George Shaw is a stocky, sandy-haired young man who has been the second-best quarterback on the two best teams in football for the last four years. He started his pro career as the No. 1 quarterback for the Baltimore Colts, then had the misfortune to suffer a leg injury. His replacement was John Unitas. You might, with very good reason, consider that his second misfortune.
"No one knows how good Johnny is better than I do," Shaw said the other day, en route to Pittsburgh with the New York Giants. "I sat on the bench for two years and watched him. I developed second-stringitis. I began to doubt myself."
Shaw, a serious 26-year-old who is taking an executive training course in a Portland, Ore. bank during the off season, has a bent for self-analysis. When he discovered two years ago that he was suffering from second-class citizenship, he went to Weeb Ewbank, the head coach of the Colts, and asked to be traded to the Giants or to the San Francisco 49ers; Charlie Conerly and Y. A. Tittle even then were two of the oldest quarterbacks in the league.
"I told Weeb that I thought I was damaging myself and the Colts," he said. "When you sit on the bench game after game you find yourself losing interest. I used to go to Weeb and ask him to let me play a little bit just to keep my hand in. You know, go in when we were way ahead. I told him I thought it would be better for the club if Johnny got hurt. But Weeb's theory is go with one quarterback and that's what he did. Johnny's the same age I am and I knew if I stayed with the Colts, I'd spend my life on the bench.
"Weeb and Don Kellett were wonderful," Shaw said. "They made sure I got to the Giants. I've been lucky. I've learned my trade from two of the smartest quarterbacks in the business."
When Shaw came to New York, Allie Sherman, the brilliant young Giant offensive coach, took him aside. "It's up to you, George," he said. "You'll be given every opportunity. But you have to do it yourself. You have to be grim and you have to go into a game with an inner anger. You have to take charge."
In his first year with the Giants, Shaw suffered a severe thumb injury and never was able to play much. This year his thumb is well again and he has assumed the role Don Heinrich used to play as secondary quarterback to Conerly. Shaw had trouble at first learning the Giant numbering system in signal calling, since the Giant and Colt systems are exact opposites.
"I'd be calling the plays left-handed," he said. "The Colts number the holes on one side of the line odd and on the other even and the Giants reversed this. It cost me confidence for a while. I wasn't sure whose signals I was calling. But I've got them right now."
Shaw, after five years as a pro quarterback, still wasn't completely comfortable in the position although he played in most Giant exhibitions this summer.
"When you go in, you feel the responsibility so much," he said. "A couple of years ago, when Johnny was hurt, I played two games at quarterback. I wasn't relaxed and I wasn't confident because I was afraid of playing poorly. Not afraid of giving a bad performance myself, but afraid of failing the team. Maybe I shouldn't say it, but you know when you're out there that the guys up in the line aren't making as much money as the quarterback. When they are great players on a team which is about to win a championship, they demand a lot from a quarterback. They expect you to be as good as they are, or better. It's a big load."