In the biggest Sunday of the pro football season so far, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants proved conclusively their right to first place in their respective divisions. Curiously, their games with the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles were decided quickly; both the Packers and the Giants took charge in the first halves with highly spectacular offensives.
In Chicago, Wrigley Field was packed. The tickets had been sold long before gametime, and ushers with megaphones stood outside announcing that no tickets were available. Inside, there was the usual Bear crowd, noisy, obstreperous, but also informed. A victory in this game would tie the Bears with the Packers in the league standings. When Billy Wade hit Mike Ditka early in the game with a beautifully thrown 47-yard touchdown pass, it seemed likely that the Bears would, indeed, do just that.
But Green Bay is precisely the kind of team that can beat the Bears. The Packers' strong offensive line, blocking effectively against the jitterbugging Bear defense, immediately began opening holes for Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung, and within minutes the Packers had tied the score. Although Hornung and Taylor were making the five-and six-yard gains that controlled the ball, the unemotional direction of Quarterback Bart Starr was the decisive factor.
In the first game between these two teams this season—in Green Bay—Starr had taken a beating. Early in that game the Bears' powerful middle linebacker, Bill George, dropped Starr with a high tackle, bloodying his mouth. While the Packer quarterback lay on the ground, George smiled down at him and said, "You'll get a lot of that today, Bart. On every play." Starr, who ordinarily does not use profanity, called George a number of predictable things. Then he spit out the blood, trotted back to the Green Bay huddle and led the Packers to a 24-0 victory.
Same cast, new setting
Sunday, Starr again faced George across the line. The defense set up by Clark Shaughnessy, the Bear defensive coach, had the middle guard playing head on the center a good deal of the time, in position to drive in on the quarterback. Starr took advantage of the situation. He called traps and wedges up the middle all during the first half, using George's own strength to defeat him.
The first Packer touchdown came after Starr had fired Taylor into the line, underlining the threat of the Green Bay running game in order to discourage George, or the other Bear linebackers, from rushing the passer. On the next play Starr again sent Taylor straight in, but this time he kept the ball himself. He found Ron Kramer, the massive Green Bay end, far downfield with a pass that wobbled in the air but dropped precisely into Kramer's hands for a 53-yard touchdown.
In the second quarter, Starr established almost complete domination over the Bears. Using the very powerful running of Paul Hornung (playing his last game with the Packers before entering military service) and throwing once in a while to keep the Bear defense from ganging up in the middle, he got three touchdowns for Green Bay. During this quarter the Packers played virtually perfect football; they discovered a soft spot in the Bear secondary, and twice Starr passed into it for Packer touchdowns. Shaughnessy finally made a substitution in his deep backs but, unfortunately for the Bears, it was already too late, although the Packers were to suffer some anxious moments later on.
A sudden letdown
"I was this high off the ground when I went into the dressing room at the half," said Dan Currie, the Green Bay corner linebacker. He held his hand high over his head. "Then I sat down and, for some reason or other, I went flat. I guess everybody went flat. I don't know why. It's one of those things that happen to a ball club. We were pretty fired up for this game. Up until last week, we were riding pretty high. Guys would come up to you on the street and slap you on the back and say, 'Great game, fellow,' things like that. I guess we got pretty self-satisfied. Then the Colts whipped us."
The atmosphere in Green Bay after the Colt loss was not nearly so friendly.
"I guess we needed that," Currie said. "It got us keyed up again. That's what carried over into the first half today against the Bears."
The game changed completely after the half. The Bears, who had been disorganized and inept in the first half, began to gather momentum, and the key to the Bear revival was the big rookie end from Pittsburgh, Ditka. Ditka was the Bears' first draft choice this year; seldom has a club chosen more wisely.
He is 6 feet 3 inches tall, and he weighs 230 pounds. He played a spread most of the afternoon, separated from the tackle by some five or six yards. This put him far enough out to prevent a linebacker from playing him head on and holding him up at the line of scrimmage. When he got into the secondary, he moved like a halfback. He caught nine passes for 190 yards, and he scored three touchdowns.
"They didn't do anything different in the second half," one of the Packer assistant coaches said. "They just began holding onto the ball."
Even so, it was a 51-yard field goal by Paul Hornung that started the scoring in the second half. The field goal—and the general excellence of Hornung's play all day—makes it clear that his loss will be a severe blow to the Packers in the final five games of the year. Hornung's replacement—Tom Moore—played well, but Hornung does many things for this team that Moore cannot do.
Wade, who had had considerable difficulty moving the Bears during the first half, moved them easily in the second. On the drive following Hornung's field goal, he ran once, catching the Packer defense out of position and gaining 14 yards. Then, almost casually, he passed 15 yards to Ditka for a touchdown. This was on a pass pattern that the Eagles had denied Ditka the week before. The big end went straight downfield, then cut sharply to his left, and the ball found him on the goal line with no one near.
The Bear defenses, which had been solved easily enough by Starr in the first half, had been adjusted slightly during the intermission. No longer did Hornung and Taylor find running room inside the tackles and, time and again, Bear linebackers or ends broke through to harry Starr. The Packers, unable to generate any kind of drive, gave up the ball to the Bears as the fourth period started.
Strange but effective
Wade had a simple offensive philosophy now. When he needed yardage to keep the drive going, he threw to Ditka. In the drive that opened the fourth quarter, he moved his team with a deliberation that seemed strange, considering that the Bears trailed the Packers 31-14, but the method was effective. He took nine plays and more than four minutes to get a touchdown, again passing to Ditka on that deep pattern up the middle, this time for 29 yards.
The Packers tried futilely to move the ball but, stopped by the Bears' suddenly complex defense patterns, were forced to punt again. The Bears, still moving with dreamlike slowness, came down-field. Now Wade mixed up his patterns, using Ditka for a decoy and throwing to another rookie, End John Farrington, and to his flanker back, Johnny Morris. With fourth down and nine on the Green Bay 35-yard line, the Packer defenders doubled up on Ditka. Wade hit Farrington for the first down.
"I thought that was the biggest play of the year," Packer Coach Vince Lombardi said later. "I figured we'd blown the game when they got that. I didn't think we'd be able to hold them." This time Wade got the touchdown by faking the pass and handing off to Rick Casares, who drove nine yards.
The Bears, trailing 31-28, had one more chance to win the game. They got the ball for the last time on their own 36-yard line with something over a minute to play.
A private conversation
"When I went out on the field for their last series, I said 'No, no' to myself," Currie said after the game. "I didn't see how we could lose the game after being ahead so far."
Wade had no time in that last, small flurry. The Packer line harassed him, and he completed only one pass, a throw behind the line of scrimmage to a flanker back who was dropped immediately by Currie for a six-yard loss.
The victory put Green Bay a game and a half ahead in the Western Division, a cushion the club sorely needs, for in the next five weeks the Packers will face the toughest part of their schedule. They meet Los Angeles in Green Bay this Sunday and must play the Detroit Lions, who now appear to be their strongest adversaries, four days later on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit. After that come the New York Giants in Milwaukee and the San Francisco 49ers and the shotgun in California.
Their game-and-a-half lead could melt away very quickly. This would be so even if the Packers were not losing three of their best players to service. Boyd Dowler, their very capable offensive end, goes next week. Ray Nitschke, the strong middle linebacker, who has been on active duty for two weeks, flew in for Sunday's game but cannot be counted on later. And then there is Hornung. Hornung's field goal was, finally, the difference between the Packers and the Bears. For the rest of the season, there will be no Hornung to kick 51-yard field goals.
Although their victory over Philadelphia raised them only to a tie for the Eastern Division lead, the Giants appear a stronger choice for champions of their division than the Packers are in the West. This is a Giant team that has developed slowly as Allie Sherman assimilated new personnel (see page 34) into both the offensive and defensive units. With successive big-score victories over Washington and Philadelphia, the Giants seem to have hit their stride.
And the Eagles, who might have been able to repeat as champions, must play the strongest part of their schedule without the one irreplaceable man in their secondary defense—Tom Brookshier.
The Giant-Packer game in Milwaukee might easily be a preview of the championship game.
In New York the year's oddest play begins as rote reaches for touchdown pass and ball gets away, setting off a bizarre sequence. Play, which occurred on the Giants' first series of downs against the Philadelphia Eagles in New York, began when Quarterback Y.A. Tittle threw to Rote near goal line. Defensive Halfback Jimmy Carr batted the ball over the hands of the leaping Rote and into the arms of Eagle teammate Don Burroughs (45). Rote hit Burroughs, the ball squirted into the air and was grabbed by the Giants' Del Shofner (85), who then spun five yards into the end zone for game's first score. The Giants made two more touchdowns and a field goal in the first half to begin a 38-21 rout of the Eagles that left the teams tied for first place in NFL's Eastern Division.