With the team we had, the pass was obviously our most effective weapon. We had remarkable receivers in Shofner and Rote and Walton and Gifford. Sherman designed his offense to take advantage of them.
We had no more than seven or eight running plays in my four years with the Giants, but that was enough. Our passing formations were simple, too, and the quarterback did not have to call the pass-blocking assignments, because they were always the same.
Another advantage of using just one formation was that the quarterback could always tell where a play broke down—who blew a blocking assignment, for example. If you line up in seven or eight different sets, it may be one back's assignment to pick up a blitz on one play and another man's on the next. With only one formation, the assignments are clear and the failures are obvious.
After that first year with the Giants I used to argue strategy between seasons with Bill Johnson, who had played center on the 49ers with me and was then coaching their line.
"That's too simple, Yat," he'd tell me. "You limit yourself too much. You can't go outside, you can't do this, you can't do that."
I reminded him of an old San Francisco saying, "Never criticize the trapper with the skins on the wall." New York had the skins, and simplicity was the key. We did not beat ourselves.
Sherman's theory was that if a club beats its opponent 55% of the time but makes enough mistakes in a game to beat itself 10%, it will lose. But if the same club can beat an opponent 51% of the time and never beat itself, it will win. That was the theory the Giants operated on, and it won division championships three years in a row while I was with them. We didn't confuse our opponents much, but we weren't confused at all ourselves.
Probably the happiest moment in my whole football career came at the end of the 1961 season and, oddly enough, I was on the bench when it happened. We were playing Cleveland at the Stadium, and the score was tied 7-7. All we needed was the tie to win the Eastern Division championship. Our defense had the Browns bottled up deep in their own territory as the last seconds ticked away, but I had been close before so often without making it that I was holding my breath waiting for the gun.
When it went off, I jumped up and down and hollered like a high school kid. I mean, 14 years is a long time to play football without being on a championship team. The championships in 1962 and 1963 were good and satisfying and I had better seasons in those years, but nothing will ever touch the feeling I had when we won in 1961.
Conerly, I think, was the key to that championship. He was a quiet man who did not speak often or long and he had an expressionless face. He must have felt bad, after 10 years as the Giant quarterback, having to share his last season with me. But he never showed it and never said anything to me that was not complimentary. We became close friends, socially, but we never talked football off the field.