- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

Disillusioned fans of the Washington Redskins moaned low as the train rumbled from New York toward Union Station. Balancing a portable typewriter on his lap, the sports editor of a Northern Virginia newspaper struggled to adequately describe the football carnage that had taken place that afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

Suddenly a man who had drowned more than a few of his sorrows lurched to his feet and began reading over the reporter’s shoulder. “Hey, you can’t write that [sfuff] about our ‘Skins!” he yowled. Then he reached over and tried to tear the sheet of paper out of the typewriter.

Seldom do media mugs resort to violence, but this was an extreme case. The writer gave the guy a hard shove that sent him crashing to the floor, where he lay still in the aisle until a couple of more sober pals lugged him back to his seat.

On Oct. 28, 1962, previously undefeated Washington had been exposed as Eastern Conference title pretenders by the perennially tough New York Giants 49-34 in a noncontest even more lopsided than its score. And from Frederick to Fredericksburg, Redskins fans duly mourned.

More recent converts to burgundy and gold fandom might assume Redskins mania began only with the respective coaching arrivals of Vince Lombardi in 1969, George Allen in 1971 or Joe Gibbs in 1981. Not so. When the long dormant Redskins won four and tied two of their first six games in ‘62, folks went batty hereabouts. After all, the team had won only one game in each of the previous two seasons and hadn’t visited the playoffs since 1945. Now, however, second-year quarterback Norm Snead was flinging touchdown passes to new flanker Bobby Mitchell all over the place, and Bill McPeak was resembling the cagiest gridiron guru in captivity.

In those six games, Snead and Mitchell teamed for six TDs, including ones covering 81, 50, 40 and 38 yards. Mitchell, previously a star running back for Cleveland, had been moved outside in training camp by McPeak because the Redskins offensive line was weak — probably the smartest move the team’s coach/general manager ever made.

“We caught everybody off guard, but we were playing way over our heads,” Mitchell recalled last week. “The Giants were whooping and hollering all through the game. When I caught my first touchdown pass, [defensive back] Erich Barnes kidded me by saying, ‘Hey, don’t make me mad.’”

In addition to being targeted by opposing defenses, Mitchell bore the brunt of being the Redskins’ first black player. Owner George Preston Marshall traditionally had kept the team white for fear of offending viewers along his far-flung Southern TV network in that distant era. But after Interior Secretary Stewart Udall decreed that a segregated Redskins squad could not continue to play in federally funded D.C. (now RFK) Stadium, Marshall drafted Syracuse All-American running back Ernie Davis for 1962 and traded his rights to the Browns for Mitchell.

Never was a deal more tragically one-sided. Davis contracted leukemia, never played for the Browns and died in 1963. Mitchell sparkled for the Redskins through 1968, then served more than three decades in their front office.

Mitchell, Snead and their offensive cohorts were primed for their first ‘62 meeting with the 4-2 Giants, who were the real Beasts of the East back then. Ultimately, they won Eastern titles in 1961, ‘62 and ‘63 under new coach Allie Sherman before increasing age caused an abject collapse in ‘64.

Trouble was, the Redskins’ shaky defense failed to show up at Yankee Stadium that day. As 62,884 mostly delighted fans rejoiced, Giants quarterback Y.A. (for Yelberton Abraham) Tittle tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes against a Redskins secondary that might as well have stayed home and at times seemed to have done so.

Tittle and Snead traded first-quarter touchdown passes, Norm’s going 44 yards to (who else?) Mitchell. But then the Giants poured it on with two TDs in the second period and three more in the third, all on Tittle’s passing. Though Snead and Mitchell hooked up for an 80-yard score in the third quarter, that was hardly enough to counteract the New York onslaught. Despite Mitchell’s two long touchdowns, he caught only three other passes against Barnes, the Giants’ All-Pro safety.

For the day, Tittle completed 27 of 39 passes for 505 yards. His chief target was lanky end Del Shofner, whose 11 receptions for 260 yards included a 32-yard TD. Tittle also pitched touchdowns of 22 and 2 yards to Joe Morrison, 5, 26 and 6 yards to Joe Walton and 63 yards to future TV broadcaster Frank Gifford.

“We double-teamed Shofner all afternoon and couldn’t handle him,” McPeak lamented. “He split two defensive backs going in for his touchdown although I don’t want to mention names.” (Why not? The culprits were Dale Hackbart and Jim Steffen.)

Tittle also picked on rookie cornerback Claude Crabb and middle linebacker Alan Miller, the latter filling in for injured Bob Pellegrini. His TD spree tied an NFL record shared by Sid Luckman of the Chicago Bears (1943) and Adrian Burk of the Philadelphia Eagles (1954) — but it almost didn’t happen.

After throwing for six scores, Tittle called a running play with the Giants on the Redskins’ 5 in the fourth quarter.

“Throw a pass,” halfback Alex Webster said in the huddle.

Replied Tittle: “No, I don’t want to show ‘em up.”

Said Gifford: “Call a pass or we’ll all walk off the field.”

So Tittle flipped the 5-yarder to Walton, boosting the Giants’ lead to 49-20 and sending many of the paying customers for the exits.

Tittle’s opposite number, Snead, wasn’t consoled by his own four touchdown passes and one scoring sneak. Said the second-year quarterback: “Thirty-four points is a lot, but we still lost.”

Maybe he saw something coming. The Redskins took a total header after the Giants game, going 1-6 the rest of the season, losing a D.C. Stadium rematch with New York 42-24 four weeks later and dropping their last five games for a 5-7-2 final record. Meanwhile, the Giants won their last nine to finish 12-2 before losing to the Green Bay Packers 16-7 in the NFL championship game.

Said Mitchell: “I was talking to [former Browns teammate] Jim Brown after we lost to the Giants, and he said, ‘I guess the bubble has burst for you guys.’ He was teasing me, but I think he realized that when we lost that game, that was kind of it.”

Indeed. It would be seven more years before Lombardi came to town and restored the Redskins to respectability at 7-5-2. In the interim, however, they demolished the now woeful Giants 72-41 in 1966 — the most points for both one and two teams in a regular-season NFL game.

By then, Snead had been replaced by Sonny Jurgensen at quarterback and McPeak by Otto Graham as coach. But so what? Payback is payback, no matter when it occurs.

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