Take a group of men, give them a goal—any goal—to aim for, and each will have a different idea of how to get there. And so it is with pro football running backs: each has his own technique for gaining yardage. There are some, like Green Bay's Jim Taylor, who can simply climb over tacklers. Others, like Cleveland's Jimmy Brown, depend as much on wits as on brawn. But no matter how it is done, the exquisite skills employed give each of the game's best ground gainers a style as distinctive as his signature. Regrettably, the nuances of a man's technique are often lost in the frenzy of his run. On the following pages Artist Robert Handville has halted some of pro football's most exciting runners at climactic moments, moments when their special qualities are best revealed.
A former 49er defensive end, Charlie Powell, says: "Tackling Arnett is like wrestling with a bag of flour open at the top. He just spills out all over. And you're left holding the bag." With the balance and agility of an acrobat, Arnett stops and goes, leaning his body one way and running the other. The illusion he thus creates—no plan, no hurry—often leaves tacklers wondering where Arnett went.
"I have a repeating nightmare," says New York Giant Defensive End Andy Robustelli. "I'm all alone in the open field with Bobby Mitchell. He's coming at me top speed, and when he's right on me he doesn't slow up, he just goes faster. He gives me four fakes, and he's gone." Washington's Mitchell is unique; he is one of the truly fast men who can fake at top speed. For the most part he feints only with his legs and feet, further deceiving defenders with a perplexing change of pace. Here Mitchell has faked a cut to the inside and then suddenly accelerated past two defenders who knew from experience what to expect but were caught going one way when they should have been going another.
Even by pro standards, Buffalo's Gilchrist is a big man. He weighs 243 pounds, and he uses every pound to advantage. He breaks through the line with his knees lifting in a quick battering motion that discourages low tackles, and he tries to run over anybody who gets in his way. When a tackier moves in on him to hit him high, he drops his right shoulder and brings up his right forearm to ward the man off. Past the line, he suddenly veers away, swinging his free arm ominously as he lengthens his stride and goes to the outside, where the smaller corner man has the unenviable job of making an unaided tackle. "If all this fails," says an incredulous AFL tackle, "Cookie falls farther than most backs run."
One can almost hear an orchestra playing "The Skaters' Waltz" as the Giants' Webster runs in time with the music. An admiring teammate says, "Alex goes from slow to slower without breaking stride." Although Webster has the muscles and the size, he seldom tries to overpower an opponent. He glides through holes instead of running at them and, once through, he moves to the outside, where he can use his skillful cuts. The surprising ability to cut corners sharply, coupled with his acute sense of timing as he waits for his blockers to get set, makes Webster dangerous on sweeps and screen passes.
An assistant Cowboy coach likens Perkins to a racehorse. "He reminds me of Whirlaway: one step and he's at top speed." This fast start shoots Perkins through a hole before the linemen can react and, in the open, he makes quick, sharp cuts away from would-be tacklers. If he gets in the open he has the speed to outrun defensive backs. Surprisingly, he is used mostly as an inside runner, in apparent disregard of his modest 196 pounds. The assignment is, however, a tribute to his strong leg drive, his keen sense of timing and his feel for using blocking effectively. He bursts through the line, pauses momentarily to give his interference time and then spurts off to the side and away.