Morrall said: "If you could put a quarterback together with all the skills he ought to have, you'd give him, first, speed—speed going back those seven yards into the pocket, which a quarterback like Van Brocklin had. This gave him time to see the action and the pass patterns develop. Then you'd give him the ability to fake well, which Y. A. Tittle and Eddie LeBaron have: good dramatics and action, good enough to make the defense lean the wrong way. And then, of course, an arm, a good arm, and strong."
"I'd put that first," Plum said. "The coaches look for someone who can throw the ball 50 yards, and almost on a line. In college there's not much emphasis on pass defense—it takes too long to develop a good one. With your receivers getting 10 yards clear of the defense, you can loft the ball without danger. But any pass which gets up in the air in this league will have four defenders crowding around waiting for it to come down—like an infield pop in baseball."
They could see from my fidgeting that I was uncomfortable as they put together their composite superquarterback. On the training field both of them had seen my passing efforts, which over the length of 20 yards began to develop the high trajectory of a howitzer shell. "Look," said Morrall. "You don't need to worry tomorrow. Call plays that get the ball to the running backs. Make those people pick up the yardage for you."
I was ready to follow this advice when Coach George Wilson sent me in as his starting quarterback the next evening. As I ran out across the sidelines the teams were waiting on the offensive unit's 20-yard line. The kickoff was dispensed with. In the controlled scrimmage the defense would get one point for keeping the offense from getting a first down, two points for an interception or a fumble recovery. The scoring for the offense was regular.
Bud Erickson, the Lions' publicity man, was on the public address system telling the crowd how the scoring would work. It was a sellout crowd, packing the high stands that flanked the field, out to see the season's first appearance of the Lions. The rookies would be of particular interest to them. They had settled in their seats, watching me trot along the sidelines, my number, which was zero, staring up at them like an eye. They listened to Erickson explain that "number zero," coming out, was not actually a rookie but an amateur, a writer, who had been training with the team for three weeks and had learned five plays, which he was now going to run against the first-string Detroit defense. It was a nightmare come true, he told them, as if one of them, rocking a beer around in a paper cup, with a pretty girl leaning past him to pay the hot-dog vendor in the aisle, had been suddenly carried down underneath the stands by a sinister clutch of ushers and encased in the accouterments (the tape, the supporter, the wraparound girdle, the thigh pads, the arm pads, the shoulder pads, the sweat shirt, the jersey, the silver helmet with the two protruding bars of the cage jammed down over his ears) and sent out to take over the team. The crowd was interested, and I was conscious, though just vaguely, of a steady roar of encouragement.
My team, the first-string Lion offense, was waiting for me, grouped in the huddle, watching me come, their faces unrecognizable, lost in the shadows of their helmets. For the first call the running play I had available for them—following Plum's and Morral's advice—was the 26 near 0 pinch. In it the quarterback receives the snap, turns and takes two steps straight back and hands the ball off to his 2 back coming laterally across from right to left. The ballcarrier then cuts into the No. 6 hole (the holes are numbered 9-7-5-3-1 from the right, and 0-2-4-6-8 leading out to the left). That is what is designated by 26—the 2 back into the 6 hole. The mysterious code words "near 0 pinch" referred to blocking assignments in the line, and I was never sure exactly what was meant by them.
I went into the huddle and called out, "Twenty-six!" forcefully, to inspire them, and a voice from one of the helmets said, "Down. Down. The whole stadium can hear you."
"Twenty-six," I now hissed at them. "Twenty-six near 0 pinch, on three! Break!" Their hands cracked as one, and they streamed past me out of the huddle, moving up to the line of scrimmage fast as I wheeled and started for the line behind them.
I kept my eye on Bob Whitlow, my center, as he trotted up over the ball, and I followed in his tracks. Earl Morrall had told me that sometimes a quarterback, distracted, will stray off center as he walks up to the line of scrimmage, concentrating on the alignment of the defensive backs, perhaps considering the advisability of calling a checkoff play, and he will step up not behind the center but behind a guard, whose eyes widen inside his helmet as he feels the unfamiliar pressure of a hand under his backside, and more often than not he bolts across the line and causes an off-side penalty. On one occasion Jug Girard, playing quarterback then, stepped up behind a guard by error, but his count was so quick that the play was under way before the guard could demur, and the center beside him popped the ball back. It shot straight up in the air as the two lines came together, as if squeezed up like a peach pit by the pressure.
So I kept an eye on Whitlow, who was poised over the ball, and I ambled up behind him and rested a hand at the base of his spine, as if on a windowsill, a nonchalant gesture I had admired in certain quarterbacks, and I looked out over the length of his back to fix in my mind what I saw.