For the New York Giants it might as well be 1962. After a shaky start they are growing stronger and stronger and, coming into the stretch, they are even with the apparently fading Cleveland Browns. And this year the Giants are still depending on a bald, 37-year-old Texas-reared insurance salesman from Palo Alto, Calif. to move the ball for them. A year hasn't changed him much—just made him a better football player, as he demonstrated once again in Sunday's 42-14 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles. He threw for three scores to bring his season's total of touchdown passes to 23.
Yelberton Abraham Tittle knows he has a lot to learn about selling insurance and thinks he has a lot to learn about playing football. But to some 35 million pro football fans, Y.A. is the best quarterback in action today. Whether selling insurance or playing ball, Tittle is a serious man; he is also something of a mystic about football.
"After every game people ask me questions about how I figured the other team," he said the other day in his still-lingering Texas accent. "You can't answer the questions. There isn't any answer. It's a matter of feeling. You have to be in this league a long, long time before you get the feeling. I can't say to you, 'I know this club is going to red-dog because I heard all about it in meetings, and I know that if player Y plays here, it's a red dog; if he plays there, it isn't.' That's not the way it works, because player Y knows as much about it as I do. You have to be in the league a long lime and remember things, and at last you get a feel about it. If you could learn it by studying movies, a good smart college quarterback could learn all you've got to learn in three weeks and then come in and be as good as the old heads. But they can't Because you look at seven or eight different teams each year and they have a different feel and a different look, and you have to learn to look at them and know this is this team and Night Train Lane is the corner back and I better not throw anything into the flat on his side. Because I know he comes up quick and he can pick off the flat pass, and if he does we don't just lose the ball. We probably lose six points, too."
In a game where the rule now is preconceived strategy—the careful, long, thought-out game plan that makes small allowance for the idiosyncrasies of individuals—Tittle is an individualist.
"It's changed a lot since I came up in 1948," he said. "It's changed a lot since 1953. You spend 10 times as much time on preparation You go over defenses and reactions and keys and how you read. You learn little things about the other team, or about certain players you didn't even consider 10 years ago. But you ask me how it's changed, and it isn't that so much. I have to think about it, because I want to say it right. I want to get the meat of the change in what I say."
He thought of the meat of the change, his blue eyes peering seriously from deep in his bony cave of eyebrows and cheekbones. "Maybe it is this," he said at last. "With all the preparation, the defensive units play as teams. It isn't a question of individual effort, but individual effort goes into it. What I mean is, everybody on the defensive team has a job to do, and they do that job first. They do what they're told to do, what they're coached to do. So you can't count on one guy's personality. You can't count on a corner back playing too tight in one situation, too loose in another. He plays where he has been taught to play. And they all play longer. So they get better, playing longer."
Tittle's own team is a good example of what he means. The two Giant units—offense and defense—have played together for three or four years, with few exceptions. Tittle himself is a latecomer, but he fits in with the Giant veterans as smoothly as a replacement part in a Cadillac. He runs the Giant team confidently and with almost no help from Allie Sherman on the sideline. When the Giants won a crucial game from the Cleveland Browns recently, Tittle, using that clear knowledge of defenses and defensive personnel he has built up in some 15 years in pro football, called audible signals through nearly all of the first half of the game as the Giants conned Frank Ryan and jimmy Brown and pulled away to a big lead.
"Sometimes the defense changes radically," he said. "Maybe you expected an even line, and they're in an odd one. Or maybe I look at them and read blitz and check off."
Tittle is one quarterback who is not often harried by blitzes, principally because he recognizes them quickly and because, too, he is probably the most adept quarterback in the league at throwing a screen pass, which can destroy a blitzing team.
Little things mean a lot