STRAIGHT PATH TO THE PRO TITLE
Vincent Lombardi is a short, wide and notably direct man who professes a dislike for subtleties and a contempt for systems. He was once a block of granite on a very direct Fordham football team and if there have been many changes in his straight-ahead philosophy of football, they weren't much in evidence last week in the championship game between his Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants in Green Bay, Wis. For the third time this season the Packers beat the Giants, this time by 37-0, and they won the title game for the same reason they had won twice before: they blocked and tackled better.
After the game Coach Lombardi, who is as sentimental as he is unsubtle, told his men, "Today you were the best team in the history of the National Football League." Later, relating to a reporter what he had said, his naturally hoarse voice grew noticeably hoarser and he said, "I really believe that."
He may be right. Against a very good New York Giant football team, the Packers were devastating. In their two previous games, the Packer offensive line—easily the best in football—demonstrated a clear-cut edge over the Giant defensive line, which is at least as good as any other defensive line in the league. But on this arctic afternoon in the neatly swept Green Bay stadium, the Packer defensive line showed just as definite an edge over the Giant offensive linemen.
There was, of course, some subtlety involved in the Packer victory, as there is in the outcome of every professional football game. Allie Sherman, the capable young coach of the New York Giants, is a subtle man and he made some changes in the Giant defense, which had leaked woefully against the powerful Green Bay running attack in the first league game between the two teams in Milwaukee. Sherman installed an odd, five-man line early in the game. It worked briefly, until Bart Starr, who is a resourceful and imaginative quarterback, sent Paul Hornung racing easily through the strong side of the Packer line behind the blocking of Ron Kramer, Jim Ringo, Bob Skoronski and Forrest Gregg. The Giants went back to their normal defenses but the change had little effect on the Packers, who simply knocked down anyone in sight.
Under the Lombardi system of force, adjustments to defensive maneuvers are made by Ringo and the offensive tackles, who call their own blocking signals after Starr has given the over-all play. They produce small subtleties of their own this way. Sam Huff, a good, if no longer great, middle linebacker, was surprised several times when Kramer, a massive and agile offensive end, came across to hit Huff after Ringo had brushed him with a soft block as the play developed. This prevented Huff from swinging wide against the Green Bay off-tackle plays to the strong side. From the observable violence of the blocks by Kramer, it must also have bruised him painfully.
Kramer contributed much more to the Green Bay attack than his usual strong blocking. Running his patterns with the balanced nimbleness of a performing elephant (he is 6 feet 3 and weighs over 240 pounds) Kramer broke loose for two touchdown passes from Starr and caught two more passes, one of which set up a Packer field goal. The two touchdowns were beautiful examples of what might be called the forceful subtlety of this Green Bay team.
The pass Starr used is called, in the jargon of pro football, a flood right. It is designed to pull the middle linebacker to his left to help in handling a flood of receivers to that side. Kramer, playing the tight end close to the tackle on the right side, blocked hard on the corner linebacker in front of him, creating the impression that he could not possibly be a pass receiver. The natural reaction of Corner Linebackers Cliff Livingston and Tom Scott was to fight off the block and release Kramer, who might have been held up had either of them suspected that he was a potential pass catcher. The flow of receivers to the right forced Huff, who had been deceived by Kramer's block into reading run to the right, out of the middle of the Giant defense. The first time the Packers tried the play, Kramer broke into the open space over the middle, caught Starr's pass and bulled over the Giant safety men into the end zone for the touchdown.
On his second touchdown, Kramer faked the same pattern over the center, then broke back to the outside. Joe Morrison covered him well, but the giant Kramer, moving with his peculiar large grace, made a lovely fake in the end zone to dislodge Morrison, then caught a long, high pass from Starr as he delicately tiptoed along the sideline, making sure he stayed in bounds.
But as well as Ron Kramer and Boyd Dowler and the other Packers played last Sunday, it was Paul Hornung who lifted the team. Hornung, who has been commuting between Fort Riley, Kansas and Green Bay since he was called to service some seven weeks ago, got to spend a full week with the team before this game. He picked up speed and, more important, he picked up the coordination he had lost in the previous seven weeks.
In the championship game he ran with certainty and he filled a gap in the Packer attack left by an injury to Jim Taylor, the brutally strong fullback. Taylor, suffering from a bad back injury, ran well enough but with something less than the reckless abandon he had shown during his healthier afternoon in Milwaukee when he chewed 186 yards out of the Giant line. One wonders what a well Taylor would have added to the Packer offense Sunday.
An inspiring leader
Hornung is a stubborn, inventive runner. He throws well on the running pass the Packers like to use, he is a sure-handed pass catcher, he may be the most effective blocking back in the league, and he is an accurate long-distance field goal kicker (he kicked three in this game). But more than any of these indisputable gifts that made him the NFL's most valuable player this year, Hornung has the quality of inspiring a team by his very presence. It is no exaggeration to say that Green Bay plays appreciably better with Hornung in the lineup, no matter what his condition. The Packers play much more than appreciably better with Hornung at his peak, as he was against the Giants.
While the Packers' methodical, sure offense came as no surprise, the strong showing of their defensive line, which gave up only 31 yards rushing, was something of a revelation. As a unit, it hadn't played better all year. The four men in the front of the Packer defense didn't stunt much. They almost never have to. Bill Quinlan at one end was a deadly tackier against running plays; Willie Davis, at the other, was virtually unstoppable in putting pressure on the Giant quarterbacks. Early in the game, rookie Tackle Greg Larson tried to impede the quick, slithering Davis and was run over; later Mickey Walker was given the assignment, with no more success. Finally Sherman moved veteran Jack Stroud over to Davis' side and even he could not contain him.
"We have had it in our hearts to prove ourselves ever since the championship game last year," Davis said after the game. "We all knew there shouldn't have been any way for the Eagles to beat us last year and we watched them in the College All-Star Game and knew we should have been playing in that game."
Complementing Davis' powerful rush was Henry Jordan, a balding young tackle who is light for a defensive man but compensates for that with his quickness. On the first play of the game he showed the Giants what they could expect. When Y. A. Tittle sent Joel Wells on an abortive excursion outside the Green Bay left tackle, Jordan sliced across the line of scrimmage, hit Wells before he could gain momentum and stopped him for a one-yard gain.
With Jordan and Davis putting pressure on Tittle and Conerly and with Dave Hanner and Quinlan almost immovable against running plays, the secondary Packer defense—Linebackers Dan Currie, Bill Forrester and either Tom Bettis or Ray Nitschke and the four deep backs—was free to cover the Giant receivers. Tittle and Conerly, harried unmercifully, could not pinpoint their passes, much less spend time looking for secondary receivers when their primary targets were covered.
Again, as in the Milwaukee game, the Giants' deep pass-receiving threat, Del Shofner, was nullified by Packer corner back Jesse Whittenton. Whittenton and Shofner were roommates when both of them played for the Rams and Shofner is one of the best ends in pro football. But never in his career has he been able to operate successfully against Whittenton. The night before the game, Shofner and Whittenton had dinner together, along with Currie and Hornung and other friends. During the course of the meal Shofner said, "Jess, I'm going to do everything you do and go everywhere you go tonight and have fun and then tomorrow I'm going to run your legs off."
Shofner did, indeed, make Jesse run the next day, but he never broke away from him. In the second half the Packers played Shofner loosely because the Giants, all too aware of Whittenton's close coverage, had not thrown to Shofner in the first half. Shofner caught two passes and then Tittle tried to hit him deep. Whittenton, matching Shofner step for step, intercepted the ball over his shoulder. Shofner hit him from behind and pushed him some 15 yards toward the Packer goal line.
"Let go, damn it," Whittenton yelled at Shofner. "I'm not going to run. The whistle blew."
On Sunday, Whittenton was about the only Packer who wasn't going to run on the Giants. The Giants were heavily beaten by a team which, if not the best in NFL history, at least is one of the soundest—and least subtle.
—VINCE LOMBARDI, GREEN BAY COACH