Pro football fans generally agree that if a contending team loses its No. 1 quarterback, the rest of the players might as well quit with him.
But this season the Green Bay Packers have twice disproved the axiom—last week when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the week before when they beat the Baltimore Colts. Both wins came without the help of injured Quarterback Bart Starr. On top of that, Halfback Tom Moore missed the Colt game, and End Ron Kramer left the same game in the second quarter and didn't play at all against the Steelers. Any ordinary team losing three key players would have collapsed in an untidy heap, but the Packers simply called on their bench—the strongest and deepest in the league.
John Roach, a tall, gangling quarterback from Southern Methodist University who has watched Starr from the bench for two years, led the club against the Colts with extraordinary poise. He completed nine of 20 passes and could have had at least three more completions if Packer receivers had not dropped well-thrown balls. Replacing Moore was Elijah Pitts, a third-string halfback last year when Hornung was on the team. All Pitts did was gain some 87 yards rushing and win the game for Green Bay in the fourth period with a darting 34-yard touchdown run that broke a 20-20 tie.
Marv Fleming, a 6-foot-4-inch 225-pound rookie end from Utah took over for Kramer, blocked violently and caught three key passes. Roach, Pitts and Fleming could all be starters on some other clubs in the league. But despite their heroics, the benchmen will return to the sidelines once the first-line players regain their health.
"I don't believe in substitutions," says Packer Coach Vince Lombardi. "I believe in selecting my 22 best football players and leaving them in until they drop. You have to have your best going for you all the time. If a first-string player is bumped hard and loses some efficiency, then I'll replace him at once. But as soon as he has recovered, I want him back in the game."
Lombardi was watching the Packers warming up at Milwaukee's County Stadium on the Saturday before the Pittsburgh game last week. Lew Carpenter, a big, graceful man, lined up at tight end as the team whipped briskly through the drill. He ran a precise pattern and caught a pass from Roach. Carpenter epitomizes the Packer bench strength. Although he has never been a starter, he can play as a running back, a flanker back and a tight end. He impersonates the opponent's quarterback when the Packers are working on their defense during practice and does pretty well. He is on the kickoff, kick-off return and punting teams as well.
Someone asked him last week if he would rather play first string in the back-field of another team, which he could very well do. Carpenter shook his head.
"I like it right where I am," he said. "I like being able to do a lot of things. If the man asks me to do something else, I'll do that, too. Some guys, you ask them to learn something new, their first reaction is 'Oh Lord, I'm gonna foul up for sure.' It never occurs to me that I'm going to foul up."
Roach, like Carpenter, has no delusions of grandeur. He has not been restless sitting on the bench, although he was glad to get the chance to start. After his successful debut against the Colts he was asked if he had any aspiration to take over from Starr.
"Look," Roach said, "this club has paid me championship money two years in a row for sitting on the bench. I'm just glad I finally had a chance to do something for the club. I just want the team to win."
Of course, Roach, Fleming, Pitts and Carpenter take up only four seats on the Packer bench. Behind every Packer starter is an exceptionally capable replacement; juggling by Lombardi makes it possible for him to replace almost any player without loss of efficiency.
Backing Jim Taylor at fullback is massive Earl Gros from LSU, now in his second year with the team. Gros is bigger than Taylor—230 pounds to 215—and as fast, but he does not hit with Taylor's authority and, of course, lacks Taylor's experience.
Fleming, who replaced Ron Kramer at tight end, can also play the spread end or flanker back behind Max McGee or Boyd Dowler, and behind Fleming is Bob Jeter, who is probably the fastest of all Packer receivers, but has yet to learn the knack of turning and coming back to catch a pass.
The Packers are as well stocked on defense, too. The only starting rookie is Lionel Aldridge, who plays end, teaming with Veteran Willie Davis to give the Packers two of the quickest ends in the league and two of the most adept at sifting in to punish the opposing quarterback. Should Davis go out, Ron Kostelnik, a 260-pounder in his third year with the Packers, would fill in. Kostelnik has been groomed to move into the defensive line at tackle but, with veterans like Henry Jordan and Dave Hanner having good years, he must help stock the bench. Urban Henry, a 265-pound veteran obtained from the Rams, spells Jordan. If Aldridge were injured, Jordan would move out to defensive end, and Henry would play Jordan's tackle.
The Packers' three linebackers would seem irreplaceable, but even here Lombardi has an ace in the hole in his first draft choice this year—Dave Robinson. Robinson is 6 feet 3, weighs 240 and has exceptional speed. "He probably has more range than Currie, Nitschke or Forester," Lombardi says. "But he's not good enough to replace any of them."
Lombardi got insurance for his secondary when he obtained Jerry Norton from the Dallas Cowboys. Norton, who punts for the Packers, is also an experienced safety man who could move into the Packer defensive unit without creating a significant weakness.
On the door to the equipment room in the luxurious Green Bay dressing room (wall-to-wall carpeting) is thumb-tacked a Green Bay jersey with a large No. 5 on the front. Over it is the name-plate from Paul Hornung's locker.
But even if Hornung's suspension is lifted by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle next season, the golden boy may have difficulty regaining the jersey and the locker. Competition is that fierce.