By Brian Hoffman – Sports Editor
I was killing time browsing the Charlotte’s Web antique mall in Salem Saturday when I came across an item that caught my eye. It was a copy of “Sports Review” magazine, previewing the 1959 football season.
The magazine cost 50 cents at the time and was in a plastic sleeve and marked $5 at the antique mall. I figured that was a fair price, taking inflation into account, and I love looking at old magazines. I had a subscription to “SPORT” magazine growing up in the ’60s and still have them in a box in my basement. I pull them out every once in a while when I’m bored (see pandemic). I still remember how excited I was when my first issue came in the mail. The cover had pictures of Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown and the lead story was about whether the pass or the run was more effective.
I had never heard of “Sports Review” magazine, but upon further examination, after purchasing it, of course, I discovered it was established in 1941 and was published five times a year. A year’s subscription was $2, and with my Roanoke College education kicking in I concluded that was a savings of 50 cents a year over the newsstand price.
Each issue had a certain theme, with a basketball issue in January, a Motorspeed issue in March, a fishing issue in April, a baseball issue in May and the football issue in September. There’s an address in Illinois listed where you could subscribe, and I might just send them two bucks to see if the offer still stands.
Whatever, the magazine I bought previewed both the college and pro football seasons for 1959. The college got a little more attention with 60 pages of previews while the pros had about half that many. That was interesting since this was the year after that famous overtime game in ’58 between the Colts and Giants that is credited with propelling the NFL into a new age of excitement.
Back in 1959 there were only a dozen NFL football teams and the AFL was yet to be founded. Each team played a 12-game schedule. There were two divisions of six teams each named the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference, and the team with the best record in each conference played for the championship. That was it, one playoff game!
So, you ask, how did two East Coast cities, Baltimore and New York, play in the championship game? Well, Baltimore happened to be in the Western Conference, sort of like when the Atlanta Braves were playing in the National League West and the Dodgers were their big rival. Go figure.
It was interesting to look at the final stats listed from the ’58 season, and you can see how different a game it was back then. Unitas led the NFL with 19 touchdown passes that year, and that’s not even a good season now. Granted, it was a 12-game season, but that averages out to 25 TD passes over a 16-game schedule. Last season Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with 48 touchdown passes, and 25 would have been 17th in the league.
John Brodie of the 49ers had the best completion percentage at 59 percent (.599) in 1958. That would have been 24th in the current NFL with only Carson Wentz (.574) and Drew Lock (.573) under 60 percent among the top 25 quarterbacks. Again it was Rodgers on top at .707.
Jim Brown had already established himself as a future Hall of Famer in just his second year with the Browns. In ’58 he ran for 1,527 yards, almost twice as many as the Colts’ Alan Ameche, who was second at 791 yards. Projecting Brown over 16 games, he would have had 2,036 yards and 23 touchdowns. That speaks well for Derrick Henry of the current day Titans, who led the league with a comparable 2,027 yards last year. Henry also led in rushing touchdowns with 17.
The college section of the magazine had a lot more pictures than the pro section. There was a very interesting story on SMU quarterback Don Meredith, who would go on to more fame on the field with the Dallas Cowboys and in the TV booth with Monday Night Football. The theme of the story was that Meredith was not only a great player, but a brilliant leader in student activities, civic programs and religious work. Take that, Howard Cosell.
There was also a story on the Miami of Ohio football team, and of the many successful coaches the program produced. It had a picture of the seven-man coaching staff in 1950, and now most high schools have more than seven coaches. Woody Hayes, who went on to coach Ohio State, was the head coach at Miami of Ohio in 1950 and one of his assistants was Ara Parseghian, who became a famous head coach at Notre Dame. Another assistant was Bill Arnsparger, who would be Don Shula’s defensive coordinator for those great Dolphin teams in “the other” Miami – the warmer one. Arnsparger would go on to become head coach of the New York Giants.
The Sports Review magazine listed complete season records of all the major colleges for the ’58 season. Virginia Tech, under coach Frank Moseley, was 5-4-1 that fall while the University of Virginia was 1-9 under coach Dick Voris. Tech beat UVA, 22-13, in Richmond in ’58 and the Hokies beat VMI, 21-16, at Victory Stadium.
The magazine certainly provided me with five bucks worth of entertainment as I sat on my porch on a sunny Virginia Sunday afternoon. And, it got me even more anxious for the coming football season than I already was, if such a thing is possible.
I need to get my two dollars in the mail this week so I can get the new edition, even if I did miss the fishing preview.