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Tommy McDonald
August 03, 1964
In a furious world of audibles, blitzes and crack-back blocks, pro football's remarkable runt tells of an Eagle victory, an Eagle collapse—and how he was shuffled off to big D
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August 03, 1964

A Title, A Tumble, A Trade

In a furious world of audibles, blitzes and crack-back blocks, pro football's remarkable runt tells of an Eagle victory, an Eagle collapse—and how he was shuffled off to big D

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I had gone from an undefeated national champion college team to a staggering professional team, and in my first couple of seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles I was staggering, too. I had been a running back at Oklahoma. Switching to flanker back in the pros, I had to get the hang of a receiver's cuts, feints and speed shifts. I also had to prove to the big boys that they couldn't run me out of the league.

The Eagles won only six games in 1957 and 1958. Then Dutch Van Brocklin lighted a fire under us, and we won seven in 1959. As the 1960 season began we all had faith in Dutch, but we hadn't signed many draft choices or made any trades, and we'd have been as cracked as the Liberty Bell if we had predicted a championship.

Our first game was with the Cleveland Browns. They murdered us by a score of 41-24. After the game I went into the dressing room thinking, Oh, Lord, is this going to be another one of those years? Everybody is in good shape for the first game and enthusiastic about the new season. Winning the opener can give you quite a lift. But losing to the Browns the way we did, I figured we had the staggers again.

And then we won seven in a row. Van Brocklin was great, and because of him we came from behind to win four or five of the games. Dutch would analyze the defense in the first half, then rip it apart in the second. The next time we played Cleveland they had us 15-7 at the half, and we beat them in the last few seconds when Cheewa—Bobby Walston—kicked a field goal. That was the year we played the Giants back to back and came from behind to beat them in both games.

The second Giant game is a good example of how well Dutch could adjust to a surprise defense. In the first half the Giants kept him on his back by blitzing. He hadn't been blitzed all year because everybody in the league knew that he would kill you if you tried it. But we weren't ready for it and they really shellacked him.

At half time Dutch, Buck Shaw, Charley Gauer, the receivers and the No. 2 quarterback, Sonny Jurgensen, all got together and started figuring out how to break up the blitz. The best weapon against it is a short pass to the tight end in behind the linebacker—a lookie. Another is a hitch to the spread end or the flanker, where he takes four steps, then looks back, and the quarterback hits him fast. A little safety-valve pattern with the halfback swinging out usually works pretty good, too. Another way to beat the blitz is with the quarterback dropping back real fast, and, since the defensive halfbacks are going to be playing your end or your flanker tight, your man has a good chance to out-run the defensive halfback on a fly.

We used all of these things and knocked the Giants out of their blitz. Of course, you have to know just when to use each one. You have to size up the defense in a split second and be quick with audibles, and Van was a master at this.

Maybe a half or three-quarters of a pro football game is played on audible signals today. The quarterback will go up to the line of scrimmage and see that the defense has changed radically. If he's good, he'll call an audible signal for a new play into the weakest spot of the new defense. We used a color system on the Eagles for calling audibles. Van would call out a color when we went into the huddle, and that would be the live color. If we came up to the line and he wanted to change the huddle call, Van would sing out the same color. That meant the next series of numbers he called would be a new play. If it wasn't the same color, we could forget the next numbers because the play called in the huddle was going to stand up.

If Dutch called the live color and then said "two two," that meant a hand-off to the halfback into the line, the first "two" being the back and the second "two" the hole. If he said "two eight," that meant a sweep on which I had to crack-back on the linebacker. If we were going to use a pass play off an audible, it was a number over 50. Since the Eagles have been pretty well shaken up by Joe Kuharich, the new head coach, I'm sure all of the signals have been changed.

I didn't like the 28 call much, because I'm not big enough to throw a crack-back block on a linebacker. The linebackers weigh 220 to 250, and when I block on one I have to hit him way down around the shoelaces. Otherwise I'm like a fly bouncing off a window pane.

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