Pro football fans generally agree that if a contending team loses its No. 1 quarterback, the rest of the players might as well quit with him.
But this season the Green Bay Packers have twice disproved the axiom—last week when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the week before when they beat the Baltimore Colts. Both wins came without the help of injured Quarterback Bart Starr. On top of that, Halfback Tom Moore missed the Colt game, and End Ron Kramer left the same game in the second quarter and didn't play at all against the Steelers. Any ordinary team losing three key players would have collapsed in an untidy heap, but the Packers simply called on their bench—the strongest and deepest in the league.
John Roach, a tall, gangling quarterback from Southern Methodist University who has watched Starr from the bench for two years, led the club against the Colts with extraordinary poise. He completed nine of 20 passes and could have had at least three more completions if Packer receivers had not dropped well-thrown balls. Replacing Moore was Elijah Pitts, a third-string halfback last year when Hornung was on the team. All Pitts did was gain some 87 yards rushing and win the game for Green Bay in the fourth period with a darting 34-yard touchdown run that broke a 20-20 tie.
Marv Fleming, a 6-foot-4-inch 225-pound rookie end from Utah took over for Kramer, blocked violently and caught three key passes. Roach, Pitts and Fleming could all be starters on some other clubs in the league. But despite their heroics, the benchmen will return to the sidelines once the first-line players regain their health.
"I don't believe in substitutions," says Packer Coach Vince Lombardi. "I believe in selecting my 22 best football players and leaving them in until they drop. You have to have your best going for you all the time. If a first-string player is bumped hard and loses some efficiency, then I'll replace him at once. But as soon as he has recovered, I want him back in the game."
Lombardi was watching the Packers warming up at Milwaukee's County Stadium on the Saturday before the Pittsburgh game last week. Lew Carpenter, a big, graceful man, lined up at tight end as the team whipped briskly through the drill. He ran a precise pattern and caught a pass from Roach. Carpenter epitomizes the Packer bench strength. Although he has never been a starter, he can play as a running back, a flanker back and a tight end. He impersonates the opponent's quarterback when the Packers are working on their defense during practice and does pretty well. He is on the kickoff, kick-off return and punting teams as well.
Someone asked him last week if he would rather play first string in the back-field of another team, which he could very well do. Carpenter shook his head.
"I like it right where I am," he said. "I like being able to do a lot of things. If the man asks me to do something else, I'll do that, too. Some guys, you ask them to learn something new, their first reaction is 'Oh Lord, I'm gonna foul up for sure.' It never occurs to me that I'm going to foul up."
Roach, like Carpenter, has no delusions of grandeur. He has not been restless sitting on the bench, although he was glad to get the chance to start. After his successful debut against the Colts he was asked if he had any aspiration to take over from Starr.
"Look," Roach said, "this club has paid me championship money two years in a row for sitting on the bench. I'm just glad I finally had a chance to do something for the club. I just want the team to win."