Owner Tim Mara called 250-pound tackle “Stout Steve” Owen to his office before the 1931 season and told him that he was tired of looking for uniforms that would fit him so he was making Owen the new coach of the Giants. Steve would last for 23 years as coach and would establish the precepts of Giants football tough defense, ball-control offense, and a reliable kicking game that have guided the team throughout its history. The garrulous Owen was popular with the New York press; he stated in his autobiography, “Coaching is a matter of fundamentals, the hardest kind of work, and an understanding of human relations.”
Even before the umbrella defense, Owen was quite an innovator. George Halas credited him with being the first to emphasize defense and to highly value field goals over touchdowns. During his time, the Giants were known for the special defenses Steve would devise to control opposing superstars like Don Hutson and Sammy Baugh.
Moreover, Owen was the first to keep his troops fresh by substituting virtually an entire unit each quarter. He was the first to regularly elect to kick off when his team won the opening coin toss, so that his defense could get on the field first. Owen also ran his own version of the single-wing the A-formation in which the line would be unbalanced to one side and the backfield shifted to the opposite side.
Owen was a disciplinarian who was described by his older players as being good-hearted and down-to-earth. However, by the 1950s, time was beginning to pass him by. He had to be pushed hard to move to the T-formation, and he was one of the last coaches to do so. In his autobiography, The Whole Ten Yards, Frank Gifford remembered Owen as “a fat snarly Oklahoman who dipped snuff the juice would dribble onto his dirty rubber jacket and stuck rigidly to his ‘old ways’ of doing things.” Indeed, Owen’s Giants were 110-60-14 from 1931 to 1946, but in his last seven years only 41-40-3.
Wellington Mara remembered the firing of Steve Owen, who never had a written contract with the Giants, as one of the worst days of his life. Owen never got over it, although he later coached the defense for the Eagles and even returned as a head coach in the 1960s in the Continental Football League. He was elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously.
Some call me a defensive coach and sneer when they say it. Well, I’ll take that, if you allow that the object of the game is to win. I would rather win by 3-0 than lose by 38-36. Defense is still half the game, and I like defense. As a coach, I would have to like it, because it has to work if I want to win.
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Then, in the closing minutes of the game, Graham faced fourth-and-10 from the Giants’ 11 and tried to hit Horace Gillom, but Schnellbacher batted the pass away to clinch the victory.
The 6-0 final score marked the first time that the Browns had ever been shut out; they would not be shut out again until the Giants repeated the trick in a 1958 playoff game. Owen said of his defense, “We have a smart, alert group of men whose defensive maneuvers kept the Browns off balance throughout the game”
The Giants would beat the Browns again three weeks later, 17-13, by altering their defensive strategy, having the ends rush the passer more than dropping into coverage, and at times going to a 5-1-5 nickel coverage defense. Both teams finished the season at 10-2. When they met in a playoff game, the Browns finally got the best of New York in another defensive slugfest, 8-3. The Giants’ lone touchdown in that loss was nullified by a penalty.
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