Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
1944: Green Bay Packers @ New York Giants
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.

New York Giants owner Tim Mara
Giants
owner Tim Mara

Eagles RB Steve Van Buren
Eagles RB Steve Van Buren

Steve Owen lecturing his Giants
Steve Owen lecturing his Giants

Giants C Mel Hein
Giants C Mel Hein

Giants B Bill Paschal
Giants B Bill Paschal

Packers B Tony Canadeo
Tony Canadeo

Giants DB Howie Livingston

Giants T Al Blozis
Giants T Al Blozis
1944 NFL Championship Game Program Cover

By 1944, the toughest opponent facing every NFL team was World War II. Teams struggled to find quality players even after reducing the rosters to 25 for the '43 sea­son. For example, the Giants had only five players left from their 1941 East Division champions.

One of those five was All-Pro C Mel Hein, who retired after the 1942 season and took a job with the Navy training program at Union College in Schenectady NY. But Giants coach Steve Owen called Mel before the '43 season and enticed him to become his "Sunday Center." He spent the week in Schenectady but played in each week's game. Mel recalled: This may sound like a precarious arrangement for Steve, but I had played under him so long I knew the system inside out. And my work at Union kept me in shape. So the team accepted the same arrangement for '44.

Yet with the situation worse in '44, what did the NFL owners decide to do for 1944? Expand!
  • Ted Collins, famous as the manager of popular singer Kate Smith, wanted to start an NFL team to play in Yankee Stadium. But Giants owner Tim Mara re­fused to relinquish his territorial rights. So Collins started his franchise in Bos­ton, which had been without an NFL team since George Marshall moved the Redskins to Washington after the '36 season. Ted at least got to call his team the Yanks, but they didn't resemble the Bronx Bombers in the least, posting a 2-8 record in their maiden season.
  • The Cleveland Rams returned to the league after a year's hiatus. They wel­comed back a handful of players who had been on their '42 roster but hadn't entered the military. But with rookies and castoffs filling most of the roster spots, they ended 4-6 in the Western Division.
  • The Philadelphia Eagles also resumed independent operation after merging with Pittsburgh for the '43 season. So the remnants of the Steelers joined with the Chicago Cardinals to form Card-Pitt and compete in the West. On their way to an 0-10 season, the team acquired a new name from the fans: "Carpets" be­cause "everyone walked all over them."
  • Meanwhile, Philadelphia posted the best record in franchise history, 7-1-2. The improvement came in the first year that Coach Greasy Neale had full control of the team with a considerable boost from rookie RB Steve Van Buren from LSU, who finished fourth in rushing with 444y and added another 496 on kick returns.

The owners agreed on three rules changes.

  1. The free substitution rule was changed so that substitutes do not have to report to the officials before a play.
  2. Communication between the players and coaches on the field was permitted as long as the coaches stayed in the designated areas along the sidelines, and they didn't cause a delay in the game.
  3. If the offensive team commited pass interference in their opponent's end zone, it was just a distance penalty and no longer an automatic touchback.

The East race went down to the last weekend.

  • The Giants lost to the Eagles on October 29 before tying them in Philly two weeks later. But Owen's club won their other eight games to nose out Greasy's squad by a half-game.
  • The West was wide open after military service gutted the Bears, who had won the division four years in a row. That opened the door for the Packers, the run­ner-up for every one of those Chicago titles. Led by incomparable E Don Hutson, the Pack finished 8-2 to top the 6-3-1 Bears.
Applying a statistic that wasn't in vogue in the '40s, it is ironic that the Packers made the championship game in 1944 after not making it the previous three years. The 1941, '42, and '43 Green Bay teams rank in the top ten all-time in turnover differential, accepted today as one of the best indicators of success in football.
  • 1941 (10-1): +24
  • 1942 (8-2-1): +22
  • 1943 (7-2-1): +26
But in '44, they were -12 and still won the division. This illustrates the diluted level of play due to the war.

The Giants returned to the championship game for the first time since 1941.

  • They received a boost from second-year RB Billy Paschal from Georgia Tech, whose 737y made him the first man to lead the league in rushing two straight seasons.
  • In addition to Hein, Coach Owen lured Arnie Herber out of retirement four years after he retired from the Packers. The 34-year-old TB improved the pass­ing attack to create a more balanced offense.
  • Also, Ken Strong, Giants FB-K from 1933-35 before leaving over a salary dis­pute, returned to help out his old club.
  • But make no mistake. It was defense that anchored the Giants, who gave up only 75 points in ten contests, five of which were shutouts, including a 24-0 victory over the Packers at the Polo Grounds November 19.
  • William Richardson of the New York Times branded Owen a "miracle man" for bringing a heterogeneous group of youngsters and oldsters he started with at Bear Mountain up past the Eagles and Redskins, the No. 1 and 2 choices early in the season. Steve's roster included nine rookies, three of whom hadn't played col­lege ball.

The Packers, like the Giants, were a shadow of their teams that won championships before the war.

  • Playing a schedule tailored to the weather in their home state, Curly Lambeau's team won their first five games at home before finishing the season 3-2 on the road.
  • Hutson led the league in receptions (58) for the fourth straight year and the seventh time in his ten-year career. He also ranked first in yardage (866) and tied with Paschal for the top spot in TDs with 9.
  • Lambeau lost his best passer, Tony Canadeo, to the Army after three games.
  • The Packers and Giants would now meet for the third time since the NFL began championship games in 1933.
Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau1944 Packers Offensive Starters
L: Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau; R; Packers' starting offense.
Despite losing to New York in the regular season and having to travel to the Polo Grounds again (because it was the East champion's turn to host), the Packers ruled as slight favorites (8 to 5).
  • One factor was the mystery surrounding "Bazooka" Paschal's ability to play after spraining an ankle in the Washington game the week before. The injury kept him from practicing all week. If he could not go, Howie Livingston from Fullerton JC, would replace him. The rookie had sparked the Giants in their No­vember victory over the Pack by circling in front of Hutson to intercept a pass that he ran back 24y to pay dirt for the first score of the game. It was one of a league-leading nine for Howie, and he would be counted on to shadow Hutson again in the championship fray.
  • Another reason was the fact that the Packers had been idle since completing their schedule November 26 whereas the Giants might be battle weary after playing back-to-back games with the Redskins December 3 and 10.
  • New York had received a shot in the arm late in the season when 2d Lieut. Al Blozis, their 6'6" T who had made All-Pro the last two years, graduated from officer's training school and spent his 10-day leave playing against Brooklyn and the Redskins at the Polo Grounds. NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden ruled that Al would be eligible for the championship game while his unit awaited deploy­ment to Europe. Owen would use Blozis only on defense against the Packers.
  • Steve also relied on his assistant, Red Smith, a former GB coach, in crafting the game plan.

Curly took his team to Charlottesville VA for a week of practice in milder weather at the University of Virginia before traveling to the Big Apple.

  • He announced his starting backfield for the title game: QB Irvin Comp, 214 pounder from St. Benedict; HB Joe Laws (190, Iowa), in his eleventh season with Green Bay; FB Ted Fritsch (210, Wisconsin Steven's Point), another veteran (nine years); BB Larry Craig (205, South Carolina). Another back, Lou Brock, had been sidelined for five weeks with a torn knee ligament but would see "some action" according to Lambeau.
  • One of the Packers who illustrated the state of NFL football during the war was 220 lb T Dr. Paul Berezny, who would be returning to the site of his college alma mater, Fordham. He used his Green Bay salary to put himself through medical school.

The league decreed that, should the game end in a tie, there would be no OT, and the teams would be declared co-champions.

1944 Green Bay Packers
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt College Exp.
1 Ray McKay B 6-0 193 Texas 1
7 Joel Mason E 6-0 199 Western Michigan 4
8 Bob Kahler HB 6-3 201 Nebraska 3
14 Don Hutson E 6-1 183 Alabama 10
16 Lou Brock B 6-0 195 Purdue 5
17 Ray Wehba E 6-0 215 USC 2
18 Alex Urban E 6-3 207 South Carolina 2
19 Mike Bucchianeri G 5-10 212 Indiana 2
21 Pete Tinsley G 5-8 205 Georgia 4
23 Don Perkins FB 6-0 196 Wis. Platteville 1
24 Joe Laws HB 5-9 186 Iowa 11
29 Charlie Brock C 6-2 207 Nebraska 6
33 Glen Sorenson G 6-0 217 Utah State 2
35 Bob Flowers C 6-1 210 Texas Tech 3
42 Paul Duhart B 6-0 180 Florida 1
43 Buckets Goldenberg QB 5-10 215 Wisconsin 12
44 Buford Ray T 6-6 249 Vanderbilt 7
45 Bill Kuusisto G 6-0 228 Minnesota 4
46 Chuck Tollefson G 6-0 215 Iowa 1
47 Paul Berezney T 6-2 220 Fordham 3
48 Harry Jacunski E 6-2 200 Fordham 6
51 Irv Comp QB 6-2 204 Benedictine 2
54 Larry Craig E 6-1 211 South Carolina 6
56 Ade Schwammel T 6-2 225 Oregon State 5
61 Ben Starret B 5-11 213 St. Mary's (CA) 4
64 Ted Fritsch FB 5-10 210 Wis. Stevens Point 9
72 Forrest McPherson G/T 5-11 233 Nebraska 5
75 Tiny Croft T 6-3 287 Alabama 3
1944 New York Giants
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
2 Len Calligaro B 5-11 190 Wisconsin 1
5 Bill Petrilas B 6-1 195 None 1
7 Mel Hein C 6-2 225 Washington State 14
8 Bill Paschal FB 6-0 201 Georgia Tech 2
11 John Weiss E 6-3 198 None 1
14 Ward Cuff B 6-1 192 Marquette 8
20 Arne Herber B 5-11 203 Wisconsin 12
21 Ray Clay B 6-0 185 Colorado State 1
22 Frank Liebel E 6-1 211 Norwich 3
24 Howie Livington B 6-1 183 Fullerton JC 1
25 Carl Kinscherf FB 6-1 188 Colgate 2
26 Vic Carroll T-G 6-3 235 Nevada-Reno 9
28 Verline Adams E 6-0 205 Charleston (WV) 7
29 Bill Piccolo C 5-11 185 Canisius 2
30 Neal Adams E 6-3 195 Arkansas 3
31 Larry Visnic G 5-11 190 Benedictine 2
32 Al Blozis T 6-6 250 Georgetown (KY) 3
33 John Sivell G 5-9 205 Auburn 6
36 Frank Cope T 6-2 225 Santa Clara 7
37 Joe Sulaitis B 6-2 212 None 2
39 Herb Kane T 6-0 220 East Central (OK) 1
42 Hubert Barker B 5-10 193 Arkansas 3
44 Keith Beebe B 5-9 180 Occidental 1
50 Ken Strong FB 6-0 206 NYU 9
55 Chuck Avedisian G 5-9 203 Providence 3
60 Len Younce G 6-1 208 Oregon State 3
69 Frank Umont G/T 5-11 218 None 1
70 Roland Caranci T 6-2 214 Colorado 1
1944 New York Giants
1944 New York Giants
46,016 showed up at the Polo Grounds on Sunday, December 17, on what turned into an ideal football day after earlier rains.
  • Quarter 1
    While the Giants had shown the superior line play in the earlier meeting between the teams, it was obvious from the start that the Packers' front had more zing this time. The home team also suffered from losing their rookie LB Len Calligaro to a shoulder injury on the first play he was in.
    The home team deployed a five-man line but, when they suspected a pass, had all-league G Len Younce drop back to help cover Hutson. In those cases, GB sent either HB Laws or FB Fritsch through the gap for good gains.
    In the first period, the Giants got the ball at their 2, 19, 21, 30, and 11, but each time had to punt.
    Meanwhile, the Packers didn't have much more success themselves. They did manage to grind out two first downs. Their deepest penetration came after Irv Comp returned Younce's punt 9y to the GB 44. The first play was a pass from Comp into the flat to Hutson, who fooled the Giant defenders completely. But Don slipped after making the catch and slid out of bounds after a 22y gain. But Irv's protection failed him on the next play, and he was hit from the blind side just as he let the ball go. Younce intercepted the throw.
    Finally, after forcing still another punt, the Packers began a scoring drive from the NY 48.
Ted Frisch rambles 26y to the 1 in Q2.Fritsch Scores for Packers
L: Ted Frisch runs 26y to the 1. R: Fritsch scores for Packers.
  • Quarter 2
    The period had hardly started when Laws, who would be the game's leading ground-gainer (13/78), churned 20y off RT on a spinner to the NY 28. On the next play, Fritsch, "a squat 210 pounder," broke through the same hole and broke into the clear. At the 10, he met Cuff head on, bounced the Giant out of his path, and kept goining until Howie Livingston pulled him down at the 1. Laws slipped on first down and lost a yard. Then Fritsch lost another before Joe gained nothing. Green Bay called timeout and decided to eschew the FG. Lou Brock replaced Laws, but Fritsch got the ball and followed Brock and Charley "Buckets" Goldenberg, 33-year-old BB with 12 years of service under his belt, through a hole at RG and ended up 3 or 4y in the EZ. Hutson booted the PAT. Packers 7 Giants 0
    Later in the period, Green Bay cleverly took advantage of the Giants' obsession with Hutson to double their score in the last two minutes with a 63y drive. The first key play occurred with the ball at the GB 45. Comp, under a furious rush all afternoon, threw to Hutson who made a sensational catch to put the ball at the 30. After Fritsch's 2y gain, the Packers pulled off the play of the game. Comp took the snap and, as his line swung to the right, watched Hutson break across from LE, drawing defenders with him. In the meantime, Fritsch sauntered unnoticed to the left, then began to sprint down the sidelines. Comp, after faking several times toward Don, turned and threw toward Ted, who took the pass at the 11 with no one within 10y of him and ambled into the EZ. Hutson booted the point. Packers 14 Giants 0 with a minute and a half to play.
    The Giants could kick themselves because they had been practicing a defense against plays that used Don as a decoy. They knew what to expect and what to do, but they just didn't do it.
    Since NY ended the half having gained only 24y without once moving beyond their own 35, the lead seemed insurmountable, especially with every prospect that the Pack would add more points. The Giants had also lost 30y by penalties for excessive times out.
The Giants staged a halftime show worthy of Redskins' showman George Preston Marshall. The circus presented skaters in one ring, jugglers in another, and acrobats in the third.

Richardson used World War II analogies in his Times article the next day to describe the home team's woeful performance. For the first thirty minutes ..., the Giants were like a ship on the run to Murmansk without rudder or guns ... Kept handcuffed, hog-tied and hamstrung all through the first two periods ..., the Giants ... came out after the intermis­sion and outfought their able-bodied opponents from there on.

  • Quarter 3
    After participating in only three plays in the first half, Paschal tried to go, but his ankle gave way on the first scrimmage play. Despite his loss, the Giants offense finally showed some spark, gaining their initial first down on a pass down the middle from Herber to Cuff, who ran to midfield. But that's as far as the Giants got since three passes by Arne failed to connect, forcing them to punt.
    The next time NY got the ball, they moved from their 14 to a first down on the GB 42 in four plays. This time Laws stopped the thrust by intercepting his former teammate's toss, one of Joe's three picks on the day.
    The home team got their mitts on the ball again when Livingston reached his big paws into the path of a Comp pass toward Hutson and lumbered up the field until dumped on the NY 45. From there, the Giants embarked on their first scor­ing march. First, Herber fired a pass that fell incomplete, but the officials ruled interference on the GB 42. Then Arne arched a long one to E Frank Liebel. Comp had him covered but, as he reached to intercept, slipped on the wet field and went down on his backside with a crash, enabling Frank to make the catch on the 12. He nearly scored, but Fritsch ran him out of bounds on the 1 as the period ended.
  • Quarter 4
    Moving from WB to TB for one play only, Cuff plowed across up the middle to open the period. Strong's PAT cut the Green Bay lead in half. Packers 14 Giants 7
    Neither team could move. The Packers were playing conservatively and eating up clock, but NY filled the air with passes - Herber would complete only 8 of 22.
    The Giants started one drive only to have Laws intercept on his own 35.
    On their next possession, the home team gained three first downs, the last one at the GB 42 before the advance was halted when Paul Duhart recorded the Pack's fourth INT at the 20 with less than five minutes left.
    In the closing minutes, the Giants opened up again, completing two passes. But a 4th down shovel pass from Herber to Cuff gained only 4y when they need 7, and the Packers took over.
    On the first snap, the game ended.
    FINAL SCORE: PACKERS 14 GIANTS 7
1944 champion Packers rejoice.
Packers hoist Fritsch and Lambeau.
Final statistics:
  • First downs: Packers 11 Giants 10
  • Yards rushing: Packers 48-162, Giants 29-70
  • Passing: Packers 11-3-3, Giants 22-8-4
  • Return yardage: Packers 123, Giants 118edskins
  • Fumbles-Lost: Packers 2-0, Giants 1-0
  • Penalties: Packers 4-48, Giants 11-90

The game broke all records financially.

  • The gross gate was $146,205.15 with a net after taxes of $121,03.
  • $81,466.51 of that went to the players.
  • The champion Packers split $41,986.64 with the Giants receiving $27,931.91.
  • The second place clubs in each division divvied up the remaining $11,637.96.
Postgame
  • Louis Effrat of the NY Times waited for the Packers in their locker room. First to reach the visiting team's dressing room ... was Bill Kuusisto, the 230-pound guard from Minnesota, but one needed more than a second look to identify the player. The left side of his face was ripped and puffed and over his left eye was the nastiest gash imaginable, evidence of the savage line play that marked this play-off encounter. Hutson's right elbow and thigh sported nasty contusions.
  • Lambeau praised the Giants as a "great club," then turned to his own club. The mental attitude of the teams had a lot to do with the outcome. This time we were "up" for the game. The last time the Giants were "up." ... For the first time this year, the ball club operated at full efficiency. ... On defense, all the boys were superb. Special credit should be given to Larry Craig, whose trap blocking on runs by Joe Laws up the middle paved the way for Joe. Concerning the second TD when Fritsch sneaked out of the backfield, Curly chuckled. I guess you could call that our secret weapon. Asked who should get the game ball, Curly replied, Give it to "Baby" Ray[GB's 6-6, 249lb T from Vanderbilt]. I promised it to him earlier in the year. He was referring to the exhibition game GB played against the Eagles in Nashville, Baby's home town, which proclaimed it "Baby Ray Day." We played so poorly then and disgraced Ray before his neighbors. So I promised him the champ­ionship ball.
  • Hutson, who caught only two passes (with one completion negated by penalty): Don't let any one tell you the Giants are not a good team. Defensively, they are the best in the league. They always hamper our offense when we play them ... You'll never see me play another game of football in New York. I'm through for good this time. I've got a coaching contract with Curly and from now on that's what I'm going to do. Considering this was Don's fourth "annual retirement," interviewers were not inclined to take this declaration seriously. But the great E reiterated: If I play another game here, you can push me off the top of the Empire State Building, and I'll give you thirty minutes in which to collect a crowd. When informed of Hutson's words, Lambeau merely laughed. Oh, Don always talks like that after the last game. But don't fret. He'll be back.
  • Chicago Cardinals coach Phil Handler, in attendance at the game, said, I thought Laws was the best player on the field. Why, he actually looked faster than when he broke into pro football.
  • Owen in his somber locker room intimated that the loss of Paschal and Calligaro changed the complexion of the game but gave the Packers due credit. We didn't have it today. They did. We were bottled in our own territory throughout the first half and had to kick on third down repeatedly. Without Paschal to threaten them, the Packers were able to play wide open. We went as far as we could.
1944 NFL Champion Green Bay Packers
1944 Green Bay Packers
The gross receipts totaled $146,205.15.
  • The Packers split a pool of $41,896.64 - about $1,500 per man.
  • The losers divided $27,938.91 ($900 each).
  • Both amounts set new records.
Follow-up
  • Al Blozis was killed in the Battle of the Bulge on January 31, 1945, a little over a month after playing the championship game.
  • As Lambeau suspected, Hutson returned for the '45 season, but that was it. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of its inaugural class in 1963.
References: Championship: The NFL Title Games plus Super Bowl, Jerry Izenberg (1970)
Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness, Eric Goska (2004)
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