Tittle, Y(elberton) A(braham), Jr.
TITTLE, Y(elberton) A(braham), Jr.
(b. 24 October 1926 in Marshall, Texas), outstanding quarterback in both college and professional football who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tittle is the son of Abraham Tittle, Sr., a postal employee, and Alma Tittle. One of four children, Tittle received football instruction from his older brother Jack Tittle, who played at Tulane University. Tittle was an outstanding athlete at Marshall High School, where he played football, basketball, and baseball. Football was Tittle's best sport, and he received a number of scholarship offers during his senior year, 1943–1944. He decided to attend Louisiana State University (LSU) because it was a "civilian" school at a time when many colleges had armed service programs, which meant older intercollegiate players. "I'd be playing ball there with boys 17 and 18, boys my age," Tittle recalled.
During his freshman year Tittle was a reserve tailback, but he starred in the season-ending game by completing fifteen of seventeen passes in LSU's 25–6 victory over its archrival Tulane. The following year Coach Bernie Moore switched to the T-formation and named Tittle the starting quarterback. Tittle, six feet tall and 195 pounds, adjusted rapidly to the new formation and became one of the leading college passers of his era. In four seasons he passed for 2,576 yards and led the Tigers to a 23–11–2 record, including an appearance in the 1947 Cotton Bowl. Tittle was often overshadowed by other great passers of the period, such as Charlie Conerly, Harry Gilmer, Charlie Trippi, and Johnny Lujack. In 1945, however, Tittle outplayed Trippi in LSU's 32–0 upset victory over Georgia. The following year Tittle led the Tigers to an upset win over Gilmer and Alabama, 31–21. "Everybody said Gilmer would pass us dizzy," Tittle recalled. "He did, but I threw some strikes myself."
Tittle's most memorable college game was in 1947 against Mississippi and Charlie Conerly. Late in the last quarter, with Mississippi leading 20–18, Tittle intercepted a pass on the LSU thirty-yard line and headed up field. The last Mississippi player grabbed for Tittle and ripped off his belt before the would-be tackler tripped. Forty thousand fans, including Tittle's fiancée, watched as the LSU back's pants fell to his ankles thirty yards from the goal line. Tittle recalled: "[I] had to stop and hitch up my britches or I'd have stumbled. That's when the Rebels nailed me. Goodbye ball game!" Tittle married Minnette DeLoach in 1948; they had three children. He graduated from LSU with a B.S. in physical education.
In 1947 Tittle was the first-round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and the Detroit Lions of the National Football League (NFL). He signed with the Browns, but the AAFC commissioner assigned his contract to the Baltimore Colts to balance play in the league. As a Colt, Tittle completed 55.7 percent of his passes for 2,522 yards and 16 touchdowns, and he won the AAFC Rookie of the Year award in 1948. Tittle's passing statistics were down in 1949 and again in 1950 after the AAFC disbanded and the Colts joined the National Football League (NFL). At the end of the 1950 season the Baltimore franchise folded, and Tittle was the first draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers. Tittle became the first player to be the first draft selection of three different teams.
During his first two seasons in San Francisco, Tittle competed with the popular Frankie Albert for the number one quarterback position. He won the job in 1952 and directed the 49ers offense for the next nine seasons, beating back challengers such as Earl Morrall and John Brodie. Tittle was a fierce competitor who set high standards for himself and his team. He was deeply disappointed that he was unable to lead San Francisco to an NFL championship despite the presence of talented players such as Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny. The 49ers came close in 1957, when Detroit and San Francisco tied for the division title. Tittle kept the 49ers in contention for the division title in November, when he hit the end R. C. Owens with seconds to play on an alley-oop pass. San Francisco defeated Detroit 34–31 and the leaping, acrobatic alley-oop play became one of the most famous of the decade. In a special division playoff game at the end of the regular season, Detroit defeated the 49ers 31–27 despite trailing at halftime 27–7. "We just fell apart," Tittle recalled. The next three seasons Tittle had subpar years, and the team languished in third or fourth place in its division. In those years Tittle, nicknamed "Y. A." or "Bald Eagle" due to his baldness, was frequently booed at San Francisco's Kezar Stadium. Before the start of the 1961 season, he was traded to the New York Giants.
When he joined the Giants, Tittle shared quarterbacking duties with Conerly, his former college rival. But Tittle soon became number one quarterback and led New York to a 10–3–1 record and the Eastern Division title. After playing fourteen seasons without a division title, Tittle remembered the 1961 division-clinching 7–7 tie with Cleveland as his biggest thrill in football. In the 1961 NFL championship game in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Giants were routed by the Packers 37–0. "They were a better team than we were, I admit that," Tittle said.
The following season Tittle led the Giants to another Eastern Division title with a record of 12–2. In a regular season 49–34 victory over Washington, he tied an NFL record by throwing seven touchdown passes. The Giants receiver Frank Gifford called it "the greatest passing performance I've ever seen." In the 1962 championship game, on a cold and windy day in New York City, Green Bay again defeated the Giants 16–7. "We lost," Tittle said, "but we were just as good as the Packers, in my opinion." Tittle may have had his best season in 1963, leading New York to another Eastern Division title. He threw thirty-six touchdown passes that year, an NFL record. The Giants lost their third straight championship game in a hard-fought battle with the Chicago Bears, 14–10. Tittle remarked, "Unfortunately, Lady Luck never did shine my way on championship day." After an injury-plagued season for both him and his team in 1964, during which New York finished with a record of 2–10–2, Tittle retired. He returned to his home in Atherton, California, where he continued to run the real estate and insurance business he had established in the 1950s. Tittle was selected as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
Materials relating to Tittle's career are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Tittle wrote, with Tex Maule, "Y. A. Tittle: My Life in Pro Football," Sports Illustrated (Aug. 1965). Biographies of Tittle are Don Smith, Y. A. Tittle (1964); and Dianne Tittle De Laet, Giants and Heroes (1995). See also Fred Russell, "Just Call Him Y. A.," Sport (Dec. 1947); Steve Gelman, "The Twilight Crisis of Y. A. Tittle," Sport (Dec. 1962); and Rick Hines, "Y. A. Tittle: Champion Without a Ring," Ragtyme Sports (Mar. 1995).
John M. Carrollm