Once again, a big play gave the Giants the lead before the quarter ended. Throughout the game, Emlen Tunnell gave a convincing demonstration of why he was “Mr. Offense on Defense” for the Giants, but never more than on the most exciting play of the day. He caught a Cardinals punt at his 18 and wove upfield through the Chicago punt team, using his teammates’ blocks to elude every defender and score a touchdown to put the Giants back on top. New York’s lead would prove short-lived, though, as the Cardinals drove right back and scored on a 34-yard
I never saw the equal of [Tunnell’s] performance returning kicks against the Cards. Whew, 178 yards on four kicks. And the way he made use of his downfield blockers!
Offense on Defense” because of days like this one against the Cardinals. His combined total of 790 interception, punt, and kickoff return yards for 1951 would compare favorably to the leaders in rushing yards for that season. In fact, Tunnell’s 924 return yards in 1952 exceeded the rushing total of league leader Dan Towler by 30 yards. In 1953, Tunnell would add another 819 return yards. He was also a scoring threat, bringing back four returns for touchdowns in 1951, eight in his first four years in the NFL, and 10 for his 14-year career.
Tunnell played football for Toledo before World War II and for Iowa after, but he went undrafted by any NFL team. So the 26-year-old took matters into his own hands and hitchhiked from his home in the Philadelphia suburbs to the Giants’ office one day, offering his services as a player. The Giants were familiar with his college record and gave him a tryout. With his versatility and nose for the ball, he made the team.
He was the first black player on a Giants team that employed a fair number of southern players, yet he fit in from the start with his sunny personality and exciting play. In turn, Tunnell loved conservative coach Steve Owen like a father. Owen turned Tunnell loose as a brilliant punt returner. The sure-handed Tunnell caught punts in his unique basket-catch, and the open field was the perfect stage for Em’s elusive, cut-back running style.
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Tunnell was a free-roaming safety whose style was not fully attuned to defensive coach Tom Landry’s design, but it was hard to argue with the results. Em
Defensive back Emlen Tunnell put on an offensive display against the Cardinals, totaling 178 yards and a touchdown on four kick returns.
The third quarter brought no scoring, and in the fourth quarter New York changed from Charley Conerly leading a double-wing attack to Travis Tidwell directing Steve Owen’s old A-formation. Another whirling punt return by the slippery Tunnell for 31 yards this time led to the go-ahead 25-yard touchdown gallop by Price. Price scored a third touchdown late in the game after an interception to make the final score 28-17.
For the day, Tunnell totaled 178 yards and one touchdown on four returns; he was so exhausted that he was taken to the hospital after the game. He returned to practice later in the week, though, and would score three more times on kick returns during the season.
In actuality, returns were a third of the anemic Giants attack in 1951. During the season, New York would score 11 touchdowns on passes, 10 on runs, and 10 more on returns from punts, kickoffs, interceptions, and fumbles. The Giants and the Browns had the best defenses in the league, but the Browns had a markedly better offense and ultimately would beat out New York again in 1951.
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