In my insurance business, suppose I said to a salesman, "Go see Mr. Jones and this is what you do. First, you ask him, 'Do you know you will die someday?' Then you say, 'Is your family properly protected?' Then he will say thus and so and you will say such and such and after 15 minutes you say this sentence here and you will close him." If the salesman did that and did not fit his interview to the customer, you know what would happen to him? He would starve to death. He has to be flexible and fit himself to a situation. So does a quarterback.
It comes slow, because you have to have a past history of some success to give yourself status and self-confidence. You have to accomplish something before you believe.
I was lucky when I came up to the pros with the old Baltimore Colts in the All-America Conference. My first pro coach was Cecil Isbell, who had himself been a great passer for the Green Bay Packers. He was one of the men who threw to Don Hutson. Curly Lambeau, who was the coach and the owner of the Packers then, and who saw all the top passers, once said that Cecil was the best of the lot.
I suppose I gained self-confidence quickly under Cecil because he believed that you should put the ball in the air. Even though I was a rookie, Cecil did not second-guess me. I was lucky, too, that the Colts were a new team and none of the players had any more experience than I had. The league had just been formed and we were all young together. I did not have any oldtimers in the huddle to question my judgment and I had always had confidence in my ability to throw the ball, so I got the best possible initiation into pro football.
Isbell taught me another thing that was valuable to me all during my career. He not only believed completely in throwing the ball, he believed in throwing to the outside. That may not sound like a very important lesson, but over the years it saved me a lot of interceptions. Now and then I threw into the hole but I preferred to go to the outside, and Cecil was the first to point out to me the logic and the percentage in this. I won't be back out there next year, so I don't mind admitting this preference now, although I suspect the habit shows up on every frequency chart in the NFL.
Cece's theory and the one I operated on was this:
When you throw into the hole you are throwing into trouble. A passer throwing over the center of the line has to be able to see in two directions at once, since there are defenders on both sides of the receiver. A safety may sift across just out of the line of your vision, and the weak-side linebacker is close enough to follow your eyes and move into the play. When you throw to the outside you only have to look in one direction and trouble can only come from the inside, so you can see it easily and quickly. A lot of quarterbacks get themselves into trouble throwing into the hole.
Cece taught me something else: the only way you can complete a pass is by having good protection and one open receiver. The long-drawn-out, complicated pass patterns designed to break open receivers at one-second intervals were no good to me. It was always me and one receiver against the defense. I knew who I wanted to throw to, and I expected that one guy to beat his man and I expected to get the ball there. If he didn't I looked for someone else, sure, but if I didn't find someone quick I threw the ball away. You don't have time back there to look all over the lot for a receiver. You have three seconds.
My rookie year, 1948, was one of my best. We went all the way to a tie for first with Buffalo in the eastern division of the AAC. We lost the playoff, but that first year was one of the big breaks in my career. I possibly could have taken two or three more years to develop the feel of running a team. I have known some overcoached quarterbacks who took a lot longer than that to get the freedom to run a club that I had, under Isbell, in my first year.
Isbell was fired after the fourth game of the second season I spent with the Colts. He was one of the best coaches and one of the best men I ever knew and I still hear from him now and then. When I was with the Giants he would watch me on television in a game and call me the next day with a suggestion on how to improve a call or tell me how I made a mistake, and he was always right.