49ers Year-by-Year: 1953

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent’s Record:

Sept. 27

Philadelphia Eagles

W: 21-31

1-0

0-1

Oct. 4

Los Angeles Rams

W: 30-31

2-0

1-1

Oct. 11

@ Detroit Lions

L: 21-24

2-1

3-0

Oct. 18

@ Chicago Bears

W: 35-28

3-1

1-3

Oct. 25

Detroit Lions

L: 14-10

3-2

4-1

Nov. 1

Chicago Bears

W: 14-24

4-2

1-5

Nov. 8

@ Los Angeles Rams

W: 31-27

5-2

5-2

Nov. 15

@ Cleveland Browns

L: 21-23

5-3

8-0

Nov. 22

@ Green Bay Packers

W: 37-7

6-3

2-6-1

Nov. 29

@ Baltimore Colts

W: 38-21

7-3

3-7

Dec. 6

Green Bay Packers

W: 14-48

8-3

2-8-1

Dec. 13

Baltimore Colts

W: 14-45

9-3

3-9

Head Coach: Buck Shaw

Key Losses: QB Frankie Albert (Retire), HB Johnny Strzykalski (Retire), T/LB Visco Grgich (Retire), FB/LB Norm Standlee (Retire)

Key Additions: RT Bob St. Clair (Draft, #32)

Discussion Piece: Who on the current team do you see having an honest shot at the Hall of Fame, and why? I’m going to take the easy way out and say Gore and Willis both have fairly good chances (young though they are). I won’t say why, though. You’ll just have to speculate…

1953:

Before the 1953 season, the NFL went through what had become an annual game of dissolution and expansion. The Dallas Texans, who had come into the league the year before to replace the dissolved New York Yanks, were sold back to the league and dissolved. The NFL replaced them by awarding a franchise to an ownership group in Baltimore led by Carroll Rosenbloom. The new team was named the Colts, after the Baltimore team that had been dissolved two years ago. The two conferences were also renamed. Instead of the National and the American Conference, they would be the Eastern and the Western Conference.

Significant Games:

For the 49ers, this was a significant year insofar as it was the first year that Y. A. Tittle would be given full-time starting duties. Frankie Albert hadn’t been anywhere near as effective in his 3 NFL seasons as he had during his time in the AAFC, and at the age of 32, after two seasons splitting time with his heir apparent Tittle, he decided to hang it up.

The official start of the Tittle Era came off on a high note with two straight wins at home against the Eagles and the Rams. Tittle rallied off 3 TD passes against the Eagles, but left the scoring to the rest of his backfield the next week in a thrilling 4th quarter victory over their conference rivals.

The team faced another big test the following week, facing off against the defending league champion Detroit Lions. In 1952, the 49ers had swept the season series against the Lions, and were responsible for 2 of the Lions 3 losses. If they were going to have any hope of taking the conference this season, they would likely have to continue that success into this season. It wouldn’t happen this week, though. Despite hanging in the game until the bitter end, the 49ers were completely outplayed on offense and defense. The Lions finished the game with over 3 times as many passing yards as the 49ers and over twice as many total yards. At 2-1 early in the season, though, there was plenty of time to make up for this early slip.

San Francisco would get a second crack at Detroit two weeks later. After beating the soft Chicago Bears 35-28 in Chicago, the 3-1 49ers came back home to try to take sole possession of first place from the 3-1 Lions. The offense was much better this time around, as the Niners went over 225 yards on the ground and over 350 total yards for the game, outperforming Detroit in every significant statistical category except for turnovers and touchdowns. It’s touchdowns that count, though, and Detroit’s 2 in this game were enough to secure them a 14-10 win to sweep the season series against the Niners and recapture first place in the conference.

Chicago came to town the next week as the 49ers tried to regain some momentum on the season. They didn’t have much trouble defeating the Bears, but they faced what had the potential to be a must a win game at Los Angeles the week after. At this point in the season, the 49ers were tied with Detroit for second in the Western Conference, both a game behind the Rams, and probably couldn’t afford to fall another game back almost 3/4ths of the way through the season. So, with the season potentially on the line, Y. A. Tittle took things into his own hands, throwing for just about 300 yards and 3 TDs, and running for another TD as the 49ers simply outpaced their rivals (who ran for over 275 yards, but only threw for 52) to the score of 27-31. The Rams would actually be the only team with a winning record at the time of the game that the 49ers would defeat all season.

At 5-2, the 49ers had battled back into a three way tie for first place, but had the bad luck of facing the undefeated Cleveland Browns in Cleveland to take their third loss of the season. A game back of the Lions, the 49ers next four games would come against opponents with a combined record of 8-30-2, and they went undefeated over this stretch to leapfrog the Rams and stay in the race until the very last day of the season. They capped it off with a 14-45 steamroll of the Colts at home in which Tittle threw for four TDs to 3 different people and over 371 yards, while Joe Perry ran for 108 yards to go over 1,000 in the season for the first time in his career.

But the most important game for the 49ers all season was The Lions final game against the Giants. If the Lions lost, the 49ers would go into a playoff against them to advance to the championship. If the Lions won, the 49ers would be eliminated. Unfortunately, the Lions didn’t even make it interesting, and would go on to defeat the Browns in the championship game for the second year in a row.

Player Profile: Bob St. Clair

Drafted by the 49ers in the 3rd round this year, Bob St. Clair was immediately one of the biggest, if not the biggest, player in the league. Standing 6’9" and weighing 265 pounds, the future Hall of Fame offensive lineman was a behemoth on the field.

Because of his size and strength, he was a versatile asset for the 49ers. Early in his career, he was used on defense in short yardage and goal line situations, and was a stalwart on special teams. In 1956 alone, he was credited with 10 blocked field goals. He made his career on the offensive line, though, going to the pro bowl 5 times in his 17 year career and serving as team captain for 3 of those years. It’s hard to imagine that after 17 years he didn’t retire because he wanted to, but because he injured his Achilles tendon and couldn’t play. As a player, he was known not just for his strength, but also for his durability and his ability to play even through severe injuries. As a person, he was known for some of his stranger habits. He earned the nickname "The Geek" not because of his style of play, but because of his lifestyle, which included what some of his peers saw as "circus sidshow" habits like eating all of his meat raw.

St. Clair was born in San Francisco, and played college football with the University of San Francisco before the school disbanded its football program. He transferred to Tulsa to finish his college career, but he was a San Francisco baby from the start, and became one of the longest tenured and most legendary 49ers of all time.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.

Musings:

I think that this 49er team really came into bloom this season from past versions. With Tittle taking over full-time duties, Joe Perry going over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, Billy Wilson and Hugh McElhenny both maturing quickly into the stars they would become, and just a ton of supporting talent all around from Bob St. Clair to Leo Nomellini to Bruno Banducci and Hardy Brown, this is a great team.

And when I look at this team and when I build these articles, I’m just amazed at how many Hall of Fame players were on these teams. Virtually the entire backfield made the HOF (Tittle, McElhenny, Perry), Leo Nomellini on the defensive line went on to be inducted, and then the team goes out and drafts a guy like Bob St. Clair, who also goes on to the HOF. That is a lot of Hall of Fame talent on one team.

So I kind of want to talk about the 49ers and the Hall of Fame. And the 49ers have their fair share of players (and coaches) in the Hall. Montana, Young, Lott, Rice, Brodie, Walsh, and the list goes on. Bryant Young isn’t a sure thing, but we have good feelings that he’ll make it in. So with that in mind, who on the current team do you see having a shot, and why? I’m going to take the easy way out and say Gore and Willis both have fairly good chances (young though they are). I won’t say why, though. You’ll just have to speculate…

Primary Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_NFL_season

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1953.htm

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1953_roster.htm

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1952_roster.htm

http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.jsp?player_id=186

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

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