by Jim Riggs
January 19, 2008
McCusker Will Relive His NFL Title Game
Tomorrow the Green Bay Packers will be seeking their 14th NFL (now NFC) championship. They have lost the game only twice, in 1938 and 1960. And that last Packers’ loss was Coach Vince Lombardi’s only one in the playoffs and it was of interest to area football fans because Jim McCusker, a 1954 Jamestown High School graduate helped it happen.
McCusker, who was a three-time All-American at the University of Pittsburgh, was a member of the 1960 Philadelphia Eagles who defeated Green Bay, 17-13, to win the NFL championship.
On Feb. 2, “Super Bowl Eve,” we will have a chance to relive that Eagles victory at The Pub, which is owned by McCusker. And it’s all thanks to Jamestown’s resident sports historian, Greg Peterson.
“I noticed about a month ago the 1960 film had been digitized and remastered by a company called Rare Sports Films Inc.,” said Peterson, who of course ordered it. “I watched it immediately and saw the opportunity to share it with a lot of Jim’s family and friends.”
So he got together with Sam Lisciandro, McCusker’s nephew and manager of The Pub.
“I was talking to Greg on New Year’s Eve and I mentioned to him that we put in new TVs,” Lisciandro said. “Then he was telling me how he had Uncle Jim’s championship game in color. Then he told me what he envisioned.”
What Peterson envisioned was at 7 p.m. on Feb. 2 showing the 45-minute film, narrated by Chris Schenkel, and have McCusker comment on it during the showing.
“They just sprang this on me yesterday after lunch,” McCusker said earlier this week. “I hope I didn’t miss too many blocks.”
But Lisciandro said, “Uncle Jim didn’t miss many blocks.”
McCusker noted, “You couldn’t miss blocks with (Philadelphia quarterback Norm) Van Brocklin. He’d beat you right out there. He didn’t put up with it.”
McCusker had been drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in 1958, but had a disagreement with Coach Pop Ivy in the 1959 preseason and was traded to Philadelphia, much to McCusker’s relief. The Eagles went 7-5 in 1959 and improved to 10-2 in 1960, the championship season.
That season started with a 41-24 loss to Cleveland as Van Brocklin was intercepted in his team’s first three possessions. Then Philadelphia won nine straight games and the ninth was at St. Louis, the former Chicago Cardinals, against McCusker’s former coach, Ivy, and it clinched the Eastern Conference title. Then the Eagles lost to Pittsburgh and finished with a win over Washington.
Meanwhile, Green Bay, Baltimore, San Francisco and Detroit were all in the running for the Western Conference title and the Packers clinched it on the last day of the season. Green Bay was immediately made the favorite to win the NFL Championship Game because the media didn’t think the Eagles belonged on the same field with the Packers. And that field was Franklin Field in Philadelphia.
It snowed the week before the game, so the Eagles had a couple of indoor practices at the Palestra where the University of Pennsylvania played basketball.
What is interesting is the game was played on Monday, Dec. 26, at noon because there were no lights at Franklin Field. And the game was on Monday because the NFL didn’t want to have it on Christmas.
And how keyed up were the Eagles for the game? Coach Buck Shaw never had the team practice on Saturdays and he didn’t change that policy for the championship game. And since Sunday was Christmas, the Eagles didn’t practice that day either. So the Eagles didn’t practice on the two days before the title game.
“He wanted us as fresh as daisies,” McCusker said in an interview back in 2002. “He figured we were prepared mentally and everything like that.
This week McCusker noted, “Buck Shaw was unique. He was quite a guy, a real gentleman. He never swore. What he would say if he got mad was ‘son of a buck.’
In contrast, while the Eagles were taking a relaxed attitude toward the championship game, Lombardi had his Packers practicing every day on “the frozen tundra” at Green Bay.
After the first half of the big game, the Packers led in statistics, but trailed on the scoreboard, 10-6.
Green Bay took a 13-10 lead early in the third quarter, but the Eagles bounced back with a 58-yard kickoff return by Ted Dean after the Packer’s touchdown and eventually scored on a 5-yard run by Dean.
Trailing 17-13, Green Bay had one final drive.
“We were worried, don’t think we weren’t,” McCusker said back in 2002, “especially on the sidelines.”
With 12 seconds left, Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr completed a pass to Jim Taylor at the Philadelphia 9-yard line, where he was tackled by Chuck Bednarik. Green Bay was out of timeouts and Bednarik simply sat on Taylor, who struggled to get up. By the time he did, the game was over.
“You can get up now, the blankety-blank game is over!” Bednarik told Taylor.
Van Brocklin won the Most Valuable Player Award and the Corvette that went with it. But McCusker noted in 2002 something else was just as valuable.
“They thought we couldn’t run on them but that’s how we actually beat them,” he said about Philadelphia’s ground game. “We ran the ball all over the place.”
And that was because of the play of the offensive line, which included McCusker.
This week he noted, “I was always the left tackle, which is the worst position on the field as far as being an offensive lineman. You’re taking care of his (the quarterback’s) blind side, so you really can’t foul up.”
Then he added, “My buddy, J.D. (Smith) was on the right. He was the right tackle and he’d be complaining about this guy and that guy and I’d say, ‘J.D., anytime you want to change positions, let me know.’”
And what did the Eagles get for winning that NFL Championship Game?
The winner’s share was $5,000 per man.
“When I started in the league, I was making $8,500 (a season) and I was the 14th pick in the country,” McCusker said. “When I retired I was making $22,500. I’d been all-pro mentioned, on a championship team and a couple of runners-up teams, but that’s what you made back then.”
After the 1960 season, McCusker played two more seasons with the Eagles. Then he played for the Cleveland Browns in 1963 and the New York Jets of the AFL in 1964 before retiring.
And the highlight of his seven-year career will be that 1960 NFL Championship game that he will relive on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. at The Pub.
When asked if he recalled a memorable happening or play from that game, McCusker answered, “No.” And he plans to pull out his film of that game so he can refresh his memory for his Feb. 2 appearance.
“In all honesty, it’s so long ago that I’ve got to sit down and run though my copy at home,” he said.