The Detroit fans loved it. Two men in the bleacher seats stripped to the waist and danced in the aisles, deliriously. Joe Schmidt, the wide, blond young man who is probably the best linebacker in football and who is also a co-captain of the Lions, was waltzed around the field on the shoulders of the fans for 30 minutes before he could escape to the dressing room. The crowd tried to break down the door to the Lion dressing room and nearly succeeded.
Behind that door, the Lions took their overwhelming success with the tempered joy of old pros.
"Cleveland isn't a hard team any more," said Schmidt, carefully. "They're not as tough as they used to be when they had Graham and some of those other guys. They don't hit as hard."
Aldo Forte, who is the line coach of the Lions, was explaining the technique of victory. "We had four movies of the Browns," he said. "We had the last four games they played against the Rams, the Cardinals, us, and the Giants. You look at the figures, the Browns have got a great pass defense, but you got to consider that they don't have to look at any great passers in their division. Nobody like Tittle or Van Brocklin or Rote or Layne or Unitas. We noticed Van Brocklin hurt them pretty good in the Ram game. The Rams were picking on Don Paul and we figured we could pick on him or on Ken Konz. We figured we could throw short on Warren Lahr when we needed to, and we did. Then we set up the long ones over Konz. Konz plays back pretty deep, but he likes to come up quick to cover on inside stuff, so we faked inside and got open behind him."
Rote agreed. He was dressing in front of his locker, moving slowly, tired but unmarked. "Jim Doran told me he could get behind Konz on a first down pass," he said. "We had set it up with the short ones and Doran got loose. It helps when you're not getting knocked on your back all the time, too. We got a real solid line, offense and defense. That defense carried us a hell of a long way this year."
Rote knows about getting knocked on his back. He risked life and limb passing for mediocre Green Bay Packers for most of his pro career. The Lions traded three good offensive linemen and a good back for Rote in July, after an emergency meeting of the coaching staff, General Manager Nick Kerbawy and President Edwin J. Anderson.
"We played a defense like I never used before," said Buster Ramsey, a bulky, rugged man who plots the Lion defenses. "We figured from the movies that the guy on the Browns who kills you is Ray Renfro, so we put two men on him all the time. That let Darrel Brewster, their end, get loose a few times, but Renfro only caught one pass all during the game, and that one was only about 10 yards. And then our guys were really hitting in there and putting pressure on the passing of O'Connell and Plum."
By now the players were dressed and slowly filtering out. Wilson walked over to the washroom and bathed his face in cold water. He looked tired as he watched the players leaving.
"The big thing about them was they never quit," he said slowly. "I guess this is the fightingest team I ever saw. Maybe the layoff hurt the Browns some. I don't know. But they didn't play a game they had to win during the last month, and we had to win four in a row to get to the championship. These guys never let up. I told them at the half today, 'Remember last Sunday when you were behind 27-7 and won. The Browns can do the same thing. It's only 31-7.' And they didn't let up at all. That's the big thing about them."
He followed the players out of the dressing room, into the vast gloom under the stands. A few fans were still standing by the door, shouting at the players.