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The New York Giants, who age as gracefully as good wine, probably assured themselves another Eastern Division championship in the National Football League last Sunday as they defeated the Dallas Cowboys 41-10. They now lead their division by a full game over the Washington Redskins and are proof enough, with only five games left to play, that a good old team is better than a good young one. More important, the vintage players on the Giant team seem to be growing stronger as the season progresses; they also seem to be growing wiser.
The Cowboys, who had led the NFL in scoring until their unfortunate experience with the Giants, might have fared better had not Eddie LeBaron, the older and surer of the team's two quarterbacks, pulled a muscle in the calf of his right leg early in the game. That left the entire offensive burden on the shoulders of Don Meredith. Meredith tried hard, but the savage charge of the Giant defensive line, combined with the loss of confidence that disheartened the Texans when LeBaron left, made his task impossible. Still, the Cowboys almost certainly would have lost anyway.
In the next five weeks the Giants play three teams that they have beaten once—Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia. They also have to play Cleveland and Chicago, neither of which has been exactly overpowering during the important middle weeks of this season. Against this opposition, it seems reasonable to suppose that New York will repeat as division champions and meet the Green Bay Packers in New York in a rematch of last year's championship game. The Giants now are certainly the best team in the East.
The Cowboys' Tom Landry is a shrewd coach and a particularly able defensive tactician. But Allie Sherman, the inventive coach of the Giants, contrived to use the very strength of the young Dallas defenders, and their penchant for pursuit, to defeat the Texans. Three of the front four men on the Cowboy defensive line are rookies and the fourth is in his second year. The two corner linebackers are not rookies, but they are playing their first full year at their positions. And, finally, one of the Dallas corner defensive backs is a rookie. An old saying in pro football has it that a rookie in the secondary costs a touchdown a game. This has certainly been true in Dallas this season, and it was particularly true Sunday against the Giants.
The New York attack was keyed to exploit rookie quickness. The first Giant touchdown, in the second quarter, was planned to start the flow of Cowboy harriers in one direction; suddenly the play struck at the other flank and it was a ridiculously easy touchdown from the Cowboy six-yard line by Frank Gifford. Gifford, the Giant flanker back, was on the end of a double reverse; Y. A. Tittle handed the ball first to Alex Webster, who started what looked like a run outside the Cowboys' left end. As the young Dallas line and linebackers set out after Webster, he handed the ball to Gifford, going the other way. There was no Cowboy within shouting distance of Frank as he scored.
Despite having to take pills after the game, Gifford, who has had a severe cold for the last two weeks, managed a weak grin when he recalled the play. "There wasn't anyone out there with me but the guard who pulled out to lead the play," he said. "I thought for one quick second about handing him the ball and letting him score. Can you just see his eyes bug out? But it was early in the game and I didn't feel I could take the chance then. If it had been later I think I might just have done it."
"We put in some counters, too," Allie Sherman said. "They were keying on Webster and we would start him one way, then come back under him, against the flow of the defense, with Phil King carrying. It made good yardage for us."
In the man-to-man duels that make up the essence of pro football competition, the Giant edge in experience told time after time. The blooded Giant offensive line kept the eager young Cowboys away from Y. A. Tittle, who never seemed too hurried to get his passes off where and when he wanted. Del Shofner had enough time to break away from either Bill Bishop or one of the Cowboy safeties. So did Gifford, who feinted rookie Halfback Mike Gaechter out of position for key catches.
Shofner scored twice on 19-and 23-yard passes from Tittle and once on a 41-yarder from Ralph Guglielmi; Gifford, having scored once on the end-around, crossed the goal line again on a 24-yard pass from Tittle. Shofner caught six passes for 158 yards, Gifford five for 88 yards and one touchdown.
It was an imaginative and clever offense that the Giants unveiled. They have been restive under the criticism that they were a stodgy and elderly team.