October 11, 2014

1953: Steelers Overcome 21-Point Deficit to Defeat Cards

The Pittsburgh Steelers were 1-1, having come off a win the previous week against the Giants, as they hosted the Chicago Cardinals on October 11, 1953. Coached by Joe Bach for the second year, who had converted the offense to the T-formation in ’52 (the last NFL team to do so), the Steelers featured QB Jim Finks (pictured at right), who performed ably the previous year but was hindered by a knee injury suffered during the preseason. End Elbie Nickel was a favorite target and HB Lynn Chandnois was an outstanding kick returner in addition to his duties in the backfield.

The Cardinals had a new head coach in Joe Stydahar, former star lineman for the Bears who coached the Rams to the 1951 NFL Championship. However, fleet HB Ollie Matson was away in the military and QB Jim Root was not of the caliber of the quarterbacks that Stydahar had in Los Angeles (Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin). Charlie Trippi, once a star at halfback, was back in that position after a trial at quarterback. Chicago came into the contest at 0-2.

There were 25,935 fans in attendance at Forbes Field. The Steelers spent most of the first quarter bottled up on their end of the field. Chicago got the first break when LB Bill Svoboda intercepted a Jim Finks throw at the Pittsburgh 36. Two plays later, end Gern Nagler caught a pass to the two yard line and, on the third plunge into the line, FB John Olszewski scored a touchdown from a yard out. Pat Summerall added the extra point for a 7-0 lead. That was the last scoring threat until later in the opening period when Summerall attempted a field goal from 52 yards that fell far short.

Early in the second quarter, Pittsburgh finally began to move on offense, advancing 68 yards in 17 plays. FB Fran Rogel got the Steelers on the board with a one-yard carry for a TD and Nick Bolkovac converted to make it a tie game. However, turnovers began to plague the home team. HB Jim Brandt fumbled while returning a punt and LB Nick Chickillo recovered for Chicago at the Pittsburgh 34. Five plays later, Jim Root threw to Nagler in the corner of the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown and Summerall added the PAT to put the visitors back in front by 14-7.

The Steelers responded with a promising series, but Finks again was intercepted, this time by DHB Don Paul. The Cards were unable to add to their lead when Summerall tried again to kick a field goal from 52 yards and it was also short.

Pittsburgh drove quickly into Chicago territory as Finks completed a pass of 39 yards to Lynn Chandnois to the 24. But he was picked off once more and, with time running out in the first half, it was the Cardinals making a big play to move down field. Root connected with end Don Stonesifer for 46 yards and a pass interference penalty helped Chicago along further. With the clock down to 20 seconds, Root completed a six-yard touchdown pass to Nagler (pictured below) and, adding Summerall’s kick, the Cards took a 21-7 lead into halftime.

Early in the third quarter, the hole got deeper for the Steelers when Chandnois muffed a punt and Chickillo recovered at the Pittsburgh 13. Three plays later, Charlie Trippi rolled out and passed to Stonesifer for a three-yard TD. Summerall converted and Chicago had a seemingly-commanding lead of 28-7 over the error-prone Steelers.

Pittsburgh responded quickly. HB Ray Mathews returned the ensuing kickoff to the 39 and the Steelers took just four plays to cover 61 yards. Three were passes, the last from Finks to Mathews for a 19-yard touchdown. Bolkovac added the extra point to make it 28-14.

Four plays after the kickoff, the Steelers got the ball back when HB Billy Cross fumbled and LB Dick Flanagan recovered at the Chicago 36. Finks threw to end Elbie Nickel to the 16 but they failed to advance and turned the ball over on downs.

Late in the period, the Steelers commenced a drive that extended into the fourth quarter, and this time they didn’t come up empty. From the Chicago 14, Finks threw to end Ed Barker for seven yards and Rogel followed up with a three-yard run to make it first-and-goal. Rogel hit the line again, appeared to be stopped, but then broke loose for a four-yard TD. Bolkovac’s conversion further narrowed the Cards’ lead to 28-21.

Once again Pittsburgh got the ball back quickly, this time with DHB Art DeCarlo intercepting a pass that he returned to the Chicago 18. Finks completed a throw to Chandnois at the two and, after Rogel was stopped twice for losses, he fired a pass into the corner of the end zone that Barker caught for a four-yard touchdown. Bolkovac’s point after tied the score at 28-28.

Neither team was able to move effectively on its next series, but DeCarlo came through with another interception that gave the Steelers the ball at the Chicago 28. Chandnois gained eight yards on two carries, but Elter lost two on third down, and with 4:55 remaining in the contest, Bolkovac kicked a 28-yard field goal for the Steelers. It made the difference as Pittsburgh came away with a 31-28 comeback win, beating the Cardinals for the sixth straight time.

The Steelers led in total yards (354 to 233) and first downs (24 to 16). Both teams hurt themselves with turnovers, suffering five apiece (four interceptions and a fumble by the Cards, three interceptions and two fumbles given up by Pittsburgh).

Jim Finks completed 23 of 44 passes for 291 yards and Fran Rogel (pictured at right) ran for 52 yards on 17 carries to lead the Steelers. Punter Pat Brady averaged over 53 yards on eight kicks, his longest traveling 57 yards. For the Cardinals, Jim Root was successful on 9 of 27 throws for 162 yards.

The Steelers went on to a 6-6 record, rallying to win their last two games, and placed fourth in the Eastern Conference. Chicago never got on track, eking out a tie with the Rams and breaking into the victory column in the last week of the season against the crosstown-rival Bears for a 1-10-1 tally, the league’s worst.

Jim Finks had a lesser season, completing 44.9 percent of his passes for 1484 yards and eight touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Fran Rogel led the team with 527 rushing yards while Lynn Chandnois led the NFL in all-purpose yards with 1593 and was named to the Pro Bowl. Nick Bolkovac’s game-winning field goal was one of just four he kicked all year, in 12 attempts, although he was 27 for 28 in extra points.