1958 Thrills and Chills

1958 Thrills and Chills


By Fred Bobberts



            By 1958, the NFL was starting to look more like its modern counterpart, with only one last vestige of the previous ground-bound years of 5-2 defenses – the versatile right halfback.   In the three-running-back sets of the day, the LHB usually ran more, while the RHB was usually a twin threat. 


            Nowadays, people look at Reggie Bush-type runners as disappointments, and Kevin Faulk-type backs as curiosities, but in 1958 that type of player was the star.  Everybody wanted one and they took pains to develop one.  We think of Lenny Moore from that era as the prototype, and he was, but there were others like him in the NFL.  Jon Arnett, Bobby Mitchell, Hopalong Cassady, Hugh McElhenny and (in 1958) Tom Tracy all joined Moore in putting their versatile stamp on NFL offenses. It would not be until the Sixties that the Green Bay style of “outside HB and inside FB” role runners would diminish the impact of the two-way threats.  But modern oddities like Joe Washington, Ronnie Harmon, and Gary Anderson would have been the big salaried players of 1958 and 1959.


Western Conference


1958 Baltimore Colts 9-3

Thrills:  An outstanding defense, very tough to run on with three All Pros up front, and a better pass defense than most will remember from their old-format cards due to their schedule.  One of the great turnover-forcing defenses of all time.  Fantastic receivers in Lenny Moore, WR Raymond Berry and TE Jim Mutscheller.  Baltimore has a deep and talented running corps led by FB Alan Ameche and featuring the explosive Moore that does not fumble with the team ratings.  The league’s best kick returner (Lenny Lyles) gets TDs in the 10 and 11 spots, although he is Baltimore’s #2 back.


Chills:  The pass rush is not what the old set had, either.  An injured Unitas missed facing the Bears and Giants, two of the league’s better pass defenses in the regular season, and his card reflects this, although his backup George Shaw is better for it. Bert Rechichar as a kicker was a great strong safety and their kickoff coverage is one of history’s worst.  Moore did have five fumbles, which may limit him a bit with individual fumbles on.    The Colts could use another downfield receiver, too.


1958 Los Angeles Rams 8-4

Thrills:  What an offense!  Billy Wade, the league’s leading passer at 2,875 yards, leads a host of offensive talent into battle.  Jon Arnett is up there with the Colts’ Moore as a triple threat, averaging over 5 yards a carry on nearly 700 yards rushing and chipping in nearly 500 receiving yards, while leading the league in punt returns.  Tommy Wilson, his backup, averaged 6.5 yards a carry and scored 10 touchdowns.   Del Schofner successfully switched to offense and added over 1,000 yards receiving and 8 TDs. The Rams also picked off 28 passes and Paige Cothren was a decent kicker.


Chills:  Defensive weaknesses contributed to a poor run defense and 21 pass defense TDs.  The offense turns the ball over a bit too often, particularly on fumbles.  The team will remind you a lot of replaying the early ‘80s Chargers, with forehead slappers on both sides of the ball.


1958 Chicago Bears 8-4

Thrills:  The Conferences’ toughest defense digs in, with Doug Atkins leading a pass rush not too far off from 1957’s all-time crunchers, and a stingy, fumble forcing run defense. The Bears force turnovers and can roll up any offense when they are on. They can also run the ball, with Rick Casares pounding between the tackles and Willie Galimore (619 yards, 4.8 /carry, 8 TDs) having one of his best years.  TE Bill McColl chipped in with 8 receiving TDs, and both kick returners are excellent.


Chills:  No surprise to Bears’ fans that the QB position is, once again, the weak link.  While Ed Brown and Zeke Bratkowski improved some from their awful 1957 numbers, they still contributed only 17 TDs compared to 23 interceptions.


1958 San Francisco 49ers 6-6

Thrills:  Y.A. Tittle and John Brodie split time and both were effective, averaging nearly 60 percent passing in a year under 50 percent.  All three starting receivers, R.C. Owens, Billy Wilson, and Clyde Conner, can catch.  The Niners’ Million Dollar Backfield started to fray around the edges a bit, but Joe ‘The Jet’ Perry still wowed them at 6.1 yards a carry for 758 yards and J.D. Smith hit for 8.0 yards a carry as a backup on limited carries.  … 1958 San Francisco has the greatest kick coverage card of all time – they led the NFL in kickoff coverage in spite of facing the league’s toughest return slate (with teams like Baltimore and Chicago twice) and they allow next to nothing on punt returns as well. 


Chills:   The starting passers were intercepted 28 times against only 15 TDs.  The run defense is awful.  Gordie Soltau, normally reliable, had an off year kicking.  But the real disappointment is after half a dozen years of versatile dominance, Hugh ‘The King’ McElhenny is not really explosive as either a runner or a receiver. Becoming more serviceable than explosive at the age of 29 in 1958, only once more in his next seven seasons would he average more than four yards a carry for a full year.


1958 Detroit Lions 4-7-1

Thrills:  Well, the Special Teams and run defense have their moments.  The Lions force turnovers at a pretty good rate, they have three remnants of their great Fifties secondary in place (Jim David, Terry Barr and Yale Lary) and Joe Schmidt is great in the middle.  Running QB Tobin Rote will find rookie TE Jim Gibbons and end Jim Doran on occasion for good gains. 


Chills:  Even with a pair of 5-rated CBs and a 6-rated FS, the team gives up a lot of passing yardage, and the line is all fours up front.  Detroit only got 56 attempts from John Henry Johnson and there is no depth at the halfback spots or speed at WR.  Detroit gets Bobby Layne for one game versus Baltimore, and then says goodbye to him (and winning) for 50 years.  The 1958 Lions can compete with the dregs of the NFL but the good teams in the Western Conference can and will pick them apart.


1958 Green Bay Packers 1-10-1

Thrills:  One-eyed Bobby Dillon is still a force in the secondary, as is Dave Hanner up front, and we find that Paul Hornung could kick, and Max Magee could punt.  These are not the primary skills associated with these players in the next few years, so it says everything you need to know that Howie Ferguson and a fading Billy Howton are the team’s best players.  Rookie Jim Taylor shows promise on limited carries.


Chills:  Bart Starr, who has some bright spots on his card in 1957, really regressed this year and The Pack does not improve much with Babe Parilli under center. …They do not intercept passes or play great run defense, allowing more than 30 points a game.  This is a truly bad team – the Colts waxed them in midseason 56-0 and Green Bay overachieved by getting the tie against Detroit.     


Eastern Conference


1958 New York Giants 9-3

Thrills:  The team looks a lot like its 1956 Champions.  Charley Conerly is serviceable, leading a trio of talented backs who can run tough and catch screens.  The Giants are not explosive on offense but they do not make a lot of mistakes. When he is healthy, Kyle Rote teams with TE Bob Schnelker and WB Frank Gifford to provide downfield punch.  The Giants have decent kicking.  The star of the team is the defense, Excellent both ways, and especially tough with three 6s and four 5s in the front seven.


Chills:  The team used reserve QB Don Heinrich a lot in the regular season, and he is mistake (and completion) free … The Giants have only an average pass rush, and the personnel are soft in the secondary, at SS and RCB.  This means a QB who can buy time can find his split end open a lot in key situations, like say, ahem, overtime.   But the Giants are solid and they can win it all.


1958 Cleveland Browns 8-4

Thrills:  Jim Brown averages 5.9 yards a carry on 257 attempts in a 12-game season, with 17 TDs.  And he gets help – Bobby Mitchell chips in 500 yards at 6.3 per at HB.  Milt Plum is solid, especially when the defense is Wrong, and he can look for a maxed-out deep flanker Ray Renfro if the defense cheats too much … Bob Gain and Walt Michaels anchor a tough run defense, Mitchell and Leroy Bolden both have a pair of KO return TDs on their cards, and Mitchell has a PR TD on 11 as the #2 PR. 


Chills:  A ground-bound team, the Browns do not have a lot of depth at WR and will struggle if they trail … Lou Groza had an unusually poor kicking year … The pass defense has some holes.


1958 Pittsburgh Steelers 7-4-1

Thrills:  The Steelers are a sleeper team.  With no serviceable QB, they started 0-2 after being destroyed by Cleveland in Week 2. Then a midseason trade landed them Bobby Layne.  He started 1-2, but went 6-0-1 the rest of the way.  Layne’s downfield throwing to Jack McClairen, Jimmy Orr and Ray Matthews helps to provide cover for Tom Tracy and Tank Younger on the ground.  Tracy is yet another double-threat RHB, with 700 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving … Solid against the run and the pass, the Steelers also have trusty Ernie Stautner and Jack Butler starring on defense.


Chills:  While Layne throws fewer interceptions than his career norm, the team on the whole loses a lot of fumbles – pressure on the QB and tight defense can force some reverse opportunities … Special teams are just average … The Steelers are not very deep, especially at RB, and will have to be careful with the attempts by their front-line runners.


1958 Washington Redskins 4-7-1

Thrills:  From the samples we have picked, you would wonder why the Redskins ever played anyone at QB other than Eddie Le Baron.  He was good again in limited duty in 1958, and he was joined by a very a solid running corps and a decent run blocking offensive line.  Jim Podoley, another of those versatile backs, lost a step from 1957 but still caught 4 TDs.


Chills: With the Browns in transition and the Giants seemingly getting too old, the Redskins were the preseason pick to win the Eastern Conference.  But no one gave DE Gene Brito much help on defense, especially in the secondary, and the special teams are below average …The WRs all lost a step.  The Redskins have no pass blocking and they have to play the truly awful Ralph Guglielmi at QB too often.


1958 Chicago Cardinals 2-9-1

Thrills:  The Cardinals have two solid QBs in M.C. Reynolds and Lamar McHan.  The latter had one of his best years with the pressure mostly off … Chicago’s offensive line is pretty solid, Ollie Matson can still run and catch and Woodley Lewis is a threat to go all the way on any reception.  Rookie John David Crow provides some backup running help … CB Night Train Lane shone on defense….


Chills:  …but no one else did, as the Cardinals allowed everyone to pass like Johnny Unitas and run like Jim Brown …Very poor kicking, as Conrad was poor on placements and Gordon punted short to bad coverages … Like the Steelers, the Cardinals rely on passing first and do not have enough front-line runners, although it helps that their QBs can run a little. 


1958 Philadelphia Eagles 2-9-1

Thrills:  You know you have the makings of a balanced and interesting season when one Pro Bowl QB starter plays on one of the league’s weakest teams. Such was the case in 1958 where a resurgent Norm Van Brocklin played quite well in his new surroundings with no help from his runners.  He did have some pass catchers – Tommy McDonald, Pete Retzlaff and Bobby Walston all could run and catch, and Van Brocklin’s quick release gave his line a boost. 


Chills:  The runners are terrible – historically bad, one of the worst collections ever. With bonus fumbles and no yardage, the temptation will be to throw on every down   The kick coverage is also very bad and this is anther poor kicking team … The defense is poor against the run and the pass.