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Suddenly last Sunday the pro football season started all over—at least in the Eastern Conference of the National Football League. A quiet, supremely self-confident young chemical engineering student named Charley Johnson survived a horrendous first half to come back in the last two quarters and whip New York 24-17, hoisting his St. Louis Cardinals into a first-place tie with the Giants.
And in Cleveland, Frank Ryan, who is working for a doctor's degree in mathematics at Rice University, regained his self-confidence and threw two touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys for a 27-17 Cleveland Brown victory that put the Browns side by side in first place with the Giants and the Cardinals.
It will not be a three-way tie for long. Next Sunday a battle of brains will take place in St. Louis when Chemical Engineer Johnson faces Mathematician Ryan. Even with the redoubtable Jimmy Brown on his side, Ryan will need all his newly regained confidence against the Johnson-led Cardinals.
It was the Giants who broke Ryan's confidence in the first place, plastering him unmercifully in the seventh game of the season in Cleveland. Before that, he had averaged 200 yards per game passing; for the next three, he averaged 52 and was ignominiously benched last week when the Cardinals beat the Browns. Against the Dallas Cowboys, he came back.
The Giants had plastered young Johnson, too—the first time around. Johnson spent a great deal of that afternoon rising wearily from beneath most of the Giant line, plus a stray linebacker or two.
And Charley had another problem in that first game. "It felt like the ball was slick," he said. "You know, like the pebbling wasn't rough enough. I knew I didn't have it, but I didn't know what to do about it."
Being accustomed to research methods, Johnson wasted no time in going to the best available source for help in his dilemma. This source was Y. A. Tittle, who was starting his pro football career when Johnson was a junior high school quarterback in Big Spring, Texas. Johnson flabbergasted Tittle by approaching him in the Giant dressing room after the game and asking what to do when you seem to have lost control of your passes.
Tittle was speechless.
"Maybe it was my phraseology," Johnson says. "1 rephrased the question and he said, 'Just don't get down on yourself, kid. That's all I can tell you. We play you again, you know.' "
Although Johnson did not really need this particular advice, he followed it to the letter in the game last Sunday. Bedeviled by the same persistent pass rush that had harried him in St. Louis, Johnson completed only three of 15 passes in the first half against the Giants. The ball did not feel right to him this time, either. When he did have time to throw, he demonstrated an uncharacteristic scatter arm, missing receivers by wide margins. Sometimes, with the tall Giant linemen closing in on him, he could not see receivers in the open near the sidelines and he chose not to believe the frantic messages sent in from the bench advising him that the receivers were there.