New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle was one of the NFL's stars in those days when autumn Sunday afternoons revealed a game more suited for television than baseball, the established "national pastime."
Looking like an aging sea captain caught in a storm of blitzing linemen, Tittle hurled thunderbolt passes to a pack of Giants receivers, including Frank Gifford, the subject of Frederick Exley's love letter to the Giants, "A Fan's Notes."
Although in that pre-Super Bowl era Tittle's Giants lost three NFL championship games, he eluded blame for those defeats. He was seen as a heroic battler against fate.
His image as a noble warrior was immortalized by Pittsburgh Post Gazette photographer Morris Berman's photo of the dazed, bleeding Tittle after a brutal hit in a game against the Steelers in 1964.
The photo, which hangs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was taken in Tittle's last season, when the aging Giants declined. Although Tittle suffered a concussion and other injuries from the hit that led to a Pittsburgh interception and touchdown, Tittle was playing the next Sunday.
Tittle's 17-year career marked the last days of the old NFL before the rise of the American Football League and the advent of the Super Bowl. On the day Tittle retired, the Jets with great fanfare announced the signing of Joe Namath, a new kind of NFL quarterback, as The New York Times reported in its Tittle obituary.
Although I loved Tittle's NFL games, I never realized until later that he played college ball at my alma mater, LSU, in the late 1940s. Tittle, a pioneer passing star who piloted LSU's change from the single wing to the T formation, was neglected for years by LSU, as the Baton Rouge Advocate's Scott Rabalais said in his Tuesday column. Rabalais calls for a Tiger Stadium memorial to Tittle and LSU's other Pro Football Hall of Fame members, Steve Van Buren and Jim Taylor.
A native of Marshall, Texas whom LSU spirited away from the University of Texas, Tittle was an all-SEC performer for LSU and the MVP of the 1947 Cotton Bowl, known as "the Ice Bowl." LSU tied Arkansas 0-0 on the frigid field in Dallas despite dominating the Razorbacks throughout the game. Rabalais said that Tittle told him that the "Ice Bowl"was the coldest game he ever played, even more so than NFL games in Green Bay, Chicago and New York.
After his NFL days, Tittle built a successful insurance business in the San Francisco area. Before coming to the Giants, he played for the '49ers.
Title returned to Tiger Stadium in 2014, amazed at the expansions made to the the old arena. The luxurious players' locker room, the large-screen scoreboard, and the 100,000-plus seats soaring skyward marked a different world from the primitive horseshoe in which he played.
The aged warrior, suffering from dementia, was one of those who laid the foundation for LSU football. He was a great NFL player, and a great Tiger.