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Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
The All-America Football Conference (AAFC) existed for only four seasons from 1946-49, but its impact on the professional football landscape was undeniable. Three teams – the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers – joined the National Football League when the AAFC disbanded following the ‘49 season. That Colts franchise folded after one year in the NFL, leaving the Browns and 49ers as the only current franchises with roots to the defunct league. In all, 15 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame had an affiliation with the rival AAFC as either a player or a coach.
Two quarterbacks, George Blanda and Y.A. Tittle, found themselves in competition for the same starting job with Baltimore as the franchise transitioned to the NFL. Tittle was the incumbent and had put together two solid seasons with the Colts in the AAFC. He threw for 2,522 yards and 16 touchdowns in 1948 to earn AAFC Rookie of the Year honors. One season later he aired it out for 2,209 yards and 14 TDs. Blanda, a draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1949, was traded to the Colts on September 5, 1950 along with four other players for guard Dick Barwegan and the rights to retired tackle Dub Garrett (who was lured out of retirement to play three games for Chicago).
When Blanda arrived he joined the quarterback competition with Tittle and rookie Adrian Burk out of Baylor. Rumors swirled throughout the preseason that the Colts were going to release Tittle. But, in somewhat of a surprise move, Colts head coach Clem Crowe announced on September 20, 1950 that he was releasing Blanda instead.
“We can’t afford to keep three offensive quarterbacks,” said Crowe. “It’s a passing game, this professional football and Tittle can throw the ball as well as anybody in the business.”
Blanda wasn’t out of work for long as the Bears jumped in and purchased his rights from Baltimore before he was released. Blanda proceeded to play professional football for 26 seasons and retired just shy of his 49th birthday. In all, Blanda passed for 26,920 yards and 236 touchdowns, and scored a then-record 2,002 points. He was immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with his induction in 1981.
That’s not to say Tittle was the wrong choice though. Y.A. (short for Yelberton Abraham) played 14 more seasons with the 49ers and the New York Giants after the Baltimore franchise folded. In all, he totaled 33,070 yards and 242 touchdowns during his pro football career. Tittle was also named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in three straight seasons (1961-63) and was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
A football adage states, “if you think you have two starting quarterbacks on your team then you probably don’t have any.” As history proved, in the Colts’ case this saying didn’t ring true. They not only had two quality starting quarterbacks to choose from on their roster but also unknowingly had two future Hall of Fame passers on their roster.