SI Vault
Tex Maule
December 23, 1963
The New York Giants, soaring on the marvelous passing of Y. A. Tittle to his equally marvelous receivers, ended the struggle for their third straight Eastern Division championship by beating Pittsburgh. Now the Giants face the Chicago Bears for the league championship—and the tireless Tittle arm should win again
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December 23, 1963

The Giant Story

The New York Giants, soaring on the marvelous passing of Y. A. Tittle to his equally marvelous receivers, ended the struggle for their third straight Eastern Division championship by beating Pittsburgh. Now the Giants face the Chicago Bears for the league championship—and the tireless Tittle arm should win again

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Throwing through a strong, erratic wind that varied from 15 to 25 miles an hour, Tittle completed 17 of 26 passes. Ed Brown, the Pittsburgh quarterback, completed only 13 of 33 and many of his throws were so far off target as to appear ludicrous. Brown has been known to lose his efficiency as a passer when the weather turns cold; last Sunday his passing was as cold as the air.

A Steeler fumble on the first play of the game set up a Giant field goal. Later in the first quarter, Gary Ballman, a second-year flanker back, carrying the ball in one hand and six points in the other, was about to cross the Giant goal line when he was hit so hard the ball popped into the end zone. There Erich Barnes retrieved it and ran it out to the Giant 34. A penalty already called against the Steelers would have nullified the play, but they would not have lost the ball. The Giants moved quickly.

The first touchdown came on a 41-yard pass play from Tittle to Shofner, who was yards beyond Willie Daniel, the Steeler corner back attempting to cover him. Daniel, a young back in his third season, found Shofner's experience and speed difficult to cope with. Earlier in the game Tittle had attempted a sideline pass to Shofner, luring Daniel up close. This time Shofner faked the sideline, then broke downfield, and Daniel, coming up too hard, could not reverse direction and could only watch helplessly from far behind as Shofner took the perfectly thrown pass.

Late in the second period Tittle did almost the same thing to set up the second Giant touchdown. Again it was a first-down play—a play on which Tittle does not often pass. Again Shofner beat Daniel and this time the pass carried down to the Steeler 14-yard line for a 44-yard gain.

Tittle, who called an intelligent, resourceful game, then went to another stratagem to get the touchdown. First he faked a pass and sent Joe Morrison on a draw play through the right side of the Steeler line to the eight-yard line. Next he gave the ball to Phil King on a cutback to the left of the Steeler defense, and King got a first down on the Steeler three. The Steelers braced for another run—counting on Tittle's habit of sticking with a successful play as long as it works. Instead, Tittle faked a handoff to King and then lofted a soft pass to Morrison in the end zone for the touchdown. No one was within reach of Morrison; not even Buddy Dial's stick would have helped.

The half ended with the Giants leading 16-3. The Steelers, whose main threat is the running of John Henry Johnson and Theron Sapp, had moved sporadically over the frozen ground during the first half. Their drives were aborted when Brown went to the air but could not connect with his receivers and the Giant defense, with linebackers playing up close, stopped Johnson and Sapp.

The Steeler field goal came with seven seconds left in the half, and the drive that produced it was frustratingly typical. From the Giant 20, first and 10, Brown threw three passes. On all three he had plenty of time, but none of the passes was within reach of a receiver, and twice receivers were in the clear. On fourth down Lou Michaels kicked a 27-yard field goal.

In the opening minutes of the third quarter, the Steelers made their one strong bid to win the game. They had kicked off to the Giants, had stopped New York cold and then had begun a drive from their own 33. With third and one for the Steelers on their own 42, the Giants moved into a gap defense—eight men on the line of scrimmage posted in the cracks between the offensive linemen. This is a normal defense against a short-yardage play, and it is an effective one. But if the back can clear the line, he has an unhampered route deep into the secondary. On this play Johnson, who hit hard and ran well all day, burst through the left side of the Giant defense and ran 48 yards to the New York 10-yard line before Dick Lynch caught him. Brown threw one of his few accurate passes to Ballman for the Steeler touchdown.

For a few moments after the Giants got the ball for their next series of downs, it appeared that the Steelers, encouraged by their quick score, might take control of the game. They rushed Tittle hard and forced him to hurry a pass so that it fell incomplete. They smothered Phil King on a running play. It was third and eight, Del Shofner was out of the game with bruised ribs, and the Giants were in trouble—or so it seemed.

But then Frank Gifford took over Shofner's role as first-down getter. Gifford had been playing flanker back all afternoon—just getting exercise. Tittle had thrown to him only once. Gifford's covering man was Glenn Glass, a second-year corner back. Glass, aware that Tittle's favorite pass to Gifford is to the outside, near the sideline, had been following Frank closely to the outside, almost conceding him the inside routes, where help might be expected from a safety or a linebacker. The Giants had discussed this during the half-time intermission, and now Tittle called a pass pattern that sent Gifford down and in. When he broke to his left, toward the center of the field, he left Glass cross-legged. Tittle's pass was low, and Gifford reached down with one hand, hoping to tip the ball up. The ball, amazingly, stuck in his hand for a completion on the Steeler 47, a 30-yard gain and a first down. This time Tittle did stay with a good thing, throwing again to Gifford, down to the Steeler 22. Then he used a variation of the play he had used to score before—the pass to Morrison off a fake run. This play forces a single linebacker to provide pass coverage on Morrison. The linebacker failed again, and Morrison took Tittle's short pass yards in the clear and cantered in for the touchdown.

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