When I first sized up the Giant squad, I was a little surprised. They were not as able, physically, as the 49ers had been, yet over the years they had been a more successful team. I soon discovered the difference: maturity. For instance, position by position, the San Francisco defensive backs looked like the finest in the league. But the New York secondary was better because of its age and greater experience.
The second big difference, and probably the most important, was that the Giant players expected to win. I was amazed at first, listening to them talk. Discussing what they would do at the end of the season, they based their plans on the championship game. The wives were the same way.
The 49ers always hoped to win, but the Giants knew they would. I suppose the New York Yankees in baseball have the same feeling—had it, at least. No other football team I played for had it.
I had had some good years with the 49ers, but I think I played better for the Giants. That probably happens often when a man is traded up to a championship team. The spirit of the club rubs off on him and he plays up to their standards. It works in reverse, too, with a player traded down to a loser. He frequently drops off.
Of course, if you expect to win, as the Giants did, the other clubs feel it and they never really believe they are going to beat you.
As the year went along I found that one of the reasons for the Giants' faith in themselves and their winning tradition was their truly great defensive unit. This was a team to itself; they had been together for several years and they had the finest esprit de corps I had ever come across. The offensive unit had pride, too, but it was not quite as closely knit. I was in my first year, and so were Del Shofner, Joe Walton and Greg Larsen, so the old offensive pattern was broken.
The defensive players called themselves the DVWs, which meant Defense vs. the World. They used code words and doubletalk in talking about the defenses when a member of the offensive team was within hearing. They were not exactly a clique. The offense and defense were like different fraternities at the same school.
Once I learned Sherman's system, I thought it was the best I had ever played; it was certainly the simplest. Allie kept frills to a minimum. He fitted his system to his players. Some coaches try to squeeze players willy-nilly into a system. For instance, we did not have fast backs who could turn a corner, so we didn't run sweeps.
"Why put in a play our personnel can't execute?" Sherman said. "Let's stay within our capabilities."
We had only one formation or set, and all our plays started out of it. The big, strong running backs, like Alex Webster, were set up behind the guards, forming a cup for the protection of the passer. You can't run sweeps very well from that kind of set, but since we weren't going to run the ends anyway it didn't cost us anything. Allie wanted those backs in position to pick up linebackers and protect the passer.