1959 NFL season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 26 –
December 13, 1959
East ChampionsNew York Giants
West ChampionsBaltimore Colts
Championship Game
ChampionsBaltimore Colts
1959 NFL season is located in the United States
Cardinals ....
Cardinals ....
Steelers ....
Steelers ....
.... Redskins
.... Redskins
NFL teams: West, East

The 1959 NFL season marked the 40th regular season of the National Football League. It was the first season overseen by youthful commissioner Pete Rozelle, who was named to the position following the sudden death in October of commissioner Bert Bell.

A twelve-game season was played, culminating in a league championship game between the Western Conference winning Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, winners of the Eastern Conference. The Colts emerged victorious in the battle between the league's best offense and its best defense with a fourth quarter comeback, winning by a score of 31–16.

Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, who lead the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns, was selected as the Most Valuable Player of the 1959 NFL season.

Season history


The 1959 NFL Draft was held on December 1, 1958, and January 21, 1959 at Philadelphia's Warwick Hotel. Thirty rounds of selections were conducted, with a total of 360 players selected by the 12 teams of the league.

With the first pick, the Green Bay Packers selected quarterback Randy Duncan from the University of Iowa.

Significant events

Tragedy struck on October 11 as NFL Commissioner Bert Bell suffered a fatal heart attack at Philadelphia's Franklin Field while watching the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He died at age 65 at the nearby university hospital.[1] League Treasurer Austin Gunsel was named interim commissioner for the rest of the season.[2]

The Chicago Cardinals played their final season in Chicago before relocating to St. Louis for the following season.

In the NFL Championship Game on December 27, the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants for the second year in a row.[3][4]

Statistical leaders

For the third consecutive season, running back Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns lead the NFL in rushing, gaining a total of 1329 yards on 290 touches, an average of 4.6 yards per carry.[5] Brown's 14 touchdowns scored tied for the league high with wide receiver Raymond Berry of the Colts.[5]

Leading the NFL with 3,899 yards passing was Colts quarterback John Unitas, who also lead all quarterbacks with 32 passing touchdowns against 14 interceptions.[5] Unitas also led the league in both attempts and completions, going 193 for 367 (52.6%) for the year.[5] The best completion percentage in the league (58.64%) was posted by Milt Plum of the Browns, who narrowly edged out Bill Wade of the Los Angeles Rams (58.62%).[5]

Topping the league in receiving was Raymond Berry of the Colts, who hauled down 66 passes for 959 yards, an average of 14.5 yards per reception.[5] Berry's closest competitor was 6'3" end Del Shofner of the Rams, who posted 936 yards gained on 47 receptions, for an average of 19.9 yards per catch.[5]

The leading punter for 1959 was Yale Lary of the Detroit Lions, with an average of 47.1 yards on his 45 punts, according to official statistics.[5]

Defensive statistics like sacks and tackles were not recorded during this era of professional football, with interceptions the sole metric recorded. Three players tied with 7 interceptions during the 12 game season — Dean Derby of the Steelers and a pair of Colts, defensive halfback (cornerback) Milt Davis and linebacker Don Shinnick.[5]

The top defense of the 1959 season was that of the New York Giants, who allowed just 170 points for the year (14.2 points per game). The top offense belonged to the Baltimore Colts, who racked up 374 total points (31.2 points per game) during the regular season.

Conference races

The NFL had six teams in each conference; each played a home-and-away game against the other five conference teams, and two games outside the conference. The Bears and Cardinals, and the Redskins and Colts, faced each other in an interconference game each year, as they were close geographic rivals.

After the second week, when the 1–1–0 Giants had to share the Eastern Conference lead with all five of the other clubs, the Giants won seven of the next eight games to clinch the title in Week Ten. In the Western Conference, the San Francisco 49ers, who had come close (1952, 1953, 1954, and 1957) several times since joining the NFL, were 6–1 and had a two-game lead over their closest rival, the 4–3 Colts. In Week Nine, though, the 49ers lost in Baltimore, 45–14 (November 22) and they shared the lead at 6–3–0. Two weeks later, San Francisco had the home field advantage when they faced the Colts for a rematch. Baltimore won again, 34–14, and clinched the title the following week.

Week Western Eastern
1 3 teams (Bal, GB, SF) 1–0–0 3 teams (Cards, NYG, Pit) 1–0–0
2 Tie (GB and SF) 2–0–0 6 teams (Cards, Cle, NYG, Phi, Pit, Was) 1–1–0
3 Green Bay Packers 3–0–0 3 teams (NYG, Phi, Was) 2–1–0
4 3 teams (Bal, GB, SF) 3–1–0 New York Giants 3–1–0
5 Tie (Bal, SF) 4–1–0 New York Giants 4–1–0
6 San Francisco 49ers 5–1–0 New York Giants 5–1–0
7 San Francisco 49ers 6–1–0 New York Giants 6–1–0
8 San Francisco 49ers 6–2–0 Tie (Cle, NYG) 6–2–0
9 Tie (Bal, SF) 6–3–0 New York Giants 7–2–0
10 Tie (Bal, SF) 7–3–0 New York Giants 8–2–0
11 Baltimore Colts 8–3–0 New York Giants 9–2–0
12 Baltimore Colts 9–3–0 New York Giants 10–2–0

Final standings

NFL Championship Game

Main article: 1959 NFL Championship Game

Baltimore 31, NY Giants 16 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, on December 27.[3][4]


Most Valuable Player Johnny Unitas, quarterback, Baltimore Colts
Coach of the Year Vince Lombardi, Green Bay

Coaching changes

Stadium changes


  1. ^ "NFL head Bert Bell dies at 65". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. October 12, 1959. p. 1.
  2. ^ "Austin Gunsel named acting boss of NFL". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. October 15, 1959. p. 30.
  3. ^ a b Sell, Jack (December 28, 1959). "Colts destroy Giants for pro crown 31-16". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 20.
  4. ^ a b Maule, Tex (January 4, 1960). "The best team you ever saw". Sports Illustrated. p. 12.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Official 1959 NFL Season Statistics," in Pro Football 1960, Los Angeles: Petersen Publishing Co., 1960; pp. 112-116.

Further reading