NFL's first running QB remebers how he shocked the NFL in 1961

Ron Borges

With young quarterbacks running more than ever these days, Talk of Fame Network decided to ask one of the guys who started this whole craze how it came to be. Many of you may remember Billy Kilmer as the Super Bowl quarterback of the Washington Redskins back in 1972 but he first came to fame in 1961 when the San Francisco 49ers shocked the NFL with an unexpected shift to the shotgun offense that, for a time, blew away its opponents like a 12-gauge blast.

Using the shotgun as its primary offense was the brainchild of 49ers’ head coach Red Hickey, who installed it during a week on the road training at Milwaukee’s County Stadium three games into the season. The early results were promising with wins of 49-0 over the Lions, 35-0 over the Rams and 38-24 over the Vikings but even at that not everyone on the 49ers was pleased with the decision.

Hickey employed three quarterbacks, rotating Kilmer, Bob Waters and John Brodie. The first time they walked out on the field in Detroit knowing what the Lions did not one of them expressed his trepidations.

“That first game in Detroit, we walked on the field and there was an ambulance sitting over there,’’ Kilmer tells Talk of Fame network. “Brodie said, ‘Do you think that’s for us?’ It didn’t bother me. I was a (former) single wing quarterback. I was used to running. But Brodie didn’t want anything to do with running.’’

Lamar Jackson may be looking good today as the Ravens’ running offspring of Red Hickey’s wild idea but Kilmer rushed for 103 yards that day in Detroit, 131 the next week against the Rams and 113 vs. Minnesota to set a record for a running quarterback with three straight 100 yard games. He also rushed for 10 touchdowns that season, two more than NFL rushing leader Jim Brown.

So why’d they stop using it. The Chicago Bears and their Hall of Fame middle linebacker Bill George.

“Chicago beat us 31-0,’’ Kilmer recalled. “People forget how great a middle linebacker Bill George was. They put him in the gaps on either side of our center and just rushed the gap. That was the end of the offense of the Sixties!’’

It wasn’t the end of Kilmer though. He went on to play 16 seasons with three teams but he didn’t owe that longevity, or that 1972 Super Bowl appearance, to his legs. He owed them to Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who the shotgun helped drive out of San Francisco. To hear why listen to Talk of Fame Network’s weekly radio show on SB Nation or download the free podcast at iTunes or on the TuneIn app. You can also access the full show, which includes interviews with best-selling authors Mark Leibovich and John Eisenberg on their new football books, by going to our website, Talk Fame Network by following this link: .

Leibovich is the national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine and normally is hips deep into politics. But he took four years following the NFL before writing “BIG GAME: The NFL in Dangerous Times.’’

It’s a look at the NFL’s mounting problems but also a peek behind the curtain into owners like Jerry Jones, with whom Leibovich gets drunk drinking $275 bottles of Scotch on the Cowboys’ bus, Patriots’ owner Bob Kraft and Commissioner Roger Goodell. He has the stories you don’t normally hear, like owners complaining about their rooms at a swanky Boca Raton hotel and resort and a hilarious interlude with Jones and Kraft during which he asks each if they’d give up one of their Super Bowl victories for a Hall of Fame bust in Canton. Only one of them tells the truth.

Leibovich also tells how the book all began with a unexpected e-mail he received from Tom Brady and explains how the league has devolved from “one of the most unifying institutions in America to the country’s most polarizing sports brand’’ under Goodell’s watch.

Eisenberg, on the other hand, tells a story from the roots of the NFL in his new book, “The League: How five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire.’’ Framed somewhat like the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Team of Rivals’’ that chronicled President Lincoln’s fractious Cabinet, Eisenberg looks at the NFL’s troubled early years through the eyes of the five men he considers most important to its survival – George Halas, Bert Bell, George Preston Marshall, Art Rooney and Tim Mara.

“I don’t think people realize the NFL was a failing enterprise for three decades,’’ Eisenberg tells Talk of Fame Network.

During his research, Eisenberg found a little known document buried in the Hall of Fame’s archives that unlocked the door to insights into each man no one had found and he opens it wide with “The League.’’ To learn how, just like today, those five men changed the rules to open the game up and why they refused to fold up and quit during the Depression and World War II tune in to Talk of Fame Network by clicking on this link: now.