The Baltimore Colts, a team with the aplomb and finesse of a French diplomat and the pure power of an earthquake, decided the Western Conference championship of the National Football League last Sunday.
It is true that the Chicago Bears retain a mathematical chance of overtaking the Colts, should Baltimore collapse in a heap in its last three games and the Bears win all of theirs. This is roughly as unlikely as Art Donovan's taking up ballet, and Donovan is a 260-pound tackle for the Colts who thinks ballet is an island in the South Pacific.
In the Eastern Conference, the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers retain a chance to edge out Cleveland, but it will likely be an uncomfortable honor for whichever team wins the title. The Colts have matured into one great team, and they will be strong favorites in the championship playoff.
They knocked the Los Angeles Rams out of contention Sunday before a record 57,577 fervent admirers in Baltimore. The Baltimore pro football fans come to the game armed with a variety of signs proclaiming their love of their football team. They are as unabashedly enamored of their Colts as a bobby-soxer whinnying at Elvis Presley, and they howled with uninhibited delight as the Colts dismembered the Rams.
The Colt victory was a solid one despite the fact that the Rams lent the home team considerable assistance by managing to lose five fumbles and complete four passes to the Colt secondary. The Colt offense still accounted for 34 points, and two serious defects in the Ram defense can be blamed. First, the Rams thought that the injured Colt quarterback, Johnny Unitas, could be pummeled enough to make him lose his poise; second, and this was an outgrowth of the first mistake, they thought that Lenny Moore, the Colt halfback, could be covered by one man. Unitas, playing for the first time in three weeks, wore a steel and foam-rubber contraption protecting three broken ribs and took the Ram battering stoically; Jimmy Harris, the former Oklahoma quarterback who was assigned the task of containing Moore, didn't. The Rams, putting two men on Ray Berry, the magnificent Colt end, had only Harris left to cover Moore. The linebacker who would normally have helped Harris was assigned to rushing Unitas, and the Rams got through to Johnny often enough (he left the game with a cut over his right eye and a torn lip). But the pressure never affected his poise or his marksmanship; twice he completed passes with Ram tacklers draped on him, once to Jim Mutscheller for a touchdown. He never hurried a pass, and he never had one intercepted, and he didn't leave the game until the score was 34-7 in favor of the Colts and the Rams were well whipped. Moore, who was open all afternoon and probably should have been thrown to more often, caught a 58-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game, set up another touchdown with a 50-yard reception and, generally, made Harris long for the red hills of Oklahoma. In all fairness to Harris, his was an impossible task; no single defensive halfback, without help from a linebacker, can contain Moore.
The Colt defense, as usual, was superb. The Rams, having studied the movies of the New York Giants' defeat of the Colts, tried to circle the Colt right end, as the Giants had done, but the Colts, knowing the Rams had studied the movies, had moved their defense out far enough to cut off that avenue. The Ram attack then subsided into a desperate passing game; the Colts pulled back their defense to cut off the long pass and tackled receivers so viciously on the short one that the Rams six times fumbled the ball and five times lost it.
All in all, the weekend was a great one for the league's better quarterbacks (Layne, Van Brocklin, Tittle), although certainly none of them could match the coldly brilliant performance of Unitas. Unitas, a wonderfully poised athlete, transmits this poise to the Colt team.
The ability to impress an entire team with a personal quality is the mark of a great quarterback; this fact of football was again exemplified last Sunday at Comiskey Park.
Since Bobby Layne has taken over as quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, that team has won five of seven games, and this after losing their first two without Layne. Sunday the Steelers won their fourth straight game as Layne engineered a 78-yard pass play in the fourth period to beat the Chicago Cardinals 27-20.
"This team has good personnel," Layne said the other day. "But it never thought it would win, and most of them played individually. They played well so they wouldn't get cut and so they would have some arguments at contract time, but they didn't always take the field figuring they could beat any other team in the league. That's what we used to have in Detroit. We always thought we would win. That's what we have here, now. When I came here, we'd go out to practice, and the minute time was up everybody took off for the dressing room. Practice wasn't fun. I guess Buddy Parker, as much as anyone, changed that. Now these guys stay out after practice to work, and it's fun. I get a lot of fun out of practice, myself. I guess if practice ever stops being fun, I'll quit."
Parker, an easygoing football genius, doubtless had a good deal to do with bringing the Steelers out of the doldrums, but it wasn't until he acquired Layne that the team perked up. No matter how good a coach is—and Parker must be ranked near the top—he cannot lift the team on the field, and Layne does that.
"We had great spirit at Detroit," Layne said. "We worked together and we played together. We were all close—we are here, now."
Layne is an insouciant, gambling quarterback who has full control of the team on the field. Parker seldom sends a play in; he has complete faith in the chunky, blond Texan who is playing his 11th season. "He trusts the whole team," Layne says. Layne, never known for the excessive propriety of his behavior off the field, fits perfectly into Parker's laissez-faire philosophy. Parker sets no rules, expects his team to perform on Sunday and gets the performance. "He figures we're adults," Layne says. "Sure, I go out once in a while. Why shouldn't I? Detroit was a small town in some ways and everybody knew me. They're beginning to know me here now. I could sneak around, I guess, but I like a few beers now and then, and I don't see that's anybody's business but mine. It doesn't bother me on Sunday."
X-RAY OF LAST WEEK'S GAMES