January 15, 1956
Long Beach Indpendent
Los Angeles Coliseum- Wouldn't you know it. Right on the heels of the torrid Rose Bowl officiating controversy, the sixth annual Pro Bowl wound up in a big hassle here Sunday as the Eastern All-Stars were ruled official 31-30 victors over the Western Division All-Stars before 37,867 fans in the most exciting struggle of the series which brings together the outstanding players in the National Football League.
The latest of a series of controversies developed when field judge Joe Gonzales ruled an "automatic touchback" instead of a safety on an unsuccessful field goal attempt by the West's Bert Rechichar which apparently was fielded on about the one or two yard line by Joe (Scooter) Scudero of the Washington Redskins, who then turned, stepped into the end zone and touched the ball down in front of Gonzales with just two seconds left to play.
Such pro football men as George Halas, Curly Lambeau and Buddy Parker plus a couple of veteran NFL officials sitting in the press box immediately yelled "safety", and all were amazed when the officials ruled it a touchback.
A safety would have given the West two points and a 32-31 victory.
Several Western players immediately questioned the decision, but the other officials backed up Gonzales and the East ran out the remaining two seconds with a line play.
Gonzales' official ruling was that the ball had crossed over the plane of the end zone and was an automatic touchback.
NFL Commissioner Bert Bell later announced that "the East's 31-30 victory will stand!"
Sid Gillman of the Rams, coach of the West squad, said he thought it was a safety, but added that "we'll have to wait for the game movies to see exactly what happened."
However, even though the ruling of a touchback earned Eastern players an extra S200- winning players each received $700, the losers $500 apiece- several of them thought that an error might have been made on the call.
As one of them said, "I thought the kick dropped short of the goal line and I was surprised when Scudero turned and carried it into the end zone."
After the East had moved out to a 31-23 lead with 9 ˝ minutes left to go, a late Western surge closed the gap to 31-30 with 2:39 remaining and then gained position for the last-ditch field goal attempt by Rechichar from the 50-yard line.
It was a fitting climax to the 1955 football season in Southern California, which will go down as producing the most thrilling series of games in the history of the Coliseum.
The Pro Bowl was the 23rd major game of the season played in the Coliseum and turned out to be the 15th that came right down to the wire for a decision, a remarkable record.
The East’s official one-point margin of victory was produced by a brilliant defensive maneuver by Pittsburgh's Jack Butler and the Redskins' Volney Peters, who crashed through to block Les Richter's kick on the conversion attempt following the West’s third touchdown, which came in the third period.
With the West still leading 20-14 after the blocked kick, the play didn't seem important at the time but grew progressively so as time ran out.
It was the explosive running of the great Ollie Matson from the Chicago Cardinals that carried the East to its 31-polnt total. And for his efforts, the former San Francisco University Negro star was voted the "player of the game" award.
Matson scored two touchdowns, one on a 91-yard kickoff return, set up a third touchdown with a brilliant 49-yard punt return, and helped work the ball into position for the other TD.
The terrific struggle produced spine-tingling action from start to finish ... beginning with the spectacular 103-yard run for a touchdown on the opening kick off by Jack Christiansen of the Detroit Lions and ending with Rechichar's kick and the hassle over the official's ruling.
Christiansen's run got the game off on the right foot as far as the spectators were concerned.
It was a beautiful piece of running set up by the effective blocking of the Chicago Bears' great guard, Stan Jones, who successfully kept, the last Eastern defender. Norm Willey of the Philadelphia Eagles, from tripping up Christiansen. Richter's conversion made it 7-0.
Rechichar, the Baltimore Colts' long-distance kicker, attempted a field goal moments later from the midfield stripe, but it was blocked by Ernie Stautner of the Eagles and recovered by Pittsburgh's Butler on the 26-yard line.
From there, the East moved 74 yards for its first touchdown aided by a running-into-the-kicker penalty at midfield that kept the drive going. Quarterback Eddie LeBaron of the Washington Redskins replaced the Eagles' Adrian Burk at that point and sparked the East to the score, which came on Eddie's 12-yard pitch to Philadelphia's Pete Pihos in the end zone just 51 seconds before the first quarter ended. Lou Groza's kick tied it up at 7-7.
The East kept mounting threats all through the second quarter, but the half ended with the West out in front again at 14-7 on the strength of a sensational 73-yard pass play from the Bears' Ed Brown to Green Bay's Bill Howton. Richter again converted.
Prior to that aerial strike, the East had moved 45 yards to the West 23 on LeBaron's passing and Matson's running before Jim David, Detroit's great defensive halfback, intercepted one of LeBaron's passes on the 15 to halt the advance.
The East began rolling again on Matson's terrific running in the waning moments of the half and charged to the one-yard line before a delaying of the game penalty shoved the Easterners back to the six from where LeBaron's fourth down pass on the final play of the half was dropped by Pittsburgh's Ray Mathews in the end zone.
It took the East just 17 seconds of the third quarter to tie the score at 14-all when the fabulous Matson took the second half kickoff on his nine-yard line and streaked 91 yards to a touchdown. Groza converted.
The West bounced right back into the lead 6 ˝ minutes later though after Joe Schmidt, burly Detroit linebacker, intercepted LeBaron's pass on the 48 and barreled 30 yards to the East 18. Norm Van Brocklin's pass to Doak Walker on the one yard line set the stage for Green Bay's Howie Ferguson to plunge over at 6:47.
Butler and Peters then blocked Richter's conversion to produce the ultimate one point difference in the score. That made it 20-11.
The East snapped back after the kickoff with the most impressive move of the day ... going 80 yards in four plays.
After the Giants' Frank Gifford had picked up three yards on the first play, LeBaron rolled out of the arms of a West tackler and hit Cleveland's Darrell Brewster with a 38-yard pass, then followed it up with a 34 yard strike to Gifford on the 15 yard line.
Matson took over at that point and broke out of a trap to race 15 yards inside right end for the TD. Groza's kick made it 21-20 at 8:42 of the third period.
This lead held up for only 2 ˝ minutes, though, when Rechichar put the West back in front with a 46-yard field goal to make it 23-21.
The East countered on the first play of the fourth quarter with its own "Toe" Groza, who booted a lowering 50-yard field goal to regain the lead at 24-23.
It appeared as if the East had safely wrapped up the game a few minutes later when Matson reeled off his terrific 49-yard punt return to the West 34 to set the stage for LeBaron's 20- yard scoring pass to Mathews at 5:30. Groza's conversion was good to make it 31-23.
However, The West came roaring back with one scoring threat after the kickoff, and after being stalled with only 3 ˝ minutes left to go, boomed back into contention again when Matson's lateral-was picked up by David on the East 30-yard line.
From there, Van Brocklin passed 13 yards to Harlon Hill and the Rams' Ron Waller took it the rest of the way in two plays with runs of 13 and four yards. Richter's conversion closed the gap to 31-30 at 12:21.
The West got the ball again following a punt on its own 25 yard line with 52 seconds to go.
Van Brocklin hit Wilson for 13 yards and Waller for 20 on the East 42 with just 16 seconds left to prepare for Rechichar's placement from the 50, which Scudero fielded to launch the controversy.
Tobin Rote on the loose for the West.
Pete Pihos pulls down the first East touchdown of the game, a pass from LeBaron.
|Scudero fields the controversial kick (note location of feet).|