Million Dollar Backfield sparked memorable 1947 season
The term “Million Dollar Backfield” invokes memories of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s. The team’s backfield consisted of four future Hall of Fame members – quarterback Y.A. Tittle, and running backs John Henry Johnson, Hugh McElhenny, and Joe Perry.
However, the nickname was actually used in the previous decade to describe the offensive attack of the Chicago Cardinals. The team, a charter member of the National Football League in 1920, was among the elite during the league’s early years. However, the Cardinals fortunes slipped as the team suffered through lean years in the 1930s.
With pro football on the upswing in the post-World War II years, the Cardinals went through a makeover. First for coach Jimmy Conzelman was the implementation of the “T” formation. He drafted quarterback Paul Christman in 1945 to run the offense. A year later, fullback Pat Harder and halfback Elmer Angsman were added to complement Christman. The final piece of the puzzle came in 1947, when owner Charles Bidwill signed Georgia star Charley Trippi to a $100,000 contract, the largest ever in the NFL up to that time.
The group was quickly nicknamed the “Million Dollar Backfield” as well as often referred to by the moniker, “The Dream Backfield.” The investment by Bidwill paid quick dividends. That season, the Cardinals stormed to its first NFL title since 1925. Sadly, Bidwill passed away in April and never lived to see his team crowned as league champions.
Perhaps the finest collective showing of the “Million Dollar Backfield” came in the 1947 NFL Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles on the frozen turf of Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
Trippi opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 44-yard run off left tackle. Harder tacked on the extra point to put Chicago up, 7-0. Then it was Angsman’s turn. The speedy halfback raced 70 yards for a touchdown and Harder’s PAT gave the team a comfortable two-touchdown lead.
The Eagles closed the score to 14-7 by halftime but Trippi’s fireworks continued. In the third quarter, the Hall of Famer fielded a punt at his own 25-yard line and rambled 75 yards to put his team ahead, 21-7.
Philadelphia countered with a one-yard TD run by Steve Van Buren but Angsman put the Cardinals ahead for good with the famous quartet’s fourth long TD strike of the day. In the fourth quarter, Angsman scored his second 70-yard touchdown run of the game for the clinching score. The Cardinals won the game, 28-21, to cap the “dream” season of 1947.
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