SI Vault
 
HOW THE WEST HAS WON
Edwin Shrake
November 23, 1964
For six of of the last seven years the Western Division of the NFL has manhandled the East. How this dominance was achieved—and when and if it will end—is detailed below
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 23, 1964

How The West Has Won

For six of of the last seven years the Western Division of the NFL has manhandled the East. How this dominance was achieved—and when and if it will end—is detailed below

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

"The East just doesn't seem to play the same style of football," one Western coach says. "It doesn't seem to be as hard-nosed, for some reason, although guys like Sam Huff and Rosey Grier and Chuck Bednarik [now retired] would make me eat those words. The reason can't be geographical. You take New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore. They're all in a row. Why is it that only Baltimore plays the real rugged Western style? Can it be because Baltimore is in the Western Division? Maybe the rest of the Western teams make the Colts play their style of game."

Offensive Tackle J. D. Smith, who came to Detroit this season from Philadelphia, says, "In the East you'd run into a good, tough defensive end one Sunday and then maybe not see another like him for two or three weeks. In the West you see a good one every week." Henry Jordan, All-NFL defensive tackle, played two years at Cleveland before being traded to Green Bay. "It used to be that if a team had a good running attack or a good passing attack, that was enough to make it a good team. Now you have to have balance between running and passing," says Jordan, "and balance between offense and defense. We've proved that, I would think."

Western superiority is a product of superior players—like Jordan and Gino Marchetti of Baltimore, Alex Karras and Joe Schmidt of Detroit, the young defensive line of the Rams, and certainly Unitas, Moore, Tarkenton, Mason, Berry, Taylor, Ditka, Starr and dozens more. But the East is rapidly wiping out the West's scouting edge. Washington and Philadelphia installed extensive scouting systems about three years ago. Pittsburgh is now a scouting factor. All NFL teams except Chicago, Washington and Minnesota are cooperating in scouting pools. Why, then, has the East not overhauled the West? That takes time, to be sure, but time is not the only reason.

Part of the East's problem can be traced to an occurrence in Dallas in 1960. A young multimillionaire named Lamar Hunt, son of one of the world's wealthiest men, started a new football league from his oil-company office on Commerce Street in Dallas. Hunt had tried to get an NFL franchise and had been turned down. The NFL had promised its next franchise to Clint Murchison Jr., also a Dallas resident and the son of another of the world's wealthiest men, after Murchison tried to stop the old Dallas Texans from moving to Baltimore and becoming the Colts in 1952.

Barred by the NFL, Hunt decided to form the American Football League. When apprised of Hunt's intention—although the NFL later insisted it was a coincidence—the NFL abruptly voted to expand and let Murchison have a new franchise to compete with Hunt in Dallas. The NFL then took another potential American League city by voting an NFL franchise for Minneapolis-St. Paul, to begin operation in 1961, one year after the debut of the American League and the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL.

The effect of the two new NFL franchises and the eight new AFL clubs has been tremendous. Players' salaries have risen fantastically. Concurrent with the booming popularity of pro football, the television networks entered the action with millions of dollars to thrust at each league. Television insured the survival of the AFL. But the inescapable fact is that there are now 22 pro football teams chasing talent, whereas before 1960 there were just 12.

The AFL and the expansion of the NFL came at exactly the proper moment for Green Bay, Baltimore and Detroit, the three best teams in football. "The teams which were young and strong in 1960 have pretty well dominated things since," says Tom Landry. " Baltimore was coming out of championship years in 1958 and 1959 and still had its quality players. Green Bay was very young in 1960. Detroit was coming back with that great defense. Baltimore and Green Bay really haven't needed to help themselves much. It's the rest of us who have been handicapped by the spreading out of talent."

The double expansion in 1960 trapped Buddy Parker of the Steelers in the middle of a rebuilding job. "That year we drafted Abner Haynes and Jack Spikes, two backs we felt would strengthen us. But both of them signed with Dallas in the AFL," says Parker. "Since then we've drafted several players in key positions, but we've lost a couple, and a couple of others didn't come through. When you're not getting all the men you draft, you can't afford to make mistakes."

There are definite signs that the East is catching up with the West, if at a creeping pace. Last year the East outdrew the West for the first time. A new stadium is going up in St. Louis, Pittsburgh has a lease on Pitt Stadium and the Redskins moved into the new D.C. Stadium three years ago. The Eastern owners—the final holdouts against expansion in 1960—demanded as a bonus that the East get Dallas as a member. That gave the East the 75,504-seat Cotton Bowl, where baseball never is. With a winning team, which they are on the verge of having, the Cowboys will fill the Cotton Bowl as surely as the Texas-Oklahoma game does now.

New ownership also is helping the East. The revived Eagles are the property of Jerry Wolman, who laps the track in glee and waves to the fans when his team scores. Art Modell of Cleveland is the originator of the doubleheader, which may or may not be a good idea. Charles and Billy Bidwill have been aggressive owners since they got control of the Cardinals three years ago. The young Maras in New York are capable career people. The Redskins have broken their color line and have profited by the play of Bobby Mitchell and Charley Taylor. Art Rooney (page 90) is the last of the old palace guard in the East, but he has always been a popular owner. In Dallas, Murchison is energetic and imaginative—a young owner who had such faith in Landry that this year he gave his coach an 11-year contract. The Cowboys' Tex Schramm is the most autonomous general manager in the league and has put in a scouting system that is even more complex and, Schramm hopes, will be more productive than the one he used to operate with the Rams.

Continue Story
1 2 3