Now it becomes clear. One of the big reasons why the College All-Stars have trouble with the professional football champions every summer in Chicago is that they are so awed by the reputations of the pros it takes them half the game to realize that Ray Nitschke, or somebody, isn't going to bite off a forearm every time they try to run by. Just nibble a little, right?
Larry Csonka was one of the All-Stars last week who did not have to apologize to anyone for his size, his desire or his ability. Csonka is a 6'3", 236-pound slab of Polish sausage from Stow, Ohio who in three seasons at Syracuse ran right past most of the records set by Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. He was going to be the starting fullback against the Green Bay Packers on Friday night in Soldier Field—a boyhood dream. He would run under the goalposts with his All-America pals to be introduced with those red stars on his shoulders, but, while the crowd would roar, he knew the Packers would only shrug.
"It's not that you're scared," Csonka was saying the afternoon of the game. "It's nerves and a lack of confidence. You have the feeling that they'll be able to do it to you but you won't be able to do it to them.
"You start with the fact that since you were 9 years old you've thought the Packers were great. Then you train three weeks and you watch their movies, but that only makes it worse. Each of their individuals is doing so many complicated things and making it look easy. You get the impression that you won't be able to do anything they won't be able to figure out just by watching your feet."
August 11, 1968
Csonka and Greg Landry, the quarterback from Massachusetts, and Earl McCullouch, the split end from USC, all of whom would play respectably in the game despite their fears, reached the point that they could not watch anybody in those films except Ray Nitschke, the middle linebacker who is bald-headed and 10 years older than Csonka and a very gentle guy in a business suit and glasses.
"In one of the films it looked like Nitschke kicked a guy, and I started wondering what I would do if he kicked me," said Csonka. "I wondered what it would be like the first time he tackled me. We're all going into the game like this, and it'll probably take us two quarters to get adjusted."
It did. Despite the fact that this was a fine All-Star squad, one of the better ones, and that Norm Van Brocklin had prepared them well technically, the Packer offense was so slick and Quarterback Bart Starr was so hot (he hit 15 of 17 the first half) that the game was over before the collegians got in it. With no apparent strain, Green Bay ran up a 24-3 lead, mainly because Starr had a couple of hours to scan the secondary for receivers on every passing down and the All-Star defenders were so frightened of giving up a deep one that they could not find Carroll Dale or Boyd Dowler crossing into the middle or veering out toward the sidelines.
Starr would stand there, and when Dale would make a cut one of the All-Star defenders would holler, "You take him," and before another All-Star could respond with, "Who, me?" Dale would have the ball and be scoring one of the three touchdowns he got as the Packers breezed to a 34-17 victory. As for the All-Stars' pass-rush, it was Atlanta Falcon President Rankin Smith who best summed that up later on. The Falcons' No. 1 draft choice, big Claude Humphrey from Tennessee A&I, was among the rookies who had tried to reach Starr. "I was real proud of him," said Smith in his wry Southern drawl. "Once, I think he got within five yards of Bart."
The All-Stars were a lot better in the second half. They even outscored the Packers, 14-10, and the fact that they scored at all was a victory of sorts for Van Brocklin, who was directing his first batch of collegians. The last two years Green Bay had demolished the rookies by 38-0 and 27-0.
Larry Csonka was one of the best reasons why the All-Stars came back. "I didn't hit the holes hard in the first half," he explained. "I danced around because I didn't know what to expect. I thought I was gonna get hit harder than I ever had before. Once Nitschke gave me a real blow, but he got up smiling at me and I suddenly realized I could take it. Then I got past him a couple of times and started making some yards, and this doesn't make you feel so powerful as it makes you feel intelligent."
Van Brocklin, who called all of the plays for Landry and his other quarterback, Gary Beban, knew that his only chance was to establish a running game, so the rookies kept pounding at the Packer line even though they were behind. Eventually Csonka and Mac Lane from Utah State found some room. Csonka managed to gain 95 yards before it was over and he won the most valuable collegiate player award. It was his insistent hammering that made it possible for first Beban and then Landry to hit the blazing hurdler, McCullouch, with touchdown passes, thus preserving some dignity for the All-Stars.
McCullouch, who is going to the Detroit Lions instead of the Olympics, and Csonka, who is going to the Miami Dolphins, wound up impressing the Packers more than any of the other Stars.
Speaking for the Green Bay secondary, Herb Adderley said he had heard that Earl the Pearl might be the fastest man in the world at the 110-meter hurdles, and while he didn't know about that, he was certain that McCullouch was the fastest at 20 yards in a football suit.
And it was Ray Nitschke himself who said of Csonka, "He's a real tough kid. He ran harder and harder."
"That's the thing," Csonka said. "Once you get the idea out of your mind that you're playing the Packers, you can just play football."
The only thing wrong with this is that the College All-Star Game is over by then.