Charlie Conerly (aged 38) moved restlessly in the cold wind at Yankee Stadium, staring up at the stands while an announcer listed, complete with commercials, the gifts the Giant quarterback had coming to him. Conerly looked up at the fans who a few years ago had hung signs saying, "Conerly must go!" His lined, tough face was expressionless, and when they finally turned over the microphone to him at the end of the ceremonies marking Charlie Conerly Day, he said simply, "Ah've had mah ups and downs heah with the Giants an' I want to thank you all foh stickin' by me. Thank you."
He posed impatiently for a moment by a Corvette, which was one of his gifts, then tossed off his sideline cape and began warming up for the game with the Washington Redskins. The Giants took the kickoff, and for the first minutes the old pro seemed a bit nervous and excited. His passes were thrown too hard and too high, reflecting a tension he had not shown during the rituals; then Conerly settled down. He played the first half of the game, picking the Washington defense apart coldly and precisely, throwing three touchdown passes and leading the Giants to a 45-14 victory which ensured them at least a tie for the Eastern Conference championship. Against the injury-flawed Washington defense, he changed his call at the line of scrimmage time and again to take advantage of weaknesses created as the Redskins tried to compensate for lack of personnel by overloading the defense at the expected point of impact. Twice he threw touchdowns to Bob Schnelker, a towering end, when Schnelker was covered by Richie McCabe, a small (6 foot) defensive halfback. Beautifully protected by the Giant line, he had time to pass, and, when the Redskins dropped off troops from the front line to blanket receivers, he had fine runners to call on in Frank Gifford, Mel Triplett and Alex Webster. It was a satisfying victory.
Frank Gifford, who carried the ball 16 times and gained 159 yards against the Redskins, reflects the attitude of the Giant team toward Conerly. "He means a lot for me," Gifford said. "He's a pro. When he quits, maybe I'll quit, too."
Aside from the innumerable calls from well-wishers and fans, the week before the Redskin game was much the same as the 140-odd other weeks Conerly has spent preparing for Giant games. He has, for 12 years, been the Giant quarterback, and the pressure of knowing that the team depends upon him more than upon any other one player for victory does not bother him. "It's a little different," he said before this game, "knowing everybody expects me to do well. I'm excited, with the banquet after the game and all. But I'll be all right when the whistle blows." He was.
The Giant victory was made doubly significant by the heroics of another quarterback in Cleveland. John Brodie (aged 24), who has been with the San Francisco 49ers for three years, took over as quarterback for the team in a bitterly played game with the Cleveland Browns which meant the difference between a possible division championship and ignominious collapse. When the 49ers were crushed by the Baltimore Colts last week, not the smallest blow to their hopes for their first Western Conference title was the serious injury to their own old pro quarterback, Y. A. Tittle. The injury meant that the 49ers, facing one of the league's toughest defensive teams at the end of a disastrous road trip, had to depend upon the relatively untried Brodie at quarterback. The least dismayed member of the team was Brodie.
"I'm not worried," he said a couple of days before the game. "I've got too much to think about to worry. That's one of the secrets of this game—you must keep thinking. You have to think athletically. I mean you have to occupy your mind with the ways you can beat a team. You have to feel confidence in what you are going to do. Then, if you're thinking that way, you don't have time to worry about them beating you."
Brodie is a handsome youngster. He is an excellent golfer who will play on the pro winter circuit. Unlike Conerly, whose week was fairly routine, Brodie found his pregame preparation considerably longer in work hours because of his starting assignment.
"I sat in with the coaches while they looked at the movies of the Colt game," he said. "And I sat in with them while we made up the ready list." The ready list is a selection of plays designed especially for the team to be played that week. "It takes up lots of time—maybe 20 or 30 hours of the four days you spend preparing for a game. But that's when you do the thinking."
Brodie and Tittle each started three of the San Francisco exhibition games this year, but when the league season began Head Coach Red Hickey picked Tittle as his quarterback.
"I'm not worried about Brodie," Hickey said before the Cleveland game. "He looks on this as an opportunity. I'm sure he thinks he should have been my quarterback all the time."
Although Brodie would not say so it is likely that he did. He is a very self-possessed young man, careful in what he says. "By nature, he's a volatile guy who might really like to pop off now and then," a friend of his said. "But he's also got self-control. He never says anything that he hasn't considered before he says it. He's never critical of his teammates and never brags on himself."
The technical difficulties of moving in as sole surviving quarterback offered no problem to Brodie.
"The only thing I've got to get used to is game pressure," he said. "If you haven't been working with the first string on offense, you have trouble making handoffs and hitting receivers on pass patterns, but Coach Hickey worked Tittle and me so that we got equal opportunity to practice with the No. 1 unit. The first and second backfields run alternate plays in practice, but the quarterbacks run a play with each backfield so that both of us work with all the backs. That way you get used to the little differences in technique and speed, and the handoffs get to be second nature. Like taking the snapback from center. During the training season Tittle and I work for 15 minutes a day with the centers. Doesn't sound like a very complicated thing, but you have to be used to the way they hand you the ball."
Brodie's only protracted exposure to game pressure this year came against the Chicago Bears when the 49ers opened their eastern tour with a 14-3 loss.
"You have to be in there to get yourself in the habit of waiting," he said. "That's something only game experience can do for you. You have to be under pressure enough so that you learn to ignore it. A couple of the passes I threw against the Bears I threw too soon. I knew it when I let go of the ball, but I hadn't played enough to force myself to wait until the last second. I think with that game under my belt, I'll do better against Cleveland."
Against Cleveland, on an icy-cold, windy afternoon, Brodie passed for two touchdowns in San Francisco's surprising 21-20 victory. On one, to J. D. Smith, the big 49er halfback, he rolled out to his right. His first target was covered. Despite driving pressure from Cleveland Linebacker Galen Fiss, he waited. When Smith, a safety-valve, last-resort receiver, broke loose, Brodie calmly threw the ball through the gusty wind into Smith's hands for a 21-yard touchdown. His other touchdown pass, to End Billy Wilson, was thrown under the same kind of rush from the Cleveland line and again the ball traveled 21 yards for the touchdown. This pass had to be precisely on target because Wilson, streaking across the field on the Cleveland goal line, was tenaciously covered by Warren Lahr. The third San Francisco touchdown came on a 12-yard run by Hugh McElhenny, and all three of them were made during a six-minute span of the second quarter. In the second half Brodie's sure touch became a bit uncertain, and the game was saved by the very good San Francisco defense.
"I'm not satisfied with myself," Brodie said after the game. He had soaked under a hot shower for 30 minutes, erasing the chill of the afternoon. "I wasn't nervous or anything, but I didn't feel at home. Maybe I'm still a little rusty. I had receivers just as wide-open in the second half and I couldn't connect. If we had lost I would have felt like a bum."
The 49er victory practically eliminated Cleveland from the race in the Eastern Conference. "We're snake-bit," Coach Paul Brown said sadly after the club's second straight 21-20 loss, and his explanation is as good as any for the sudden decline of the Browns. Two Sundays ago Lou Groza unbelievably missed an extra point and Ray Renfro dropped a touchdown pass in the clear. Against the 49ers, one of Cleveland's two lost fumbles and one of Plum's six intercepted passes of the year each led to 49er scores. The Giants now lead by two games, with two to play, one of them against Cleveland next Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles, after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-0, are still tied with Cleveland in second. The Steelers, finishing as strongly as they did in 1958, have, in the last three weeks, defeated New York, Cleveland and Philadelphia, the three Eastern Conference leaders, and proved to their own satisfaction that they are the strongest team in the division. However, the inexorable logic of mathematics makes it impossible for them to catch the Giants.
San Francisco's victory leaves it tied with the Baltimore Colts, 35-21 victors over Los Angeles, and probably makes the Colt-49er game in San Francisco Saturday the decisive game in the battle for the Western Conference championship. It is, of course, conceivable that the Chicago Bears, one game behind the leaders, could tie for the title, but it is very unlikely. The Bears entertain the thorny Steelers Sunday.
The 49ers return home to a city which had resigned itself to a second straight "dying swan" finish by one of its sports teams. Said a sad San Francisco writer, before the Cleveland victory, "Our baseball and football heroes are tigers, until they tangle with tigers." He remembered the horrific collapse of the baseball Giants this year and the second-half fainting spell which cost the 49ers a division championship in a playoff with the Detroit Lions in 1957. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S San Francisco correspondent, Robert Boyle, reports that even the beatniks who, oddly enough, are 49er fans, had given up. Pierre Delattre, the far-out pastor of the Bread and Wine Mission, opined that the 49er collapse in the East was due to a loss of "illumination." The beats consider the 49ers' famous "Alley-Oop" pass from Tittle to R. C. Owens a sort of mystical experience, with the ball being "the center of a focus of unity" between passer and receiver. The re-illumined 49ers have kindled hope again in the breasts of the beat and the square. At least until next Saturday night.
X-RAY OF LAST WEEK'S GAMES