfilling the promise of winning an NFL championship. They won in 1956 on the broad shoulders of Tom Landry’s defense. However they came up short in 1958 and 1959 in championship losses to Baltimore. In truth, the offense with Charlie Connerly, Frank Gifford, and Alex Webster had let them down. Although Tittle was in the twilight of his career he would be an upgrade at quarterback and aid an aging yet still formidable defense. Over the next 3 years, Tittle took the Giant offense to greatness.
In 1962, he broke Johnny Unitas’ single season touchdown record of 32, throwing for 33. He had never thrown for more than 20 in a season. He broke it the following year when he threw for 36, along with George Blanda over in the AFL, that stood until Dan Marino eclipsed it in 1984. Which was several NFL generations later. Tittle was the most productive in his career at 37 years of age. All he had to do was win the NFL championship to cement his legacy.
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