An Ominous Loss

By a quirk of scheduling when the 8-2 Green Bay Packers rolled into the Polo Grounds on November 20, 1938 for their season finale against the 6-2 Giants, New York still had three games to play. The two teams topped their respective conferences, though, and would meet again in the same ballpark three weeks later to decide the NFL championship. While the Packers would gain 20 first downs on the day to the Giants’ six, this defensive battle between evenly-matched rivals would be decided by big plays. Without receiver Don Hutson, Green Bay found itself at a disadvantage, even though the Giants would throw just four passes on the afternoon.

The hard-fought scoreless first half was highlighted by the Giants’ defense continually rising to the occasion. Four times in the first two periods Green Bay penetrated inside the New York 30 and came away with no points. For the game, Green Bay had seven drives reach deep into Giants territory: two ended in interceptions, two ended in missed field goals, two ended by turning the ball over on downs and one resulted in a field goal. The Giants got on the scoreboard on the opening play of the second half. Packer fullback Clarke Hinkle fumbled the kickoff at the four, recovered his bobble, but then was corralled in his own end zone by a wave of Giants tacklers led by Johnny Dell Isola for a safety. Green Bay answered with a field goal to make the score 3-2 in the third quarter and set up the first of the two big plays by the Giants.

From their 25, Tuffy Leemans took a direct snap while the Giants front wall collapsed the Packer line. Leemans raced around the right end, cut back inside Packers Cecil Isbell and Milt Gantenbein and broke a tackle by Buckets Goldenberg at the 33. After Tuffy got by Hank Bruder, he cut back outside at the 42 to avoid Joe Laws and ran untouched to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown and a 9-3 lead.

The second Giants’ big play occurred on the first play of the fourth quarter and clinched the victory. Packer passer Cecil Isbell dropped back from his own 40 and, under a heavy rush from John Mellus and Frank Cope, tossed a wobbly pass to the sideline well behind Hinkle the intended target. Center/linebacker Mel Hein leaped in, grabbed the ball at midfield and outraced Baby Ray for the 50-yard touchdown that iced the game for New York. Arthur Daley wrote floridly in the New York Times, “The Giant captain took the ball on the dead run and sped over the turf like a Jesse Owens. Fear of pursuit put wings on his feet. Mel never had run so swiftly in his life as he flashed for the touchdown.” Hein, who played 57 minutes of the game, earned himself a $10 bonus from Coach Steve Owen for the pick-six play of the game. The Giants earned an impressive victory over their chief rivals for the NFL title.

(Adapted from my book, The 50 Greatest Plays in New York Giants Football History.)

1938chinkle  1938dhutson

1938cisbell  1938mgantenbein

1938bgoldenberg  1938hbruder

1938jlaws  1938bray

All custom cards in Philadelphia 1966 style are colorized.

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