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A big run wins for a big defense
Tex Maule
January 09, 1961
A spectacular kickoff return in the first quarter set up the Philadelphia Eagles' first world championship in 11 years, but a stubborn unyielding defense made the run count
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January 09, 1961

A Big Run Wins For A Big Defense

A spectacular kickoff return in the first quarter set up the Philadelphia Eagles' first world championship in 11 years, but a stubborn unyielding defense made the run count

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It was a day for the old, the bold and the wise. The Philadelphia Eagles, in the positions that count most—quarterback, linebacker and defensive backs—are an elderly, intelligent team; the Green Bay Packers in the same positions are equally intelligent but younger. By the end of the bright December afternoon in Philadelphia, the seasoned wisdom of age had triumphed over the bold wisdom of youth, and the Philadelphia Eagles were the champions of the football world with a 17-13 victory over Green Bay.

The climactic moment came late, but it was not unexpected. One spectacular, well-devised kickoff return (above) set up the Eagles' game-winning touchdown. Ted Dean, a rookie with the glacial calm of the Eagles' own Norm Van Brocklin, ran the ball back all the way to the Packer 39-yard line. He managed this on the strength of a kickoff-return play built into the Eagles' system by Head Coach Buck Shaw in only 10 minutes a couple of days before the game. The play was devised by Assistant Coach Charley Gauer, the same man who a few weeks earlier had put in the fake halfback trap play that brought two touchdowns and victory over the New York Giants (SI, Dec. 5). Gauer had noted that two men on the right side of the Packer kickoff team were fast and one was slow. Setting up special blocks, the Eagles opened a long, wide chute for Dean, who held up momentarily until blocker Tim Brown could get out ahead of him, then rolled 58 yards down the field.

It was a brilliant play, and certainly the key that unlocked the last door for the Eagles. From the Packers' 39, Van Brocklin, at his competent best, fooled the Packer defense. Eschewing his strong passing game, except for a short shovel to Billy Barnes, he gained with running plays, Dean diving over from the five for the winning touchdown.

Before Dean's kickoff runback, it was the Eagles' not-so-spectacular but equally well-devised defense that laid the groundwork for victory. True, the weather may have helped the Eagles. The field, which had lain frozen for a week, thawed just enough to make it slippery, and the powerful Green Bay runners—Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung and Tom Moore—peeled rubber when they tried to take off. But they were handicapped much more severely by that astute Philadelphia defensive platoon.

"We gave them the outside," said Chuck Bednarik, the ancient Eagle corner linebacker and offensive center. "Their runners are tough but they are not too fast. We didn't want them busting up the middle, so we closed the middle off. We wanted to force Hornung to go outside, for instance. He's a hell of a cutback runner—he likes to start wide, then cut back over the tackle. The pursuit hasn't got time to get to him when he cuts back, so we made sure there wasn't any hole for the cutback and figured we could get him on the sideline."

This strategy worked very well. The Packer runners did break loose now and then, but the Eagle defensive line, not regarded as the best in the league, tried stunts for much of the game and just often enough they worked. When they didn't, the Eagles looked bad. A Packer blocker, moving in to take an Eagle tackle to the outside, would find him already moving away. Taylor or Hornung whanged through the resulting holes for long gains. But, over-all, the Eagles guessed right more often than did the Packers.

That they were doing so became evident very early. In the first quarter the Packers twice recovered fumbles around the Eagle 20-yard line, yet came up with only three points (they later scored three more on a field goal). Once, for the first time this year, the Packers were stopped from a first down inside the Eagle 10. It was clear then that this was a day for the Eagles.

An Eagle offensive tackle put it succinctly: "Somehow I knew in the first few plays we would win the game. You get to feel it after a while." Van Brocklin seconded his feeling. "After they missed early in the game," the quarterback said, "I knew we would win. I didn't know how or when but I knew we would. It was just a question of time."

When the beautifully executed Eagle defense, designed to deny the Packers their ground strength, worked, the issue was decided. The Packers could no longer depend upon their very strong runners and they were forced to throw the ball, playing the game the Eagles wanted them to play. Unfortunately for the Packers, they were throwing into the strongest pass defense in the league. Although their quarterback, Bart Starr, threw very well, the game was in the bag.

The Packers had one chance, late in the third quarter. John Symank, a bright, alert safety man, gambled by leaving his man in the end zone and picked off a Van Brocklin pass ticketed for Tommy McDonald. Cheered by this interception, the Packers marched for their only touchdown, going ahead 13-10 with some nine minutes left to play. Then came Dean's kickoff return and victory for the Eagles.

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