"You learn to look for little things," he said. "Not obvious things like the linebacker coming right up on the line of scrimmage. But say my tight end is split out a little, maybe four yards from the tackle. The corner linebacker should be right out there with him, playing right in front of him so he can chuck him at the line. But if he has cheated into the gap between the end and the tackle, I read blitz. Or maybe the weak-side safety is intent on the A back—the offensive back on his side. Instead of being relaxed and at ease, he's crouched over, and maybe unconsciously he's moved a step or two closer to the line of scrimmage. I read blitz again. That means the weak-side linebacker is coming. He's the man who would take the A back in a pass pattern, and the weak-side safety is going to have to cover for him, so I read blitz from the way the safety is acting."
At 37, Tittle is a remarkably sturdy quarterback who, luckily for the Giants, is seldom injured. He knows no magic for avoiding injury, but the football lore stored in his bald head has its protective uses, too. "Let's go back to that weak-side safety," he said. "Say I read blitz. I know where the linebacker is coming from. Maybe I was going to release two backs from the backfield. I'll keep one in on that side for extra protection, and I'll be very conscious of pressure from that side. But, actually, getting hit is still getting hit. I don't know any way to make it easier."
The Tittle instinctive approach to the art of signal calling makes him very difficult for opposing defenses to chart. All teams chart the frequency with which opposing quarterbacks call certain plays in various situations. Since Tittle himself is seldom sure what he is going to do next, defensive signal callers despair of outguessing him.
Tom Brookshier, who was one of the best corner backs in football when he played with Philadelphia, and who is now a perceptive commentator on Eagle broadcasts, says, "I couldn't guess with Yat when I played against him. With some quarterbacks, in particular situations, I could take a chance, gambling maybe on a quick look-in pass, and be out of position enough for an interception. I couldn't do it with Yat. I can't guess with him now, either. Working in the booth, I call plays with the quarterbacks in my mind, and with most of them, I hit four out of five. With Tittle, I'm lucky to go one for five."
No fake with one hand
Tittle was originally drafted by Cleveland in the old All-America Conference. Luckily for the rest of the NFL (imagine Y.A. and Jimmy Brown on the same team), the Browns traded him to the Baltimore Colts. He came to the Giants after three years with the Colts, 10 with the San Francisco 49ers.
His quarterbacking technique is peculiarly his own. He makes his fakes with both hands on the ball, unlike many quarterbacks who fake the hand-off with one empty hand. ("I want to show the defense the ball, not an empty hand," he says.) On pitchouts, he snaps the ball out from his belt buckle, again with both hands. Most quarterbacks pitch out with one hand, using the long, underhand motion of a softball pitcher. "I may get hit pitching out," Y.A. says. "If I've just got one hand on the ball, I'm more likely to fumble. And I have better control of the ball using both hands."
Even in running the bootleg, where the quarterback fakes a hand-off to a running back and then sets off on a perilous journey alone around the flank, depending entirely on deception, Tittle operates in his own unique way. Bob Water-field, the former Ram quarterback, was a masterful actor in this play; his hand-off seemed absolutely real, and he would then trot back casually from the play, watching the faking back, holding the ball casually against his hip away from the line of scrimmage. His acting was so good that he was usually overlooked until he broke for the goal line. Most quarterbacks since then have tried to emulate him, but not Tittle.
"I work against the grain of the defense," he said. "If they are going to play me for the bootleg, they have to violate everything they have been coached to do. I call a play which has the tackle blocking down with a fake toward the middle. The defensive end has to read, run and close down. I make a sloppy fake and take off outside the end as hard as I can go. I'm going against the grain—the defense is going one way and I'm going the other—and they have a hard time changing direction. But if it doesn't work, I'm out there naked, and we lose ground."
Tittle's throwing style is his own, too. He holds the ball with his fingertips, no part of his palm touching it. Throwing and accuracy are instinctive; he can't explain why he is accurate or how. "It's something you can do or you can't," he says. "It's like a pitcher's control."