November 24, 2013

1929: Packers Defeat Giants in Battle of Unbeatens

The November 24, 1929 game at the Polo Grounds in New York featured the top two teams in the NFL,  the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, who both were undefeated thus far. 

Coach Curly Lambeau’s Packers had added guard Mike Michalske, tackle Cal Hubbard, and HB Johnny McNally (aka Johnny Blood) in the previous offseason. These players had been considered malcontents, but with the Packers they became keys to success along with holdover tailback Red Dunn, tailback Verne Lewellen (pictured above), and end Lavvie Dilweg. Green Bay was 9-0 and hadn’t given up more than six points in any game. However, the Packers were missing three regulars due to injury – Dunn, back Eddie Kotal, and end Dick O’Donnell.

The Giants were coached by Roy Andrews and were 8-0-1. Owner Tim Mara had bought the entire Detroit Wolverines franchise solely to obtain tailback Benny Friedman, a passing sensation out of Michigan, and he yielded results worthy of his then-huge $10,000 contract. Five other players from the Panthers also made the club, as, for that matter, did Coach Andrews.

There was a crowd of 25,000 in attendance at the Polo Grounds for the big showdown. Rain fell intermittently during the contest and would prove to be a hindrance to New York’s passing attack. The Packers won the toss and elected to kick off and the teams exchanged punts throughout the first quarter. One of Lewellen’s kicks was downed at the New York five and Benny Friedman chose to punt on first down, McNally returning it to the New York 40. FB Bo Molenda, a former Michigan teammate of Friedman, and Verne Lewellen carried the ball deeper into Giants territory. HB Herdis McCrary caught a pass from Lewellen in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown and Molenda added the extra point.

The Giants threatened when Friedman threw long to end Ray Flaherty, who reached the Green Bay 10. However, McCrary intercepted a Friedman pass and New York came up empty. Lewellen punted and neither team came close to scoring for the rest of the half.

The Packers had first possession in the third quarter, and after Molenda returned the kickoff to the Green Bay 26, runs into the line by Molenda and McNally picked up eight yards, but the series stalled and Green Bay had to punt.

After tailback Hap Moran was thrown for a loss of eight yards, FB Tony Plansky threw to back Tiny Feather for 20. Friedman (pictured at left) passed the Giants down the field, connecting with Flaherty to the Green Bay 25, again to Feather, and then Plansky for the last 15 yards and a touchdown. However, Friedman’s extra point attempt sailed wide and the Packers remained in front by a point.

The teams continued to trade punts in the battle for field position. Another fine kick by Lewellen pinned the Giants back at their 10 and they ended up having to punt the ball back from their end zone. McNally returned it to the New York 37 and then ran for six yards on the next play. Molenda followed up by getting a first down, but the Packers ultimately ended up losing the ball on downs.

Green Bay put the game away in the fourth quarter. The Packers drove 75 yards, highlighted by a 30-yard Lewellen completion to McNally out of punt formation, to a two-yard TD by Molenda, who again added the extra point.

Tackle Jug Earp intercepted a pass at the New York 39 to give the visitors the ball once more. Lewellen went long to Molenda in a play that reached the New York three, and on the next play McNally (pictured below) ran around left end for a touchdown. Molenda failed to add the extra point, but it didn’t matter. The Packers won by a convincing final score of 20-6.

For the first time all season, the Giants faced a heavier line and it worked to Green Bay’s advantage. Meanwhile, the shorthanded Packers made only one substitution during the game. Verne Lewellen and Bo Molenda drew most of the headlines for their play during the game, but it was a solid group effort by Curly Lambeau’s club.

Green Bay played the Frankford Yellow Jackets to a scoreless tie in their next game but won the last two to finish as undefeated NFL Champions at 12-0-1. They gave up a total of just 22 points in the 13 games, eight of which were shutouts. The Giants won their last four contests and ended up in second place with a 12-1-1 record.

The NFL title for Green Bay was the first of three straight, a feat they would duplicate in 1965-67. In a time when there were no divisions and no postseason, the Packers did it in 1929-31 by compiling an overall tally of 34-5-2.