Hall-of-Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle died Sunday at 90, and, while his name stirs memories of standout performances for those of us who watched him play, far too few know much … if anything … beyond a photo of the f0rmer 49ers’ and New York Giants’ star.
It’s what Tittle used to call “The Blood Picture,” a black-and-white shot of him kneeling in the end zone in Pittsburgh in his last NFL season — 1964 — with blood dripping down a helmetless head. It is a photo of a broken warrior, and it is everything Y.A. Tittle was not.
Because he seldom gave into anything. He played through pain. He was tough. He was charismatic. He was bold. And, above all, he was good. Damned good.
He was the first NFL player featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro and league MVP who once threw seven touchdown passes in a game and three times led the league in touchdown passes.
He’s in the Giants’ Ring of Honor. He’s in the 49ers’ Hall of Fame. And his number 14 was retired by the Giants. Yet it is that black-and-white photo that most people today associate with Y.A. Tittle, and that’s a shame. Because there was so much more to the man and to the player that was Yelberton Abraham Tittle, Jr.
Fortunately for everyone, ESPN the Magazine’s Seth Wickersham defined what that something was in a wonderful epitaph that is must-reading for anyone interested in knowing what was behind the initials, Y.A. And it is right here, right now: