Worst-Ever Season for the Redskins? Quite Possibly 1954

As dismal as this fall has been for fans of the Washington football franchise (want an illustrated history book for Christmas?), the 1954 season might have been even worse.

How bad was it? In early November, the ‘Skins were trounced by the mighty Cleveland Browns at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, 62-3. I still recall Shirley Povich’s blow-by-blow account in the Post the next morning which concluded: “With 30 seconds remaining and the Browns ahead 62-3, the Redskins could lose this one.”

Photograph of  the  Halftime Show at a Washington Redskins Game, November 14, 1954
Photograph of the Halftime Show at a Washington Redskins Game, November 14, 1954

Povich was in a class by himself with his daily ‘This Morning’ column. A fighter for social justice, he regularly blasted Redskins’ owner George Preston Marshall for having an all-white team while the rest of the National Football League was integrating. Cleveland had several black stars including fullback Marion Motley from Canton, Ohio and Len Ford, a big end from Michigan.

When Cleveland came to Griffith Stadium on Dec. 4, 1954, the writer saw his first Redskins’ game in person. We had end zone seats in the leftfield bleachers. The Browns, with quarterback Otto Graham, place-kicking legend Lou (The Toe) Groza and Motley, were a big attraction back in those days. The crowd on a cold afternoon topped 21,000.

The Skins played them even for the first quarter which ended with the teams tied 7-7. But then the Browns pulled away, took a 17-7 lead at halftime and wound up winning 34-14. Compared to the 62-3 rout, this represented something of a moral victory.

But there was terrible news after the game. Tackle Dave Sparks had a heart attack and died in the locker room.

Joe Kuharich was in his first season as head coach in ’54. Al Dorow from Michigan State and Maryland’s Jack Scarbath shared the quarterbacking duties with Dorow seeing most of the He played in 11 games completing 70 of 138 passes for eight touchdowns and also scored three rushing TD’s.

Famed halfback Charlie ‘Choo Choo’ Justice was still on the squad, but the leading running backs that season were Rob Goode and Billy Wells, who had a top draft choice out of Michigan State. End Hugh ‘Bones’ Taylor was the top scorer catching eight TD passes for 48 points.

The ‘Skins lost five in a row to start the season, then upset the Baltimore Colts 24-21 for their first victory. The next game on Nov. 7 was the disaster in Cleveland.

The Washington football franchise finished 3-9 that year in fifth place in the NFL’s East Division, beating the woeful Chicago Cardinals (2-10) in the season finale. But better days would lie ahead.

Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice on sidelines with Washington Redskins head coach Joe Kuharich during game versus the Green Bay Packers at Riddick Stadium, Raleigh, N.C., September 11, 1954
Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice on sidelines with Washington Redskins head coach Joe Kuharich during game versus the Green Bay Packers at Riddick Stadium, Raleigh, N.C., September 11, 1954

About Marty C.

Marty is a retired journalist who started covering sports for the old Washington Daily News. He moved on to better weather in Hawaii, working for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and later as a business reporter at Fairchild Publications and Kiplinger.

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