Thursday, November 4, 2010
Split end Ulmo “Sonny” Randle came to the Chicago Cardinals out of the University of Virginia in 1959, and after spending a year learning his craft, broke out with an All-Pro season in ’60 (the franchise’s first year in St. Louis) in which 15 of his 62 receptions were good for touchdowns.
One of the fastest players in the NFL, his success was all the more impressive coming with a team that lacked an established quarterback. In an attempt to dramatically upgrade for 1961, the Cardinals signed 31-year-old Sam Etcheverry, an all-time great quarterback in the Canadian Football League, but he proved to be a sore-armed disappointment in the NFL. Randle’s numbers dropped to 44 catches and 9 TDs, but he was still chosen to the Pro Bowl.
St. Louis had a new head coach in 1962, Wally Lemm, and after a faltering start Etcheverry gave way to second-year QB Charley Johnson. The team was 2-4-1 and coming off of a win over the Cowboys as they took on the defending champions of the Eastern Conference, the New York Giants, at Yankee Stadium on November 4.
The Giants, under Head Coach Allie Sherman, were 5-2 and had just pulled off a big win over Washington in which QB Y.A. Tittle passed for 505 yards and seven touchdowns. They had already beaten the Cardinals convincingly in St. Louis (31-14), but that was with Etcheverry starting at quarterback and Johnson coming on in relief - they would find that Johnson was developing quickly.
New York took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 39-yard pass play from Tittle to flanker Frank Gifford. But the Cardinals responded with two touchdowns in the second quarter, an eight-yard pass from Johnson to TE Taz Anderson and a four-yard run by HB John David Crow. In between, Don Chandler kicked a 33-yard field goal for the Giants. But the Cardinals defense played well, New York’s offense seemed flat after the big performance the previous week, and it was St. Louis ahead at halftime by a 14-10 score.
In addition, Coach Lemm had moved Randle from his usual split end position to flanker, where he was defended by CB Dick Lynch rather than Erich Barnes, and it was paying off.
The Cardinals defense continued to stymie the Giants in the scoreless third quarter. New York was able to gain only 29 yards on its possessions and Tittle missed on 12 consecutive passes before finding Gifford again for a 32-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Giants were back in front at 17-14, but the action began to heat up considerably.
St. Louis came right back, with Johnson throwing to Randle for a 55-yard touchdown and a 21-17 lead. New York fought back on the next drive, with a fake field goal being the key play. Facing a fourth down on the St. Louis 31, the Giants lined up for an apparent 38-yard field goal attempt by Chandler, but the holder, backup QB Ralph Guglielmi, instead fired a pass to DE Andy Robustelli, who was lined up as a receiver with the field goal unit, for a 26-yard gain to the five yard line. Two plays later, FB Alex Webster ran off tackle from three yards out for a TD and the Giants were back in front at 24-21.
The St. Louis offense wasn’t finished and drove 80 yards in 12 plays, four of which were passes to Randle. Johnson also ran for a 16-yard gain and capped the drive with a one-yard plunge. With 4:55 left on the clock, the Cardinals were back in the lead by 28-24.
The Giants struck quickly after the ensuing kickoff was returned 33 yards by HB Sam Horner. Tittle tossed a pass to HB Phil King that gained 37 yards to the St. Louis 20, and then followed up with a pass to Webster for the final 20 yards and a touchdown.
The Cardinals again battled back, but with under two minutes remaining Lynch, a talented player who had his hands full covering Randle, intercepted a pass by Johnson at the New York 27 to avoid the upset and nail down the 31-28 win.
In defeat, the big story was Sonny Randle’s performance as he caught 16 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown. It was the second-highest single-game pass receiving performance up to that time, and against one of the NFL’s most highly-regarded defenses.
The Cardinals rolled up an impressive 494 total yards and 29 first downs, to 266 yards and 15 first downs for New York. However, they also gave up five turnovers, to one by the Giants.
Charley Johnson (pictured at left) completed 26 of 41 passes for 365 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. John David Crow was the leading rusher for St. Louis, gaining 56 yards on 19 attempts, including a TD. FB Prentice Gautt added 44 yards on 12 carries.
In winning, Y.A. Tittle was successful on only 8 of 31 passes for 172 yards, but three were for touchdowns against one interception. Phil King had three catches for 62 yards while Frank Gifford scored on both of his pass receptions that totaled 71 yards. Alex Webster was New York’s top ground gainer with 50 yards on 16 attempts, including a TD, and caught one pass for the game-winning touchdown.
The Giants, having survived the scare, went undefeated the rest of the way through the regular season to finish at 12-2 and again win the Eastern Conference, although they lost to Green Bay in the NFL title game once more. St. Louis ended up at 4-9-1 and in sixth place in the conference, but the stage was set for significant improvement over the next two seasons.
Sonny Randle finished second in the league in both receptions (63 – one ahead of teammate Bobby Joe Conrad) and yards (1158). His seven TD catches tied for seventh, and his 18.4 yards per catch was his highest to date. Randle was selected to the Pro Bowl for the third straight year. He played eight years with the Cardinals, going to one more Pro Bowl following the 1965 season, then was with the 49ers in 1967 and the start of his last year in ’68. Randle moved on to Dallas, where he ended his career – his final totals were 365 receptions for 5996 yards (16.4 avg.) and 65 touchdowns.
Charley Johnson ranked second in the NFL in yards per completion (16.3) as he threw for 2440 yards with 16 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. His emergence, aided by an outstanding receiving corps and Etcheverry’s tutelage, would correspond with the club’s improvement.