CONTENTS

Clint Longley

Vandy's First Bowl

Tommy Myers, Northwestern

Browns Storm the NFL

Majors and Dorsett

Ronnie Knox

NFL First Game Records

Jim Brown

Fran Tarkenton

Bob Devaney

 

Dazzling Debuts - 1

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Dazzling Debuts - 2
These articles discuss the first regular season, bowl, or playoff game
of a college or pro player, coach, or team.
Clint Longley


Clint Longley, Snake Hunter
Clint Longley with rattlesnakes

 

 

Dallas QB Roger Staubach and Coach Tom Landry
Roger Staubach and Tom Landry

Clint Longley led Abilene Christian University to the NAIA championship and later came off the bench to pull out a Thanksgiving Day game for the Cowboys.

  • Born in Wichita Falls TX in 1952, Howard Clinton Longley, Jr., grew up in Littleton CO where he played high school football. Not recruited by any college, Clint walked on at Abilene Christian and quickly earned the starting QB spot and a reputation as a free spirit.
  • His coach at Abilene, Wally Bullington, went fishing with him. "Interesting guy," Bullington recalls. "Always had a story to tell. And he could really shoot a gun, and I mean from the hip! He had great hands." Bullington said that Clint could sidearm a ball 70y.
  • Clint's favorite prey was rattlesnakes. One of his pals recalls that he wore boots, a cowboy hat, cutoff jeans, and a holster with two .38 pistols when hunting.
  • The only discipline problem Bullington recalls having with Clint was the time he emptied a trash can full of rattlesnakes (dead, we hope) onto the floor of the trainer's room.
  • His roommate recalls: "I'll never forget how Clint answered the phone. He either answered, 'This is the magnificent Clint Longley', 'This is the Purple Vindicator', or 'Longley's house of pleasure.'"
  • As a junior, Clint set the school's passing record that still stands with 3,167y to lead Abilene Christian to the NAIA National Championship. The team included future Eagles RB Wilbert Montgomery as well as future boxer-actor Randall "Tex" Cobb.
  • Having graduated in three years that spring, Longley declared himself eligible for the NFL supplemental draft. The Cincinnati Bengals chose him in June 1974. Needing a backup QB, the Cowboys gave the Bengals a provisional draft pick for Longley. It ended up being a sixth rounder.

So Clint reported to the Cowboys' training camp in Thousand Oaks CA.

  • It may have been that camp or a later one, but Cowboy players recall hearing loud pops coming from one of the dorm rooms. The next morning, they noticed that the field behind the dormitory was littered with dead rabbits. Clint had been getting in some midnight target practice.
  • Already known as "Snake Hunter," Longley earned another nickname, "The Mad Bomber," when his errant pass nearly skulled Coach Tom Landry in his tower during practice.
  • Nevertheless, he survived the Turk and started the season as the third string QB behind veterans Roger Staubach and Craig Morton. When the disenchanted Morton got his wish and was traded to the Giants after two games, Longley moved up a notch to hold the clipboard and relay signals on the sidelines. However, he saw no action until the ninth annual Thanksgiving game in Dallas.

The Cowboys badly needed a victory over their division rival, Washington.

  • Eleven days earlier, George Allen's Redskins had knocked off the Cowboys in D.C. 28-21. The defeat dropped Dallas's record to 5-5, two games behind the Skins and 2 1/2 behind the St. Louis Cardinals, who played in the NFC East at that time.
  • The Cowboys had beaten Houston the previous Sunday, but both Washington and St. Louis won as well.
  • Prior to the Turkey Day Clash, Washington DT Diron Talbot told reporters he hoped Staubach would run with the ball. "If you knock him out, you've got that rookie Clint Longley facing you. That's one of our goals. If we do that, it's great." Diron should have remembered the saying, "Be careful what you wish for."

Staubach started the game despite a bout with the flu. He would not have a good day.

  • Dallas started the scoring with a 24y FG by Efren Herrera in Q1. The drive was kept alive by a fake punt that saw Duane Carrell pass to DB Benny Barnes for 37y. The Redskins' Mark Moseley booted three FGs to take a 9-3 lead at halftime.
  • The home team's fortunes went from bad to worse at the start of Q3. On the first play after the kickoff, RB Walt Garrison lost a fumble. That set up a 9y swing pass from Billy Kilmer to former Cowboys RB Duane Thomas to push the lead to 16-3.
  • Then the disaster that Talbot wished for struck. LB Dave Robinson nearly decapitated Staubach, knocking him woozy with 9:57 remaining in the period. Roger had completed only 3 of 11 for a mere 32y with an INT - fewer yards than Carrell gained on his one connection.

Landry motioned his 22-year-old backup into the fray. "Get in. Good luck."

  • Later Longley said, "I was afraid they weren't going to send me in, but I was all they had." Garrison told the rookie when he entered the huddle, "Remember, Clint, we're the ones in white."
  • As some fans exited the stadium, he promptly moved the O to a TD on a 35y pass to TE Billy Joe Dupree. Just like that, the lead was cut to 16-10.
  • After stopping Washington, the Cowboys marched 70y. Garrison plowed over from the 1 to make it 17-16 and bring the crowd to life.
Cowboys QB Clint Longley Longley in action against Redskins
Longley in action against the Redskins
  • The Redskins refused to go down without a fight, regaining the lead early in Q4 on another TD by Thomas, this one a 19y run to make 23-17. (The two-point conversion had not been approved for the merged leagues even though the AFL had used it from the beginning.)
  • Washington got an opportunity to pad their lead when they recovered a fumble and moved into FG range with five minutes remaining. However, DE "Too Tall" Jones blocked Moseley's 24y attempt.
  • But shortly thereafter, RB Preston Pearson fumbled the ball back to the Redskins. However, Allen's O, playing conservatively, ran three plays and punted. That series did force Dallas to use all its timeouts. Still, Longley & Company had the ball with 1:45 left.
  • On fourth-and-six, Clint passed to WR Bob Hayes for just enough to gain a first down at midfield as the clock went under a minute. After an incompletion, Longley threw long down the left sideline to Drew Pearson. Somehow, the CB, with no S help, let Drew get behind him. The pass hit the WR in stride at the 4, and he glided into the EZ to tie the score with 0:28 remaining. Herrera's PAT put the Cowboys in front. The play was Longley's own call, a modification of the one sent in by Landry.
  • Kilmer's fumble killed the visitors' slim hopes of a miracle comeback and cemented Longley's place in Cowboy lore.
  • Clint's final stats: 11-for-20 for 203y with 2 TDs and 0 INTs.
WR Drew Pearson catches winning TD pass.
Pearson catching winning TD pass.
Clint Longley after Redskins Game
Longley leaving field after game
Naturally, reporters sought out the unlikely hero in the locker room.

  • Asked about Talbot's pregame comment, Longley replied, "Yeah, I had heard about that Talbot quote earlier in the week, and it kind of hurt me." He added, "I wasn't nervous, but I sure was excited." He admitted he had never before played such a thrilling role, not even at Abilene Christian.
  • OT Blaine Nye described Longley's performance as "the triumph of an uncluttered mind."
  • "Football is an incredible game," said Landry. "This is what makes it so unbelievable. Anything can happen in football."
  • A disappointed George Allen remarked, "I don't have very much to say. It was probably the toughest loss we ever had."

Staubach returned the following week.

  • Clint threw only one more pass that season and completed it.
  • The 8-6 Cowboys failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1965.

Longley remained on the roster for the 1975 season.

  • He appeared in four games, starting the final game against the Jets - a 31-21 victory - when Staubach was again injured.
  • He completed only 7 of 23 attempts for 102y with 1 TD and 1 INT.

Prior to the '76 season, Dallas signed QB Danny White after the World Football League folded.

  • Staubach, who had never been particularly friendly with Longley, bonded quickly with White.
  • As a result, Clint knew that his role with the Cowboys would be third string at best.

So he plotted a way to get himself traded.

  • The stories vary somewhat, but Longley picked a fight with Staubach during training camp prior to the '86 season. One account says the fracas began when Longley made a racist remark about Drew Pearson after the WR dropped Clint's long pass during a workout. VP of player personnel Gil Brandt claims that Clint got frustrated after not being able to beat Roger in any of the little contests they staged to kill time during practice. At any rate, all agree that Staubach told Clint that "Somebody is gonna knock those Bugs Bunny teeth of yours in." When Longley asked, "Are you going to be the one?" Roger replied, "Yeah, I'd love to do it." So they met on a baseball diamond adjacent to the practice field. White says his job was to distract assistant coach Dan Reeves while his QB mates went at it. Roger won the fight, pinning Clint down before Reeves broke it up.
  • When that episode didn't lead to a trade, Clint went one step further. Several days later, he told S Charlie Waters at lunch that he had figured out a way to get traded. "I asked him how," Waters said, "and he told me I'd find out that afternoon." When Staubach was slipping on his shoulder pads in the locker room, Lockley threw a blindside punch that crashed Roger into a set of weight scales, cutting his cheek enough to require stitches. Jones and LB D. D. Lewis restrained Staubach while DL Randy White grabbed Clint.
  • The headline in The Dallas Morning News read, "Clint says he hates Roger." The story quoted Longley as saying, "If Roger wants me, I'll be in Dallas next week, and he knows where he can find me. If he wants to go 15 rounds in Memorial Auditorium, he can even promote it."
  • That wouldn't be necessary since team president and GM Tex Schramm told Brandt to get rid of Longley immediately. So Gil traded him to San Diego for a first-round pick that the Cowboys later used to draft RB Tony Dorsett. Clint's Thanksgiving performance undoubtedly enhanced his trade value five rounds.
 Longley Punches Staubach

The pastures weren't greener on the other side of the fence for Longley.

  • He spent the '76 season with the Chargers but played in only three games, starting one. He was 12-for-24 for 130y, 2 TD, and 3 INT.
  • Clint appeared in six games for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in 1977.
  • After that, Longley became a recluse. Attempts by former teammates and the Cowboys Alumni Director to reach him over the years have failed. Abilene Christian's longtime sports information director has no idea where he is. Lewis ran into him one time and tried to arrange a reconciliation with Staubach but failed.

The Snake Hunter remains one of the greatest One Game Wonders in NFL history. The unknown became an instant hero, then two years later, an instant villain when he punched Captain America.

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December 31, 1955: Gator Bowl – Vanderbilt vs Auburn

Vanderbilt began football in 1890 (with only one game that year). The school became a charter member of the SEC in 1933. Despite the conference's bowl-friendly attitude, the Commodores didn't play in a bowl game until the end of the 1955 season.

Under third-year coach Art Guepe, Vandy finished that season 7-3 including victories over Alabama 21-6, Virginia 34-7, Kentucky 34-0, Tulane 20-7 (with yours truly in attendance) and Florida 21-6. In the season finale in Knoxville, archrival Tennessee scored twice in Q4 to knock the Commodores out of a New Year's Day Bowl (Sugar or Cotton), 20-14. However, the Gator Bowl invited Vanderbilt to face another SEC team, Auburn, in the 11th annual game in Jacksonville. Chancellor Harvey Branscomb, worried that a bowl game might tarnish the school's academic reputation, reluctantly agreed, which was a good thing because Vandy has played in only two more bowls since then (1974 Peach Bowl and 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl). Furthermore, Vanderbilt received $142,619 and won the game.

Auburn finished 8-1-1, the only loss at Tulane 27-13 (another game yours truly attended). The 14-14 tie with Kentucky cost the Plainsmen a share of the SEC title as Ole Miss finished 5-1 to Auburn's 5-1-1. Shug Jordan's Tigers, ranked #8 in the final AP poll, were making their third straight appearance in the Gator Bowl. They lost to Texas Tech 35-13 in 1953 and defeated Baylor 33-13 the following year.

Vandy had a major problem as it prepared for the game. Its QB, Don Orr, had dislocated his right elbow near the end of Q3 in Knoxville, a major factor in the Vols comeback. Orr was the master of the Split-T O that Guepe had brought with him from Virginia. Used by Oklahoma and Maryland in winning national titles, the Split-T spread the defense to make it easier to open holes for quick RBs. Orr had attempted only 80 passes all season, completing 30 for 246 yards. His strong points were faking and running the option. Oddsmakers favored Auburn by 7. However, Dr. Ed Litkenhous, who along with Dick Dunkel pioneered statistical rankings of college football teams, thought Vandy the better team on a neutral field.

The crowd of 28,426 overcoat-clad fans included Joe DiMaggio as well as UT's legendary AD, Robert Neyland, who wore black and gold and openly rooted for the 'Dores as did his current head coach, Bowden Wyatt. The game was the first college football game ever televised coast-to-coast. The CBS audience was estimated at between 30 and 40 million for the only football game that Saturday. Russ Hodges ("The Giants win the pennant!") announced.

Despite the fact that his star QB had been involved in no contact in pre-bowl practices, Guepe decided right before the kickoff to start Orr. Showing no effects of his injury, Orr played the game of his life. Because of the limited substitution rules of the day, Don played almost the entire 60 minutes. He had already conquered polio, a bad facial injury, and a severe concussion. So what was a little elbow injury?

Midway through Q1, Vandy recovered a fumble at the Tiger 39. Guepe then unleashed some special formations he had concocted for the game. Sending All-American LHB Charlie Horton wide to the left and putting RHB Joe Scales in motion spread the Auburn D and allowed FB Phil King to burst up the middle three straight times to the 28. Orr hit TE Joe Stephenson to the 8 and then several plays later connected with Stephenson in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

Auburn stormed back, tying the score on a 10-play drive that ended when speedy HB Fob James, future governor of Alabama, took a short pass and scampered 28 yards down the sidelines. Vandy bounced right back, needing only four plays to go 76 yards to regain the lead, which they would never again relinquish. Orr hooked up with Scales for 24 to the 4. Then Don faked to King and kept the ball on the classic Split-T option to score untouched. As often happened in the days before kicking specialists, the PAT was wide but Vandy led 13-7 at the break.

After losing a 51-yard TD pass to Stephenson because of a holding penalty, Vandy capitalized on another fumble to travel 49 yards. Faced with fourth and goal on the one, Guepe never considered a FG and King dove into the end zone for a 19-7 lead with four minutes left in Q3.

A 15-yard penalty and a 12-yard punt put Auburn in a hole as Vandy took over on the 26. Horton dove into the end zone on the first play of Q4 for a commanding 25-7 lead. Forced to go to the air, Auburn struck back when backup QB Jimmy Cook hit All-American E "Red" Phillips for a 7-yard TD to cut the margin to 25-13 with 11:35 to go. However, Vandy controlled the ball for most of the remaining time. Guepe was able to play 38 of the 39 players who dressed for the game.

Orr became the first ever unanimous Gator Bowl MVP. He completed 4 of 6 for 67 and rushed for 43 more on 10 carries. His faking ability was no better illustrated than on his 44-yard run that set up the second 'Dore TD. Tiger defenders tackled three different Vandy backs thinking each of them had the ball as Orr raced down the sidelines.

Follow-up: Orr went on to become a longtime NFL official. He made a key call in the 1979 AFC Championship Game between Houston and Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium. Orr was the side judge who ruled that Oiler receiver Don Renfro did not have possession with both feet down on an apparent go-ahead TD pass. NBC showed replays that announcers Dick Enberg and Mervin Olsen agreed showed a TD. Nevertheless, Houston had to settle for a FG and lost 27-13. At a post-season celebration at the Astrodome, fans hanged Orr in effigy. However, NFL Films unveiled footage from an angle NBC didn't have that showed that Renfro bobbled the ball briefly before stepping out of bounds. Orr's vindication, however, didn't receive national exposure.

September 22, 1962: Dyche Stadium, Evanston IL – South Carolina @ Northwestern

Otto Graham (1941-3) set the Northwestern single-game records for most completions with 20 and most yards passing with 295. It took Tommy Myers only one game to tie the completion record and come within 20 yards of the second.

Northwestern QB Tommy Myers
Tommy Myers

For the 1962 season, his sixth in Evanston, Ara Parseghian designed an explosive attack around the strong arm of his 6' 180 lb. sophomore QB and the soft hands of WR Paul Flatley .South Carolina wasn't prepared.

Still, the Gamecocks struck first, recoverng a fumble at the Wildcat 23 and quickly taking a 6-0 lead. However, Myers led NW to the next 22 points. Then the visitors got scores from two future pros. HB Billy Gambrell raced 78 yards and QB Dan Reeves ran for four and added a two-point conversion to close the gap to 22-20.

Then Myers took over again, engineering two more TD drives for a 37-20 triumph. The final stats credited him with 20 of 24 for 275 yards and two TDs. He also ran for another score.

Northwestern E Paul Flatley
Paul Flatley

Myers proved the first game wasn't just beginner's luck. The next week Northwestern scalded archrival Illinois 45-0. Then Tommy won his first road outing at Minnesota, the defending Rose Bowl champion, 34-22, to vault the Wildcats to a #8 ranking. The next week, Flatley caught 10 in another road win, this one at mighty Ohio State before a record Ohio Stadium crowd of 84,376, 18-14. Northwestern climbed to #3 behind Texas and Alabama.

One of Notre Dame's weaker teams came to Dyche the following week and fell 35-6. Aided by Rice tying Texas, Northwestern shot to the top of the AP poll for the first time since 1936. Facing the pressure of being #1, the Wildcats squeaked out a 26-21 victory at Indiana the next week despite outgaining the Hoosiers 504 to 245.

The bubble burst at Wisconsin on November 10. The Badgers unleashed their own potent combination of QB Ron VanderKelen and WR Pat Richter in a 37-6 romp. The next week, visiting Michigan State piled on the Wildcats 31-7. The loss ended NU's dream of a Big Ten title. Parseghian pulled the team together at Miami (FL) for a 29-7 victory to end the season 7-2. Unfortunately, the Big Ten allowed only the champion to play in the Rose Bowl. So NU had to be content with the school's best season since the Rose Bowl team of 1948 went 8-2. The 1962 squad can still claim something no other Wildcat contingent of the past 50 years can boast: "We were ranked #1 in the nation."

Memoral Game: September 16, 1950: Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia – Cleveland Browns @ Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia was excited about their "Whiz Kids" fighting for their first National League pennant since 1915. However, the city took a break from baseball to concentrate on the National Football League. Two defending champions were meeting in the Saturday night season opener. How was this possible?

  • The Eagles were two-time NFL champions, having defeated the Los Angeles Rams 14-0 in the 1949 championship game.
  • Their opponents were the Cleveland Browns, winners of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) all four years it existed. When the AAFC folded after the 1949 season, the NFL added three of its teams: the Browns, the Baltimore Colts, and the San Francisco 49ers.

The NFL intentionally scheduled Cleveland against the Eagles in the opening game to create excitement but also to show that the upstart Browns were no match for mighty Philadelphia. "The worst team in our league could beat the best team in theirs," proclaimed George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins, during the AAFC's existence.

Cleveland Browns Coach Paul Brown
Paul Brown

Browns QB Otto Graham
Otto Graham

It may seem strange to say this about a Hall of Fame coach but Paul Brown has always been underrated. The term "genius" is over-used, but "Football Genius" fits Brown because of his many innovations.

  • Hired a full-time staff year round.
  • Gave players intelligence tests.
  • Made each player construct his own playbook each season.
  • Graded game films position by position.
  • Required players to stay together at a hotel the night before home games as well as road games.
  • Used a "messenger guard" system to send in plays.
Called "Mechanical Man" for his cool, attention-to-details personality, Brown brought a team to Philly that was superbly prepared to show the NFL that Cleveland was ready for prime time. The equally proud Eagleswere led on O by RB Steve Van Buren, QB Tommy Thompson, and E Pete Pihos and on D by LB Chuck Bednarik. Philadelphia's cockiness was exemplified by the comment that summer from Coach "Greasy" Neale (himself no slouch as an innovator): "Who is there to beat us?" However, Van Buren would not play in the opener because of a broken toe.
The crowd of 71,237 cheered as their Eagles took a 3-0 Q1 lead. Then QB Otto Graham began executing the Browns' sophisticated passing game. After completing several short passes to Dub Jones, arguably the first split end in football history, Graham threw over the cheating LB to Jones for a 59-yard TD. The Eagles retaliated by driving to the Brown 6. 232-pound FB Marion Motley entered at LB and helped stuff four straight running plays. Philadelphia never recovered. Graham threw two more TDs, 26 yards to E Dante Lavelli and 12 to E Mac Speedie, to move the score to 21-3. Otto ended 21-for-38 for 346 yards in the 35-10 victory.

Coach Greasy Neale, Eagles
Greasy Neale

Dub Jones, Browns
Dub Jones

After the game, the usually emotionless Brown sported a rare smile: "I think today we were the best football team I've ever seen." Eagle T Bucko Kilroy said: "It was no upset. Man for man, they were just a better team." However, Neale wasn't so magnanimous. "Brown would have made a better basketball coach because all they do is put the ball in the air." Brown responded when Philadelphiacame to Cleveland 11 weeks later. The Browns won 13-7 without completing a pass.

Cleveland finished 10-2, tied for the American Conference lead with the Giants, whom they defeated in a playoff 8-3. Then Brown's men defeated the National Conference champion Rams 30-28 to win the NFL Championship in their very first season in the league.

September 15, 1973: Pittsburgh @ Georgia
Coach Johnny Majors, Pitt
Johnny Majors

Pitt RB Tony Dorsett
Tony Dorsett

The Pitt Panthers' first game of the 1973 season brought a double debut.

  • Johnny Majors replaced Carl de Pasqua as coach.
  • Tony Dorsett played his first game at TB.

Neither would have willingly chosen the venue for their coming out party: "Between the Hedges" at Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia.

Johnny had made his first order of business the recruitment of Dorsett, probably the most heralded RB to come out of western PA. Tony had run for over 1,000 yards in both his junior and senior years for Aliquippa High School. His 4.3 speed in the 40 attracted attention from "a zillion" colleges, as he said, including Ohio State and Penn State. However, both Woody Hayes and Joe Paterno wanted him to play DB. Majors assigned his assistant, Jackie Sherrill, to shadow Dorsett. Jackie's mom made pecan pies for the Dorsett family. Because "I was a mama's boy," Tony chose nearby Pitt.

Dorsett had already made dazzling debuts at two earlier levels of football.

  • Although "afraid to play football," Tony tried out for a sixth-grade Pop Warner team because he wanted to be like his four older brothers. Placed on the kickoff team, he managed to catch the ball and then rambled 75y for a TD.
  • After playing rover at 135 lbs as a sophomore, Tony moved to RB for his junior year of high school. The coach called for a swing pass to start his first game. Dorsett took it in and raced 75y for a TD.
For his first college game, Tony faced one of the most famous defenses in the country. Georgia's Vince Dooley had turned his D over to "Erk" Russell, who goaded his "Junkyard Dogs" to stop the hot-shot Yankee freshman. Nevertheless, Dorsett ran for 101y. But it was a play on which he fulfilled the role of decoy that accounted for Pitt's only score. On the opening drive, QB Bill Daniels faked to Tony and rambled 17y to paydirt. The 7-0 lead held into Q2 when UGa QB Andy Johnson capped a 53y drive with a 4y keeper.

Neither team came close to scoring in the second half until the Panthers mounted a 64y drive that ended on a missed FG by freshman K Carson Long. Still, after a 1-10 record the year before, fans were encouraged by the 7-7 tie against an SEC team.

Dorsett went on to set several NCAA records.

  • He ran for 265y against Northwestern, the top mark at that time not only for a freshman but for any back.
  • His four-year total of 6,082 rushing yards set the career record.
Majors and Dorsett met Georgia and the Junkyard Dogs again in the Sugar Bowl following the 1976 season. Pitt's 27-3 victory culminated a 12-0 season and clinched the #1 ranking in the final AP poll. Sherrill then took over when Majors went to Tennessee, his alma mater, and Dorsett began his 12-year NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys. Tony was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton in 1994.
September 16, 1955: Texas A&M @ UCLA

Bear Bryant brought his second Aggie club to the Los Angeles Coliseum for a Friday night encounter with UCLA. Red Sanders' Bruins were ranked #1 in the pre-season AP poll, thanks in large measure to the hoopla surrounding junior TB Ronnie Knox.

  • Knox had first gained national attention as a high school star. With his stepfather Harvey acting as his agent without using that title, Ronnie had played for three high schools in California. Harvey had been accused of auctioning his stepson to the highest bidder when he finished high school.
  • At any rate, he had gone to California to play for Pappy Waldorf. However, dissatisfied with Cal's limited offense that didn't use Ronnie's talents, Harvey transferred him to UCLA. The year he sat out in Westwood under NCAA rules only heightened the anticipation of his debut.

Sanders tried his best to alleviate the pressure on Knox. In pre-season practice, Red declared his acclaimed rookie was his fourth-string TB who would be lucky to see action at all in the opening game, especially since he suffered a painful injury that made the index finger on his throwing hand swell up.

UCLA 1955

UCLA 1955 starting backfield

Left to right: Bruce Ballard (BB); Ronnie Knox (TB); Bob Davenport (FB); Jim Decker (WB)

True to his word, Sanders started 5'7" Doug Bradley at TB.

  • However, Bradley immediately fumbled the opening kickoff, giving A&M a scoring opportunity on the 20.
  • However, the Bruins intercepted a pass to stop the visitors. Then, on first down, Bradley lost 13y.
  • At that point, Sanders went to Knox on the sidelines and put a fatherly arm around him. After a reverse gained 6, out trotted Wonder Boy. The crowd neither booed nor cheered, instead sitting in curious, electric silence.

After running a fake punt with the WB carrying the ball out of Sanders' single wing attack, Knox booted a 55-yarder to the Aggie 11. Up in the stands, a proud stepfather proclaimed to all around him, "That's nuthin' – wait'll Ronnie warms up."

On the next Bruin series, Knox hit WB Jim Decker for 11, then E Johnny Hermann for 7.

  • He fooled A&M by carrying the ball himself off a fake pass "with a smashing, heavy-legged drive reminiscent of the Bruins' last All-America TB Paul Cameron."
  • Bryant shook his head on the sidelines. Knox was as good as advertised, only A&M had no way to prepare for him.

Early in Q2, Knox fired a perfect pass on the dead-run to Hermann for UCLA's first TD.

  • The newcomer threw two more TD aerials, the third over Bryant's All-American HB John David Crow to Decker.
  • With the D holding the visitors to 193y, the Bruins won 21-0.

Afterwards, the press was more interested in interviewing Harvey Knox outside the locker room than Sanders inside.

  • "Where would that game have been without Ronnie?" asked the stepfather. "Where? I'll tell you. Nuthin' to nuthin' to nuthin'."
  • When asked about the upcoming game at Maryland, Harvey proclaimed: "Maryland? That Goose Tatum. Why, if Ronnie doesn't throw for five or six TDs, I'll disown him."
  • Sanders was less effusive but admitted that he was not surprised by the way Knox had played.
  • As for Ronnie himself, he showered endlessly, waiting for everyone to leave so he wouldn't have to face the press.

The following week, Maryland knocked UCLA off its lofty perch with a 7-0 victory in rain and mud that negated the Bruins' speed.

  • The game turned when UCLA drove to the Terrapin 1 but fumbled on the first play of Q2.
  • Maryland took the second half kickoff and drove 79yd for the game's only tally.
  • Knox was 9-13 for 96yd but struggled in the second half after suffering a mild shoulder separation that contributed to two costly INTs. Only a Terp fumble inside the Bruin 5 kept the game close.

UCLA finished the regular season 9-1, winning the Pacific Coast Conference. They were upset in the Rose Bowl by Michigan State, 17-14.

NFL First Game Records
Billy Sims
Billy Sims

Here are some records for a player's performance in his first NFL game.

  • TDs: Billy Sims scored 3 TDs in his maiden game for the Detroit Lions in 1980. Marshall Faulk tied the record with the Indianapolis Colts in 1994.
  • Rushing Yards: 193 is the number that Ottis Anderson put up for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979.
  • Passing Yards: The immortal Ed Rubbert threw for 334 for the Washington Redskins in 1987. If you've never heard of him, maybe it's because he was a replacement player during the strike. Rubbert threw three TDs to Anthony Allen, who had 255 receiving yards, which is still a Redskins record. Rubbert was the inspiration for Keanu Reeves's character in the 2000 movie The Replacements.
Ottis Anderson
Ottis Anderson
1957: Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns

Syracuse RB Jim Brown
Jim Brown at Syracuse

Jim Brown Kicking
Jim Brown Place-Kicking

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns
Jim Brown with Cleveland Browns


At Manhasset High School on Long Island, Jim Brown earned 13 letters in football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, and track. His senior year, he averaged 14.9 ypc in football and 38 ppg in basketball. He earned a football scholarship to Syracuse.

  • Since freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition, Jim didn't begin play until his sophomore year in 1954. He was the second leading rusher on the football team and second leading scorer in basketball for the Orangemen, averaging 15 ppg. He also earned letters in track and lacrosse.
  • His junior year, Brown rushed for 666y (5.2 per carry), averaged 11.3 in basketball, and made second team All-American in lacrosse as well as football.
  • As a senior, Jim moved up to first team All-American in football (986 yd, third in the nation despite Syracuse playing only eight games, and 6.2 ypc) and lacrosse (43 goals in 10 games to tie for the national scoring lead). In the last regular season game against Colgate, Brown rushed for 197yd, scored six TDs and kicked seven PATs for 43 points, an NCAA record at the time.
  • In the Cotton Bowl, the Syracuse Stallion ran for 132 yd, scored three TDs, and kicked three PATs. However, TCU blocked one of his kicks to eke out a 28-27 win.
Jim Brown running at Syracuse
Jim Brown running for Syracuse against Army

The Cleveland Browns selected Brown with the sixth pick in the first round of the 1957 NFL Draft. This gave Cleveland a Brown BonanzaJim Brown playing for Coach Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns.

Jim did not disappoint the city of Cleveland. Here were his stats for his rookie season (1957) in which he played in all 12 regular season games at FB.

202 rushes, 942y, 9 TD, 78.5 ypg, 4.7 ypc

The 942 yd rushing led the league. The Browns won the Eastern Conference but lost to the Western champions, the Detroit Lions, 56-17, in the championship game. Brown made every all-NFL team and was voted Rookie of the Year.

Jim never missed a game in nine seasons in the NFL, all with the Browns. He led the league in rushing yardage eight of the nine seasons (amassing a "measly" 996y in 1962). He surprised the football world by abruptly retiring after the 1965 season in order to concentrate on his movie career.

Jim Brown is the only man ever inducted into both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fames as well as the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

September 17, 1961: Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings

This article discusses the dazzling debut of both a team and a QB.

Frank Tarkenton, VIkings
Fran Tarkenton

Coach Norm Van Brocklin and the Vikings
Norm Van Brocklin rejoices with his Vikings

Frank Tarkenton Hall of Fame
Tarkenton inducted into
Hall of Fame 1986

The Minnesota Vikings began play as an expansion franchise in 1961.

  • In that era before free agency, expansion teams took many years to develop into contenders. They got to pick players from lists that each team submitted, but, as the Saints found out five years later, those lists never included any really productive players.
  • The new team could participate in the NFL Draft and, with the first pick, chose RB Tommy Mason from Tulane.
  • In the third round, Coach Norm Van Brocklin, who had been a star QB himself, chose Fran Tarkenton from Georgia. Even though he had starred for the Bulldogs, Fran lasted until the third round because, as he put it many years later, "They didn't think I could play. I was too short, my arm wasn't strong enough."

The schedule-makers allowed the new team to open the regular season in their new Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington MN against their West Division rivals, the Chicago Bears.

  • The oddsmakers installed Chicago as 24-point favorites. Who could blame them? The Vikings had lost all five of their exhibition games, including 30-7 at the hands of the Bears.
  • Van Brocklin decided to go with veteran QB George Shaw over the rookie Tarkenton.

The Associated Press article on the game started this way.

A star was born and an old pro's coaching dreams were fulfilled Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings made their National Football League debut by upsetting the Chicago Bears 37-13.

Frank Tarkenton made what both Coach Norm Van Brocklin of the Vikings and Bears mentor George Halas called the greatest debut of a rookie QB in the NFL's history.

When Shaw couldn't move the team, Van Brocklin put in Tarkenton.

  • Fran completed 17 of 23 for 250 yd. He threw for four TDs and ran for another.
  • He hit Bob Schnelker for a 14-yd score to make it 10-0 in Q2. Rick Casares put the Bears on the board with a 3-yd run but the kick failed. The Vikings' 10-6 halftime lead surprised crowds all across the league. The second half would stun everyone even more.
  • Tarkenton really sizzled in Q3, completing 8 of 11 for two more TDs, one to Jerry Reichow and the other to veteran RB Hugh McElhenny.
  • The TD run came early in Q4 from the 2 around RE.
  • Finally, Dave Middleton caught a 2-yd TD to make it 37-6.
  • The Bears added a late TD to make the final ledger a bit more respectable.

The Vikings won only two more games against 11 defeats. Tarkenton started 10 games to kick off an 18-year career that would earn him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

September 29, 1962 – Nebraska @ Michigan

In the 1950s, Nebraska was not a football powerhouse in the Oklahoma-dominated Big Six. Quite the contrary.

  • Eight head coaches in a row had ended their Cornhusker tenure with losing records, achieving only three winning seasons in 21 years.
  • The latest, Bill Jennings, coached from 1957-1961, with no winning seasons and a 15-34-1 record.

In desperation, Nebraska turned to the coach of the Wyoming Cowboys.

  • From 1957-1961, Bob Devaney compiled a 35-10-5 record in Laramie. After starting 4-3-3, he went 8-3, 9-1, 8-2, and 6-1-2
  • Devaney grew up in Saginaw MI, 85 mi from Ann Arbor. He attended Alma College. After graduation, he coached high school football for many years.
  • He promised himself that, if he wasn't on a college sideline by age 40, he would hang up his whistle and become an administrator.
  • Three years ahead of his deadline, he became an assistant to Duffy Daugherty at Michigan State. Four years later, he got the job at Wyoming.
  • Nebraska's first choice to replace Jennings was Daugherty. Duffy said no and recommended his former assistant.

Nebraska began its first season under Devaney, 1962, with six straight wins.

  • The first, 53-0 over South Dakota in Lincoln, was expected.
  • The second opponent was none other than the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor in the first meeting between the two schools in 45 years.

The game had been scheduled before Bob arrived in Lincoln, but he couldn't have picked a better opponent to test his new team.

  • 70,287 in sunny Michigan Stadium watched both offenses start sluggishly in the scoreless first period.
  • The visitors finally penetrated Wolverine territory in Q2 and continued on to paydirt. Dennis Stuewe accounted for 73y on the march on two runs and an 11y pass reception for the score.
  • Michigan drove back for its first TD with Dave Glinka scoring from the eight after he was trapped trying to pass. The errant PAT kept Nebraska in the lead 7-6 at the half.

Devaney's men took control after halftime.

  • Early in Q3, "Bump" Elliott's D apparently stopped the Huskers at midfield, but an offside gave UN a first down. HB Dave Theisen passed 30y to Jim Huge, who grabbed the ball away from three defenders at the 15.
  • Senior Bill "Thunder" Thornton, who was not expected to play because of a dislocated shoulder, crashed over from the 1 four plays later.
  • Before the quarter ended, Dave Raimey fumbled and Doug Tucker's recovery gave UN the ball at the UM 28. Dennis Claridge scored from the 5 on a QB keeper for a 19-7 lead.
  • HB Dick Rindfuss scored early in Q4 to cut the lead to 6, but Nebraska retaliated with another drive, mostly on the ground. Thornton barrelled the final 16 to salt away the 25-13 victory.

3,000 fans jammed the airport terminal to welcome the team back to Lincoln. Several thousand more were stuck in traffic en route.

  • Devaney's first Cornhusker squad finished the regular season 8-2, losing to Missouri and Oklahoma.
  • They defeated Miami (FL) in the Gotham Bowl in New York 36-34.
  • In 11 seasons as head coach, Devaney compiled a 101-20-2 record, including national titles in 1970 and '71. He remained as AD, turning the gridiron reins over to his top assistant, Tom Osborne.
  • Former NU sports information director Don Bryant later said, "Devaney, to the day he died, said the most important game of his career was the Michigan game in 1962."
Coach Bob Devaney
Bob Devaney

Coach "Bump" Elliott, Michigan
"Bump" Elliott
Claridge to Huge vs. Michigan
QB Dennis Claridge connecting with Bill Huge vs. Michigan
Bill "Thunder" Thornton
Bill "Thunder" Thornton
Dick Rindfuss, Michigan
Dick Rindfuss