"Rice reminds me of you," Brown said. "So quick getting off the line, real fluid downfield, and then that extra gear, that overdrive and the leaping ability. Zoom, zoom, and it's over. That's what fooled people about Rice, coming into the pros. They didn't understand his speed. They went by the stopwatch, but he had competitive speed, football speed."
"One thing receivers like Rice and Monk have now is a system that allows them to break patterns," Alworth said. "They have their own optional reads. We had to run disciplined patterns. We couldn't break them. I knew what the defense was doing on my side, but I didn't pay attention to the whole design.
"Under [Charger coach] Sid Gillman the quarterback did all the reading, all the work. He could tell at a glance what was open. He went first man, second, third, on his reads, and the way our system was designed, somebody was going to be open. And if the quarterback keyed properly, then the pass would be completed. They don't seem to have to carry that much of a load now, and I don't see as many great quarterbacks coming out of college as I used to. And it seems to take them longer to develop.
"There were things that John Hadl and I cooked up together, though. I could never take the inside on Willie; he'd square up on you, and you simply couldn't get inside. So I'd take a few quick steps outside and stop. Next play I'd do it again. I was trying to get him to turn his head, and if he would, if he'd get impatient, then as soon as he turned to look elsewhere, I'd take off. I'd go back to the huddle, and John would say, 'Is he ready yet?' and I'd say, 'Not yet, John.' Then I'd tell him, 'O.K., now, he's ready.' Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn't."
"Yeah, I remember one time you got me, the time I was with Denver, remember?" Brown said. "I had a sprained ankle. Didn't start the game. Then I came in, and I pulled a hamstring. You knew it right away. You were laughing when you came up to the line, and I knew you were going to take me deep. That's just what you did, and you caught a touchdown."
" Al Davis called me up after that," Alworth said. "He was with the Raiders. He'd been my receivers coach my first year with the Chargers. He asked about Willie, said he had a chance to trade for him. I said, 'Al, he's the best, no one close.' He said, 'Well, what happened?' I said, 'Hell, Al, he was hurt.' The next year there was Willie in Oakland. What a mistake I made!"
"Best thing that ever happened to my career," Brown said.
And how would a Willie Brown handle, say, a Jerry Rice today? "Same way I played against Lance. Make sure you get that first bump. Actually, a lot of times I wasn't interested in bumping guys all the way downfield. The five-yard zone is enough, if you use the right technique, if you have size and quickness and confidence in your closing speed, the ability to close on the ball."
"All of which you had," Alworth said. "But you know something, I'd have to play differently against you now. I'd have to run my routes differently. Artificial turf changed the way you run. You have to run under control, from the hips down. You can't make the quick cuts you used to. Plant your foot on synthetic turf and it might slip. You have to run more rounded routes now. It makes for better angles for the DBs."
Synthetic turf, million-dollar contracts, earrings...it's a different game, all right.