December 4, 2014

1966: Concannon Runs, Passes Eagles to Win Over Steelers

The Philadelphia Eagles were 6-5 and trying to put together their first winning season in five years as they hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 4, 1966. Head Coach Joe Kuharich’s team had a fine offensive line anchored by OT Bob Brown and good group of running backs that included HB Timmy Brown and up-and-coming FB Tom Woodeshick. The passing game was a problem, however, as QB Norm Snead, typically the starter, was enduring a dreadful season. One of the other two quarterbacks, King Hill, led the team to a win at San Francisco the previous week, but now it was Jack Concannon (pictured at right) getting the call at home against Pittsburgh.

Concannon, a star at Boston College, was Philadelphia’s second-round draft choice in 1964 and had received a big contract to keep him away from the Patriots of the AFL.  Buried behind Snead and Hill on the depth chart, he saw little action but started one game against the Cowboys late in his rookie season and provided plenty of excitement with his flashy running ability, while throwing for 134 yards and two TDs in a win. That performance made him the backup most chanted for when the offense was performing badly, but being a fan favorite didn’t guarantee him playing time. He saw scant playing time in 1965 and Coach Kuharich tried him as a halfback, flanker, and punt returner during the ’66 season before finally giving him another starting shot at quarterback.

The Steelers, under the guidance of first-year Head Coach Bill Austin, were 3-7-1 and also had a change at quarterback. Bill Nelsen, having missed nine games due to a knee injury, was back behind center. But while there were good receivers, most notably flanker Gary Ballman, the line was inadequate and, other than FB Willie Asbury, the backs unimpressive. The defensive line was a strong point, and was a reason for Jack Concannon to get the starting assignment at quarterback for the Eagles because Coach Kuharich believed that his mobile, rollout style would match up well against it.

There were 54,275 fans in attendance at Franklin Field. The Steelers had first possession and punted and the Eagles, starting from their 30 yard line, drove 42 yards. Jack Concannon set the tone when, on a third-and-seven play, he took off and ran for 18 yards. He also had a five-yard carry and completed a pass to Tom Woodeshick that picked up 11 yards and set up a 35-yard field goal by Sam Baker.

Pittsburgh responded by advancing into Philadelphia territory, the big gain being a 45-yard carry to the ten yard line by Willie Asbury on a draw play. But Bill Nelsen was sacked for a loss of 14 yards by DE Gary Pettigrew (pictured at left) in between tossing two incomplete passes, and Mike Clark was unsuccessful on a 31-yard field goal attempt.

The Eagles turned the ball over on the next possession when Timmy Brown fumbled a handoff and DE Ben McGee recovered to give the Steelers the ball at the Philadelphia 19. In a series that stretched into the second quarter, Pittsburgh scored when Asbury ran seven yards for a touchdown and, adding Clark’s extra point, the visitors held a 7-3 lead.

Philadelphia again turned the ball over in its own territory when Concannon fumbled as he was hit by LB Andy Russell and safety Paul Martha recovered at the 34. The result was a 37-yard Clark field goal that extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 10-3.

The Eagles came back with an 80-yard drive in 11 plays. Concannon completed three passes and twice scrambled for sizable gains. An 11-yard completion to split end Fred Hill converted a third-and-ten situation, an 11-yard scramble led to another first down, and a 29-yard run on a third-and-six play advanced the ball to the Pittsburgh 25. Concannon threw to Brown for a 17-yard gain that converted yet another third down and set up a three-yard touchdown carry by Woodeshick. Baker converted to tie the score.

With just over two minutes to play in the first half, the Eagles took advantage of a turnover when Nelsen fumbled and LB Dave Lloyd recovered at the Pittsburgh 25. Concannon had runs of six and eight yards, but when he was finally thrown for a loss on third down, Philadelphia settled for a 22-yard Baker field goal.

There was still enough time for the Steelers, and Nelsen drove them down the field with completions of 11 yards to HB Dick Hoak, 18 yards to Gary Ballman, and 22 yards to Hoak. Clark kicked a 32-yard field goal on the last play before halftime and the score was tied at 13-13 at the intermission. Concannon had accounted for 47 passing yards and 77 by rushing.

The teams traded punts to start the third quarter until Pittsburgh put together a scoring possession. The big gain came on a Nelsen throw to Ballman for 26 yards to the Philadelphia 28 and, while the Steelers could get no further, they came away with another field goal by Clark, this time from 35 yards.

The Eagles responded by advancing 70 yards in 11 plays. Concannon completed passes to flanker Ron Goodwin for 29 yards and Hill for 11, and ran three times for 21 yards. Woodeshick ran the last yard for a TD and Baker’s PAT put the home team on top by 20-16.

Asbury fumbled on Pittsburgh’s next play from scrimmage and Pettigrew recovered at the Steelers’ 30. As the period wound down, Concannon scrambled for a 16-yard gain and completed a pass to Timmy Brown for eight more. On the fourth play of the fourth quarter, Concannon scored from a yard out on a quarterback sneak and Baker added the point after to put the Eagles up by 27-16.

The Steelers came right back as Ballman returned the ensuing kickoff 42 yards and Nelsen immediately went to the air and connected with flanker Roy Jefferson for 43 yards to the Philadelphia four. Asbury ran for a two-yard touchdown three plays later, Clark converted, and Philadelphia’s lead was narrowed to four points.

The teams exchanged punts and, with time running short for the Steelers as they took over possession on their own 47, Nelsen threw an incompletion, Asbury was stopped for no gain on a draw play, Ballman dropped a pass, and a fourth-down throw was also incomplete to turn the ball over on downs. Pittsburgh got one more shot following another Philadelphia punt, but a penalty and a sack by LB Harold Wells forced them into a deep hole from which they couldn’t escape. The Eagles won by a final score of 27-23.

Philadelphia led in total yards (304 to 250) and first downs (19 to 15). The Eagles also recorded four sacks, to one by Pittsburgh. Each team turned the ball over twice.

Jack Concannon completed 13 of 25 passes for 131 yards with no touchdowns, but also with none intercepted, but made an even bigger impression with his running as he gained 129 yards on 15 carries that included a TD. Tom Woodeshick gained 46 yards on 19 attempts with two short touchdowns and he also picked up 28 yards on three pass receptions. Timmy Brown, who ran for only five yards on nine carries, led the club with 5 catches for 43 yards.

For the Steelers, Bill Nelsen was successful on 11 of 25 throws for 195 yards, also throwing no TD passes or interceptions. Gary Ballman caught 6 passes for 93 yards and averaged 27.3 yards on four kickoff returns. Willie Asbury (pictured above) ran for 70 yards on 14 attempts that included two TDs.

“I ran a bit more today than I want to, and I hope I don’t have to do that again,” said Jack Concannon. “My timing was off from rustiness and our running attack wasn’t working the way I hoped that it would, so I ran more than a quarterback should.”

“We let Concannon go wide on us a couple of times and he hurt us each time,” said Coach Austin of the Steelers. “We didn’t get our people up quick enough to contain the rollouts.”

The Eagles won again the next week against the Browns, with Concannon again leading the way at quarterback, but it was King Hill behind center when they beat Washington in the finale to make it four straight victories to finish out the season. Philadelphia’s final record was 9-5, which was good for a second place tie with the Browns in the Eastern Conference and a spot in the Playoff Bowl, the postseason exhibition game that pitted the runners-up in each conference. They lost to the Colts with Hill and Concannon at quarterback. Pittsburgh also finished on a high note, scoring a combined 104 points behind the good play of Bill Nelsen in beating the Giants and expansion Falcons. The Steelers ended up sixth in the conference at 5-8-1.

Jack Concannon was traded to the Bears in the offseason. In three years with the Eagles, he completed just 43.7 percent of his 103 passes for 637 yards and four touchdowns against eight interceptions. However, he ran for 433 yards on 50 carries, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt and scoring two TDs. The team was 3-0 in his starts and the 129 rushing yards against the Steelers remained the single-game record for a Philadelphia quarterback until 2010, withstanding the presence of far more accomplished mobile Eagles quarterbacks over the years like Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb before it finally was exceeded by Michael Vick.