To call Steve Owen a pioneer is not an overstatement. The sturdy tackle and head coach was born in Oklahoma before it was a state – it was still a territory in 1898. From little Phillips, a small Oklahoma college, Steve began his pro football career in 1924 with the Kansas City Blues (later Cowboys), a traveling team that played all their games on the road.
After a brief stay with the Cleveland Bulldogs, he was sold to the New York Giants in 1926 for $500. Owen played seven seasons with the Giants, 1926-1931 and 1933. In 1930, he was both a player and the team’s co-coach. Although he continued to play, he was named the sole head coach in 1931.
Then, in 1933, he stopped playing and devoted all his efforts to coaching. Owen and the Mara family, who owned the Giants never had a contract. He coached 23 years, 1930-1953, on just a handshake. Stout Steve Owen believed in basic fundamental football, and he was successful with his basic style. His real strength was in coaching defense.
Under his tutelage, the Giants played in eight of the first 14 championship games of the National Football League. The team’s victory in the 1934 “Sneakers Game” is well documented. He coached the Giants to another title in 1938. He originated the “umbrella defense” – the secondary was likened to an umbrella with four deep defensive backs representing the umbrella’s spokes.
The spokes include future Hall of Famers Emlen Tunnell and Tom Landry. He successfully used this defense to contain the powerful pass-oriented Cleveland Browns when they joined the NFL in 1950. Owen left the Giants following the 1953 season, but before he did he developed some of the greatest players and toughest teams in history. His 155 career victories attest to his success.