It’s 90 years ago this Sunday since one of the greatest players in Richmond’s proud football history made his senior league debut . . .
Jack Titus lined up with the main Tigers’ team for the first time on July 17, 1926, in a Round 12 match against South Melbourne at Punt Road Oval.
There was, however, nothing shown that day by the 18-year-old recruit from Victorian country club, Castlemaine, to suggest he would go on to become such an outstanding champion for Richmond, and an all-time great of the game.
In fact, it’s fair to say, Titus had a shocker!
He went goalless, barely touching the ball, as the Tigers suffered a disappointing 33-point loss on their home turf.
Titus was omitted from the senior side after his debut performance, but returned later in the season, playing four games and kicking just one goal.
It took Titus until late in the 1928 season for him to put his stamp on the competition for the first time.
A nine-goal haul against Essendon at Punt Road in Round 17, 1928 was a brilliant break-out game by Titus, and he followed that up with five goals against Geelong in the final home-and-away round of the season.
Then, when Titus kicked six goals to spearhead a big 53-point victory for Richmond over Carlton in the ‘28 semi-final, the whole football world at the time sat up and took notice of the lightly-framed, but highly-skilled full-forward.
Titus managed only two goals in the Tigers’ 1928 Grand Final loss to Collingwood, but his late-season efforts had captured the imagination of the Yellow and Black faithful.
Over the course of the ensuing 15 years, Jack Titus would rewrite the record books at Richmond with his amazing goalkicking feats.
In 1940, at age 32, Titus became the first Richmond player to kick 100 goals in a season.
He booted exactly 100 goals that season, to win the competition’s leading goalkicker award, with the Tigers finishing runners-up to Melbourne.
Nearly 80 years later, only one other Tiger – Michael Roach – has managed that fine goalkicking feat (Roach scoring 112 goals in 1980).
A long-standing competition record Titus held was for consecutive games – 204 in all, from 1933-43. That league record wasn't broken until Round 9 of the 1996 season, when Melbourne ruckman Jim Stynes played his 205th game in-a-row.
On 11 occasions, Titus topped Richmond’s goalkicking list in a season, he was a 14-time Victorian State representative, a dual premiership player with the Tigers (1932 and 1934) and he won the Club’s Best and Fairest twice (1929 and 1941).
Titus’ superb, six-goal display in the ’34 Grand Final against South Melbourne was pivotal to Richmond winning its fourth league football premiership.
He would finish his 294-game career at Richmond with 970 goals, which, to this day, is the most scored by any player in the Club’s history.
What made Titus' awesome achievements all the more incredible, was the fact that he was built like a whippet.
‘Skinny’ Titus, as he was affectionately known, was just 175cm tall, and weighed only 66kg throughout his long, illustrious league career with the Tigers.
Think about that for a moment . . . he was shorter than the smallest current-day Richmond player, Jayden Short, who stands 177cm, and slightly heavier than the lightest Tiger today, Daniel Rioli, who the ‘AFL Record Season Guide’ listed at 65kg going into his 2016 debut season of league football.
Despite being so small of stature for a key league forward, Titus had extremely strong fingers and a great spring for his size, which enabled him to take spectacular marks on such a consistent basis. To cap it all off, he was a deadly accurate kick for goal.
Titus more than made up in courage, speed and skill, what he lacked in size. In his playing days, he was constantly buffeted by bigger men, but very rarely beaten.
Richmond's 1932 premiership captain and 1934 premiership captain-coach, Percy Bentley, played football with Titus as a boy at Castlemaine Technical School. Not surprisingly, Bentley was a huge rap for the Tigers' champion little spearhead.
"They call him 'Skinny' down Richmond way, but if he is thin, he is of whipcord," Bentley said in a 1940 Sporting Globe special feature on Titus.
"Out on the field he is as elusive as they come – a clever, cunning mark, a deadly kick, and a man with an aggravating habit of turning up smiling just where he shouldn't be.
"During his 14 years at Richmond he has taken a tremendous number of hard knocks, but he survives and maintains his form in an amazing manner."
Bentley described Titus as a ‘freak’ among footballers . . .
"There is no better forward in the game than Jack," Bentley said. "Some of his work is amazing in its freakishness. He does the most surprising things, and gets away with it.
"He is as game as they come, and is always in the thick of it. When you remember that there is not too much of him physically, his endurance is amazing.
"But, above all else, Jack's greatest quality is his fighting heart and his spirit of good fellowship on the field and in the rooms."
The man regarded as Richmond's greatest ever player, and the Club’s inaugural 'Immortal', Jack Dyer, also was lavish in his praise of Titus in the same Sporting Globe article.
'Captain Blood' described him as the best player, pound for pound, he had ever seen.
"He's a great character, too, Dyer said. "He'll bluff you into believing anything unless you wake up smart to his leg pulling.
"I have seen enough of Jack to know that there isn't a gamer or a cleverer forward in the game than him. And he is a wonderfully unselfish club man. I hope he keeps on kicking goals. It will make it a lot easier for the rest of us."
When Titus died in April 1978, Jack Dyer was moved to say: “Skinny was the greatest man in the Club’s 93-year history.”
It wasn't just on the field where Skinny Titus prevailed. His off-field presence at Tigerland also was particularly significant.
"Whenever Titus is mentioned at the Tiger headquarters he is summed up as the greatest 'character' that ever walked into the room," wrote the author of another Sporting Globe piece on the goalkicking great.
"This is a compliment to his running fire of banter and barrack and his ready wit. His philosophy meets every situation with a joke. As a club man, he has had few equals.
"Around the club-rooms, Titus is the arch jester. No one is safe from his pranks. Many have tried to get back at him, but that nimble brain that sees things quickly before they really happen has quickly turned the proposition back on its originator. He has a native wit – a spontaneous humor that never leaves him stuck for an answer.
"But of more importance is his loyalty to the Club. Few know that two seasons back, Titus gave 10/- (shillings) each week of the season to the best boy in the second 18. He is vice-captain and players' representative on the committee."
According to the article, Titus' explanation for his commitment to the Yellow and Black cause was simple.
"I'm in the best club there is and I am going to stay there till I finish," he said.
The article's author subsequently posed the rhetorical question, "Wherein lies the success of Titus?" – and then proceeded to supply the answer . . .
"He is supremely confident. There is in fact a very perky ego about Jack. He is irrepressible.
"On the Melbourne ground in a final, Richmond came over Carlton with three goals in as many minutes and snatched the laurels away from the Blues. The winning goal was kicked by Titus as the bell rang. Ray Brew was standing on his mark as Jack went back to kick. "You'll miss it!" Brew taunted him. "Oh yeah, watch this," came the reply, and through it went to leave Richmond winners by a few points.
"Titus relies on his judgment in beating opponents. His timing is perfect and his anticipation of the flight of the ball uncanny. All this has been developed. The skill of Titus is of the type that is developed and built on natural ability until it reaches a very high standard.
"He is as cunning as a fox. Experience has given him a quick and certain estimate of the strength and weakness of opponents. He avoids the strength and exploits the weakness. He is as fast as any man in the game over the first 10 yards, while his dash to the ball is deadly in its certainty. It is no use playing him from behind."
Another account of Titus, written years ago, says: “He was no more than a handful, yet he stood up to the hard knocks full-forwards expect every week.
“Clubmates tell me how he was rarely able to train on the Tuesday after a game because of the battering his light frame had undergone. Yet he came up smiling every Saturday.”
Football columnist of the day, P. J. Millard, alias 'Short-Pass', described Titus as "a footballing will o' the wisp, and the most elusive and tantalising forward of the last decade in League football".
“With cat-like stealth and nimbleness, he has perfected the art of giving his man the slip, as a very necessary prelude to one of his deadly shots at goal.
“Jack, of course, is too modest to say so himself; but to those who have watched him in action through his glittering career, it is obvious that his indomitable spirit – his absolute fearlessness – plays just as big a part in his success as his goal-getting technique. This consists, first, of slippery elusiveness, allied with deceptive pace in his dash for a mark. In addition, he possesses rare anticipation, a beautifully-timed leap for marking, a safe pair of hands, and a singularly accurate boot for his telling shots."
A newspaper article by H.B. Jenkinson early in Titus' league career, recounted his two close encounters with death as a youngster . . .
“Physically, this goal harvester looks more like a park-game player than a League forward, but the slim, frail appearance is deceptive and hides a wiry frame of small proportions, but great vitality and tenacity.
“It is, in fact, a frame of such calibre that it has twice defied the closing jaws of death and successfully fought its own way back to vigorous health after medical aid had abandoned it to its fate. In such a constitution there must be some dynamic force of high potentiality that maintains the 10st 5lb of this young player sound enough to withstand the knocks and bumps that come the way of League footballers.
“From his boyhood Titus has been slim and frail in appearance, and two narrow escapes from untimely death did not tend to strengthen him physically. At the ages of seven years and 12 years, his life was despaired of. So grave was his condition that he was anointed for death.
“Typhoid fever contracted at Broken Hill was the first serious illness he battled off when medical men had abandoned hope. His second escapade was the result of a boyhood prank which nearly cost him his life. After eating green fruit one Saturday afternoon Titus, who was then 12 years of age, indulged in a swim and planned to go to the pictures on the Saturday evening. By the time he was ready to go to the pictures, he was feeling queer. Seeking a rest on his bed, he lost consciousness that evening and did not regain it till the following Wednesday morning.”
After retiring as a player in 1943, Titus joined the Richmond committee, but early in the 1945 season he was approached by VFA club Coburg to make a comeback.
Richmond offered him six months leave of absence, and the veteran spearhead subsequently scored 119 goals that year to finish second on the Association’s goalkicking list to Ron Todd, who amassed 188.
Titus kicked a further 20 goals with Coburg in a handful of games in 1946, giving him 139 in just 22 VFA matches, before retiring as a player for good. Well, almost for good . . .
During the 1948 season, Titus, at age 40, made a brief comeback for Richmond's reserves. The team was one player short, so Titus, who was a Tiger committeeman and selector at the time, agreed to fill in.
He proceeded to bag a 'lazy' dozen goals, to further underline his genius in front of the 'big sticks'.
But there were to be no more comebacks by Titus, who continued to serve on the Club's committee for many years, and even stood in as senior coach in 1965, when Len Smith became ill.
Jack Titus died in 1978, at age 70, but his legacy undeniably lives on . . .
Each year, the AFL hands out the Jack Titus Recognition of Service Award to a person who has made a significant contribution to League football at a club level. That indeed is testimony to the high esteem Titus has been held in – not only by Richmond, but by the entire football world.
In 1996, Titus was one of 136 inaugural inductees into the Australian Football Hall of Fame.
Three years later (August, 1999), he was named at full-forward in Richmond's Team of the Century.
Then, in 2002, he was one of the inaugural inductees into the Tigers' Hall of Fame.
Jack Titus truly is a revered figure at Richmond, because of all his dazzling on-field deeds, as well as the wonderful off-field service he provided his beloved Tigers.
Jack Titus profile
Recruited to Richmond from: Castlemaine
Guernsey number: No. 12
Games played (1926-43): 294
Honors: Dual premiership player (1932, 1934); League leading goalkicker in 1940 (100 goals); 11-time Club leading goalkicker (1929-30, 1934-42); 14-time Victorian State representative; Club Best and Fairest winner (1929, 1941); Australian Hall of Fame member; Tigers' Life Member; Richmond Team of the Century member; Tigers' Hall of Fame inductee.