Each week during the 2009 NFL season, Sports Then and Now will pick one upcoming NFL matchup and look through the history books to find an intriguing past meeting between the two teams. We will recap the game and hopefully help reintroduce (or introduce for you younger readers) you to some of the greats (and in some cases not so greats) from the history of professional football.
The Matchup: Washington Redskins vs. New York Giants
Series Record: Two of the oldest teams in the NFL, the Redskins and Giants have met 152 times with the Giants holding an 87-61-4 advantage. The two teams have been division rivals since the Redskins joined the NFL as the Boston Braves in 1932.
The Game: November 27, 1966, D.C. Stadium in Washington, DC
Team Records: Washington Redskins 5-6; New York Giants 1-8-1
Overview: When the Redskins and Giants met in Washington late in the 1966 season, neither team was headed to the playoffs. Actually, far from it as the Giants were on their way to the worst season in team history just three seasons after playing for the NFL title. The Redskins were trying to reach .500 for the first time in a decade. What ensued on this late November afternoon was not necessarily one of the best played games in professional football history, but it was a contest filled with more big plays and scoring than any other game in the history of the league.
Coaches: New York Giants – Allie Sherman (6th year); Washington Redskins – Otto Graham (1st year)
Notable Giants: Tom Kennedy (qb), Homer Jones (wr), Gary Wood (qb), Joe Morrison (rb), Dick Lynch (db), Jim Katcavage (dl), Pete Gogolak (k), Allen Jacobs (rb), Spider Lockhart (db)
Notable Redskins: Sonny Jurgensen (qb), A.D. Whitfield (rb), Charley Taylor (rb), Bobby Mitchell (fl), Jerry Smith (te), Sam Huff (lb), Chris Hanburger (lb), Brig Owens (db), Paul Krause (db), Charlie Gogolak (k)
Interesting Notes: Linebacker Sam Huff, who had earned his reputation as one of the fiercest players in the NFL as part of the great Giants teams of the 1950s and early 1960s, was in his third season as a member of the Washington Redskins; The game featured the famous soccer style kicking brother duo of Pete (Giants) and Charlie (Redskins) Gogolak; This was the second meeting of the season between the two teams as New York’s lone victory so far in the season had been a 13-10 win over the Redskins on October 16th.
After shifting between Earl Morrall and Gary Wood as the starting quarterbacks for much of the season, New York Giants head coach Allie Sherman decided to try rookie Tom Kennedy from Los Angeles State in the contest with the Redskins.
While Sherman had a rookie playing in only his third NFL game under center, Washington’s head coach Otto Graham (himself a legendary quarterback) had the luxury of starting future Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen.
Kennedy didn’t get off to a good start as Washington defensive back Brig Owens intercepted Kennedy’s first pass of the contest. It would be just the start of a memorable day for Owens, a rookie out of the University of Cincinnati.
Jurgensen immediately took advantage of the mistake as he led the Skins down the field. They took the lead on a five-yard touchdown run by A.D. Whitfield. The extra point attempt by Charlie Gogolak was blocked by New York tackle Jim Moran.
Over their next three offensive series, Kennedy and the Giants were unable to move against the Washington defense. Using blitzes to rattle the rookie quarterback, the Redskins kept Kennedy off-balance and he didn’t complete a pass during in each of the three series.
Meanwhile, the Redskins started what would end up being a record-setting day for big plays with a 63-yard scoring run by Whitfield late in the first quarter. The extra point by Charlie Gogolak made the score 13-0.
Kennedy tried to answer, but the Redskins continued to harass the rookie. Midway through the second quarter he went back to pass, but was caught by linebacker Chris Hanburger. The hit caused Kennedy to fumble and the ball was scooped up by Owens, who raced 62-yards for the first touchdown of his career.
Now trailing 20-0, Kennedy finally started to get the offense moving. He completed a 14-yard pass to Homer Jones and a 35-yarder to Aaron Thomas to move into Redskins territory. From there, the running game took over and Allen Jacobs scored from six yards out to trim the lead to 20-7.
Washington didn’t move the ball on their next possession, but another interception gave them the ball in Giants territory and Whitfield scored his third touchdown of the first half on a 1-yard run to make the score 27-7.
Kennedy’s third interception of the day, by future Hall of Famer Paul Krause, led to the fifth Washington touchdown of the half. Former Giant Joe Don Looney scored on a 9-yard run to make the score 34-7.
Sherman had seen enough of his rookie and inserted third-year pro Gary Wood at quarterback late in the half. Wood took advantage of a 45-yard pass interference call against the Redskins to move the Giants down the field. He scored on a one-yard run to make the score 34-14 at intermission.
A 31-yard kickoff return by Phil Harris to start the second half gave the Giants good field position near midfield. Wood completed an 11-yard pass to Joe Morrison for a first down and then hit Morrison again on a 41-yard touchdown pass to make the score 34-21.
That was the first of an amazing streak of six consecutive touchdown plays that were more than 30 yards in distance.
Sonny Jurgensen led the Skins down the field and hit future Hall of Famer Charley Taylor for a 32-yard touchdown pass to make it 41-21.
The game then started to resemble a pinball game as the two teams kept going back and forth down the field.
Wood’s hit Homer Jones on a 50-yard touchdown pass that made the score 41-28. Jurgensen then answered by again connecting with Taylor, this time on a 74-yard scoring toss.
At the end of the third quarter, the score stood 48-28.
Washington forced a New York punt early in the final period and Rickie Harris took the kick 52 yards to put the Redskins above the 50-point barrier.
It didn’t take long for them to break 60 as an errant pass by Wood was intercepted by Owens and returned 62-yards for another Washington score.
That marked the third interception of the game for Owens and his second 62-yard scoring play of the contest. The two touchdowns were the first two of his career. Owens would go on to play 12 seasons with the Redskins and scored only three additional touchdowns.
Now trailing 62-28, Sherman put Kennedy back in the game and the rookie was finally able to consistently move the team. He completed five passes on a drive that culminated with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Kennedy to Aaron Thomas. The Giants missed the extra point to make the score 62-34.
Graham replaced Jurgensen with backup quarterback Dick Shiner. Considering that the Skins had racked up more than 60 points it was surprising that Jurgensen’s statistics for the game were not earth shaking. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
He also did not toss an interception, which proved not to be true for Shiner as his only pass of the game was intercepted by second year defensive back Spider Lockhart. Dan Lewis scored on a 1-yard run with 1:35 remaining to make the score 62-41.
At this point you would think the Giants would just try to run out the clock and get out of town without any further embarrassment. However, that proved not to be the case.
The Giants attempted an onside kick, but the Redskins recovered. Future Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell then got into the act with a 45-yard run to make the score 69-41.
Mitchell’s touchdown was the ninth scoring play of 30 or more yards in the contest.
With just seconds remaining, this high-scoring game got bizarre.
The Giants took over deep in their own territory, but again instead of just running out the clock, Kennedy tried to move the offense. With the ball on his own 22-yard line and only seven seconds remaining, Kennedy hurriedly threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock.
However, Kennedy was confused as to what down it was and his errant throw occurred on fourth down, rather than third as he had thought.
The Redskins got the ball one final time and instead of graciously taking a knee and ending the game, Graham called on his rookie placekicker. Graham later said that he wanted to give Gogolak, who had missed two kicks the previous week, additional practice in a game setting. Some reports said that Sam Huff, still angry about having been traded by the Giants two years earlier, encouraged Graham to send out the kicker.
Regardless, he converted on a 29-yard field goal to end the scoring with the final score of 72-41.
The 72 points by the Redskins surpassed the 70 points scored by the Los Angeles Rams in 1950 as the most scored in a regular season NFL game. The 113 total points was also an NFL record and remains the most ever scored by two teams in an NFL game.
Post Script: The Redskins went on to finish the season with a 7-7 record while the Giants finished 1-12-1.
The win literally came with a cost for the Redskins. Because the NFL did not have nets to catch kick attempts, extra points and field goals often sailed into the stands and fans kept the footballs. Sources differ as to whether 14 or 15 total balls ended up in the stands, but regardless, at a cost of $22.50 per football, the Redskins ended the day on the hook for more than $300. I guess that is a small price to pay for football immortality.
This game would be the only career start for Tom Kennedy. He did throw four touchdowns two weeks later in a 47-28 loss to Pittsburgh, but his final career appearance came the following week in the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants traded for Fran Tarkenton after the season and improved to 7-7 the following year.
Otto Graham coached the Redskins for three seasons and finished with a 17-22-3 record. Vince Lombardi replaced him as coach of the Redskins following the 1968 season.