Professional football has become an exercise in the creation of doubt and in the old war tactic of arriving at a given point first with the most. Since the offense is always outmanned numerically by the defense, the attackers' achievement of these two objectives is obviously difficult. On any given play the defense can commit 11 men; the offense can commit only 10 effective players, since the quarterback can neither block nor catch a pass. He can run, of course, but not well.
In the center of the line the offense has little hope of creating surprise or doubt or even of obtaining substantial advantage in manpower. The only possible weak spot in the defense is to be found on the flanks, and it is this which makes the job of the defensive corner linebacker in professional football a physically and mentally demanding one. It is no accident that a championship team is invariably equipped with fine corner linebackers. They are as hard to come by as quarterbacks who can pass or halfbacks who can defend against a pass.
A corner linebacker must have, to begin with, almost mutually exclusive talents. He must be able to stem a running attack by meeting a fullback of the size and brute power of Cleveland's Jim Brown at the line of scrimmage after he has had time to develop momentum, and either stop him cold or so impede him that help will arrive before Brown has made an appreciable gain. This, of course, takes size—something on the order of 230 to 240 pounds. For all his size, the corner linebacker must still have enough speed to accept the responsibility of covering one of the rabbit-fast halfbacks in the National Football League all the way on a pass pattern. This is something like asking a Percheron to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
The Green Bay Packers, in a sense, are doubly a championship team, for they have two corner linebackers who fit the position's demanding specifications. The club's success over the past two years has been due in no small part to Dan Currie (see cover) and Bill Forester, who tackle fullbacks with enthusiasm and effect, cover ends and halfbacks with some trepidation but reasonably well and, upon occasion, barrel in to commit legal mayhem upon a quarterback bent on passing.
"The toughest job is taking a halfback all the way," Currie said the other day in Palo Alto, where the Packers, the Western Conference championship already safely won, were preparing to meet the San Francisco 49ers. "When you get that assignment—and you don't get it very often—you have to play loose. I mean you have to drop back off the line so that you've got a good head start in the foot race you'll have with the swing halfback. And even then a guy like the Rams' Jon Arnett can scare the hell out of you. I can't run as fast as Arnett. What I've got to do is stay as close to him as 1 can and hope the passer doesn't have time to throw."
Currie, at 26, is a tall, dark and handsome man. He and Forester, the other Packer corner linebacker, are almost precisely the same size—6 feet 3, 235 or 240 pounds. They are probably the biggest pair of corner linebackers in football and almost certainly the best. Currie was the Packers' first draft choice in 1958, after making most All-America teams as a center and linebacker at Michigan State. He had also played offensive guard for two years at State and at one time or another filled in at every position in the line. Because he had an older brother who was good, he got an early start in football, being accepted in kid games as a sort of handicap to compensate for his brother. By the time he graduated from St. Anthony High in Detroit he had made All- Detroit and All-Michigan as a center. Currie lives in Waren, Mich. during the off season with his wife Mary and three children: Janie, 4, Tom, 2, and Matthew, 6 months.
Off the held he dresses meticulously, a habit that has earned him the nickname of Dapper Dan. Even if he were the sloppiest man on the Packers, Currie probably would have won the name anyway for the very neat way he analyzes and reacts to keys, those often mentioned but seldom understood nouns and verbs that are tossed around by some football people these days as though they were so much pied type.
Key to the future
In professional football the whole defense depends substantially on keys. A key is an action taken by an offensive player that indicates almost irrevocably what type of play is coming. A simple key, for instance, is the action taken by the strong-side end—the end playing close to the offensive tackle on the side to which a halfback has been flanked. If the strong-side end blocks on the defensive end, his action tells the corner linebacker that the play almost certainly will be a wide run.
This key sets up an instantaneous chain reaction. The corner linebacker reads sweep and fights to the outside in order to force the runner either to turn in—in which case the runner turns into the heavy traffic of the defense—or keep going wide until he hits the sideline and cannot maneuver. The corner halfback comes up to be in position to tackle the runner should he cut back, and the safety man comes up fast from his deep position to lend assistance on the tackle.