by Keith Avallone, PLAAY Games
I’ve been getting a great deal of interest in the upcoming ’57 Pro Season release for SECOND SEASON Pro Football! It includes 20 teams: the historical 12 teams from the “established” league, and an additional 8 teams from a hypothetical “alternate” league. These alternate teams aren’t "fictional" teams—the players are actual football players from the 1950s who could have populated an alternate league, had one been formed in ’57.
Last month, I created a profile of the starting players for the ’57 Boston team (you'll find that profile beneath this one, if you scroll down). It got such a great response, I decided to to the same thing this month for the Denver team. (Note that I've listed two Denver quarterbacks, both could see extensive playing time...)
1957A Denver OFFENSE
QB Jim Haluska: A Wisconsin HS star (Racine), he went on to star for the University of Wisconsin and quarterbacked the team to its first-ever Rose Bowl. Under Haluska, the Badgers were ranked #1 in the nation for one week in ’52, the only time they’ve ever been ranked at the top of the college football polls. Played five games with the Bears in ’56, completed 1 of 4 passes, 8 yards.
QB Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackins: Before Doug Williams, before James Harris, even before Marlin Briscoe, there was Charlie Brackins. A rangy passer with a cannon arm, Brackins led Prairie View A&M to 33 wins in 37 games. He was signed by Green Bay, and played in one game in ’55, throwing two passes late in a 41-10 blowout to the Browns. A curfew violation resulted in the Packers waiving him, and no team signed him after that, even when he tried out as a DB.
RB O. K. Ferguson: A part-time starter for LSU, drafted in the 13th round of the ’56 draft by the Lions but did not make the team.
FB Paul Barry: After starring at the U of Tulsa, bounced around the NFL for several years starting in ’50 with the Rams, Redskins and Cardinals. Gained 604 career yards rushing and scored 2 TDs.
FL Howie Dare: Drafted by Green Bay in the 29th round of the ’57 draft, Dare instead played another year of college football at Maryland, reporting to the Packers in ’58. (He had missed the ’56 season diagnosed with jaundice, was allowed to play in ’57.)
RE John Ladner: Starred at Wake Forest at TE/DE, also was a javelin thrower on the track team; drafted by the 49ers in the 24th round, but failed to make the team.
LE Horace Gillom: “Big Horse” Played for ten seasons with Cleveland in the AAFC and NFL, led the league in punting three times (’51, ’52, ’56), career average of 43.1 yards. Also caught 75 passes and scored 3 TDs. Waived by the Browns after the '56 season. Attempted a comeback in ’61 at age 40 with AFL’s NY Titans, released.
LT Gus Cifelli: Served in the Marine Corps in WWII, then was part of three national champion teams at Notre Dame. Drafted by Detroit in ’50, played four NFL seasons with Lions, Packers, Eagles, Steelers. After football, attended law school and became a district judge, serving from 1973 to 2000.
LG Clem Corona: Starred with Terry Barr and Ron Kramer on a Michigan team that finished 7-2 in ’56, drafted by Philadelphia in the 23rd round but failed to make the team. Later became a HS athletic director in Saline, Michigan, elected to the local Hall of Fame.
C Bob Lusk: A sixth round choice out of William and Mary University, played 5 games with Detroit in ’56.
RG William "Buddy" Brown: A 19th-round pick in the ’51 NFL draft (Arkansas), he played six seasons in the NFL (’51-56) with Redskins and Packers. Real name was William.
RT Mike Davlin: Began his college football career at Notre Dame, transferred to U of San Francisco. Played 9 games with Redskins in ’55.
1957A Denver DEFENSE
RS Hal Norris: drafted 16th by Washington in the ’55 draft out of California, where he played with “Pitchin’ Paul” Larson, spent two seasons with the Redskins. Also played linebacker despite smallish (5-11, 194) size.
LS Paul Rotenberry: Legendary Bobby Dodd once said Rotenberry was the best back he ever coached. A hard hitter and tireless worker, he was drafted by the Redskins in the 26th round of the ’57 draft, but didn’t make the team.
RHB Ernie Pitts: College star at Denver University, drafted by the 49ers in the eighth round, Pitts instead went to Canada where he had an all-star career from ’57 to ’70 both as a receiver and defensive back. Once caught five TD passes in a CFL game, and had 7 interceptions in ’68.
HB Richie Woit: One of Arkansas State’s all-time greatest players, Woit led the Indians to a 32-8-2 record and four bowl games, and was the MVP of the ’51 Refrigerator Bowl. His pro career lasted just one game (Detroit, ’55), where he returned a kickoff for 13 yards.
LB George Timberlake: A star at Long Beach City College, and then USC, he was chosen in the third round of the ’53 draft (the 27th overall pick) and played two seasons with Green Bay. Later had a successful business career as national director for a number of wholesale firms.
MLB Art Michalik: Inadvertantly responsible for the introduction of the face mask to pro football, with a blow to Otto Graham’s face in a ’53 game. Second-team all-pro in ’53, played 4 seasons for the 49ers(53-54) and Steelers (’55-56), and then began a career as a professional wrestler, becoming a three-time NWA and PNW tag team champion.
LB Sonny Gandee: Solid pro who played five seasons for Detroit (’52-’56) at LB and DE, including championship seasons in ’52 and ’53. Intercepted three passes in ’54, recorded a safety in ’52.
DE Harlan Geach: A standout prep star at South Bay HS, CA and a top lineman at the College of Idaho, Geach was a member of the undefeated ’53 team that also featured R. C. Owens. Drafted by the Colts in the 25th round of the ’57 draft, but never played in the regular season.
DT John Sandusky: Chosen in the second round of the ’50 draft, he put in six solid seasons with the Browns, and then was traded to the Packers in ’56. Began coaching in at Villanova in ’57, but quickly moved to the pros, serving as line coach for the Colts under Weeb Ewbank. Coached in the NFL for 36 years, including interim head coach in Baltimore (’72) where he was best known for benching Johnny Unitas in favor of Marty Domres.
DT Don Goss: Nicknamed “Tiny,” he was a high school (Sunset HS) and college (SMU) star in Dallas, TX. Huge by ‘50s standards (6-5, 260), he lasted just six games with Cleveland in ’56.
DE Walt Jenkins: A Michigan kid, born in Detroit, served in the military ’51 and ’52, then played college ball at Wayne State. Chosen by the Lions in the 9th round of the ’55 draft. Played in two games for the Lions in ’55, then played in the CFL (Hamilton, 2 games) in ’56 and the Canadian ORFU in ’57 and ’58. Nicknamed “Kingfish,” he’s a member of the Wayne State Sports HOF.
(From August 2015 PLAAY Games Newsletter)
In last month’s newsletter, we laid out the details of our unique “vintage” season—the 1957 Pro Season. The ’57 season will include team cards for each of the twelve NFL teams, based on the actual ’57 pro season, AND hypothetical team cards for eight “alternate league” teams, each stocked with real-life football players from the 1950s who could have played pro ball in ’57, but for one reason or another were not included on an NFL roster. You can read more about the ’57 Pro Season for SECOND SEASON here [link to web page on fall card releases].
Since the announcement, I’ve fielded some e-mails and forum questions about the set. Mike Piano, Lauderhill, FL asked what cities the ’57 franchises would be assigned to, remembering that the cities represented for the ’60 season were different than what was originally envisioned for the league. In creating the teams, I decided to go with the actual ’60 line-up, with one exception, Oakland. As AFL began to make preparations for its inaugural ’60 season, the NFL lured away the AFL’s Minneapolis ownership team with promises of an NFL franchise in ’61, leaving the upstart league scrambling for an eighth city. Oakland was chosen as a regional rival for the Los Angeles franchise. Thus, the ’57 Pro Season will feature a Minneapolis team, although I am considering including an alternate “Oakland” version of the team card, for those who want a parallel with the ’60 season.
(Incidentally, here’s a great article with more on the “roots” of the AFL. It’s interesting that when the AFL first formed, the owners sought a “peaceful coexistence” with the NFL, which the NFL originally seemed amenable to. Soon, though, the NFL sensed the threat and began to make moves to try to kill the new league before it could get started.)
A few PLAAY Gamers have been wary of the idea of ’57 AFL teams, thinking that the ’57 NFL teams have been “tweaked” so as to account for the alternate league. That’s not the case. The ‘’57 NFL teams are faithful recreations of the actual ’57 season, and can be expected to produce the same kind of realistic results as any of the other SS sets. They can be used independent of the AFL teams, or integrated with them—whichever you prefer! If you choose to play only NFL games, you’ll get results in-line with what happened in real-life.
By the same token, if you choose to play AFL games, you’ll get what I believe to be realistic “alternate league” results. As I’ve mentioned previously, this is not a “fictional” set by the strict definition of the word, any more than an All-Time Franchise Great team is “fictional.” The AFL team rosters are populated with real-life football players, rated relative to the NFL. Thus, it won’t “feel” like NFL-caliber football when you’re playing the ’57 AFL teams. In fact, it will look and feel very much like the first season of the actual AFL (1960), with teams comprised of a mix of former pro players with varying lengths of NFL service, and college stars who were drafted by a pro team but failed to catch on.
I thought the best way to demonstrate this was to create brief “thumbnail” summaries of the starters for one of the ’57 AFL teams. Here, then, is the starting line-up for the Boston franchise; each has his own unique—and true—story…
1957A Boston OFFENSE
Jack Del Bello, QB: High school star in Philadelphia, All-American at U of Miami where he was the hero of the 1951 Orange Bowl. Played one season with Colts (’53), completing 27 of 61 passes. Then, with a growing family and desiring more job security, he decided to leave pro football to take a teaching job.
Zollie Toth, FB: A starter for the NY Yanks ’50 thru ’54, he totaled 1589 career rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Billy Vessels, HB: The 1952 Heisman Trophy winner, a first-round choice of the Colts in ’53 but chose to play in Canada instead, starring for the Edmonton Eskimos for three years. Signed with Colts in ’56, but suffered a leg injury which cut short his NFL career.
Monte Brethauer, FL: A glue-fingered pass-catcher who starred at the University of Oregon where he set a team record for passes caught with 101. Played two seasons for the Colts ’53 and ’55, served in Korea in ’54.
Lowell Perry, E: An all-star collegian at Michigan, he was just as good on defense (safety) as he was on offense. Drafted by the Steelers in ’53, he served in the Air Force and didn’t join the team until ’56. He scored a 93-yard touchdown on his first play, and had 334 yards receiving through six games before suffering an injury that ended his career before it began. He then went on to law school and enjoyed a long and prosperous career as an executive in the automotive industry.
Lloyd Colteryahn, E: Nicknamed “Colt.” he was an All-American from the U of Maryland, drafted by the Steelers, traded to the Colts where he played three seasons (1954-56).
Burt Delevan, T: A star at the College of the Pacific (where Eddie LeBaron had played a couple years earlier). Lasted two seasons with the Cardinals, ’55 and ’56.
Charlie Froehle, G: The 223rd selection of the 1956 college draft, chosen out of St. John’s (Minnesota) by the Colts in the 19th round, he never played in the NFL; instead he became a Catholic priest, ordained in 1963.
John Cenci, C: Played for the U of Pittsburgh, drafted by the Steelers in ’56, his pro career lasted seven games.
Nick Feher, G: Drafted by San Francisco out of the U of Georgia in ’51, he earned a starting role with the ‘49ers as a rookie. Played for San Francisco through ’54, before moving on to Pittsburgh for a couple games in ’55.
George Radosovich, T: Played three years for the Colts (’54-56) and then served as a teacher and coach in Pennsylvania for 43 years. Was named to the Pennsylvania Sports HOF in 2014, and is still active in the local high school sports scene. A gold medal winner in the 2007 the Senior Olympics for the discus throw.
1957A Boston DEFENSE
Bob Van Doren, DE: Played his college ball at USC, appeared in 10 games for the 49ers in ’53.
Rex Boggan, DT: First-team All-American from Ole Miss in ’54, drafted in the 20th round by the Giants. Played one season, ’55.
John Kreamcheck, DT: A star lineman at William & Mary, drafted in the 8th round by Chicago in the ’53 NFL draft. Played three years (’53-55) for the Bears at MG and DT, recovered one fumble each season.
Joe O’Malley, DE: College star at the U of Georgia, was team captain in ’54, led the Bulldogs to a win over Tulane in the ’55 Sugar Bowl. Drafted by the Bears, traded to the Steelers where he played two seasons, ’55 and ’56. After football, he coached high school sports and coached Brown High School to the AAA state basketball championship.
Ed Ritt, LB: Played college ball at Montana State where he earned All-American honors in ’56, drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1957 draft but failed to make the team.
Sisto Averno, MLB: The final pick in the 1951 NFL draft, and the last player from Muhlenberg College ever to play in the pros. Played for three teams (Yanks, Colts, Texans) 1950-54.
Ron Hansen, LB: Collegiate star at the U of Minnesota, drafted by Washington in the 28th round of the ’54 NFL draft. Played one season for Redskins, recovering one fumble.
Bucky McElroy, HB: A versatile star for Southern Mississippi, where he played running back, defensive back, punted, and returned kicks. Drafted in the 7th round of the ’53 NFL draft, he chose to play in Canada instead. Eventually did play for the Bears, one game, in ’54.
Dave Leggett, S: A star at both QB and DB, led Ohio State to a perfect 10-0 season in ’54, and was named MVP of the ’55 Rose Bowl. Drafted by the Cardinals in ’55, he played briefly for them before being called into active duty with the Air Force. After two years of service, he played in Canada and eventually settled into a career in financial industry.
Carroll Hardy, S: Better known for his ten-year major league baseball career as an outfielder with the Indians, Red Sox, Colt .45s and Twins (the only player ever to pinch hit for Ted Williams), he actually played pro football before baseball. The star of the ’55 Hula Bowl, drafted out of the U of Colorado by the 49ers where he caught 12 passes in ’55, four of them for touchdowns.
Jerry Planutis, HB: A two-time Rose Bowl star with Michigan State and a team-mate of QB Earl Morrall, he was drafted by the Redskins in the 12th round of the ’56 NFL draft. Played just one season with Washington.
As I mentioned, I’ve played several games with these teams and am really pleased with the results. It’s amazing how quickly the teams become “real!” To “inaugurate” the set, I matched Boston against Denver—this was the first “official” AFL game in ’60, and I thought it would be appropriate to use these teams for my ’57 card debut. Boston won 16-9, with the only touchdown of the game coming on Zollie Toth’s 3-yard scoring run in the second quarter. John Cenci kicked three field goals, Billy Vessels led all rushers with 55 yards on 14 attempts, and Jack Del Bello was 8 for 17 for 204 yards with an interception.