Yelberton Abraham Tittle, better known simply as by his initials Y.A., died Monday at the age of 90.
Tittle was LSU’s first T-formation quarterback, so talented and productive the school inducted him into its sports hall of fame in 1948, a year after he graduated.
That was also a year after Ole Miss caught Tittle with his pants down, quite literally. Tittle was involved in one of the most famous plays in the long, storied history of the Ole Miss-LSU football rivalry. We’ll get to that shortly, but first we should pay Y.A. Tittle his due.
Tittle was nicknamed “The Bald Eagle” because of his lack of hair, which had begun to recede even when he was playing at LSU. By the time he succeeded former Ole Miss rival Chuckin’ Charlie Conerly as the New York Giants starting quarterback, he had no hair on the top of his head.
What he did have was a Hall of Fame career that included 17 seasons with the Baltimore Colts, San Francisco 49ers and Giants and seven Pro Bowl appearances.
Tittle was, pure and simple, a winner.
But let’s get back to that play against Ole Miss, shall we? This was Nov. 1, 1947, at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. That day’s Clarion-Ledger advertised a five-diamond wedding ring for a dollar down and 50 cents a week. Men’s dress shoes were going for $5.95 a pair. A case of Cokes went for 99 cents.
No telling what Tittle would have paid for an extra belt that day.
The game matched two of the nation’s best quarterbacks – Tittle against Conerly. Ole Miss won 20-18 en route to an SEC Championship in John Vaught’s first season as head coach.
Most have forgotten the score of that game 70 years ago. They have not forgotten the legendary play. The legend grew over the years: That Tittle intercepted a Conerly pass, and was running down the field when his belt buckle broke and his pants went to his ankles just as he was about to score a touchdown. The first time the story was recounted to me, Tittle’s moon, so to speak, was shining for all in sold-out Tiger Stadium to see.
That’s not the way it happened, according to extremely reliable sources who have since departed this world.
Ole Miss greats Farley “Fish” Salmon, who died in June of 2015, and Barney Poole, who died in April, 2005, were both on the field that day. In 1995, both laughed long and hard as they recounted the story.
“Y.A.’s pants never went past his knees,” Salmon said. “And he sure wasn’t about to score a touchdown.”
Salmon said there was no need to embellish the story because “it was funny enough the way it really happened.”
In those days, football trousers were much different than the space-aged, spandex tights players wear today. Back then, a belt really was needed to hold the baggy pants up.
“It was a pass play,” Poole told me. “I was running a hook pattern and our other end was running a deep pattern. Charlie threw it to the other guy. Well, Tittle, being the athlete he was, got back there and intercepted it. Joe Johnson, I believe he was the other end, reached up and grabbed at Tittle. I guess he got his belt and ripped it loose.”
Tittle started back up the field and, 48 years later, Poole’s story was interrupted by his own laughter. “Tittle had the ball in one hand, and was holding up his pants with the other. I believe they almost went past his knees before he grabbed them.
“I was in a little bit of a quandary,” Poole continued, still chuckling. “I mean, here I come to make the tackle and I’m laughing because it’s so funny. And I’m thinking: Where do I hit him? Coach Vaught never told me how to tackle a guy with his pants down.”
Tittle once told The Times-Picayune: “I tried to stiff-arm Barney, and when I did, my pants almost went down. I never felt so alone in all my life.”
Said Poole: “It wasn’t much of a tackle. Tittle was pretty much going down on his own.”
Salmon arrived just as Tittle went down. The scene must have seemed surreal.
“Everybody was just standing around laughing. It’s a really big game – LSU and Ole Miss – and we were in hysterics,” Salmon said. “Tittle’s trying to pull his pants up but he can’t get them over his hip pads. Finally, Y.A. hollered, ‘Dammit, quit laughing and help me pull these pants up.’”
And so they did…