Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1963: Allen's Defense Stifles Giants
1963 NFL Championship Game: New York Giants @ Chicago Bears
The 1963 title clash pitted the NFL's highest-scoring offense, the Giants (448 points), against the stingiest defense, the Bears (144 points, just 10.3 per game).
Bears' defensive coordinator George Allen was fanatical about film study. He wanted to know exactly what the Giants would do on each play, based on field position, the game situation, and yards needed for a first down. He wanted his defense so well schooled that they would recognize the formation as soon as the opponent came to the line of scrimmage.
But Allen's meticulous preparation wouldn't be worth much without talented players. George Halas's Bears had an experienced unit led by MLB Bill George, a 12-year vete­ran. Joe Fortunato and Larry Morris joined Bill to form what many considered the best linebacker corps in the league. The Bears led the league in interceptions with 36 out of Allen's zone defense.

Bears linebackers: Johnny Morris, Bill George, Joe Fortunato
The rugged line featured Ed O'Bradovich (6-3 255) and Doug Atkins (6-8 247) on the edges and Stan Jones (6-1 250) and Earl Leggett (6-3 265) in the middle.
33-year-old Bill Wade directed Chicago's ball-control, balanced offense that gained 2,493y through the air and 1,679 on the ground and finished third in the NFL by running 911 plays. He preferred to throw short, his favorite target being rookie TE Mike Ditka, who caught 59 balls for 794y–both stats topping the team.
For the third year in a row, the championship game was played in frigid conditions. The thermometer registered 10° at kickoff and dropped 2° during the game. Each day after the grounds crew used blowers to warm the field, it was re-covered with hay and a tarpaulin spread over it. When the hay was removed several hours before kickoff, the ground began to freeze. By game time, it was solid ice rock.
The first break of the game went to the Giants. On the opening possession, the Bears faced third-and-four at their 29. Having seen from the films that MLB Sam Huff went to his right on pass plays, Wade faked a pass, then ran through the spot Huff vacated. When DBs Dick Pesonen and Dick Lynch hit the quarterback, his cold hands fumbled the ball, and DB Erich Barnes recovered at the 41.
A screen pass and four runs moved the Giants to the 14. From there, Tittle threw over the head of DB Bennie McRae to Frank Gifford at the right edge of the end zone.
Giants 7 Bears 0
Tittle paid a price on the touchdown pass. He recalled, "Frank worked on Chicago HB Bennie McRae for a couple of plays and then told me in the huddle, 'Y.A., I can beat him easy on a zig-out.' So I threw a zig-out off play action, and Gifford easily beat him for the touchdown. There was only one problem; just as I got rid of the ball, Larry Morris blitzed through and hit me across the left leg. I felt a twinge behind my knee. I walked it off and then went back into the game. I could feel that there was something wrong. I said to Kyle Rote, 'I hope I can last this out. My knee is starting to get stiff.'"
Allen made a defensive change that would keep the Giants out of the end zone the rest of the game. DE Doug Atkins recalled: "The Giants came out and didn't seem to be fazed by the weather, scoring on a long drive in the first quarter to take the lead. ... We went back to the sideline and said we couldn't let him [Tittle] do that to us all day. So we deci­ded we were going to get after Y.A. In the first series we had played a basic defense, but then we started going after him. We were much more aggressive, blitzing extra guys. We hit him every chance we got."

Tittle passes as McIlhenny guards against Atkins.
The Giants were back in business right away when DB Dick Pesonen recovered Willie Galimore's fumble on the Bear 31. Tittle went for the jugular right away. Convinced that Davey Whitsell was the frail link in the Bears defense at weakside corner, he threw into the end zone to his favorite receiver, Del Shofner, whom the Bears double-covered all day with Whitsell and S Roosevelt Taylor. Del jumped and got both hands on the ball but couldn't hang on. It would be the closest the Giants receptions leader would come to a completion on this frigid afternoon.
Bears DE Doug Atkins recalled: "Tittle hit a receiver named Del Shofner right in his hands with a pass. I don't know if his hands were cold or what, but it bounced right off them. Hell, I could have caught that one. If he would have caught that pass, the Giants would have been in command, and I think they would have won. But that's what kind of a season it was for us. We got just about every break."
The next snap produced the first outstanding play by the superbly prepared Bears de­fense. With onrushing linemen bearing down on him before he could get set for a long pass, Tittle, without a glance, lobbed a short pass to his safety valve, Morrison, in the flat. But RLB Larry Morris, reading his keys, had floated out with the running back and picked off the aerial at the Chicago 20. The former Georgia Tech fullback set sail down the field all the way to the five where G Darrell Dess brought him down. Just like that, the momentum had swung 180° and given the Bears an opportunity their offense might never have gained.
Morris recalled: "We knew they liked to throw the screen on second down, and I guess I smelled it. I didn't know the screen was coming until Tittle sent a guy in motion. His key was to look right and give the left tackle and end time to slip over to the left. I'm no halfback, but I was trying to go all the way because I was scared of being hit. I was so tired, I knew I was going to get caught. For the first 30y, I was praying no one would catch me. For the next 30y, I was praying someone would catch me."
RB Ronnie Bull ran over the left side to the two. Then Wade sneaked into the end zone. Bob Jencks converted. Giants 7 Bears 7 (0:15)
The only points in the second period came on a Giants' field goal, but it could have been a touchdown if not for the effort of Allen's defense. The visitors took the kickoff and drove from their 38 all the way to the two. With a second touchdown within easy reach, Tittle decided to send his big backs wide instead of continuing to pound straight ahead. First, Joe Morrison tried to sweep right, but, with Atkins in his path, cut back, and was downed by big Doug at the line of scrimmage. Undaunted, Tittle sent Morrison the opposite way to the wide side of the field only to have the other defensive end, Ed O'Bradovich, cut him down for a loss at the six. On third down, Tittle called for a pass. But the Bears were ready and had all receivers covered. So YAT tossed a flare pass that bounced out of the hands of King, who was dogged by Fortunato. That forced the Giants to settle for a Don Chandler field goal from the 13. Giants 10 Bears 7 (9:49)

Ed O'Bradovich takes down Morrison as he tries to run wide inside the 10.
The most important play the rest of the period was an incomplete pass thrown by Tittle. Morris red-dogged on the play but as he went through the line, he slipped. He continued ahead on all four. Tittle also slipped and began to fall. Although off balance, he threw the ball. A second later Morris struck Tittle's left knee with his shoulder. "The pain shot clear up my leg," recalled Tittle. "It was like someone had stuck a knife in the knee joint. I could hardly limp off the field. This time I knew it was bad." Taken to the dressing room, he told the team doctors, "It's killing me," I told them. "I can't even bend it." The Bears had a reputation for dirty play, but Morris swore, "We were good friends, and I certainly did not intend to hurt him."
The doctor froze the knee with a spray and shot it with novocaine. Tittle: "When the guys came in at half, I acted as though it wasn't that bad. I didn't want them to see me looking as bad as I felt."
The Bears capitalized on another Tittle mistake to score the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter. On first down from his 35, Tittle floated a screen pass to Morrison. But O'Bradovich, smelling out the play, drifted into the flat, grabbed the ball, and returned 10y to the 14 where G Jack Stroud tackled him from behind. Tittle had not had a screen pass stolen during the entire regular season but now had two in this game.
On third-and-nine Wade flipped a quick look-in to Ditka who caught it at the five and was ridden down at the one by Pesonen. First and goal.
Assistant Chuck Mather, who manned the phone on the sideline during the game, recalled: "Luke Johnsos was foremost in his day at calling plays from the press box. He called down a quick pass to Ditka. We had not practiced it for some time. Besides, when you are the near the 10-yard line, it's an ironclad defensive rule to never let the tight end out. So I said, 'Luke! No! No! It'll never work.' Luke persisted. I sent it in. Ditka was smart enough to move out three yards from the right tackle."
Ditka: "I should have scored, but the safety made a really good tackle on me. He kind of caught me before I could get my shoulder down and stood me up, so I didn't have any momentum. If I could have gotten my shoulder down, I could have scored."
It took two tries, but Wade sneaked over. Bears 14 Giants 10 (1:50)

Wade (9) sneaks for the go-ahead touchdown.
Going into the wind, the Giants never crossed midfield in the third quarter. Tittle: "I was still putting the ball in the air in the fourth quarter, but it was no use. The Bears knew I had to throw, and they were dropping everyone but George Halas into the secondary to cover my receivers. They knew darn well that, because of my knee, I couldn't put any zip on my passes. The ball was wobbling end-over-end, and there was nothing I could do about it."
Tittle finally moved his offense into Bear territory when he connected with Gifford, who went out of bounds at the Chicago 36 to stop the clock at the 4:59 mark. Y.A. started the new series by throwing over the head of an open Thomas. Then Tittle flipped to Morrison for no gain. On third-and-10, Morris hit the quarterback as he threw a high wobbly pass that was intercepted in the end zone by McRae with four minutes left.
When the Giants got the ball back, they moved to the Bear 39 with ten seconds left. Tittle made one last desperate attempt to pull out the victory from the Bears 39. As Halas prayed on the sideline,Y.A. sent a big balloon floating all the way to the end zone. Waiting for it was Petitbon. When the ball fell into Richie's hands for Chicago's fifth interception of the afternoon, Tittle flung his helmet down, exposing his bald pate, not once but three times, kicked the dirt, and walked off. Playing with yards of tape around his twisted left knee, Y. A. had completed only 8-of-21 during the second half with four interceptions.
nflchampionshipgame1963.html @ goldenrankings.com
The Football Game I'll Never Forget: 100 NFL Stars' Stories, Selected by Chris McDonell (2004)