Allie Sherman Dies at 91; Led Giants to Title Games

January 6, 2015

By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN

January 6, 2015

Allie Sherman, who possessed a dubious football pedigree as a left-handed quarterback at Brooklyn College but went on to take the New York Giants to National Football League title games in his first three seasons as their coach, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 91.

His death was announced by his family.

Sherman’s early years as the Giants’ coach have long been remembered as a revered time in the franchise’s history. His players included quarterbacks Charley Conerly and Y. A. Tittle, backs Alex Webster, Kyle Rote and Frank Gifford and wide receiver Del Shofner, as well as a formidable defensive lineup that included Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli and Roosevelt Grier.

Undersize for football at 5 feet 10 inches and 160 pounds, and unable to throw a long ball, Sherman nonetheless lasted five seasons as a pro quarterback, with the Philadelphia Eagles in the mid-1940s. “I was the best left-handed ball holder on conversion kicks in the history of the N.F.L.,” he once said.

He was a perennial backup, but the Eagles prized him for his keen football knowledge, particularly his mastery of the T-formation, which opened the way to a passing game in contrast with the old run-oriented single wing.

Sherman blended his football intellect with an uncommon intensity in coaching the Giants to the N.F.L.’s Eastern Conference championship in 1961, 1962 and 1963. His teams were beaten in the league’s championship game each year, twice by the Green Bay Packers and then by the Chicago Bears, but Sherman achieved stature in a profession for which he hardly seemed destined.

Alex Sherman was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 10, 1923, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia. When he went out for the football team at Boys High School, he weighed only 120 pounds. The coach suggested he try handball instead, and so he became the school’s No. 2 handball player.

But by 1939 he was playing tailback in the single wing at Brooklyn College as a 16-year-old freshman. In the summer before his junior year, his coach, Lou Oshins, decided to switch to the T-formation. Oshins sent Sherman the book “The Modern T Formation With Man in Motion,” written by the Chicago Bears coach George Halas, with Clark Shaughnessy and Ralph Jones, all of whom had worked to revive the T after it had long fallen into disuse. Another Brooklyn-born quarterback, the Bears’ Sid Luckman, had thrived with it. Sherman read the book and became the Kingsmen’s quarterback in his final two collegiate seasons.

After graduating cum laude with a major in psychology, Sherman was signed by the Eagles’ coach, Greasy Neale, who wanted him to help install a T-formation.

“Never have I seen a player with a greater understanding of the game,” Neale, who kept Sherman as a second-string quarterback from 1943 to 1947, once said. “He was so dedicated he insisted on rooming with a lineman. He wanted to absorb the way a lineman thought. We’d look at films for hours, and when I’d had enough, he’d take the movies to his room and watch them for the rest of the night.”

Sherman was hired by the Giants’ coach, Steve Owen, in 1949 to convert Conerly, a former tailback at Mississippi, to the T-formation.

After serving as the Giants’ backfield coach and then head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Canada, Sherman was named the Giants’ offensive coach in 1959, replacing Vince Lombardi, who had become the Packers’ coach and general manager. When Jim Lee Howell retired as the Giants’ head coach after the 1960 season, Sherman succeeded him.

Sherman inherited an aging team that was not considered a contender, and he was the Giants’ second choice for the job; he was hired only after the owner, Wellington Mara, could not pry Lombardi from the Packers. But Sherman was an instant success as the Giants bolstered their offense with trades bringing in Tittle, Shofner and tight end Joe Walton.

Sherman’s teams lost only eight regular-season games on the way to Eastern Conference titles from 1961 to 1963. Sherman was voted the N.F.L. coach of the year in his first two seasons in balloting by sportswriters and broadcasters.

But the Giants plunged to a 2-10-2 record in 1964. The fans at Yankee Stadium, who had been chanting “Dee-fense, Dee-fense,” began to sing “Goodbye Allie” to protest the trade of Huff, a hugely popular middle linebacker, and the outstanding defensive tackle Dick Modzelewski before the season.

Sherman would never again have a winning team, and in January 1969, the New York Jets took over the local spotlight long enjoyed by the Giants when Joe Namath engineered their stunning upset of the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. In August of that year, the Jets whipped the Giants, 37-14, in an exhibition game, the first meeting between the teams, and the Giants went on to lose all five preseason games that summer.

A week before the 1969 regular season began, Sherman was fired and replaced by Webster, the former star running back who had been one of his assistant coaches.

Sherman left with a career record of 57-51-4 and five years remaining on his 10-year contract. He never again coached football, but he was part of a group that made an unsuccessful bid to buy the Jets in 1970. He became an executive with Warner Communications, oversaw marketing for Warner’s New York Cosmos soccer team, worked as a pro football studio analyst for ESPN and served as president of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation from 1994 to 1997.

He is survived by his wife, Joan; his son, Randy; his daughters, Lori Sherman and Robin Klausner; and two grandchildren.

Sherman delighted in telling a story not about his coaching success, but about a rare moment of triumph as a pro quarterback. In his very first play as an Eagle (the team had actually merged with the Pittsburgh Steelers for that season, and the squad, mostly made up of Philadelphia players, was known as the Steagles), in October 1943, he ran for a touchdown against the Giants in Philadelphia. After the game, when he was boarding a train to return to his Brooklyn home, he spotted the Giants’ coach, Owen, with some of his top players, including Mel Hein and Ward Cuff.

As Sherman recalled it, Owen told his men, “You guys were so lousy that you even let that little squirt from Brooklyn score on you.”

“I smiled,” Sherman remembered, “and walked to my train.”

Originally posted by The New York Times