Million Dollar Backfield
The Million Dollar Backfield was a nickname given to two historical backfields in the National Football League. It was first used to describe the offensive attack of the then-Chicago Cardinals in 1947 after an unprecedented amount of money by Cardinals owner Charles Bidwill lured several of the day's top players to the team. The Million Dollar backfield was also referred to separately as the Dream Backfield by Bidwill.
In 1954, the term was used again to describe the backfield of the San Francisco 49ers, which would go on to produce four Hall of Famers. This 49ers backfield was also referred to in circles as the Fabulous Foursome.
Chicago Cardinals (c. 1947–1950)
- Elmer Angsman, halfback
- Paul Christman, quarterback
- Marshall Goldberg, halfback
- Pat Harder, fullback
- Charley Trippi, halfback/quarterback
After World War II, professional football experienced an increase in popularity. The Cardinals hired Jimmy Conzelman as their new head coach. Soon afterwards Conzelman implemented the “T” formation. He then drafted quarterback Paul Christman in 1945 to run the offense. A year later, fullback Pat Harder and halfback Elmer Angsman were added to the line-up.
It was around this time that the upstart AAFC placed a team in Chicago, the Rockets. The new AAFC franchise publicly pushed for the Cardinals to leave town, since the city had three major football teams. Bidwill grew angry and vowed to turn his team into a profitable winner. He stunned the football world in 1947 when he outbid the Rockets for the rights to All-American, Charley Trippi, signing him to a then unprecedented $100,000 contract. Trippi was the final piece of what Bidwill called his "Million Dollar Backfield" of Paul Christman, Pat Harder, Marshall Goldberg, and Trippi. The quartet led the Cardinals to defeated their cross-town nemesis, the Chicago Bears, in the season finale to win the NFL's Western Division title with 9-3-0 record. The backfield then led the team to their first and only undisputed NFL championship in 1947. Sadly Charles Bidwill did not live see his "Million Dollar Backfield" win the 1947 title; he had died of pneumonia shortly after signing Trippi.
San Francisco 49ers (c. 1954–1960)
- John Henry Johnson, #35, fullback
- Joe Perry, #34, fullback
- Hugh McElhenny, #39, halfback
- Y. A. Tittle, #14, quarterback
The San Francisco 49ers' "Million Dollar Backfield" began its construction in 1946 with the team's signing of fullback Joe Perry. In 1951 quarterback Y.A. Tittle was signed by the team. The next year the 49ers drafted Hugh McElhenny, fullback, in the first round to complement Tittle and Perry. The final piece of the puzzle came in 1954, when John Henry Johnson joined the team.
For three seasons the "Million Dollar Backfield" challenged opposing defenses with Tittle's arm, the power of Perry and Johnson and the exciting elusiveness of McElhenny. During their first year together, the 49ers' backfield shattered the team record for rushing yards in a season. Perry posted 1,000 yards in two straight seasons and by 1956 he became the NFL's all-time leading rusher. With the extremely potent offense, many thought San Francisco was due to win a NFL Championship, but defensive problems landed the 49ers in third place behind the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears in 1954. San Francisco's "Million Dollar Backfield" was disbanded before it could win a championship in 1957, when John Henry Johnson was traded to Detroit. The backfield of Tittle, Perry, and McElhenny remained intact through the 1960 season.
The 49ers' "Million Dollar Backfield" is currently the only full-house backfield to have all four of its members enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On June 9, 2011, it was announced that Johnson and Perry, who died within months of each other, would have their brains examined by researchers at Boston University who are studying head injuries in sports. Both men were suspected of suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disorder linked to repeated brain trauma.
- "The Cards' dream season in '47". History Release (Pro Football Hall of Fame). Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- Jenkins, Lee (2009-01-29). "Bidwills Restore Their Family Name". Sports Illustrated (CNN). Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- Carroll, Bob and Braunwart, Bob (1981). "Blue Shirt Charlies Big Red Dream". Coffin Corner (Professional Football Researchers Association) 3 (4): 1–2.
- "The King". History Release (Pro Football Hall of Fame). Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- Tameta, Andre. "San Francisco's Million Dollar Backfield: The 49ers' Fabulous Foursome". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- "Researchers to study 49ers RBs". ESPN.com (ESPN). Retrieved 2011-06-09.