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Tex Maule
December 16, 1957
In pro football's most thrilling finish, Detroit, Baltimore and San Francisco were all tied up for the right to meet Cleveland in the playoff
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December 16, 1957

Three For The Money

In pro football's most thrilling finish, Detroit, Baltimore and San Francisco were all tied up for the right to meet Cleveland in the playoff

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A professional football game in San Francisco last Sunday produced the biggest exodus the city has known since the earthquake of 1906. Some 15,000 fans, unable to get seats for the 49er- Baltimore Colt game, poured out of the city headed for Reno, Lake Tahoe—anywhere over the boundaries of the 150-mile TV blackout. They were wiser than the fans who elected to fight for the 4,800 general admission seats which went on sale Sunday morning. This obstreperous crowd battled furiously to get to the ticket windows. The ticket booth rocked back and forth, once came down on the foot of a fan at the ticket window, bruising his toes. He was treated at a hospital but limped off rapidly, headed back to Kezar Stadium and the football game.

In Detroit on the same afternoon, the 55,815 people who jammed Briggs Stadium roared continuously through most of the second half of the Detroit- Cleveland game.

When the shouting and tumult had died down Sunday night, three teams were tied for first place in the riotous race for the National Football League's Western Division crown. Baltimore, which had been alone in first place, lost to San Francisco in the last 46 seconds, and Detroit, surviving the loss of Quarterback Bobby Layne, defeated Cleveland. The combination left San Francisco, Baltimore and Detroit tied at 7-4 in the West.

The winner of this three-way hassle for the Western championship will play the Cleveland Browns for the National Football League crown in the home stadium of the West champion. Cleveland, which has won 8, lost 2 and tied 1, became the East champion, regardless of how it fares against the New York Giants Sunday; the Giants attended to that by losing to Pittsburgh in ankle-deep mud last Saturday afternoon.

The pro football fans of Baltimore, Detroit and San Francisco suffered through a long Sunday afternoon of high tension and explosive action before the three-way tie was effected. First Detroit, playing a Cleveland team which looked lackadaisical at times, stumbled and stuttered to a 20-7 victory. Cleveland, playing one of its two games against a foe from the Western Division, appeared to be resting and licking its wounds in preparation for the championship game against the survivor of the dog fight in the West. Injured Tommy O'Connell, the surprising quarterback who has led the Brown comeback this season, sat on the bench in civvies. His No. 1 replacement, Milt Plum, was injured late in the game, and John Borton finished for the Browns. The Lions, needing this game for a chance at the West title, played viciously, especially after Bobby Layne, their leader and quarterback, went out with a broken ankle. Tobin Rote, who replaced Layne, responded nobly, but probably the principal credit for the Lion victory accrues to a blond, good-natured young man named Joe Schmidt. Schmidt, who plays middle linebacker for the Lions, may be the most competent practitioner of his difficult trade in professional football. Against the Browns, he spent most of the chill, gray afternoon dogging the steps of Jimmy Brown, the great Cleveland rookie fullback who went into this game leading the league in ground-gaining. Brown contributed little to the measly 69-yard Cleveland total on the ground; Schmidt saw to that. On one Cleveland sequence Schmidt, on successive plays, threw Borton for a six-yard loss on an attempted pass, hauled down another Brown after a short gain, dropped a third runner after two yards and, finally, with the Browns gambling from their own 26, knifed through a gap to spill Jim Brown so hard that the Cleveland rookie fumbled, setting up Detroit's final touchdown. Said Schmidt, sometime before this game was played: "This pro game always has been real rough, and the players aren't getting any more lenient. Every time I hit someone I try to do it just as hard as I can. In the heat of the excitement you can get mad, and everyone does."

The Lions were particularly riled when Layne, their fine quarterback, was carried off the field on a stretcher. Don Colo, the giant Cleveland tackle, didn't help matters much. Dr. Richard A. Thompson, the Detroit team physician, told Layne as they left the field, "You're going to the hospital, Bobby." Said Colo, bending over Layne, "That's better than jail, Bobby boy." Layne only smiled.

Layne's accident was just that. Although no snow fell during the game, the field was soft from earlier snows and both teams wore mud cleats. Layne, going down under a pile of Cleveland tacklers, hung his cleats in the soft earth and broke the fibula and dislocated his ankle.

The loss of Layne, who is out for the season, makes Detroit's chances for a division title slim indeed. George Wilson, the Lion coach was noncommittal about the cost of Layne's absence: "I won't comment on that because it would put too much pressure on Rote."

Jim Doran, who plays offensive end for Detroit, looks ahead grimly to next Sunday's Bear game. "If there's one club the Lions really hate, it's the Bears," he said after the Cleveland victory.

San Francisco's victory Sunday could be credited, in large measure, to two old pros—Hugh McElhenny and Leo Nomellini. McElhenny, playing end since the injury to Clyde Conner deprived the 49ers of much-needed speed at the flank, caught key passes all afternoon. And he called for the pass which gave the 49ers the game in the last 46 seconds. Y. A. Tittle, the brilliant quarterback who started the game with a pulled muscle in his left leg, had maneuvered the 49ers down into scoring position with a 43-yard pass play to McElhenny when a sudden muscle spasm in the injured leg put him out of the game. In came John Brodie, who has seen very little action this season. ("No rookie ever went in to face more of a clutch," said Coach Frank Albert after the game.) Brodie tried one pass from the 14-yard line, which went astray. As the 49ers huddled, facing fourth down, knowing a tie was useless to them in their quest for their first division championship, McElhenny spoke up.

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