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A PRIDE OF OLD PRO QUARTERBACKS
The eight quarterbacks on the next four pages total 98 years of experience in the National Football League, 17 league championships and countless contusions and broken bones. In many ways they have been the NFL, establishing the pattern for others to follow, developing and perfecting the T formation as it is known today, setting the records and then breaking them, making few mistakes themselves and refusing to tolerate the mistakes of others. Only one of them, Baltimore's Johnny Unitas, is still active; the rest are elder statesmen of the game they helped nurture from spindly adolescence to a robust maturity. The star quarterbacks of this season will have names like Starr, Ryan, Wade, Jurgensen, Johnson and Tarkenton, but none of these has yet attained the stature of the great ones. The latest of the old pros to hang up his cleats is Y. A. Tittle, whose story begins on page 27.
You do not become a mature pro quarterback until you tell your coach to go fly a kite.
I spent 27 years playing football, and maybe that was the most valuable thing I learned in all of that time. I learned it in my first year as a pro, with the Baltimore Colts in the All-America Conference. I remembered it last year, with the New York Giants, but as the season went on I did not act on it. That may have been one of the big reasons I left pro football on a bad year and one of the big reasons the Giants went from first to last in the Eastern Division of the National Football League.
Don't misunderstand me. I am not criticizing Allie Sherman. I admire and respect Allie both as a man and as a coach, and I don't think any coach in football could have done better than he did under the circumstances last season. I am criticizing Y.A. Tittle .
I was not the only reason the Giants did not repeat as division champions last season and, for that matter, I may not have been the most important. But I was a factor and a big one and, whatever I have to say about the 1964 disaster, I want to make one thing very clear right now. I did not play well. I'll go into the reasons why later, but remember that: Y.A. Tittle had a bad year.
Some people have said that was because the pro football game had passed me by. I am—or was—a drop-back quarterback and I don't know how to run. I spent 27 years in football throwing the ball, and it took all my time learning how to do that well. I guess Jimmy Brown spent all his time learning how to run; he can run a lot better than I could, but I could throw the ball a lot better than Jimmy Brown.
You hear a lot about the importance of the running game in pro football, about how the runners are taking over, but how many division championships have the Cleveland Browns, with the greatest all-round running back in football history in Jim Brown, won since 1956 when they got him? Two. I personally feel, and not because I was a passer, that the passing game is still the most important phase of the offensive attack. The receivers are so good today that the offensive team is capable of scoring from any distance.
If you want to take the trouble to check back, you will find out that the one common factor of all championship teams, year after year, has been a great drop-back passer. No scrambler ever won a championship. Go back 15 years. In 1950 and 1951 the Rams had Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin and the Cleveland Browns had Otto Graham. In 1952 and 1953 the Detroit Lions had Bobby Layne. In 1954 and 1955 it was Cleveland again, still with Otto Graham. The 1956 Giants had Charlie Conerly, and Detroit in 1957 had Tobin Rote to go along with Layne. In 1958 and 1959 Johnny Unitas took the Baltimore Colts to the world championship, and in 1960 it was Van Brocklin again, with a Philadelphia team you couldn't rate any better than third in the East, except for the quarterback.
The Packers won it in 1961 and 1962, and I suppose it was the running of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung and Tom Moore that really started all the talk about the rebirth of the running game, but for my money the key man on that team was Bart Starr, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in football.