Another thing, the old backs are better blockers than the rookies, because they can pick up a blitz instinctively and don't make as many mistakes. We were badly beaten by Philadelphia in the first game of the year when the Eagles used a safety blitz on us, although we had seen a lot of safety blitzes before. The St. Louis Cardinals used it all the time. Phil King, one of our backs in 1963, had been traded, and we missed his experience. Rookies played a lot in the Philadelphia game. All great players were rookies once, but to win you must have veteran experience.
A big problem with a lot of young players is the difficulty they have running pass cuts. The first pass pattern you learn with the Giants is a square-out. The flanker or spread end goes downfield, then cuts a square corner to the outside, toward the sideline. It's the kind of pass I like to throw—to the outside. A halfback's pattern on the square-out is a flare—a sort of semicircle out of the backfield which forces an outside linebacker to cover him and gets the linebacker out of the path of the pass to the spread end or the flanker.
The old backs know why they are running that pattern, and they know how to adjust it to meet special circumstances. They may run the pattern wide or tight, depending on how the linebacker takes them. They know that they are supposed to get the linebacker out of the way of the pass.
We used that pattern often last year. In one game I asked a rookie to run it wider; the outside linebacker was releasing him to the middle backer and drifting on out. He did not understand.
"Why should I?" he asked me. I explained, but it didn't take. He knew he ran a circle on the No. 1 square-out; he didn't know why. I'm sure he will find out soon and develop the feel of a play. When he does he will be a veteran.
On another of our patterns the receiver is supposed to run at the defensive back, give him a head and shoulder fake to the inside, then break to the outside. The fake is important; it immobilizes the back for a split second and gives the receiver a chance to break free. One of our rookies last year ran this pattern without the fake, and when I looked for him he was covered. I had to eat the ball. When he came back to the huddle I told him he was supposed to use an inside fake on the play and to use it. He said he wouldn't forget it again.
I called the same play later in the game, and the back covering our rookie blew his assignment. Instead of covering to the outside, as he was supposed to, he went into the hole and left my receiver all by himself. When our man came to the point in his pattern where he was supposed to fake to the inside, no one was on him. He could have broken to the outside immediately and I could have hit him for a long gain. But, with no one on him, he went through the fake while I watched and pumped the ball back and forth, and then he broke to the outside. By that time someone hit me from the blind side and the opportunity was gone. If the receiver had been Joe Walton or any other veteran, when he started his pattern and saw that the defender had made a mistake he would have turned and started hollering, "Yat, Yat!" and we would have had a long gain. I am writing this not to criticize young players but to emphasize that the team making the fewest mental errors usually ends up the champ.
And, as I said earlier, Y. A. Tittle had a bad year. I think the hardest thing in the world for an athlete to do is to try to evaluate his own performance. I mean, the difference between a good and a bad year is so small. I always feel the same; I feel right now like I could throw the ball as well as ever. Maybe I had grown too old by the time the 1964 season began. Maybe I had lost a half step or slowed down a split second on my reflexes. I don't honestly know. It's like when you live with someone a long time and they grow old very gradually and you never realize it. You can't see the change, but someone who hasn't seen them in 10 years can. I couldn't detect the change in me.
I got taped up and came back after that rib-cage injury, but I'm sure it had an effect on me. Because it hurt so much to get hit, I may have been releasing the ball too soon. That's a good way to get interceptions, and I got a lot of them.
As the season went on and we kept losing games I began to lose something else—my confidence. I slid back from being an old pro almost to being a rookie again. I lost the courage to buck the tide. Instead of throwing a fly, going for a home run. when I thought it would work, I threw the square-out because it was safer. The injuries kept piling up, too. Even Steve Thurlow and Ernie Wheelwright, the rookie backs, were hurt. Greg Larsen got a knee and so did John LoVetere. Dick Pesonen was hurt. We limped home.