The 1956 season marked the first year a major television network (CBS) began televising regular season games across the nation. The league also switched to a natural leather ball with white stripes on the ends, rather than a white ball with black stripes, for night games.
Rule changes included, outlawing grabbing of the face mask. Also, once a interior lineman takes a three point stance he is not allowed to move until the snap of the ball. There was another attempt at redefining the “dead ball” rule, (still some confusion as to when the runner is deemed down and the play over.) The banning of radio communication to players on the field (seems to have made its way back to the league), and the implementation of the “Lou Groza Rule.”
The Eastern Conference turned into a two team race between the Cardinals and Giants for a good portion of the 1956 regular season. Though the Chicago Cardinals had a dismal decade in the 1950’s, they managed to put together a good competitive first half of the 1956 season and placed themselves in the hunt for the conference title till week eight of the regular season. The Cardinals eventually finished the season at 7-5, a game and a half back from the 8-3-1 conference winning New York Giants.
Charley Conerly was a college football hero at the University of Mississippi, a war hero in WWII, and a professional football hero amongst Giants fans during the 1950‘s. Not a bad resume for a guy from Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Conerly started for Mississippi in 1942, but joined the Marines the following year and served in the South Pacific where he fought in the Battle of Guam. He returned to Mississippi in 1946 and in 1947 lead the Rebels to their first Southeastern Conference championship. In that same year he earned All-American honors and lead the nation in completions (133). Charley also rushed for nine touchdowns and threw for 18 more in the 1947 season. Conerly was named college football Player of the Year in 1947 by the Helms Athletic Foundation.
Though originally drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1945, Conerly played his entire NFL career with the New York Giants (1948-1961) and earned ROY honors in 1948. As quarterback, Charley was a two time Pro Bowl selection in 1950 and 1956 and was named the NFL’s MVP in 1959 by the Newspaper Enterprise Association.
Conerly lead the Giants to three NFL Championships in four years (1956, 1958-59), including a 47-7 victory over the Chicago Bears in the 1956 title game. The Giants have retired his number 42 and Charley Conerly is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Call it luck or circumstance, but Robert “Sam” Huff escaped the fate of the coal mines on three different occasions and parlayed those opportunities into a storied football career in the Big Apple.
Born the fourth child of Oral and Catherine Huff’s six children, Sam grew up in Edna Gas, West Virginia in a area known as the “No.9 coal mine camp.” Homes in that area were nothing more than shack with no running water or other modern conveniences. While attending the now closed Farmington High School, Huff played on both the offensive and defensive line and was discovered by a West Virginia University coach by accident. The Mountaineer’s coach had been sent to the area to look at a hot prospect and ended up recruiting Huff instead. That would be the first “coal mine bullet” Sam would dodge.
At West Virginia, Huff started out as an offensive guard until being move to defensive tackle his junior year. He lettered all four years at West Virginia and was named an All-American in 1955. Huff capped off his senior year by being named co-captain in both the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. At the end of his college career Huff was spotted by Giants scout Al DeRogatis, who was sent to look at All-American guard Bruce Bosley. The Giants scout informed the club that Bosley was great, but their was another player that was going to be even greater by the name of Sam Huff. That would be the second “coal mine bullet” Sam would dodge.
Huff was a third round draft pick of the Giants in 1956, but became disillusioned by the teams intended use for him. Coach Jim Lee Howell agreed Sam was a quality athlete but was unsure as to Huff‘s true position. Discouraged by the process Huff packed up and headed to the airport only to be intercepted by assistant coach Vince Lombardi who lectured him on the values of determination. That would be the third and final “coal mine bullet” Sam would dodge.
Following his return to training camp regular linebacker Ray Beck was injured, allowing Sam an opportunity at the position. Huff’s performance forced Beck into retirement and Sam into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 1956 Western Conference was a two team race the entire season between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions that culminated into a showdown between the two at Wrigley Field in the final week of the regular season. The game was highlighted by numerous on field fights, that eventually turned into a huge fourth quarter rumble that spilled into the crowd involving the fans and police. The Bears won the game 38-21 behind a team 308 yards/ 3 touchdown rushing performance, lead by Rick Casares 17 carries for 190 yards and a touchdown.
Rick Casares was born in 1931 in Tampa, Florida. Following his fathers murder he was sent to live in New Jersey with an aunt and uncle. At the age of 15, Casares became a Golden Gloves boxing champions and had thoughts of signing a professional boxing contract till his mother caught wind of the idea. Rick’s mother refused to let her son drop out of school in pursuit of a boxing career and returned him to Tampa.
The faculty at Thomas Jefferson high School in Tampa introduced Casares to high school athletics as a means of keeping him in school and the idea worked. In 2007, fifty-seven years after he graduated from high school, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) honored Casares as one of thirty-three all-time greatest Florida high school football players of the last 100 years, by naming him to its “All-Century Team”
Following a career at the University of Florida, that was cut short by military duty, Casares was drafted by the Bears in the 2 round (18 overall) of the 1954 draft. After fulfilling his military obligation Rick played for the Bears from 1955 to 1964 and lead the team in rushing from 1955 through 1960. In 1956, Casares lead the NFL in rushing with 1,126 yards, at the time it was the second most in the history of the league. Rick was named to five consecutive Pro-Bowls from1955 thru 1959.
I could have talked about another Bears player, but Rick Casares has always been the forgotten Bears running back behind the more famous Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo of the 1960‘s. In ten years with Chicago, Casares became the Bears all-time leading rusher with 1,386 carries, 5,657 yards and 49 rushing touchdowns. His Chicago Bears rushing records weren’t broken until a player by the name of Walter Payton came along in the 1980‘s. Rick Casares number 35 deserves to be retired by the Bears organization.
In every sense of the word, the 1956 Championship game was a repeat of the 1934 NFL Championship game, which is affectionately referred to as the “Sneaker Game.” Same two team, same conditions, same city and the same results.
The game was played on December 30, 1956 at Yankee Stadium under icy field conditions. The Giants opted to wear basketball sneakers during the game instead of the traditional football cleats. The sneakers provided the Giants with a footing advantage the Bears could not match. Twenty-two years earlier on a icy Polo Ground field the Giants had used the same tactic to beat the Bears in the 1934 Championship and it worked again. New York jumped out to a 20-0 lead before the Bears finally got on the scoreboard with a second quarter 9 yard Casares touchdown run. That would be the Bears only score of the game, while the Giants would run off another 27 unanswered points. The Giants won their third NFL Championship in 1956 by beating the Bears 47-7.
Though the Giants would make it back to the Championship games in 1958-59, and again in 1961 thru 1963, they would not win another Championship till Super Bowl XXI in 1986. Some say coach Allie Sherman was to blame for the lack of Giants success in the Championship games in the early 60‘s, some say the team had just gotten old. One thing is for sure, Allie Sherman did trade away a lot of good players in the early 60’s, including Sam Huff.