But I was still not sure that the defense had improved enough. We had made two trades that I thought would help, and Gino had come back to play defensive end but he was only just getting into condition. And Gino was 37 years old. We made a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers for Lou Michaels and it turned out to be a fortunate one. Lou could relieve either Gino or Ordell Braase at defensive end and he gave us a field-goal kicker and a kickoff man, both enormously important for any team looking for a title. Then we got Steve Stone-breaker from the Minnesota Vikings, and Stonebreaker changed our linebackers from good to excellent. Steve did much the same thing for this unit that the three little blockers did for the kickoff-return unit. He created an enthusiasm for hitting. He made mistakes but he made up for them with extraordinary pursuit and hard tackling.
In the defensive line Fred Miller became a top tackle. We used him steadily in 1963 and he got more seasoning in his first year than most young defensive tackles get in two or three. And John Diehl, the man he replaced, came to camp 20 pounds lighter than he had been the year before and much quicker. We traded for Guy Reese, from the Dallas Cowboys, and he played up to the standards we hoped he would.
The defense had not had to adjust much. With a year behind them playing a system not too different from the defense they had used before, the young players—Miller, Logan and Stonebreaker—had gained confidence. I thought we had a good chance.
Then it happened. We were a healthy, enthusiastic football team coming off two good exhibition wins over the Washington Redskins and the Pittsburgh Steelers. We had as much offense as any club in the league and a defense which had been improving steadily. The week before the Viking game the workouts were good and the spirit was good. Everyone was anxious to prove how good we really were.
And we got the hell kicked out of us. The score was 34-24 for the Vikings, but it was much worse than that. We had planned to play a ball-control game, using our strong running to keep possession and throwing sparingly, and the Vikings stopped us cold. Norman Van Brocklin is one of the great young coaches in the business and he picked us apart. When you lose the way we lost that game, everything breaks down. Nothing is good—not the coaching, the execution of plays or the hustle. We were outhustled, outthought and completely outplayed.
The score was 31-24 with seven minutes and 40 seconds to play. We kicked off to them, and you would expect to get the ball back in that much time. They moved from their own 15 to our 36—mostly on the ground and mostly through broken tackles—and kicked a field goal, and they used up six minutes and 17 seconds doing it.
Something was wrong, but it was hard to tell what. This was the worst tackling I had ever seen on a Colt team, and this was a team that had tackled viciously in the two games before. Whenever we had a receiver in the open, a Viking defensive lineman would knock the ball down. Then our line blocking in protection of Unitas also broke down. The blocking in front of the runners similarly collapsed, and we could not establish our running game.
A day or so later I was on a radio program and someone asked me why I stayed with a game plan that obviously was not going to work. They wanted to know why Johnny was not throwing more to Raymond Berry, among other things. Unitas did not have the time, often. There was double coverage on Berry at other times. And they wondered why I did not use Tony Lorick more as a runner, since Lorick had been sensational against Pittsburgh in the final preseason game. Well, you don't take a chance on rookie backs under the gun in a game like this one. They make mistakes under the best of circumstances and Lorick had not had enough time to learn our offense.
Our defense was as bad as the offense. The Vikings ran for 313 yards against us. When I got back to Baltimore—and it was a long, long trip that night from Minneapolis—I thought, I wonder what Green Bay will do to us? The Packers are the best running club in the league and they had just beaten Chicago. If the Vikings can gain 313 on the ground, what will Green Bay, with a wonderful offensive line and great runners like Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Tom Moore and Elijah Pitts, do? I did not know what to expect, but I knew whatever happened would be bad.
You can't panic, though. Our routine the week before the Green Bay game was the same as it is every week during the season. Monday we graded the movies of the Viking game, and the grades were pretty bad. We met at the Colt offices and the defensive coaches went over their half of the movie and the offensive coaches watched theirs, and no one was very happy. It took us about four hours to get through with that, and then the trainer came in to give us a report on injuries. We were lucky. Usually after a game where you do not play well you have a lot of injuries, because ballplayers get hurt when they are daydreaming or loafing and get hit from the blind side. But we didn't have anything serious.