Football Legend, Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle Dies, 90
Communications Sr. Associate
BATON ROUGE – One of LSU and the National Football League’s top quarterbacks, Y. A. Tittle, passed away Sunday evening at a local hospital in Palo Alto, California, at the age of 90.
Tittle, 16 days shy of his 91st birthday, died of natural causes.
Tittle is a member of the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tittle was at LSU from 1944-47 and then played 17 years in professional football.
“The LSU family lost one of the all-time greats this weekend in Y.A. Tittle,” said LSU Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Joe Alleva. “Our thoughts are with his daughter Dianne and his extended family and friends as we join them in celebrating the life of a great man and one of the most decorated Tigers to ever play the game.”
Tittle made his final appearance at Tiger Stadium for LSU’s game against Mississippi State on Sept. 20, 2014.
LSU football coach Ed Orgeron also took time to mention Tittle at his weekly press conference.
“First of all, I'd like to send our thoughts and prayers to the family of Y.A. Tittle, great player, even better man who was loved by LSU,” he said. “LSU Hall of Fame, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of the toughest guys to play the quarterback position. He'll be sorely missed.”
Growing up in Marshall, Texas, Y.A. Tittle's idol was Sammy Baugh of TCU. When he saw Baugh throwing a football through a tire in newsreels, Tittle rigged up a tire in his back yard to sharpen his arm.
He probably would've never seriously considered playing college football at LSU if an older brother, Jack Tittle, hadn't played at Tulane.
When the family attended LSU-Tulane games, Y.A. Tittle was impressed with the tiger mascot, the campus and the football atmosphere at LSU. After he led Marshall High to the state playoffs as a senior, Y.A. signed a letter of intent with LSU. But a few days before he was scheduled to go to Baton Rouge, he was pressured into going to the University of Texas.
One reason everybody was courting Tittle was that he had asthma. In 1944, that meant he wasn't likely to be drafted by the Army.
His summer roommate in Austin was Bobby Layne, and they had barefoot races in the street in front of their boarding house. But Y.A. wasn't hooked on the ‘Horns.
When LSU assistant coach Arthur “Red” Swanson visited him the week before registration, Tittle was eager to go to Baton Rouge. Swanson insisted that he obtain the permission of Texas coach Dana Bible. Tittle pretended to call the Longhorns' coach from a telephone booth, breathing a sigh of relief when there was no answer. Then he lied to Swanson, assuring him that everything was alright. Bible howled about the “kidnapping,” but couldn't do anything about it.
When he was interviewed prior to his Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction in 2003, late LSU running back Jim Cason, who would be picked up in Houston after getting Tittle in Austin, called it “the greatest heist since the Brinks.”
Tittle set passing records at LSU that would stand until Bert Jones came along more than a quarter-century later, but the favorite memory of Tittle for many Tiger fans was the time he nearly lost his pants against Ole Miss in 1947.
Tittle intercepted a deflected pass and managed to pull out of the grasp of a Mississippi player – but not before the Rebel grabbed his belt and yanked it hard enough to break the buckle.
Holding the ball with one hand and his pants with the other, Tittle got as far as the Ole Miss 20-yard-line before he was dragged down. The Rebels stopped that threat and held on for a 20-18 victory.
Coach Bernie Moore and staff junked the single wing for the T formation that started a turnaround that saw the Tigers go 7-2 in 1945 (5-2 in the SEC); 9-1-1 in 1946 (5-1 in the SEC); and, 5-3-1 (2-3-1 in the SEC) in an injury-riddled year for Tittle and most of the Tigers.
Tittle’s full name was Yelberton Abraham Tittle, Jr., and according to the late writer Peter Finney in his book, The Fighting Tigers, sports information director Jim Corbett asked Tittle about his publicity forms which just had the initials and the terse reply was, “That’s my name – all of it.” Curious, Corbett checked with the registrar and discovered the initials, not the full name.
Still not satisfied and realizing the kid from Marshall, Texas could be special, he called the courthouse and was told there was no information on a Y. A. Tittle. The man on the other end did add, however: “But we do have a Yelberton Abraham Tittle.” The next day Corbett confronted Tittle with the long handle and the player said: “I’d appreciate it if you’d lay off using it.”
Instead publicity conscious Corbett laid it on as college football’s most exciting name.
Tittle quarterbacked LSU in one of its strangest bowl games, a 0-0 tie with Arkansas in the Jan. 1, 1947 Cotton Bowl in Dallas when the stadium was covered in ice and snow. Neither team could get to the end zone despite LSU holding a 15-1 advantage in first downs and a 271-54 edge in total yardage.
After the 1947 season, four LSU backfield members – Tittle with Baltimore, Cason with San Francisco, Dan Sandifer with Washington and Ray Coates with the New York Giants – won starting jobs in pro football the following fall. During the career of this foursome, 10 other LSU players eventually wound up on a pro team.
Tittle left with five LSU records, remarkable for the time period: passing yards in a career, 2,517; completed passes in a career, 166; touchdown passes in a career, 21; total offense in a career, 2,619; and touchdown passes in a season, 11 (1946).
Tittle would become the only player in history to be drafted in the first round on three occasions. The first two times came in 1948, when the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference took him, as did the Detroit Lions of the NFL.
Tittle signed with the Browns but was transferred to the Baltimore Colts when the AAFL intervened in an attempt to create league parity. After that incarnation of the Colts franchise folded up because of poor attendance, Tittle was dispersed via the draft one more time in 1951 — which is when the 49ers pounced.
Tittle played in San Francisco from 1951-60. The 49ers traded Tittle to the Giants in 1961 to make room for promising young passer John Brodie. Tittle would lead the Giants to three consecutive title game appearances and he threw 86 touchdown passes from 1961-63. That included a record seven-touchdown game against Washington.
His career ended in 1964, not long after Pittsburgh defensive end John Baker hit the then 38-year-old quarterback which led to one of the most indelible photographs in sports history: a shot of the helmetless quarterback on his knees and his head trickling with blood after a vicious blow that left him with a cracked sternum and a concussion.
“That photo made me more famous than anything else,” Tittle said in a 2014 interview with the Mercury News at his home in Atherton, California. In a 2007 interview in Smithsonian Magazine, Tittle said: “That was the end of my dance. A whole lifetime was over.”
According to The Mercury News, photographer Morris Berman took the shot for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which chose not to run it. The photo gained fame only after Berman entered it in contests. It eventually became one of only three photos hanging in the lobby of the National Press Photographers Association headquarters in Durham, North Carolina, along with the flag-raising at Iwo Jima and the Hindenberg explosion.
Tittle made seven Pro Bowls, was the MVP of the 1963 season, and was the first pro football player to make the cover of Sports Illustrated, gracing the 15th issue on Nov. 22, 1954.
Tittle went on to a successful career, having set up an insurance business during his playing days that carried his name.
He is survived by his brother, Don Tittle; children Dianne de Laet, John Tittle and Pat Tittle; seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Services have not been announced by the family at this time.