As it turned out, tonight's game was a game like any other game—and we won. Keith Lincoln or Paul Lowe caught the opening kickoff and returned it to the 30-yard line. The reason I wasn't sure which one it was is because I was trying to block somebody. That's the way it is for linemen on most of the plays in a football game; we don't always know who carried the ball, or who caught the pass, because we are busy trying to do our job. All we know is that the huddle forms farther and farther down the field if all goes well, and moves backward if something goes amiss.
On the first series of downs it moved backward. After the first play our right guard, Pat Shea, trotted back to the huddle cursing himself. He had pulled the wrong way on a sweep, colliding with the left guard, Sam Gruneisen, and leaving the ballcarrier without any blockers. On the next play Tobin Rote was smashed to the ground as he faded back to pass. He got up slowly, holding his chest. He called a pass play that failed, and the punting team came in.
The defensive unit was probably cursing us for having given up the ball so soon. There is a friendly but intense rivalry between offensive and defensive teams. The newspapers are constantly saying that our defense is responsible for all the Charger victories. The defense has read it so often that I think they fully believe it. I doubt if the two defensive coaches, Chuck Noll and Walt Hackett, want to discourage this feeling their boys have; it is good to be confident and a little cocky.
During the 1961 season the newspapers gave the defense all sorts of glorifying name's, like the Fearsome Foursome and the Seven Pirates. The way the sportswriters feel about our offensive line, I'm surprised they have not dubbed us the Seven Lumps of Sugar.
The defense held the Chiefs, forcing them to punt, and we came back in, this time with John Hadl at quarterback. Tobin's injury made it impossible for him to return to the game. Later we found out he had torn a rib from his sternum and would be out of action for a month. Hadl came in and showed that he was greatly improved over last year, and ready to become the topflight quarterback we knew he would be some day. He moved us down the field, mixing power plays with sweeps and short passes. We reached the nine-yard line, and John called two straight power plays to my side. It was my job to move out the linebacker on each of the plays. The backer, Holub, is big and was standing right in the hole, so I decided to hit him low rather than high, where he is the strongest. I was only able to push him back two yards before the hole was jammed up. I decided to hit him high on the next play. I fired into his chest with my head and shoulders; it was a good hit, but he shrugged me off and made the tackle. There isn't any justice, I thought. The blow deserved better results. John didn't give up on me, and called for a sweep to my side. I was able to hook the defensive end, the pulling guards made their blocks and Paul Lowe scored the first touchdown of the season.
In the second quarter Paul reversed his field on another sweep and scored from 65 yards out. John kept up his accurate passing and smart play-calling and we scored once more before the half ended, this coming on an 18-yard pass to Jacque.
The defense, meanwhile, had allowed Kansas City to score twice. We walked to the dressing room at half time with a 19-14 lead.
I get almost as nervous before the second half as I do before the start of the game. I wonder if the opposing coaches have told their defense to do something new, or if a different man will be playing over me. To me the second half is a new game. Both teams come out rested and with fresh incentive to play. It seems to go faster, though, because it is the last half, and, as far as time is concerned, we are going downhill.
But it ended sooner than I thought it would for me. After we had scored again in the third quarter, the coach gave the rest of the game to the rookie linemen, and I watched the remainder of the game from beside the water bucket. It is truly an enjoyable way to spend the bulk of the second half sipping water and relaxing as you watch your team finish a game that is already won.
The game ended 26-14, Chargers. Then it was time to drag ourselves to the dressing room, slowly pull off the sweaty, dirty uniforms and take a long, cool shower, head back, eyes closed, letting the water wash away the dirt and ease the aches. It is a time to replay the game in your mind, and try to remember what you did well and what you did poorly. And hope you did well enough to keep your starting position or, if you are a rookie, hope that you showed enough promise to justify the coaches keeping you around another week, because you'd show them then.