In August of 1961, the New York Giants traded offensive guard Lou Cordileone, a former first round draft pick, to the San Francisco 49ers for veteran quarterback Y.A. Tittle, a 34-year-old war horse of a player who has contemplated retirement.
The Giants just needed a veteran signal caller to get them through the next few seasons. They were still working on the window of championship opportunities that began in the mid-50s when they won the 1956 NFL Championship. They had been knocking on the door almost every year since, only to be denied.
Tittle would hopefully be the piece that put the Giants over the top. He initially began his tenure in the Bronx by splitting playing time with the 40-year-old Charley Conerly, but soon won the job over and eventually cemented himself as the Giants’ starting quarterback. He led Big Blue to the NFL Championship Game in 1961, where they lost to Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, 37-0.
Tittle would experience a renaissance career-wise with the Giants. He led the Giants back to the Championship Game in 1962, tossing a then NFL-record 33 touchdowns and finishing second behind Green Bay’s Jim Taylor for the NFL MVP award.
Along the way that season, on October 28 in a 49-34 victory over the Washington Redskins at Yankee Stadium, Tittle completed 27 of 39 passes for 505 yards and seven touchdown passes. Three of the scoring throws went to tight end Joe Walton, while Joe Morrison was on the end of two others. Frank Gifford and Del Shofner scored the other two.
The 505 yards were the second-most ever thrown for in a single game behind the Rams’ Norm Van Brocklin’s 554 in 1951. Since Tittle, the 500-yard mark has been eclipsed 21 times. Two of those games were by Giants — Phil Simms (513 yards in 1985) and Eli Manning (510 yards in 2012).
The seven touchdown passes tied an NFL record first set by the Bears’ Sid Luckman in 1943 and equaled by Adrian Burk of the Eagles in 1954. George Blanda had also done it in the AFL in 1961. Since Tittle did it in ’62, four other quarterbacks have achieved the feat: Joe Kapp (1969), Peyton Manning (2013), Nick Foles (2013) and Drew Brees (2015).
Tittle would play two more years for the Giants. He would lead them back to the NFL Championship Game in 1963, where they lost to the Bears, 14-10. Y.A. had another record-setting season, breaking his own NFL mark by tossing 36 touchdown passes.
1964 would be Tittle’s last in the NFL. The Giants were being dismantled around him, on and off the field. Big Blue finished 2-10-2, the worst record in the NFL. Tittle had suffered serious injuries to his torso in the second game of the year against Pittsburgh (crushed rib cartilage, cracked sternum) as well as a concussion. The moment was documented in one the most famous photos in league history, which depicted a helmet-less and dazed Tittle on his knees bleeding from the head. He managed to play the entire season however, and retired afterward.
Y.A. Tittle was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the New York Giants Ring of Honor in 2010. He is also a member of the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame.