Yelberton Abraham Tittle, the Hall of Fame quarterback whose career spanned 17 professional season, has died at the age of 90.
Tittle may be best remembered for the iconic photograph of him by Morris Berman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, showing him as he attempted recover from being beaten and bloodied by a brutal hit by John Baker of the Steelers in 1964, his final season. The 38-year-old Tittle suffered a concussion and broken sternum on the play, but played through his injuries and didn’t miss a game that season.
An All-SEC quarterback at LSU and MVP of the 1947 Cotton Bowl (a snowy game that was referred to as the Ice Bowl before a more famous NFL game took that name), Tittle was drafted by the Lions in the NFL but chose instead to play for the Baltimore Colts of the All-America Football Conference from 1948 to 1950.
When some AAFC teams joined the NFL, the Colts and other AAFC teams folded (the team later called the Baltimore Colts was a new franchise), and in a draft for the players from those teams Tittle was chosen by the 49ers. After spending his first two seasons as a backup in San Francisco, Tittle became the 49ers’ starter in 1953 and was chosen to the NFL’s third annual Pro Bowl.
Tittle lasted 10 seasons in San Francisco, and he made an impact off the field as well as on. In 1954, Tittle became the first professional football player featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In 1957, Tittle coined the term “alley-oop” for a play in which his 6-foot-3 receiver R.C. Owens would plant himself in the end zone and jump as high as he could, and Tittle would throw him a high pass. The term would later become associated with basketball, but Tittle came up with it first.
By 1961, the 49ers thought Tittle was way past his prime, and they traded him to the Giants. But he found his second wind in New York, being named to the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons in New York and winning the league MVP award in 1963, when he led the league in completion percentage, touchdowns and yards per completion.
Tittle is remembered as a great passer, a great leader and as one of the toughest quarterbacks in history. And he’s remembered as the subject of one of the greatest sports photographs ever taken.