By Dr. Ken 

Circa 1961 and long before the Internet, ESPN, Sirius Radio, NFL Network, social media sites, and everything else that makes football news immediately available moments after it occurs, there was life, “just life.” The results of Sunday’s National Football League and American Football League games and any related information would be transmitted during the evening’s televised news reports or radio programming. Blackouts of home games within a seventy-five mile radius of the stadium meant planning on being glued to one’s television in order to view the one NFL and one AFL game being televised on any specific Sunday, and listening hard for your home team’s score.


I have related in a number of previous HELMET  NEWS/REFLECTIONS columns that I often worked with older men in the various part-time jobs I held as a young teenager and because of this, was able to pounce on the opportunity to purchase two years’ worth of New York Giants season tickets when one of the fellows entered the U.S. Military. I could afford the seven game season’s price of $35.00 the unprotected from the elements, sit-one’s-buttocks-on-the-wooden-bench seats cost in the bleacher section of Yankee Stadium. My older articles also noted my distress when the organization raised prices of the season ticket to $42.00 in total, for ’62. It’s worth repeating and clarifying that “$42.00 in total” bought attendance to all seven home games! The chance to actually attend Giants games in person could not have been more exciting and when I checked the home game schedule I could barely contain my enthusiasm. The inclusion of the expansion Dallas Cowboys into the league in 1960 meant that the Giants would host their six NFL Eastern Conference opponents with the seventh home game against the Los Angeles Rams. We never got to see the Rams in New York as their Western Conference games usually began too late for east coast viewing. While the team was no juggernaut, they had many well-known players I longed to see in action. Without the benefit of rapid and complete transfer of information the perpetually underachieving Rams, like the San Francisco Forty Niners were a bit of a mystery to many in the New York City area.

Meaningful only to me, the Oct. 22, 1961 game was one I had a strong desire to attend, and I did. Obtaining even the smallest of things can be memorable!


I had circled the October 22, 1961 game on the calendar and as I did prior to every pro football season, memorized the rosters of each NFL and AFL team, seared player height, weight, and college attended into my memory bank, and then attempted to locate as many magazines as possible at the local newsstand that might offer even more facts, figures, and minutiae. I was fortunate that I had a handful of understanding teachers and an occasional friend that was like-minded and obsessed with the details of the game as I was. I waited until junior high school to “go to Hell in a hand basket” for a while, but completing elementary school, my all-time great teacher Mr. David Lee gave me advice I have passed on numerous times to three generations of disinterested students. Knowing there were no books and a paucity of reading activity in my home, he provided the sage advice to “read, you must read, but read what you like to read about.” Even in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade, I liked football so I read “football!” Mr. Lee would ask about the books and magazines, quiz me about Jim Brown and Chuck Conerly’s statistics, and made it seem that my chosen material was just as important as the science related esoterica that other, smarter students were buried in. My friend Richard Landsman was in lock-step with me in a shared quest to “know everything” about every team and individual player so my level of positive reinforcement for being armed with a “walking encyclopedia of football” in my head was rather strong.



The addition of receiver Del Shofner, formerly of the Rams, boosted the Giants 1961 offensive production

For those who recall the Giants’ 1961 season, it was exceptionally successful, ending with a loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship Game. Jim Lee Howell had retired as head coach following the 1960 season and the reign of Allie Sherman had begun. The man who had taken over for offensive coach Vince Lombardi who had risen to the head coaching chair in Green Bay in ‘59, was highly respected for his knowledge although he would later earn the enmity of New York fans for dismantling the great championship teams of his first few seasons. Although the Giants draftees that included long time contributor Greg Larson, brief shining lights like Bob Gaiters, and Ben Davidson who was shuttled to the Packers before the season began contributed very little, pre-season trades had brought quarterback Y.A. Tittle from the Forty Niners and Del Shofner from the Rams resulting in an exceptional offensive output. The squad opened at home against the Cardinals on September 17th and lost 21-10, much to the disappointment of our crew of roughnecks. While the disadvantage of bleacher seats included sitting on a hard wooden slat for the duration of the game and having no protection from the climate, unlike the so-called “cheap seats” of baseball, the configuration of the Yankee Stadium bleacher seats were such that we were located on the thirty-five yard line, behind the Giants bench, and with enough elevation to have an unobstructed view of almost the entire field. Relative proximity to the Giants on their bench seemed to encourage some fans to express their disappointment in specific plays or performances. The older, die-hard group of G-Men supporters I was hanging with wouldn’t allow any negative statement to be made without countering with a threat of physical violence against the anti-Giants sentiment which contributed to the reputation of “rowdy bleachers fans.” The Cardinals game was a disappointment, especially since there would be no further home games until October 22nd. Scheduling the stadium with the expectation that the baseball Yankees would be participating in the World Series was standard then, thus the lengthy break between September to October home appearances. However, that October 22nd game would be against the Rams I longed to see.


The 1961 Rams had star power with halfback Jon Arnett and guard Duane Putnam


It should be understood that the Rams of the late 1950s and early ‘60s were not the championship Rams of the years that first saw them transfer to Los Angeles. Perhaps the only championship team to abandon their home city for greener pastures, the Rams bolted from Cleveland a month after winning the 1945 NFL Championship. Owner Dan Reeves saw the potential of a west coast franchise and realized the serious threat posed by a Paul Brown coached team in Cleveland once the All American Football Conference began play in September of 1946. The Rams were a hit in their new hometown, making a minor accommodation to racial integration and giving the NFL a coast-to-coast presence. In the span between 1949 and 1957, the Rams played in four NFL Championship games, winning two of them. They lost a tie-breaking conference playoff game against the Lions in ’52 which left them out of one more championship contest and with the offensive firepower of Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Tom Fears, Elroy Hirsch, and “Tank” Younger, they set an exciting and powerful standard. Unfortunately the ongoing tug-of-war for control among five owners that began in 1956 led to ten years of poor to mediocre play following this successful era with but one winning season coming before 1966. The Rams however continued to fill their home stadium, setting single game marks in excess of 100,000 fans a number of times, and season attendance records. Waterfield returned to coach the team in 1960, inheriting a dissension racked squad that sputtered to a 4-7-1record. Only the expansion Dallas Cowboys were worse.


Tom Wilson was a fine back that the Rams never seemed to utilize effectively. Note the great Rams helmet!

The ’61 season had a difficult 1-4 beginning, officially excused by the Rams that this was due to the team’s adaptation to a system that had been installed by what was a new assistant coaching staff and new personnel at key positions. Although Waterfield attempted to trade for the Forty Niners’ Y.A. Tittle, the deal could not be completed and the off-season had seen starting quarterback Billy Wade, the league’s fourth ranked passer, traded to the Bears for Zeke Bratkowski. With an underachieving offensive line returning from ’60, any quarterback would have suffered and the plan was to play first round draft choice Marlin McKeever at offensive guard. He instead spent much time on the defensive side of the ball or injured, leaving the talented backfield that included Jon Arnett, Dick Bass, Tom Wilson, Joe Marconi, Clendon Thomas, and Pervis Atkins with few holes to run through. Ollie Matson had been added to the squad as a running back prior to the 1959 season with the Rams trading nine players for his services. No player could have lived up to expectations and the nine players who departed left many bitter friends who resented the gutting of the team for one player and the relatively high salary Matson received. It was claimed by some and verified by others that in ’59 and ’60, some players refused to block for Matson and his disappointing statistics confirmed this. Yet, his talent was obvious and in ’60, he was perhaps the best blocker on the Rams’ offense from a slot end position. Ultimately his abilities were wasted by the Rams who utilized him at defensive back, tight end, and wide receiver. Matson proved to be terrific at anything asked of him but could not carry a team that could not gel. The receivers were fair, with Del Shofner traded to the Giants before the start of the season.

Harland Svare, the former Giants linebacker, was brought in to revamp the defense as 1960 had the Rams ranked eleventh of thirteen teams in pass defense. They had what should have been a cohesive unit with stars like Les Richter, Jack Pardee, and Bill Jobko at linebacker, and a solid front line of Lamar Lundy, Gene Brito, John Baker, Lou Michaels, and John LoVetere. Yet the unit displayed consistently lackluster play even in the early part of ‘61. I was however, very much excited to see the Rams in person, so much so that the older, tougher men I was with took a moment to warn me that like others who sat in our bleachers area around them, consequences would be meted out for cheering for a Giants’ opponent if done in their presence. While I wanted to see the Rams play respectably, I was after all, a Giants fan so knew I would be cheering for them to come up with a needed victory. Unlike some October games, I recall the weather as comfortable, an important feature for those of us in the unprotected bleacher seats. The game unfolded as expected with the Giants going ahead first with a Pat Summeral field goal in the first quarter, followed by a terrific reception and run on a Y.A. Tittle pass by fullback Alex Webster. The Rams were doing well on the ground with Arnett getting multiple carries but the Giants were in control until the Rams showed a burst of offensive flash in the third quarter. Jim “Red” Phillips caught a thirty-three yard touchdown pass from Frank Ryan who had usurped the starting quarterback position from Bratkowski. Halfback Dick Bass finished the day with ninety-one yards on only nine carries, making one of his third quarter attempts count with a fifty-three yard touchdown burst. Now leading 14-10 entering the fourth quarter, could the lowly Rams actually upset the mighty Giants? Of course it was not to be and this was just as well since predictably, any Giants loss led to a miserable car ride home. Chuck Conerly touchdown tosses to Kyle Rote and former Rams receiver Shofner sealed the 24-14 Giants win, dropping the L.A. contingent to 1-5.


Giants receiver Del Shofner burns his former team with the 37 yard TD reception that sealed the victory


The Rams did show some moxie and battled well on the ground, accumulating 218 rushing yards, more than half of these by Arnett on a grueling twenty-four carries, more than matching the Giants rushing output of 204. In fact, I was surprised that the Rams record was as poor as it was. One of the great and memorable highlights was the viewing of the beautiful Rams uniforms in person and from the vantage point of my seat, definitely “up close and in person!”  While some Rams fans and helmet/uniform aficionados preferred the blue and white color combination that the Rams installed for the ’64 season, the classic gold and blue of the earlier era remains one of the best professional football “looks” of all time. Thus a Giants victory, one that helped pave the way to a 10-3-1 record, the 1961 Eastern Conference title, and an opportunity to face off against the Green Bay Packers for the NFL Championship, a successful day by personal favorite Jon Arnett, and a chance to view the superb Rams uniforms, provided me with one of my most memorable football experiences.