The hidden-ball play the Giants ran in this first NFL Championship Game originated, oddly enough, with the nieces of tailback Harry Newman. He was watching them play a touch football game in which they had the quarterback hand the ball back to the center, and that got Harry thinking. He discussed it with coach Steve Owen, and they sprung the trick play on the Bears.
Harry grew up in Detroit and attended Benny Friedman’s summer camp, where Friedman taught him how to pass and recommended him to his alma mater, the University of Michigan. Newman enrolled there and became an All-American, just like his predecessor. In his tenure at Ann Arbor, the Wolverines lost just one game in three years, and Newman was the MVP of the Big Ten. The Giants signed the 5’8″ passer upon his graduation in 1933, and he was once again following in Friedman’s footsteps.
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Newman negotiated a smart deal with New York that included a percentage of the gate, and all went well in his rookie season. He led the league in passing yards, with 973, and in touchdowns, with 11 as well as in attempts, completions, and yards. He also finished sixth in the NFL in rushing. In the championship game, he threw for 201 yards, an astonishing total for the time. The rookie sensation fell victim to a sophomore slump, though, falling to just one touchdown pass and averaging just four yards per completion in 1934. His second season ended early when his back was injured by the crush of the Bears’ pass rush during a regular-season game. Ed Danowski took over as tailback, led the Giants to the title, and then kept the starting job the following season.
When the Giants weren’t willing to meet Newman’s contract demands in 1936, Harry helped form the new American Football League. However, after two lackluster seasons, the league went under and Newman retired. Newman went on to have a successful career as a private businessman and lived vibrantly to the age of 90. This early Giants player will always be remembered as a pioneer of the passing game and a master of the trick play.
There may have been unusual plays, but in terms of drama, why, there were six lead changes. Both teams were magnificent. The winning touchdown came with less than three minutes to play. But the game still could have been won on the last play. I’d say it was a classic game, one of the greatest ever.
The idea was to just walk down the field. I took four to five steps, and I got excited and took off running. I made it about 30 yards.
Mel Hein’s hidden-ball trick momentarily fooled the Chicago Bears during the first NFL Championship Game.
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