For three long quarters Sunday, Chuck Conerly sat by the telephone on the New York Giant bench and listened to communiqués relayed to him by third-string Quarterback Bobby Clatterbuck from the scouts in the press box. On the field, Don Hein-rich manipulated the Giant offense expertly, picking at small flaws in the defense of the Chicago Bears, moving the ball in short, consistent gains, throwing once in a while but depending mostly on the power in the big Giant line and the strong, quick Giant backs.
Conerly watched quietly, hunched deep in the heavy sideline cape against the gray cold of the afternoon. He is a quiet, very relaxed man of 32, an extraordinarily competent quarterback and a proud one. The view of a football game from the sideline is not a good one, but Conerly needs only a quick glimpse of the developing action to know what is happening.
"You don't see much of a game when you're in," he said in his deep, southern drawl a few days before this Sunday afternoon. "You're looking for the guy you're going to pass to or the guy you're making a hand-off to, and you don't see much else. I guess I wouldn't even recognize half the guys I play against in a game if I saw them on the street afterward. They're just a blur when they are coming in at you, and you don't look at them again until you come out of the huddle. Then they are uniforms in a defense and you don't see faces, just the defense."
This day Heinrich had started at quarterback for the Giants against the Bears, according to the practice of Coach Jim Lee Howell, who has used his No. 2 quarterback as a starter for nearly two seasons. Heinrich begins with a ready list of plays designed to test the reactions of the opposing defense so that when Conerly replaces him—usually in the second quarter—he can probe at the obvious weaknesses.
December 3, 1956
"You don't find any big weaknesses," Conerly explains. "It's not like college football. Everyone is good and what you look for are habits a player develops. When you have been in the league a long time you get to know what a defensive halfback will let you do, for instance. One guy will let you throw underneath him—in front of him. The next guy covers pretty good to the outside but he doesn't move as good to the inside, and you throw that way to him. Little things are what you look for. Like you size up the defense when you're waiting to start the count and you see a safety man cheating a little bit toward an end you've got spread and you know he's got to cover that end in the defense they have called, and he's cheating over toward him because it will be hard for him to get there. So you call an automatic and hit the end quick."
An automatic, Conerly explained, is a play change made after the team has come out of the huddle to the line of scrimmage. Last Sunday against the Bears, Heinrich used as many automatics as he did plays called in the huddle to counteract the shifting Bear defense. They worked well on drives up the middle, often catching the big Bear line slanting the wrong way. Frank Gifford, Alex Webster and Mel Triplett pounded through these holes for long yardage. When Conerly finally came in to start the fourth quarter, the Bear defense had adjusted, so he relied mainly on the plays he called in the huddle.
"Quarterbacking would be an easy job if the other guy stuck to one defense all the time," Conerly says. "But you can't tell what the defense is going to do. You've got to play the percentages. Like against the Pittsburgh Steelers a while back. They had a couple of veterans in the secondary on the right side of their defense. They're pretty hard to fool. But on the left side they had Henry Ford and Gary Glick, and both of them are rookies. We ran a few to their side and found out they were coming up real fast on running plays. So I called a pass off a run to that side, and Gifford got behind Ford for a touchdown because Ford came up too fast. Did the same thing a little later. Two mistakes cost them two touchdowns. You can figure a rookie to make mistakes in this league. If he makes too many, he doesn't last long, so you can't figure on the veterans for mistakes like those."
THE HIGH COST OF MISTAKES
The Giants played nearly flawless football against the Bears. Their defense was magnificent, especially against the Bear running attack, one of the best in the league. The linebackers covered the outside beautifully, choking off Bear sweeps before they could start, and the two big Giant tackles—Roosevelt Grier and Dick Modzelewski—slammed shut the middle corridor. The Bear running attack was stopped cold. The Giant defense, looking like the old pros they are, made no mistakes—or at least, not until the very end.
"Mistakes cost you a lot more in pro ball," Conerly says. "Back in college, a club could make a mistake and, like as not, it wouldn't cost much. In the first place, the other team might not see it. Then, if they did see it, they might not have the personnel to take advantage of it. And if they did see it and had the personnel to take advantage of it, then there would be a pretty good chance they would make a mistake, too, and not be able to take the advantage they should have. But a mistake against a pro club nearly always costs you, and usually it costs a touchdown. The mistakes in the line may not—you got the secondary to help out. But a mistake back in the secondary—that's usually six points."
The Giant scores last Sunday came on the heels of Bear errors. Ed Brown, the very good Bear quarterback, fumbled the pass from center on a punt attempt and was buried under the charge of seven Giants. Heinrich then worked the ball carefully down to the Bear nine, from where Ben Agajanian kicked a field goal. Later, Brown rolled out to his right to pass and hurried the throw under the continuing pressure of the Giant line. The Giants' Sam Huff, a guard, intercepted the pass and hurried it back to the Bear 28.
Now Heinrich, who had made the Bears honor the fine Giant running throughout the first quarter and a half, changed pace effectively. He threw twice to End Kyle Rote, both times incomplete, and the Bear defense became very Rote-conscious. So Heinrich hit Halfback Alex Webster quickly for 11 yards and a first down on the Bear 17. After missing again, he flipped the ball over the line, and Rote, two steps ahead of a desperate linebacker, picked it off and scored. Two mistakes for the Bears, two scores for the Giants.
When the teams started the second half, the Giants were leading 10-0. Heinrich was still at quarterback while Conerly sat deep in his sideline cape watching the action and calling the Giant plays to himself.
The yardage was coming harder for the Giant runners in the second half. A Bear fumble early in the third quarter had given them an easy touchdown, but that was all. The Bears, meanwhile, had corrected their mistakes. The game settled for a while into a tremendous, straining contest fought across the three feet of neutral territory at the line of scrimmage. The noise of conflict could be heard clearly from where Conerly sat.
This thunder in the line starts with the muffled slap of the football against the flat palm of the quarterback and, as much as anything, it is the difference between college and pro football. It comes from the solid thump of well-armored big men in violent contact, and it is augmented by their grunts and groans and curses. It is one of the things a rookie back finds unsettling when he plays his first game of professional football.
With the battle in the line now a standoff, it looked for a while as if the outcome would hang on the early Giant scores. But suddenly the errorless Giants began to make some mistakes of their own. The Bears kicked a field goal after Halfback Ray Smith had intercepted a Heinrich pass and returned it to the Giant 16. It was 17-3 as the third quarter ended and the Giants returned to the offense. Conerly went in at quarterback.
He nursed the Giants down to the Bear 22, twice firing Webster through a crack he discovered in the right side of the Bear line and once sending Gifford the other way to prevent the Bears from stacking their defense. Then Webster, who had been sick earlier in the game, got sick again and left. Agajanian tried a field goal from the 32 and missed.
A penalty stopped the Giants' next drive, and when the Bears took over the ball, there were eight minutes left in the game. The Bears were on their 24 with all of the 55,191 people in Yankee Stadium expecting a long pass.
So Ed Brown handed off the ball to Bill McColl, a huge end converted to a flanker back. McColl, running to his right on a deep reverse, suddenly stopped and threw the ball high and far from the Bear 15. Harlon Hill, the wonderful Bear end, was yards in the clear at the Giant 20 when he caught the prodigious heave, the ball hanging high above him against the gray sky for a moment and Hill running under it to make the catch. Jim Patton, the Giant defender, had taken an early fatal step toward the line of scrimmage, and that mistake cost a touchdown.
Conerly killed five of the next seven minutes on a deliberate, cool sortie along the ground, but it was not enough. When the Bears finally got the ball, some two minutes remained in the game. Brown began his bid for a tie with short precise passes to Hill and McColl, throwing toward the sideline so the big receivers could step out of bounds and stop the clock after they caught the ball. From the Bear 44, Brown sent Hill, who runs with a long, loping stride that generates deceptive speed, far downfield. Patton, who had let Hill get well behind him for the earlier Bear touchdown, stuck with him this time. He was running nearly stride for stride with the Bear end at the goal line as Brown's pass dropped out of the sky. Hill tipped it once, juggled it, fell flat in the end zone and caught the ball just before it hit the ground.
"You can't ask a boy to do much better than Patton did on that one," Coach Howell said after the game, but he added the old pro's qualification: "Of course, he might have knocked it down or intercepted it if he hadn't lost a step," he said. "You just can't make any mistakes."
THE GREY CUP: SPLIT-T AND HIGH JINKS
Frank Ivy (left), a tomato-faced graduate of the Bud Wilkinson school of split-T football, gave up an assistant's job at the University of Oklahoma in 1953 to take over the Edmonton Eskimos. Ivy adapted the Canadian game's five-man backfield to the precise manipulations of the split-T, and Edmonton has been the Oklahoma of the North ever since. Saturday, in Toronto, Ivy's Eskimos won their third straight Grey Cup championship, beating the Montreal Alouettes 50-27 with a thumping ground game as subtle as a punch in the nose. As usual, American imports provided the locomotion for Ivy's forces. Jackie Parker of Mississippi State and Johnny Bright of Drake scored two touchdowns each and powered to gains which stretched from nine to 20 yards per carry during the second half. Parker, who has been a quarterback all season, moved over to half for this game when Earl Lindley of Utah was injured. Don Getty, a home product from the University of Western Ontario, handled the team beautifully as Parker's quarterback replacement—to the joy of the Canadian press. As usual, the fans transformed Toronto into a chilly, three-day replica of New Orleans at Mardi Gras time.