49ers Year-by-Year: 1951

49ers: 1951

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent’s Record:

Sept. 30

Cleveland Browns

W: 10-24

1-0

0-1

Oct. 6

@ Philadelphia Eagles

L: 14-21

1-1

2-0

Oct. 14

@ Pittsburgh Steelers

W: 28-24

2-1

0-2-1

Oct. 21

@ Chicago Bears

L: 7-13

2-2

3-1

Oct. 28

Los Angeles Rams

W: 17-44

3-2

3-2

Nov. 4

@ Los Angeles Rams

L: 16-23

3-3

4-2

Nov. 11

New York Yanks

W: 14-19

4-3

0-6-1

Nov. 18

Chicago Cardinals

L: 27-21

4-4

2-6

Nov. 25

@ New York Yanks

T: 10-10

4-4-1

0-7-2

Dec. 2

@ Detroit Lions

W: 20-10

5-4-1

6-3-1

Dec. 9

Green Bay Packers

W: 19-31

6-4-1

3-8

Dec. 16

Detroit Lions

W: 17-21

7-4-1

7-4-1

Coach: Buck Shaw

Key Losses: The team suffered no significant losses between 1950 and 1951.

Key Additions: QB, Y. A. Tittle (Free Agency); MLB, Hardy Brown (Free Agency); DB, Rex Berry (Draft); DT, Al Carapella (Draft)

With the AAFC a year removed, the NFL was going into its second consecutive season of stability with no professional competition. The only shakeup that happened in the league was the failure of the Baltimore Colts. The Colts had gone 1-11 for the second straight year in 1950, and were simply not making anybody any money. The team was sold back to the league and dissolved, and its players hit the open market. This proved to be an extremely important moment in 49ers history, as they picked up former Colts QB and future Hall of Famer Y. A. Tittle in the aftermath. The dissolution of Baltimore also brought the NFL down to 12 teams from 13, allowing both divisions to be even at six a piece.

Important Games:

Coming off of an eye-opening 3-9 season in 1951, the 49ers spent the offseason filling holes in what had been a characteristically weak defensive unit under offensive wizard Buck Shaw. The most significant of these players was Hardy Brown, who earned his fearsome reputation by employing what was then an unorthodox style: the shoulder tackle.

The first test came in week one when the 49ers faced off against a familiar opponent at home: the Cleveland Browns. The previous season, the 49ers had been simply outclassed and outplayed by a superior Browns team. This season, they showed right out of the gates that they were bringing a different level of play to 1951. After falling behind early, the 49ers tied the game on a first quarter TD pass from Frankie Albert to Billy Wilson, and never looked back from there, winning the game dominantly 10-24. It would be the only game of the regular season that the Browns would lose.

The team went on the road for the next 3 weeks, and split the first two against mediocre competition before heading into a divisional game against the typically strong Bears in a battle of 2-1 teams, Things were starting to change for the 49ers. Frankie Albert had proven himself to be a mistake prone player at the NFL level and, at the age of 31, was nearing the end of his rope, so the team was giving plenty of playing time to the younger, talented Tittle. Though the 49ers lost this game 7-13, their only score came on a 4th quarter TD pass from Y. A. Tittle.

San Francisco continued to yo-yo wins and losses for the next weeks before breaking the streak by coming to a 10-10 tie against a winless Yanks team. At 4-4-1, the 49ers had already won more games than they had through the entire 1950 season, but the same inconsistencies that had plagued them since their days in the AAFC were lingering in the air. After defeating the Browns, San Francisco had not put together a single winning streak, despite playing a number of their games against some of the weaker teams in the league. After 9 games, the 49ers were in 4th place in their division behind the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Rams, and Chicago Bears. A loss at this point would essentially eliminate the team from contention, and with two games against the Lions still on their schedule, the team had plenty of room to catch at least one of the teams ahead of them.

And they started that comeback the following week in Detroit. Though Frankie Albert was still getting playing time at this point in the season, Y. A. Tittle had supplanted him as the primary quarterback, and it was Tittle who led the 49ers to a 20-10 victory over Detroit with two second half touchdown passes. The 49ers answered the call for the rest of the season, defeating the Packers and the Lions in the final two weeks, but the most important game of their season was actually a game that they didn’t play. In the final week of the season, the 49ers were counting on a loss from the Rams to put them in a two way tie with Detroit (assuming the 49ers beat the Lions, which they did). The Rams were not so accommodating, though, and easily defeated a hapless Packers team 14-42 to win the division, advance to the Championship game against the Browns, and eliminate the 49ers altogether.

Even without making the Championship game, this was a great year for the 49ers. They proved that they could compete at an NFL level, their defense improved significantly over past incarnations of the team, and they saw two young offensive stars in Y. A. Tittle and Billy Wilson begin to establish themselves as important parts of the team’s future.

Player Profile: Y. A. Tittle

Y. A. Tittle began his pro football career in 1948 with the Baltimore Colts, and he played his first 3 seasons with that team before they were sold back to the NFL at the end of the 1950 season. He went on to play the next 10 years of his career with the 49ers, during which time he would go to the Pro Bowl 4 times, once as a starter. After the 1960 season, the 49ers traded him to the Giants, where he proceeded to have 4 of the best seasons of his entire career and reached the Pro Bowl two more times. He was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.

During his time with the 49ers, he threw for 16,016 yards and 108 TDs (with 134 INTs), all team records at the time of his trade. Those records wouldn’t last particularly long, as they would all (including INTs) be shattered by his direct successor, John Brodie, but to this day he’s remains fifth in team history in passing yards and TDs behind no fewer than 3 legendary Hall of Famers (Brodie, Montana, and Young), and Jeff Garcia. To put his career numbers in perspective, though, he finished his career with 33,070 total passing yards and 242 TDs – higher totals than both Steve Young and John Brodie over their careers.

Musings:

This team ends up reminding me of a lot of things without actually resembling them very. The transition from Albert to Tittle reminds me of the transition from Montana to Young. The two only really resemble each other in the sense of an aging star being supplanted by a young gun, though. Unlike Montana, Albert was a player at the end of his rope who had been a star in a weaker league, but never showed much at the NFL level. His replacement was inevitable, and Y. A. Tittle was one of the most talented young QBs in the league, with 3 years of experience as a starter at a professional level. Montana, on the other hand, was a 4 time Super Bowl winner who could still play at an elite level, at a time when Steve Young was simply better and younger.

It also reminds me of the 49ers 2001 team (thanks to Fooch). Coming off of a disappointing 6-10 season in 2000 despite having one of the best offenses in the league, the 2001 49ers came back with a vengeance to go 12-4. This team came off of a disappointing 3-9 season to go 7-4-1, just missing a spot in the Championship Game. The two teams aren’t particularly similar, though. The 2001 49ers were playing on borrowed time, a patchwork quilt of bad contracts and unlikely stars. The 1951 49ers were built for the future with young, cheap stars at all of their skill positions and a quickly improving defense.

Which leaves me a little flummoxed about how to approach this team. The one thing that really sticks out to me is that, while Y. A. Tittle was a Hall of Fame quarterback for his career, he didn’t really play his best football with the 49ers. His numbers as a 49er were good, but unspectacular, whereas his numbers as a Colt and a Giant were borderline gaudy (the Giants years arguably being the years that got him into the Hall).

So that brings me to my comment starter: Who else can you think of who was a great football player, but not much of a 49er? Recently, Larry Allen comes to mind. His career path doesn’t resemble Tittle’s even in the least, but he still fits the bill. Less recently, I’m drawing a bit of a blank. What about you?

Primary References:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/T/TittY.00.htm

http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.jsp?player_id=214

http://www.sf49ers.com/history/career_stats.php?section=HI%20Career%20Stats%20Leaders

http://www.bashof.org/inducteebios/yatittle.htm

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1951_roster.htm

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1951_games.htm

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