The Dallas Cowboys (see cover), in only the fourth year of their life as a professional football team, should win the Eastern Division championship of the National Football League—despite the fact that in 1962, with one of the league's best offensive teams, they finished fifth.
This seemingly meager accomplishment by the high-scoring Cowboys actually is proof that one of pro football's soundest and most intelligently operated franchises is on or ahead of schedule in its quest for a league championship. In the past the Dallas weakness has been defense. Now that weakness is being corrected, not so much by reinforcement as by a process of maturing power.
The club that represented Dallas in 1962 bore little resemblance to the hastily assembled group of rejects and cast-offs the Cowboys were forced to accept from the league in 1960. Only four of the original 11 on the 1960 offensive team remain, and only two of the 1960 defensive starters. Since the Cowboys were admitted to the league after the annual draft of college seniors, they began competition without the benefit of a rookie crop. The Minnesota Vikings, a team that began operation in 1961, had the same kind of player pool the Cowboys drew from, plus the draft. The Cowboys, in effect, started playing in the NFL with a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff.
It is remarkable that the club did as well as it did in 1962. If, as seems likely, the team wins the East this year, it will be the culmination of a remarkably rapid climb to competence. Most of the credit for the rise of the Cowboys is shared, equally, by three men: Texas oil multimillionaire Clint Murchison Jr., who owns the club; General Manager Texas E. Schramm (Texas is his given name, not his nickname), who operates it; and Tom Landry, a Texas-born graduate of the University of Texas, who is the head coach. These three men make up the backbone of a smooth-running organization which rivals the New York Giants—operated by the Mara family—in closeness and efficiency.
September 8, 1963
Aside from providing the money to buy the franchise and a necessarily generous operating budget, Clint Murchison assisted in the development of the club primarily by leaving its operation in the hands of Schramm and Landry. When Cleveland Owner Art Modell fired Paul Brown, one wry guess at his motive came from another longtime owner: "Modell bought himself a $4 million toy and Paul wouldn't let him play with it." While Murchison's franchise will certainly cost him more than $4 million before it begins to earn a profit, he has shown no inclination to play with it. He makes a point of not intruding on either Schramm or Landry. He is very seldom seen in the comfortable, modern Cowboy offices, other than to sign checks. Murchison is a quiet, withdrawn man whose main hobbies are skin diving and underwater movies; he spends much more time under the sea with his camera than he does at Cowboy training camps. He is an appreciative, friendly owner, but not an obtrusive one. Murchison has in abundance the one other quality needed to fit him for pro football proprietorship: a bankroll and the ability to lose large sums of money with equanimity. Once last year, watching an exhibition game between two other pro football teams, he turned to his companion and grinned. "I'm really enjoying this game," he said. "It's the first pro game I've seen in two years where my seat didn't cost me $60,000."
When Murchison was certain that the NFL would grant him a franchise for the 1960 season, he hired Tex Schramm as general manager. At the time Schramm was working for CBS-TV on its sports television programs. He had been general manager of the Los Angeles Rams during the long-drawn-out Dan Reeves-Ed Pauley civil war. Schramm, no favorite of Pauley's, was a victim of the 1957 truce between the partners. Trained under Reeves, who is now the Ram owner, Schramm is a perspicacious, sharp pro football executive, as shrewd as Wellington Mara of the Giants in making trades and in judging coaches. During his apprenticeship with the Rams, Schramm learned to trade by making mistakes. An intense, methodical man, Schramm approaches a problem by listing the elements on a legal-size yellow scratch pad, then pondering them carefully before reaching a decision.
"We used to think if you had two players of about equal ability at a position, one a veteran and one a rookie coming up, you traded the veteran and kept the rookie," Schramm says. "I went over some of the trades the Rams made and I have decided that there is another factor, more important than youth. The longer a unit stays together, the better it gets. Especially on defense. The strength of the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts. So if you trade away one of the veteran parts and replace it with a rookie—even a great rookie—you weaken the whole."
Schramm arrived at this conclusion at about the same time he arrived in Dallas to take over the Cowboys. During the three years he had been with CBS, he also had pondered other pro football operation problems. The comprehensive, meticulous Ram scouting system, with Schramm improvements, was installed for the Cowboys. Dallas draftees are the most carefully sifted and tested prospects in football. All of them, upon reporting to the team, must take not only physical but mental and psychological tests as well. Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' capable chief scout, never takes the word of a player or a coach on the player's size; if at all possible, he measures the candidate and weighs him personally. While this may seem like nit-picking, it has confirmed something Schramm suspected: whereas publicity men used to understate the size of their players, they are now more apt, possibly with an eye to pro offers for the players, to overstate.
"We found some 260-pound tackles who weighed 225," Brandt says. "One quarterback, listed as 6 feet 2, measured 5 feet 11½. That makes a difference against the big pro defensive lines of today."
But probably the shrewdest move Schramm made as general manager of the Cowboys was his employment of Tom Landry as head coach. Landry was an outstanding back at the University of Texas and spent one season with the New York Yankees of the All-America Conference before going to the New York Giants, where he was a key member of Steve Owens' nearly impenetrable umbrella pass defense. He was an assistant coach for the Giants, in charge of defense under Jim Lee Howell, when the Cowboys came into being. He was ripe for a head coaching job. Schramm had to compete with Bud Adams, owner of the Houston Oilers, to obtain the services of Landry. Although there was newspaper speculation on which club Landry would join, there was actually never any doubt in Tom's mind.
When he and Schramm huddled to select players from the shallow pool made available by the other clubs in the league, they decided they must concentrate on picking as effective an offensive team as possible. The formula arrived at by the other owners protected the existing clubs first. Of the 36 players then on each team's roster, the first 25 were held out of the draft. Dallas was allowed to buy up to three of the remaining 11 from each team.
"We chose players for their offensive ability first," Landry said, "because we needed an exciting team. We were competing with the Dallas Texans. Playing against established NFL clubs, we knew we wouldn't win many games, but we wanted to give the customers a show, at least. We didn't have time or material to build a strong defensive club."
Landry had the nucleus of a good offense, starting with Quarterbacks Don Meredith, obtained from the Chicago Bears at considerable expense, Eddie LeBaron (from the Redskins) and Halfback Don Perkins (from the University of New Mexico). Ends Frank Clarke and Bill Howton also were part of this nucleus. Then the Cowboy scouting system came up with Amos Marsh, from Oregon State, who developed into a topflight running back. By 1962, after acquiring most of the rest of the offensive line on trades, the Cowboy attack was set.
Not so the defense. Middle Linebacker Jerry Tubbs and Corner Back Don Bishop are the only players left from the 1960 defensive team. Schramm and Landry have added youth and ability as quickly as possible via the draft and trades, but the building process is necessarily a slow one. Six of the original defenders left after the 1960 season, and six more changes were made in 1961. This year, for the first time since the club originated, the Cowboys went into spring training with roughly the same defensive unit as finished the previous season.
This may seem a rather cold consolation, considering the 1962 record, but that record is deceptive. While the Dallas offense was scoring 398 points, the Dallas defense gave up 402. Each time LeBaron or Meredith called a play for the Cowboys, it gained an average of six yards, which tied for high in the league. But each time the opposing quarterback called a play, it gained 6.3 yards. The Cowboy attack ran up the handsome total of 4,912 yards, second only to the New York Giants, but the Dallas defense leaked 5,184 yards.
How, then, is it possible to say that defense may win for Dallas? Landry can explain. "After a defensive team is set, it takes about three years working together before it reaches its peak," he says. "The first year is the year of confusion. That was 1962. During the second year, you begin to see some success as the players learn their assignments well enough to carry them out instinctively. During the third year the team gains confidence and pride and the defense is mature."
Landry is a tall, soft-spoken young man who, given a bit more hair, would be handsome enough to play the lead in a TV western serial. He drives himself and his assistant coaches during the season and the players also find him a hard taskmaster. He asks them to report to camp in condition, and he has a tough test to determine whether they have done so. When the three Cowboy players from the College All-Star team reported to the Cowboy training camp at Thousand Oaks, Calif, immediately after the All-Star Game, the first thing they were required to do was prove their fitness and endurance by running.
Timed by an assistant coach, they set off on a mile run. Sonny Gibbs, the big rookie quarterback, had to break six minutes for the mile; the two linebackers, Lee Roy Jordan and Jim Price, were asked to run under 6:30. Jordan, a lean, hard 210 pounds, finished under 6:15; Price, an unwieldy size for a miler at 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds, had to stop twice on the final lap to recuperate, finished in over seven minutes—and got stiff conditioning penalties as a result. The long-legged Gibbs won the race in a little over six minutes.
Jim Ray Smith, the all-pro guard obtained from Cleveland in an off-season trade, found he had escaped from a Paul Brown frying pan into a Tom Landry fire when he reported to the Cowboy camp. Leg-weary after three weeks of hard, two-a-day practice sessions, Smith grumbled, "There's too much waste motion in this camp. That's why we work so long." But the waste motion he referred to was exercise and agility drills designed to harden the Cowboys. Their condition is attested to by the few injuries the club has suffered.
In sharpening his team to a regular-season edge in camp, Landry overlooked no opportunities. All coaches studied movies of exhibition games. Landry had Larry Karl, the Cowboy publicity man, perched on a platform with a movie camera filming scrimmages, as well. Karl was informed by walkie-talkie where each play would be run, shot the scrimmage, and the film was rushed to Hollywood, processed and returned to camp in time for the coaches to go over it that night.
Watching a scrimmage recently, Landry was unperturbed as the Cowboy offense completed passes almost at will on the defense. "We're a step behind on those passes," he said quietly. "That's because the defense is thinking about the assignment instead of reacting instinctively. By the time the season starts, we should have picked up that step. This is the second season in this system for all but one of the starters. It should come easier."
The Cowboy defensive line was made up of Bob Lilly (a first-draft choice in 1961), John Meyers (a tackle obtained in a trade with the Rams in 1962), Guy Reese and George Andrie, both 1962 draft choices. The middle linebacker was Jerry Tubbs, one of the charter members of the defense selected in 1960. ("Tubbs has to have a good year if the defense is to be adequate," Landry said. "The middle linebacker is the key to the defense against the run. No one ran on us last year because they didn't have to. They gained 15 yards every time they completed a pass.") The right linebacker was Chuck Howley, obtained in a trade with the Bears in 1961. On the left, a battle royal was going on among Price, Jordan and Harold Hays, another good rookie. In the defensive backfield were Cornell Green, a basketball player signed as a free agent; Mike Gaechter, a free agent from Oregon who was signed because of his speed; Jerry Norton, a 10-year veteran obtained from the St. Louis Cardinals; and Bishop, the other 1960 holdover.
Watching them work, Landry said, "Right now, our defense is all on a level. No heads pop up higher than the level. There aren't any players anyone is afraid of. We haven't established an image of monsters on this club. It's too young. That comes with time. I mean, the longer you play and the better you get, the easier it is, and not just because you, personally, have improved. Other clubs are afraid of you. When you get ready for the Giants, you play away from a Jim Patton, for instance. He has earned the right to be feared."
There are several of the Cowboy defenders who may earn this right during 1963. Lilly, the 6-foot-4, 251-pound defensive end, is in his third season and has improved each year. Andrie, the other end, was learning his trade last year. At 6 feet 7 and 264 pounds, he is capable of putting on a fearsome pass rush. Tubbs, who was an uncomfortable corner linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, has gained confidence under Landry, now rates among the better middle linebackers in the league.
The secondary, which was victimized frequently last season, gives promise of developing into a strong, cohesive unit this season. Green, the converted basketball player, has always been good at covering a receiver; this year he has learned that it is permissible, even desirable, to knock people down in football. Gaechter, who began to learn how to use his speed at the close of the 1962 season, has shown considerable gain in confidence. Norton, of course, is a competent veteran, and Bishop may already have begun to inspire fright. There is strong competition for each position; only Bishop seems assured of a starting post.
"We can upgrade the quality," Landry said. "We still lack depth. But what we're trying to do now is instill confidence and pride. I think by the time the season begins we'll have an adequate NFL defense."
In view of the potency of the Cowboy attack, an adequate defense should be all the team needs. If they can achieve even mediocrity on defense—and they should achieve more—the Cowboys will win the first of their Eastern championships. After the Cowboys, in order, should come the New York Giants, a team which won last year on an explosive offense backed by an aging but better than adequate defense; Pittsburgh; St. Louis; Philadelphia; Cleveland; and the Washington Redskins, who last year had the only defense in football less effective than the Cowboys.
NEW YORK GIANTS
A bald, 36-year-old gentleman who looks like the insurance executive he is during the off season and who goes by the name of Y. A. Tittle (above) remains the Giants' No. 1 quarterback. One of their running backs, upon occasion, will be Hugh McElhenny, 34, who began his career in 1952 with the 49ers. When both Tittle and McElhenny are in the game, the New York Giants doubtless will have the pros' oldest active backfield. It will also be one of the best. The Giants are seeking their third straight conference championship with almost the same team that won in 1961 and 1962, and they will hear the same lugubrious predictions that age has finally withered their skills. Yet there was no sign at the end of last year that this was so, and there is no sound reason to believe that it is now. Allie Sherman, who is not much older than some of his players, has made two major changes in the club: Rosey Grier, the big tackle who was a member of the Giants' sticky defensive line for seven seasons, was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for John LoVetere, as big but younger; Ray Wietecha, the All-Pro offensive center, has gone to the Rams as a coach and will be replaced by Greg Larson, moving over from tackle and guard. A second-year man, Bookie Bolin, takes Larson's place. Sherman has intact the sound defense and spectacular aerial attack to win again, but he needs more running backs and a quarterback to spell Tittle. These lacks, and not age, will be the difference between the Giants and Dallas.
If Ed Brown (above) can come close to his 1956 efficiency as a quarterback and Myron Pottios has recovered completely from a broken arm, Coach Buddy Parker's perennial optimism may be justified this season. Brown, who led the Chicago Bears to a division championship in 1956, has been less than good enough since then; Pottios, before his injury, was ranked as one of the best middle linebackers around. Big Daddy Lipscomb's shocking death left a hole in the Pitt defensive line, but Parker has one competent candidate to fill in—ex-49er Lou Cordileone. The Steeler defensive unit, good last year, should be better in 1963 after two full seasons of play together. And the linebackers, ridden with injuries last year, are potentially excellent. If Brown can hit the fine Steeler receivers, Buddy Dial and John Henry Johnson, consistently, and if Johnson can squeeze another good season out of his aging legs, the Steeler offense should match a defense that is experienced but not old. In 1962 the blocking of the Steeler offensive line improved steadily as the season wore on and at the year's end it was among the best both for pass protection and blocking. This is a club that has been heir to misfortune ever since it entered the league; should Parker change its luck, it could beat anyone and everyone. All really depends on Brown and, if not him, on Terry Nofsinger, his substitute who was untested last year, or on first-year Bill Nelsen, a good but unheralded quarterback from USC.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
The Cardinal offense, a good one in 1962, was marred by one major fault: it managed to give away the ball almost every time it reached scoring range. Charley Johnson (below), still learning his trade as a quarterback, threw 20 interceptions; John David Crow, who conquered his role as a halfback long ago, fumbled 14 times, and the other Cardinal running backs demonstrated almost equal facility at mishandling a football. Johnson's difficulties were twofold: he had to unload quickly because of lack of protection and he was not experienced enough to find late-opening pass catchers. He has as good a set of receivers as there is to throw to: Sonny Randle caught 63 passes and Bobby Joe Conrad 62 last year. Taz Anderson, an excellent tight end, caught 35, and Crow, catching 23, found a thrown ball easier to control than a ball that was handed to him. Although Coach Wally Lemm is known for his defensive talents, he had troubles in that department, too. A soft spot in his secondary allowed opposing teams too many easy completions, and the line often leaked badly, especially after Middle Linebacker Dale Meinert went out with a knee injury in midseason. John Symank, obtained from Green Bay, and rookie Jerry Stovall may plug the holes in the deep defense, and a shuffling of the line, with the addition of rookie Don Brumm at end, may give the Cardinals a stronger rush against the passer. Still there are too many ifs standing in the way of a high finish for St. Louis.
From a championship in 1960, the Eagles plummeted to last place in 1962. The retirement of Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was partly at fault, but the shoulder injury that came close to ending the career of Sonny Jurgensen, Van Brocklin's replacement, was the crusher. Far off the brilliant form he had shown in his first full season, Jurgensen was not helped in the least last year by a team that was almost as chewed up as he was. Furthermore, there were serious problems in the defensive line, where there were only two players worthy of the name. This year Philadelphia traded for two experienced linemen—Frank Fuller, a tackle from the St. Louis Cardinals, and End Bill Quinlan from the Green Bay Packers, who is a strong, consistent player against a running attack. The Eagles' ground defense needs them both. The return to health of Back Ted Dean and Tight End Pete Retzlaff, plus rookie receiver Ron Goodwin, is offset by a lack of strong offensive linemen; with blockers the Eagle attack could be as good as any in the East. To complement the running, the Eagles still have Tommy McDonald (below) to catch passes. His lot will be made easier by the return of Retzlaff. A glaring Philadelphia weakness is the team's linebacking. Chuck Bednarik has retired, John Nocera, with bad knees, has been released on waivers, and Bob Harrison is only adequate. The secondary is old but wise and still able. The Eagles, if they can get better defensive play, should move way up—but not all the way.
Few NFL teams have started a season with as many unanswered questions as Cleveland. In order of importance: How effectively can mild Blanton Collier replace Paul Brown as head coach? Is Frank Ryan (above) ready to assume control at quarterback? Can Collier rebuild the offensive line and find a running back to pair with Jim Brown? How much will the loss of Floyd Peters (regular defensive tackle) and Don Fleming (regular defensive back) damage the Cleveland defense? Collier runs a training camp that is notably relaxed compared to Brown's. The thin-skinned players who rebelled before at strict discipline seem happier. The biggest change, however, is in Collier's offensive philosophy. He will allow the quarterbacks to call their own plays. Since Collier learned most of his football from Paul Brown, the overall system is virtually unchanged. Ryan, who took over from Jim Ninowski in midseason last year and performed well, may be the solution of the quarterback problem, although, after six years of pro ball, he still lacks game experience. The loss of two fine blockers (Jim Ray Smith and Mike McCormack) from the offensive line could affect both Ryan's passing and Brown's running. Cleveland has an adequate defensive line, good linebackers and good defensive backs, but this will be a trying season for Collier in his first head-coaching job with the pros. And it will be trying, too, for Art Modell, the young Cleveland owner who decided to discharge Paul Brown.
By the end of last year the Redskin offensive line blocked beautifully. But there were no breakaway backs to take advantage of the blocking. No opponent ran with ease against the Washington defense. Opposing teams passed though, and they scored often, especially with long tosses which seemed to confuse the Redskins' scrambled secondary. Too, by midseason the defenses in the league discovered that if they put two men on Bobby Mitchell, sophomore Norman Snead had trouble locating anyone else to throw to. Coach Bill McPeak (above) has taken definite steps to remedy both faults this year. Johnny Sample, an old hand on defense, may help shut off the home run pass. He comes from the Pittsburgh Steelers and lends speed and savvy to the deep secondary. Snead, who has finished two years of intensive apprenticeship as a quarterback, was learning to find the second and third receivers by the end of last season and should remember how this year. The Redskins still need a good breakaway runner to complement a passing game that will be strengthened by the addition of big Pat Richter, the Wisconsin end and Rose Bowl star who is a strong blocker and punter as well as a sure-handed receiver. Another good rookie is Corner Back Lon Sanders, who, with Sample, beefs up the Redskin pass defense. This can be important for the Redskins, who gave rival throwers too much time in 1962. Washington will be interesting but it will not win often enough to earn a title. This is about two years away.