Is a picture really worth a 1,000 words?
A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday.
Last Sunday we posted this photo on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Facebook page. We asked all of those football fans who like us to provide a clever caption. That they did. This image, one of about two million photos in our collection, drew many interesting comments within a matter of minutes after we posted it on our wall.
It really is an interesting photo if you examine it for a while. It got me thinking about what really happened? So, since I’m surrounded by the world’s largest collection of football information I thought I’d seek the answer. After a little bit of digging I found out that this picture really isn’t worth a 1,000 words (but pretty close, my blog is around 650 words)! So, here’s the story. No doubt it is one that the guy “out cold” in the photo surely didn’t remember.
Umpire Jim Beiersdorfer is the main subject of this photo. He didn’t last long into this game as he was knocked unconscious during a first quarter interception return. He suffered a “slight concussion” and was taken to a local hospital where he was kept overnight according to newspaper accounts.
The Los Angeles Rams traveled to Baltimore to take on the Colts on November 25, 1956. Depending on which source you read, the hometown team ranged from a slight favorite to a touchdown underdog in the game. The uncertainty of the prediction was much the result of the fact that Baltimore’s starting quarterback George Shaw was still on the mend for a knee injury. Although it was rumored the veteran QB may possibly see action for the first time in more than a month, the more likely case was the Colts were going to be led by some rookie named Johnny Unitas. Although a newspaper account described the first-year passer’s performance in previous weeks as not bad “for a rookie,” he still was an unknown free agent rookie starter.
The 40,000 plus fans who braved the rain and cold that day may have been slightly unnerved when the Rams’ Tom Wilson ran a kickoff back 103 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. He broke his wrist and injured his ribs on the play and was taken to the hospital. Wilson soon had company.
Shortly, thereafter the Rams were on the march again when the Colts’ Bert Rechichar stepped in front of a Norm Van Brocklin pass and during his 41-yard interception return Rechichar plowed through the umpire Beiersdorfer. A scuffle among players followed the play, the official was carted off the field, and the game resumed.
It was all Colts from that moment forward in what turned out to be the first of many thrilling performances by the team’s quarterback. Unitas’ pinpoint accuracy resulted in him completing 18 of 24 passes for 293 yards and 3 touchdowns (43 yards to Royce Womble; and 12- and 43-yarders to end Jim Mutscheller). The young Johnny U also added one rushing touchdown for good measure. The Colts entered the locker room as halftime with a commanding 42-7 lead thanks to three touchdowns in a 75-second span.
By the time the final gun had sounded the Colts walked off the field with a 56-21 win over the Rams. It marked the most points in franchise history for Baltimore and today still ranks tied for second most ever in a game by a Colts team. The game for L.A. marked, at the time, the worst loss ever handed to a Sid Gillman coached team. Making matters worse were that Wilson was one of four Rams injured in the game. It also dropped the Rams to 2-7 and assured them the top pick (after Green Bay’s bonus selection) in the NFL draft that was to take place the next day.
Unitas, who began his “unbreakable” 47-game TD streak two weeks later in a rematch against the Rams, wasn’t the only Colts’ player with a big day. Halfback Billy Vessels saw his first major action on offense. He responded with 9 carries for 70 yards and scored 3 TDs (2 rushing and 1 receiving). Those were the only touchdowns of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s pro career as he played just one season in the NFL. His backfield mate, fullback Alan Ameche, gained 162 yards on 20 carries and scored 1 TD.
There you have it. That’s the story on the game behind the photo. As for Beiersdorfer, he didn’t suffer any long-terms affects from his injury and was back out on the field soon thereafter. The native of Cincinnati held a rare distinction of being one of very few league officials who didn’t go to college. He served as NFL umpire for nearly 20 seasons from 1946-1964.
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