Let's start at the beginning. For a quarterback that's the first time your team has possession of the ball. That's a special problem in Kezar Stadium, where the 49ers play at home. There's a strong wind blowing in your face if you decide to receive—and all pro clubs decide to receive. That means you got to make a couple of first downs in that first series. If you don't, you're punting from deep in your own territory, and you kick to a pro club and they get possession on their 40 and a couple of minutes later—boom—you're behind at least 3-0. So that first series is important.
To me, the first play is important. The club is cold and nervous and it needs a lift, so I like to call a play that does something. That means it gains a few yards, so that when the players come back to the huddle they feel like they have accomplished something. We're blessed with a real great fullback who starts like an explosion, so I like to start with a play that sends Joe Perry up the gut. Joe's a guy who starts like a fast halfback and hits like an irritable rhinoceros, and he'll pick up yards for you any time you ask him to. So the club comes back from that first play with a feeling of accomplishment.
I don't count out the bombs. Sure, if you find a defect in the opposition defense, you shoot for the big one. Only I've been burned enough on the long pass to be real cautious. The game's got to be moving before you make the good calls. You got to be making yardage. I believe in success. The mechanics of design are easier then. You run off-tackle and make five, you come back. I come back three or four times. We create a pattern that way, and the defense adjusts to meet that pattern and you try something else. You can't adjust without leaving a hole—that's why a quarterback is important. He gets to recognize the holes instinctively after a little while.
Not that the quarterback is a dictator. Call him an organizer. I'm a strong believer in public opinion. When a tackle comes back and says, for instance, Don Joyce of Baltimore is anxious and he's coming across in a hurry, I'll call a trap. But this public opinion has to be organized. We talk these things over on the way back to the huddle. Once I'm down in the middle of the huddle, it's over. I'm the guy who's got to run the show then. But, like I said, I need help, all I can get.
We spend a lot of time—more than we spend practicing—on deciding what we can do to any given team. After you've been in the league a while, you know about what the individuals on the other side of the line can do, too. Remember the Ram linebacker, Don Paul? He was one of the best in the league. You run inside on Don and he'd cremate the ball carrier. But he wasn't fast enough to cover to the outside on a pass and he wasn't the best open-field tackler in the league, either. But he'd kill you up the middle. So you wouldn't run against his strength. You did what you could against his weakness.
I guess at first I got burned as often as any quarterback in the league on long passes. That's a good play for the quarterback. It looks good and the results are good, but the odds are bad. It took me a while to figure out that I'm just as well off throwing the ball to McElhenny, 15 yards away, and letting him run the other 50 yards for the touchdowns. I don't throw the long one now unless the situation is right. Most of the clubs in the league will give you the short one to cut off the long pass. Take Emlen Tunnell, the Giant safety. You can throw under him—in front of him—all day. But don't try to throw the deep one. He'll be there. Take Dick Lane of the Cardinals. I tried a few in the flat against Lane. This guy has arms two feet longer than most—or they look that way. He makes a small mistake and recovers so fast he's got an interception on you. I guess Jim David of the Lions has hurt me as much as most. He's an aggressive, tough player. Once in a while he gets anxious to come up on a pass and I've burned him on that. You run a couple of hooks and he comes in flying, then you run a hook and go, and if you're lucky, he can't backtrack fast enough.
A pro quarterback can't afford many mistakes. That's what makes football such an interesting game.
The snap back from center
Stand up fairly close to the center, relaxed. You're looking around at the defense to see if they've changed much since you called the signals. We use a noncadence count to make it easier to adjust if they have. I didn't like it at first, but I do now. Noncadence means I don't call the signals in rhythm. If I called rhythmic signals and the defense had changed materially, I'd only have a set time to call an audible—a signal which changes the play called in the huddle. In a noncadence count—a count called out of rhythm—I can hesitate as long as I want before calling the snap signal. We may lose a little line charge, but at least everyone has time to figure his blocking assignment before we go. That's very important. Another thing—I stand close enough to the center so that I can reach out with my hands when he charges and not lose the ball. And I don't tip the play by looking at where it's going.
Put your right hand against the center's rear with enough pressure to give him a target to hand the ball to. When he snaps the ball up, he gives it a quarter turn so that it hits your hand with the laces against your fingertips. I like the ball to come straight up against my palm so that if I dropped it, it would fall straight down. It should hit your hand hard, with a good pop. The stance is slightly staggered either way—however is comfortable for the quarterback. That's no tip-off, because you can move either way from the stagger.