"The New York Giants are an old football team if you measure age by years. If you measure age by the imponderables that separate champions from near champions in the National Football League, they are still relatively young. Allie Sherman, 39, the head coach of the Giants, is young by whatever system you care to measure age; when he took over the head coaching job for the Giants two years ago, his friends congratulated or commiserated with him.
"Some of them said, 'Gee, Allie, you got a real break. Now you can show what you can do,'" Sherman said the other day. "Some others said, 'It's a shame, Allie. You're taking over a club that's beginning to fall apart from old age.' "
Sherman, meticulous and analytical, debated with himself for a long time before accepting the head coaching job with the Giants. He knew better than most people that many of the Giants were, indeed, growing old. He solved his problem by taking the films of Giant games for the three previous years and studying them.
"I got a long-range look at the thinking of the other coaches in the league," he said. "They begin to establish patterns and change their blocking assignments, and you can pick that up over three years. And T could check what I thought was the real problem. The Giants were supposed to be growing old. I could evaluate the performance of the old players over a stretch of three years. I could see how much they had slipped, if they had slipped at all. I could decide which old players to keep and which old players had to be replaced. You can't replace players wholesale, you know. You have to do it gradually."
As a result of his careful analysis, Sherman, wisely enough, kept most of the old Giants. They are still playing on the team—the Robustellis, Griers, Giffords and Modzelewskis—and they still make the Giants one of the most respected teams in football.
Typical of these Giants is Frank Gifford, a 32-year-old halfback returning to football after a year's layoff occasioned by a crushing tackle by another of the old men of pro football: the Philadelphia Eagles' 37-year-old linebacker and center, Chuck Bednarik. Bednarik's violent, blind side tackle left Frank lying still and almost dead on the cold ground of Yankee Stadium.
Dr. Francis Sweeney, who has been the team doctor for the Giants almost since the inception of the club, gave Gifford the go-ahead. "He had a deep concussion," Dr. Sweeney says. "The brain is like a mass of jelly inside three coverings, all of this suspended in the skull like a player's head is suspended inside a helmet. There's the subdura, the dura and the meninges. A severe shock may start a hemorrhage which can seep down into the lower parts of the brain and affect motor areas and be very serious. This is what Frank had. But once that heals, it's completely healed and doesn't have a carryover effect."
Gifford, of course, qualifies as one of the "aging" Giants. This season he is playing a new position at flanker back and, so far, he is not playing it quite as well as he played his old position. He used to be the right halfback for the club, carrying the ball into the ruck of the defense, off tackle or over the center. Now he's stationed wide to the side, away from the traffic.
"I'm as fast as I ever was," he said the other day. "I've got better reflexes. But I'm playing a new position on the opposite side of the line from where I played before and it takes time to get used to it. Old habit holds me and running the opposite way to catch passes makes it uncomfortable, so I drop more than I used to. But I want to play as much as I ever did, and that is really the big thing."
Gifford returned to football because he wanted to play.