The 2nd touchdown of Ken Stabler’s career came in mop up duty at the end of a blowout in 1972 against the Oilers. With the Raiders up 27-0 on Monday Night Football, Stabler threw a one-yard touchdown off of play-action late in the fourth quarter.1
A month later, Mike Ditka caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Craig Morton to put the Cowboys up 24-0 against the Chargers in the first half.2 In December, Denver’s Charley Johnson found Haven Moses for a 1-yard touchdown in the first half against the Chiefs.
Why am I reviewing some random 1-yard touchdown throws from 1972? Well, I’m not reviewing some random 1-yard touchdown passes from 1972; I just finished reviewing all of them. That’s right: there were just three touchdown passes of one yard in the entire 1972 season.
For some perspective, consider that there have been two games in NFL history with three 1-yard touchdowns! One was this game between the Jaguars and Texans in 2012 when James Casey and Garrett Graham caught 1-yard touchdowns from Matt Schaub, and Marcedes Lewis caught a 1-yarder from Chad Henne. The other came between the Steelers and Broncos, when Jay Cutler threw one-yard touchdowns to Cecil Sapp and Tony Scheffler, while Ben Roetlhisberger opened up the scoring with a 1-yarder to Heath Miller.3
The graph below shows the number of 1-yard touchdown passes in the NFL (or the AAFC or AFL) during each season since 1946. The chart is as jarring any you’ll ever see about the evolution of the passing game:
To be fair, there are 512 games in the modern NFL regular season, but were only 144 when there were 12 teams and 12-game seasons. If we pro-rate each season to 512 games, would that flatten the curve? I thought it might, but as it turns out, it doesn’t do too much to minimize the sharpness:
Okay, you’re thinking, but what about 1-yard TD passes as a percentage of all TD passes? Well, the effect has risen sharply there, too.
Nearly 8% of all touchdown passes last year were of the 1-yard variety. By historical measure, that’s insane. Here’s some more perspective:
- Len Dawson threw 230 touchdowns in the regular season. Sammy Baugh threw 187. Otto Graham threw 174. Charley Conerly threw 173. None of them ever threw a 1-yard touchdown pass.
- George Blanda threw 236 touchdowns. Bobby Layne had 196. Babe Parilli had 178, Earl Morrall had 161, Bart Starr had 152, Tobin Rote had 148, and Sid Luckman threw 137.
- Ron Jaworski threw 179 touchdowns, Joe Namath 173, Bart Starr 156, Brian Sipe 154, Frank Ryan 149, Archie Manning 125, Bert Jones 124, Billy Wade 134, and Milt Plum 122 touchdowns. They each threw just 2 touchdown passes from the 1-yard line.
- Players with three 1-yard touchdown passes include Sonny Jurgensen (255 touchdowns), Norm Snead (196), Bob Griese (192), Steve Grogan (182), Norm Van Brocklin (173), Daryle Lamonica (164), and Roger Staubach (153)
- Four or five touchdown passes of 1-yard? That brings in Fran Tarkenton (342), Warren Moon (291), Johnny Unitas (290), John Hadl (!) (244), Y.A. Tittle (242), John Brodie (214), Terry Bradshaw (212), Jim Hart (209), Phil Simms (199), Ken Anderson (197), Joe Ferguson (196), Stabler (194), Craig Morton (183), and Rich Gannon (180).
- Meanwhile, the quarterbacks with the five most touchdown throws in NFL history have feasted on the 1-yard touchdown pass: Peyton Manning (530 touchdowns, 35 1-yard throws), Brett Favre (508, 37), Dan Marino (420, 23), Drew Brees (396, 27), and Tom Brady (392, 30).