I threw two bad passes for San Francisco in the eighth game of the 1959 season and was on my way to New York. It was a year and a half before I got my ticket, but Red Hickey, the San Francisco coach, must have made up his mind on that cold afternoon in Chicagos.
Red had taken over from Frank Albert as the head coach of the 49ers in 1959. John Brodie and I were the quarterbacks. I respected Hickey, but he was never sure which quarterback he preferred. He went with what would win, and he went with me for the first six games of the 1959 season, when we won five and lost only one. I think Hickey really would have preferred to use Brodie, because of his youth, but he was a practical man and he did not want to break up a winning combination.
That season I had an infection of the inner ear that made me dizzy most of the time. My coordination was off and I wasn't very accurate. I probably had the worst year of my career in percentage of passes completed, but we had a hell of a team and we won—until we played the Bears in Chicago in November.
When I went into that game for the first time we were already a touchdown behind. For a change I didn't feel dizzy, but I threw two of the worst passes of my life. Hugh McElhenny got loose on a pattern and I overthrew him by a mile, and a Bear defensive back was so surprised he let the ball bounce off his chest. Billy Wilson got free from here to yonder on the next play, and I threw the ball right to another Bear and this time he didn't drop it.
I came back to the bench and Hickey looked at me as if I were something he had just stepped in. He was not a man to hide his emotions. We held the Bears and they punted and I started to put my hat on and Hickey said, "Hold it, Y. A. Brodie is going in for you."
I didn't know it then, but that was the end of the line for me and the 49ers. The 1960 season in San Francisco started sort of halfy-halfy for me. I was splitting time with Brodie, and splitting time is not as good for the old quarterback as it is for the young one. I began to understand how Frank Albert had felt when I came to the 49ers. The two-quarterback setup was all right for John. He was the kid coming in, making inroads; I was the old man fighting for his job. There was a lot more pressure on me than there was on him. Every minute I spent on the bench was a sign that I was slipping back.
Earlier I talked about a quarterback making it big when he has the feel and the power to inspire confidence in himself and in his team. A situation like the one with Brodie begins to take that away from you. Now I was no longer sure that whatever I did was right. I was almost a rookie again. I had Brodie breathing down my neck and I was playing under Hickey and his rigid game plans, and I began trying to please the coach again instead of myself.
I reached the point where I started explaining my calls while I was coming off the field. I went along with the game plan 100% even though I knew I should deviate at times. I began to be afraid of making mistakes.
I can look back now and see what fear took out of me. I started against New York in the first game of 1960. Then, against Detroit, Brodie went in and won the game in the last few minutes. He started the next game, had a bad half and I came in and did pretty well, but we didn't win. We played Chicago and I got a bad groin injury. The next game we lost big to Detroit, then we beat Dallas and I tore the groin muscle again. But the torn muscle wasn't the worst thing that happened to me in Dallas. That was where Hickey made up his mind to go to the shotgun formation.
On the Saturday before the game Hickey went out to see Southern Methodist play and watched Don Meredith operating from a spread formation. Don had a good day. The next week we were playing the Baltimore Colts, who had won the championship in 1958 and were considered a superclub. We came out to practice, and Hickey pulled some notes out of his pocket and introduced us to the shotgun.