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TGS SPECIAL REPORT...GIANTS-SKINS & THE LEGEND OF 72-41

                                     by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

   Those who have perused the NFL record book might have come across...72-41.  Over the decades that 1966 Redskins win over the Giants at then-called D.C. Stadium has grown in myth almost as much as Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962.  More than 50 years later, 72-41 remains the all-time highest-scoring NFL game.  We at TGS were finishing our first decade of publishing in ‘66 and recall it well.  And with the Giants and Redskins ready to square off again this week, we thought it an appropriate time to recall a game that might come up in some discussions as the NFL prepares for its 100th birthday next year.

   Neither the G-Men nor Skins were going anywhere when they faced off that November 27, though things had become far more wretched for New York.  Those who have read our NFL game analyses in the past and wonder why we occasionally draw analogies to the ‘66 Giants when the current-day G-Men are going bad might not realize the depths to which that New York edition plumbed.  Just a year removed from a respectable 7-7 finish in ‘65, and three seasons from an appearance in the NFL title game, the ‘66 G-Men suffered through a hard-to-imagine spate of injuries that claimed, among others, prized 2nd-year RB Tucker Frederickson and, by midseason, vet QB Earl Morrall, not to mention decimating a defense that would eventually feature a hodgepodge of journeymen and rookies.   It was the latter that set marks of infamy that lasted beyond when the NFL schedule expanded to 16 games in 1978; even with the two added games, only the 1981 Colts have allowed more points than the 501 surrendered by the 1966 G-Men, who ended a franchise-worst 1-12-1. 

   Meanwhile, Washington, though not a top contender, was hardly a pushover in ‘66, either, having enlisted former NFL great Otto Graham as HC and featuring a blistering aerial attack paced by QB Sonny Jurgensen and a squadron of capable targets, including converted RBs Charley Taylor and Bobby Mitchell, and TE Jerry Smith.  The Skins could score; their 351 points ranked behind only the explosive Cowboys and Browns in the entire league, and more even than the eventual champion Packers would tally.

   Washington, however, was erratic as it finished at 7-7, good enough to upset NFL East winner Dallas at the old Cotton Bowl, but also prone to disappearing acts, such as a 13-10 mid-October loss at Yankee Stadium in what would be the only win of the season for the G-Men.  That was a lone New York highlight; in the two weeks preceding the Redskins rematch, the Giants were lit up for 55 points by the Rams and then became the first-ever victim of the expansion Atlanta Falcons, who claimed a 27-16 win in the Bronx.

   While there were some exciting teams on display in the NFL of 1966 like the aforementioned Cowboys, Browns, and Redskins, it was not shoot-’em-up football all across the league.  The same day as Redskins-Giants, the Cardinals and Steelers engaged in one of the most torturous games of the modern era, on a wet, bone-chilling afternoon at then-new Busch Stadium, when the Big Red would survive by a brutal 6-3 count. The point allotment for that Sunday, however, would instead be overloaded to D.C. Stadium.

   On that November 27 in the nation’s capital, the gridiron constellations aligned for the sort of fireworks display not seen before or since in pro football.  With Morrall injured and Ivy Leaguer Gary Wood having no success running the offense, Giants HC Allie Sherman opted for a little-used rookie out of L.A. (that’s Los Angeles) State, Tom Kennedy (not to be confused with the long-ago game show host of the same name), in what would be his only NFL start. 

   Looking to rattle young Kennedy, Washington would blitz all afternoon, and the trouble began immediately for the rookie, whose first pass of the day was picked off by Skins DB Brig Owens.  (Indeed, Kennedy wouldn’t complete a pass in the first three Giants series.)  Enjoying a near-career day would be unsung Skins RB A.D. Whitfield, who tallied Washington’s first two scores before adding another on a pass from Jurgensen later in the game.  Owens, who picked off Kennedy on the G-Men’s first series, got involved again when scooping up a Kennedy fumble in the 2nd Q and racing 62 yards for a TD to expand the margin to 20-0.  By late in the first half, the score had mushroomed to 34-7 after the Skins turned Kennedy‘s third pick of the afternoon into another six points.  About this time Sherman decided that maybe it was best to pull Kennedy and go back to Cornell man Wood, who led a hasty drive downfield to a TD just before the break to cut the margin to 34-14 at halftime.  Hinting that they could make a game of it yet, Wood immediately engineered another scoring drive after intermission capped by a 41-yard TD pass to jack-of-all-trades Joe Morrison. 

   The Morrison score cut the margin to 34-21 but also triggered a remarkable succession of big-play TDs...six consecutive, in fact, all of 30 yards or more!  Suddenly, the contest resembled pinball; Jurgensen answered the Morrison TD with a 32-yard TD pass to Taylor; Wood responded to big-play WR Homer Jones on a 50-yard TDP to cut the margin back to 41-28.  Then it was Jurgensen’s turn again, this time 74 yards to Taylor, all before the 3rd Q would conclude, and the Skins now ahead a breathless 48-28.

    (This was all being accomplished on a very dusty field, as D.C. Stadium, like many multi-sport facilities of the day, didn't bother to sod the dirt infield from the Washington Senators at the conclusion of the baseball season. And the Redskins were kicking up plenty of dust.)

   The scoring parade, however, did not stop in the 4th Q, as the big plays continued.  Washington DB Rickie Harris, who doubled as a punt returner, took back an Ernie Koy punt for 52 yards and another TD.   Then it was that man Brig Owens again, recording his second 62-yard TD of the afternoon when intercepting a Wood pass on the next New York series, his third pick of the day and second score, after the earlier fumble on a day that defensive backs could previously only dream about.  That second TD return by Owens also rates as one of the best pick-sixes we have ever seen, weaving through traffic near the sideline with several well-timed blocks from teammates before cutting back toward the middle of the field inside of the New York 15 on what finished as a diagonal run into the end zone .  By this time, Wood looked almost as punchy as Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams when he was knocked out by Muhammad Ali two weeks earlier at the Astrodome; Sherman, in an act of mercy to Wood, spared the Ivy Leaguer from further punishment and embarrassment and decided to make a sacrifice of the psyche of young Kennedy, who went back into the game and the G-Men trailing, 62-28.

   Still withn sight was the NFL all-time scoring record for a game  of 98 points set more than 18 years earlier (October 17, 1948) when the same Giants were destroyed by the Chicago Cardinals, 63-35.  By this time of the 4th quarter, Sherman was just hoping for a humane conclusion to the slaughter, but wouldn’t you guess that QB Kennedy suddenly began completing passes all over the D.C. Stadium turf/dirt.  A smart drive featuring five Kennedy completions moved the G-Men downfield, from where Kennedy would hit end Aaron Thomas for an 18-yard TD pass.  The PAT was missed by Giant kicker Pete Gogolak (whose brother, Charley, would ironically be kicking the same day for the Skins; more about Charley in a moment), keeping the score at 62-34. 

   By this time, scribes in the press box were scurrying for the record books and wondering if Giants-Skins could top that 98 points mark set in 1948.  For a moment, it didn’t seem so, as Graham decided that his QB Jurgensen could take the rest of the afternoon off and replaced “Christian Adolph” with backup Dick Shiner.  Nearing the 2-minute warning, and the score at 62-34, it appeared as if the score-fest would end two points shy of the all-time NFL record.

   But...no!  Shiner, desiring to get in on the fun, attempted his only pass of the afternoon and saw it picked off by Giants DB Carl “Spider” Lockhart, who sped deep into Skins territory.  Kennedy quickly steered New York into the end zone for a 1-yard TD run by Dan Lewis with 1:35 to play to set a new single-game NFL high of 103 points!  Still, at 62-41, it seemed as if the fireworks were done for the day.  The regular-season single game team mark of 70 points set by the 1950 Bob Waterfield/Norm Van Brocklin L.A. Rams against the Colts appeared to be safe. (The all-time NFL mark had been set against the Skins in the 1940 title game when the George Halas Bears rolled, 73-0). 

   Remarkably, there was more to come.  The Giants decided an onside kick was in order, though when it failed it seemed for certain that the scoring was done for the day.  Shiner wasn’t going to be throwing the ball now, and a few more runs and the game would assuredly conclude at 62-41.  Right?  But the veteran Bobby Mitchell, granted a few late-game carries from his old halfback position, promptly broke free for a 45-yard score with 48 seconds to play!  This put the score at a remarkable 69-41, padding the all-time one game total, but still keeping the Redskins a point shy of the regular-season record 70 points.  Since the Redskins were not fiddling with any onside kicks, and the G-Men got the ball one last time deep in their own territory, the scoring seemed complete.

   Here, the game should have humanely concluded, but young Kennedy was anxious to pad his stats, and the Giants tried to move the ball downfield.  They weren’t getting anywhere, but decided to go for it on 4th down at their own 22.  Kennedy, however, lost track of the downs, and hurriedly, and mistakenly, thinking it was 3rd down, threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock with 7 seconds to play. The ball was thus turned over to the Skins.

   Take a knee, you say?  Not a chance!  Graham decided to send out Charley Gogolak for a 29-yard field goal try; Gogolak converted to push the final score to 72-41!  The Skins would also thus set the one-game regular-season scoring mark that stands to this day.  Giants HC Sherman was understandably furious at the last-play FG, and Skins counterpart Graham hardly smoothed matters. “In a crazy game like this,” Otto said, “what’s another three points?”

   Among other footnotes about the game were the cost of footballs ($315) to Skins owner Edward Bennett Williams after all of the kicks into the crowd and Owens tossing a ball into the stands after a TD; 14 balls in all were lost. 

   But 72-41 got back into the news decades later when Graham would be exonerated from his apparent rub-it-in antics by none other than his All-Pro LB and team captain Sam Huff, who eventually took credit (blame?) for summoning Gogolak for the final points because he was still upset that Sherman had traded him from a top-shelf Giants squad after the 1963 season.  "Field goal team, get out there!," Huff apparently barked after Kennedy's fateful out-of-bounds-throw on 4th down.  And Gogolak followed orders. Before the game, Huff had told Graham, via John Keim’s Stadium Stories book, “You show no mercy today...We’re going to beat the hell out of them. They have no defense. I’m telling you, lay it on them.”  Huff also told Keim, “I didn’t get close to Sherman because I would have hurt him if I could. But I looked across the field and shouted, ‘Justice is done, you SOB.’  I hate to say it, but it was the greatest moment of my life because I got even.”

   Indeed, never was NFL revenge served in a colder dish than 72-41! (To see what we think about this week’s Giants-Redskins and the rest of the upcoming pro card, check our NFL Analysis.)   


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