The inhabitants of San Diego are in the habit of reminding visitors that their city is a depressed area, but after the San Diego Chargers overwhelmed the Boston Patriots 51-10 for the American Football League championship last Sunday in Balboa Stadium, there was little to support this contention, particularly in the uproarious Charger dressing room.
"They may be the champions of the world," boomed Defensive End Earl Faison, referring to the Chicago Bears of the other league, "but we are the champions of the un-i-verse."
"Sixty-four's a good year," said End Dave Kocourek, appraising the label on a bottle of California champagne. "You know, this stuff may be 20 minutes old, at that."
And, inevitably, George Pernicano, a San Diego restaurateur who has a small piece of the team and an enormous mustache that is insured (against what? fire? theft?) for $50,000 by Lloyd's of London, was dragged under a shower.
Inevitably, too, the game proved quite a contrast to the National Football League championship contest the week before, which took place in meat-locker weather. For a starter, the temperature in San Diego was 71�, the sun was brightly shining and the explanation of the officials' signals in the game program was acted out by a southern California cupcake in short shorts. The NFL game was a grinding and ponderous clash that was characterized as a defensive struggle, but because of the 11� cold was just as much a show of offensive ineptitude. (Incidentally, both team presidents at the AFL playoff, Bill Sullivan of the Patriots and Barron Hilton of the Chargers, are in favor of playing the AFL title game in a neutral southern city if it turns out that it would otherwise occur in the frozen North.)
Lacking the dramatic virtues of the NFL title game, the AFL's was a brilliant exhibition of professional football as it should be performed—by the winning team. Although Fullback Keith Lincoln, the virtually unanimous choice for the game's most valuable player—he gained a record 206 yards in 13 rushes, caught seven passes for 123 yards, completed his only pass for a 20-yard gain and scored two touchdowns—played wonderfully well, San Diego's victory was, in truth, a result of first-rate planning by Coach Sid Gillman and near-perfect execution by the entire team, from Quarterback Tobin Rote all the way down the line.
The championship game was billed as a battle between the Patriots' league-leading defense and the Chargers' league-leading offense. The heart of Boston's defense, which in two games threw opposing quarterbacks for more than 100 yards in losses while they were attempting to pass, is a tough and resourceful rush. Defensive End Larry Eisenhauer calls it Ban the Bomb. Boston has, at last count, 65 different rushes. It attempts to use 25 or 30 for each game. These range from what are called "weak cats," when only one linebacker may go in, to "mad dog," to "total blitz," an awesome stampede by eight men, including a safety who has cheated up to the line. After one total blitz a prostrate AFL quarterback said, "I swear there was a guy wearing a cocked hat riding a horse come in and nearly trampled me."
Gillman and his offensive line coach, Joe Madro, had to find a way to neutralize Boston's formidable rushes and to confuse whatever pass defenders remained. But the rush leads to either feast or famine. If it does not succeed, the opposition can break away on a long run or pass, and it is goodby, Katy. It is an axiom of football that you cannot defense the entire field.
The two major tricks that Gillman had in his meticulous three-page game plan were the East formation and a man in motion. The man in motion, who was usually Paul Lowe, the running halfback, wreaked havoc with the Boston defense as early as the second play from scrimmage. With the ball on the San Diego 40, Lowe went in motion for the first time; not a step and jog, but a quick motion. The Patriots were in dogging formation and Lowe's unexpected maneuver pulled End Bob Dee offside. Dee jumped back, but the Patriot linebackers practically fell down trying to regain their balance. Lincoln surged through the disorganized Boston line, running 56 yards before he was hauled down. San Diego scored the first of its seven touchdowns two plays later.
The Boston defense was further disrupted by the East formation. Normally, Lance Alworth, the flanker back, plays outside Tight End Kocourek on the strong side of the line, while Split End Don Norton is, well, split out to the other side. In the East formation, however, Kocourek became, in effect, a weak-side tight end on one extremity of the offensive line, while Alworth and Norton were split out together on the opposite end. As Kocourek said: "The purpose was to try to get the strong-side safety, Ross O'Hanley, who normally plays me, on either Alworth or Norton. [Unbeknownst to the Chargers, the Patriots were not playing man-to-man but trying to hide a zone defense; and thus do ignorant armies clash by night.] O'Hanley is a good tackier but he is used to covering the slower, big men. This and the man in motion was planned to bring what Gillman calls Boston's 'old ladies' up to the line as defensive ends. They are old ladies because, though they're good cover men, they're too light to play defensive end." Indeed, on several occasions, Boston wound up with two old ladies—Dick Felt and Bob Suci—on the line.