September 17, 2014

1967: Eagles Win Back-and-Forth Opener Over Redskins

The Philadelphia Eagles were coming off of a 9-5 record in 1966 and had some new faces on the roster as they hosted the Washington Redskins on September 17, 1967. Head Coach Joe Kuharich had developed a reputation for being willing to deal since taking over the reins in ’64. In the most recent offseason, flanker Gary Ballman (pictured above) was obtained from the Steelers and star TE Mike Ditka of the Bears, who had worn out his welcome in Chicago following a contract dispute, was brought in to replace retired TE Pete Retzlaff. QB Norm Snead, who came to the Eagles from Washington in 1964 in a controversial trade for QB Sonny Jurgensen, had suffered through a miserable ’66 season and was benched for the last several games in favor of Jack Concannon and King Hill, but Concannon was traded to the Bears for Ditka, Hill was injured during the preseason, and Snead was now back firmly in the starting job and looking to rebound.

With the Redskins in town for the opening game, coached by Otto Graham for the second year, Snead once more faced Sonny Jurgensen, and the ex-Eagle had a Pro Bowl year in ’66 in which he threw for 3209 yards and 28 touchdowns for the 7-7 club. Charley Taylor, shifted from halfback to split end, led the NFL in pass receptions and, together with flanker Bobby Mitchell and TE Jerry Smith, was part of a formidable receiving corps. The running game was far less impressive, however, and FB Ray McDonald had been chosen in the first round of the draft to address that issue. There were questions regarding the defense, but star MLB Sam Huff was back for his 12th season as well as a rising talent in OLB Chris Hanburger.

60,755 fans were in attendance at Franklin Field. Things started off with a bang for the Redskins when rookie flanker John Love returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Charlie Gogolak added the extra point and the visitors were ahead by 7-0 after less than 20 seconds of play.

The Eagles responded by going 80 yards in five plays on their initial series. Norm Snead (pictured below) threw to Mike Ditka for eight yards, FB Tom Woodeshick rushed for a total of five yards on two carries, and, after an illegal procedure call backed the Eagles up, HB Israel “Izzy” Lang ran 13 yards around end for a first down. Snead then went long for Gary Ballman, and it resulted in a 59-yard touchdown. Sam Baker successfully converted to tie the score.

Washington had to punt on its next possession, but got the ball back two plays later when Snead fumbled while being sacked and DE Bill Briggs recovered at the Philadelphia 13. Helped by a holding penalty, the Eagles were able to keep the visitors out of the end zone and Washington settled for a 30-yard Gogolak field goal to move back into the lead.

The Eagles moved the ball effectively on the ground, with Lang and Woodeshick carrying, but Lang fumbled and Sam Huff recovered at his own 38. A few plays later, FB A.D. Whitfield fumbled the ball back and Philadelphia put together a seven-play, 58-yard series. Lang had runs of 12 and 19 yards and Snead completed two passes, the second of which was for a 10-yard TD to Ballman. Baker’s extra point made the score 14-10 in favor of the Eagles.

Heading into the second quarter, Washington put together a promising drive as Sonny Jurgensen completed four passes for 45 yards, but Gogolak was short on a 37-yard field goal attempt. Philadelphia again moved the ball well, starting off with a Snead throw to Ditka for 25 yards, but after reaching Washington territory, a holding penalty and sack moved the Eagles back and they had to punt. The Redskins advanced 73 yards in six plays, four of them pass completions by Jurgensen. The longest was to split end Charley Taylor for 35 yards to the Philadelphia 13 and, two plays later, HB Joe Don Looney ran five yards for a touchdown. Gogolak added the PAT and Washington was now in front in the see-saw battle by a score of 17-14.

Following a 33-yard kickoff return by split end Ben Hawkins, there were just over three minutes left in the half as the Eagles started their next series. On a third-and-eight play, Snead connected with Woodeshick for 30 yards and, two plays later, Ballman caught a pass for a 22-yard gain to the Washington two. Snead scored on a quarterback sneak two plays after that, and with Baker’s kick, Philadelphia took a 21-17 lead into halftime.

The Eagles found themselves trapped deep in their own territory on the first series of the third quarter, and Baker’s punt from his end zone was short and gave the Redskins possession at the Philadelphia 33. Jurgensen immediately threw to Taylor for 10 yards and a first down, but after the possession bogged down at the 18, Gogolak’s 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked by LB Harold Wells.

Philadelphia again had to punt after a short series and this time the visitors didn’t come up empty. The Redskins drove 55 yards in seven plays, the biggest a Jurgensen throw to Taylor that picked up 36 yards. Jurgensen’s third completion of the series was to Jerry Smith for a four-yard TD and, adding Gogolak’s PAT, Washington was again in the lead by 24-21.

The Eagles came out throwing when they got the ball back, with Snead completing three passes before Woodeshick took a handoff on a draw play and broke away for a 40-yard touchdown. Baker converted and the five-play, 63-yard series had Philadelphia back again in front by a score of 28-24.

It was Jurgensen’s turn to fill the air with passes when Washington regained possession, and he connected with Bobby Mitchell for a 43-yard gain to the Philadelphia 32. Throws to Taylor and Smith picked up 12 yards apiece, but three straight passes into the end zone from the 12 yard line fell incomplete and the Eagles blocked another Gogolak try for a field goal on the final play of the period.

The Eagles went three-and-out on their next series and punted and, starting from their own 26, the Redskins again moved down the field. Looney and Ray McDonald ran well and Jurgensen completed three passes. But after reaching the Philadelphia eight, Love, in place of the injured Gogolak, missed on a 15-yard field goal attempt.

The teams traded punts before the Eagles added an insurance score. Snead fired long for Ben Hawkins and it was complete for a 68-yard gain to the Washington six. Three plays later, Woodeshick ran for a one-yard TD, Baker converted, and the home team was in front by 11 points with less than three minutes remaining on the clock. Jurgensen again went to the air and, at one point, completed five straight throws, but after reaching the Philadelphia 33, he was sacked on a fourth down play to effectively end the game. The Eagles came away winners by the score of 35-24.

Philadelphia compiled more total yards (426 to 388) although the Redskins had the edge in first downs (21 to 18). Each team recorded three sacks and the Eagles turned the ball over twice, to one suffered by Washington. The Redskins were hurt by a combined four missed field goals out of five attempts.

Norm Snead completed 18 of 27 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Gary Ballman had four catches for 105 yards and both receiving TDs while Ben Hawkins, thanks to his long catch in the second half, gained an even 100 yards on 5 receptions. Mike Ditka also caught 5 passes, for 42 yards. Izzy Lang rushed for 75 yards on 13 carries and Tom Woodeshick was right behind with 74 yards, also on 13 attempts, with two touchdowns.

For the Redskins, Sonny Jurgensen (pictured below) was successful on 25 of 46 throws for 324 yards and a TD while having none picked off. Charley Taylor caught 8 of those passes for 144 yards and Jerry Smith also hauled in 8 receptions, for 81 yards and a score. Bobby Mitchell contributed 6 catches for 82 yards. Ray McDonald led the rushers by gaining 47 yards on 8 carries.

The Eagles got off to a 3-1 start before dropping four of their next five games on the way to a 6-7-1 record, which placed second in the Capitol Division of the Eastern Conference. Washington ended up third at 5-6-3.

Norm Snead had his most productive season as a passer for the Eagles, throwing for 3399 yards and 29 touchdowns while giving up 24 interceptions. Gary Ballman continued to perform well and caught 36 passes for 524 yards (14.6 avg.) and six TDs, but Mike Ditka missed five games with injuries and ended up with just 26 receptions for 274 yards and two scores. It was Ben Hawkins, in his second year, who broke out in a big way and led the NFL with 1265 yards on his 59 catches (21.4 avg.) that included 10 touchdowns.

Sonny Jurgensen went on to another big season, leading the league in pass attempts (508), completions (288), yards (3747), and TDs (31). Charley Taylor again led the circuit in pass receptions (70) and Jerry Smith (67) and Bobby Mitchell (60) ranked second and fourth. Ray McDonald proved to not be the answer at fullback, however, gaining just 223 rushing yards.