At any rate, we blew the 1952 season. According to the experts, this was due to one play, which, if it had worked, might just as easily have made the year. Instead it changed the momentum of a game we were winning and started us sliding steadily downhill.
The play came up in our sixth game of the year: after five straight victories we were leading the Chicago Bears 17-10. We had fourth down and fairly short yardage from about our 30-yard line, and Frank went back to punt. Frank liked to run in this kind of situation and the Bears knew it. He thought he saw a hole this time, took off with the ball and was tackled short of the first down. The Bears went in and scored, kicked a field goal later and won 20-17.
"He has won a lot of games doing that," was all Shaw said. He was right, of course.
Albert retired after that season. He had been the No. 1 quarterback every day of his career with the 49ers, and I don't think his pride would allow him to share the job with me.
So in 1953, for the first time since I came into the NFL, I was the quarterback. I played nearly all the way, and we won nine games and lost three. Detroit won 10 and lost two and nosed us out for the division championship.
It was in 1953 that I got what was probably the most painful injury I have ever had playing football. I should have learned a lesson from it but I never did, because almost every injury I have had has come from making this same mistake—-running with the ball.
I ran a bootleg from the Detroit five-yard line and made the touchdown. Just as I got over the goal line, Jack Christiansen grabbed me by the arm and popped the whip with me and I got Jim David's knee in my face. David at one time had a reputation as a hatchet man, but I looked at movies of the play later and this was definitely an accident.
The impact shattered my cheekbone and I was in the hospital a week. Since that time I have had a concussion, a partially collapsed lung, a badly cut face and an assortment of other injuries, and each time I was hurt it was because I tried to run with the ball. Quarterbacks almost never get hurt passing. Sure, we get hit hard, but usually we get hit high. The defensive linemen are taught to come in high and tackle high to keep you from getting the ball away. We get bear-hugged and slammed to the ground, but that is not what hurts you. A quarterback running with the ball is the most vulnerable player in football. Few of us are good runners, and we don't know what to look for. While we are concentrating on a linebacker in front of us, somebody comes from the blind side and—blooey!—scratch one quarterback.
That is why I don't think pro football needs more rules to protect the quarterback. He does not get hurt doing what he is usually paid to do. Anyway, this is a contact sport; there is no way to take the violence out of it.
We started the 1954 season with one of the best football teams I have ever played on and ended it with a 7-4-1 record and the coach fired. I don't want to dwell too much on ancient history but, as often happens, injuries wrecked a good club. It got so bad finally that we had John Henry Johnson, one of the best runners in football, playing defensive halfback. I broke my left hand, and Arnold Galiffa, the other quarterback, broke his right hand.