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Original Issue


Hawk's eyes narrowed above a plastic face mask, barren pate
sheltered beneath a gleaming red helmet, Yelberton Abraham
Tittle Jr. glared out from our Nov. 22, 1954, cover as the first
professional football player to appear there. SI was just three
months old; Y.A. was 28 and in his seventh season as an NFL
quarterback, his fourth with the San Francisco 49ers. Nineteen
fifty-four was to have been a banner year for the Niners, a team
sparked by the Million Dollar Backfield of future Hall of Famers
Tittle, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Perry and John Henry Johnson. But
injuries, notably McElhenny's separated shoulder in the sixth
game, quashed San Francisco's title hopes.

It would be Tittle's fate to repeatedly come within striking
distance of a championship, only to fall short. In 1957 the
Niners were leading the Detroit Lions 27-7 in the third quarter
of the Western Conference playoff game when the Lions rallied
and won 31-27. But Tittle would have other chances. In 1961 the
49ers, committed to a new shotgun offense, traded Tittle, a
drop-back passer nearing his 35th birthday, to the New York
Giants for rookie lineman Lou Cordileone. ("What?" Cordileone
asked. "Me, even up for Y.A. Tittle? You're kidding.")

The trade would go down as one of the most lopsided in NFL
history. The shotgun flopped in San Francisco, and Tittle took
the Giants to three straight title games. But the championship
continued to elude him, and after a losing season in 1964, the
Bald Eagle called it quits at 38 and headed back to his
insurance business in Palo Alto, Calif. "When I played, you had
to work in the off-season," he says, "because we never made the
kind of money they make now." Tittle's highest salary was
$70,000, snack change for the Steve Youngs of today.

But the old quarterback has prospered as the proprietor of Y.A.
Tittle & Associates Insurance Services. He and his wife of 48
years, Minnette, have four children and seven grandchildren.
Y.A. and Minnette travel extensively and have amassed a valuable
collection of folk art from all parts of the globe. And last
year their daughter Dianne, a poet, harpist and classical
scholar, wrote a memoir of her father, Giants & Heroes, which
likens him to the Greek warriors of antiquity. Y.A. says, "I
think Dianne recognized that while I never won a title, it was
the struggle that counted, just as it was with the ancient

--Ron Fimrite

COLOR PHOTO: FRED LYON [Cover of November 22, 1954 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED featuring Y. A. Tittle]