Mark Tye Turner is the author of Notes from a 12th Man: A Truly Biased History of the Seattle Seahawks
On opening night of the 2013 season, Peyton Manning did something that has not been accomplished since the merger of 1970: he threw seven touchdowns passes. The last person to accomplish this feat was Minnesota Vikings QB Joe Kapp 44 years ago. Think about that. In this pass-happy century where 4,000-yard seasons have become routine and quarterbacks have twice set the single-season TD passes record, no one had chucked seven TD passes since 1969.
In addition to Manning and Kapp, four other players have hit lucky seven. Three of those four are enshrined in Canton.
In 1943, Sid Luckman was the first to accomplish this feat when his Chicago Bears crushed the Giants, 56-7, at the Polo Grounds in New York. Hall of Famer Luckman put up epic numbers that November afternoon: 21-32, 433 yards, 7 TDs and one INT. That year, only five other quarterbacks even threw for seven or more touchdowns all season. Luckman, even 70 years later, is still the greatest Chicago Bears QB ever. (Sorry Cutler and McMahon, but until you lead the Bears to an NFL championship and are named MVP, you’re behind Sid).
Adrian Burk is the least-known member of the Seven TD Club. While quarterbacking the Philadelphia Eagles in 1954, he torched the Washington Redskins with seven scores. After retirement he was an NFL official where he became sort of a Forrest Gump in stripes. He was on the field the day Kapp tied his TD record. He was also a back judge during the “Immaculate Reception” playoff game between the Steelers and Raiders. Naturally, Raider Nation does not look kindly at Burk.
Speaking of the Raiders, “Grandpa” George Blanda was one of the most endearing members of the Silver & Black (and it’s not often you can use the word “endearing” to describe a Raider). Actually, he was endearing and durable for he played in the NFL until he was 48. But before he was in Oakland, he quarterbacked the Houston Oilers during the AFL’s infancy. It was against the New York Titans (now Jets) during a 1961 game that he threw for over 400 yards and seven touchdowns. He was still a kid back then. Only 34 years-old.
New York Giant QB Y.A. Tittle, threw his seven touchdowns in a route against the Redskins in 1962. Interestingly, three of his TD passes went go to Joe Walton, who later as the head coach of the Jets, would be berated in New York for lack of offense. And if you can’t remember what Hall of Famer Tittle looked like, just recall the famous photo of the bald player with blood dripping down his head. That was Tittle.
The seven touchdown passes isn’t the only single-game record that is sitting unbroken since the merger.
Six. That is the record for most touchdowns scored in a game by one player. It may be the most legendary of all single-game NFL records and it’s held by three players. Coincidentally, “Papa Bear” George Halas was an eyewitness to all three occurrences.
Ernie Nevers was the first to accomplish this feat back in 1929, nearly a month after the stock market crashed and sent the country into a depression. Of course, Ernie wasn’t depressed that November afternoon when he and his Chicago Cardinals ran over the cross-town rival Bears, 40-6. Nevers rushed for the six touchdowns and kicked four extra points for good measure. You would never see Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch kick an extra point these days but it would sure be fun to see them try.
Twenty two years later, Dub Jones of the Cleveland Browns matched Nevers TD game-day output when he rushed for four and scored two on receptions, also against the Bears. Unsurprisingly, the game did not feature the same players that faced Nevers but it did have the same scowls coming from Papa Bear.
The Bears also figured into the last time the feat has been accomplished but in a positive way. In 1965, the guy who was played by Billy Dee Williams in Brian’s Song, AKA Gale Sayers, had the most spectacular six-touchdown game. It started with a little screen pass that he took 80 yards for a score. He then scored four rushing touchdowns before capping his day with an 85-yard punt return.
Will we ever see someone score six touchdowns in a game again? I don’t know but I sure hope I have them on my fantasy team.
Photo by Jeffrey Beall