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My three big years with the Giants all ended in the same way: we lost the championship game. I don't know if any team could have whipped Green Bay for the 1961 championship. We had lost to them 20-17 four weeks before, and on the day of the title game in Green Bay they were one of the best football teams I have ever seen. They jumped off to a 24-0 lead in the second quarter and we had to try to play catch-up against a very tough defense. It wound up 37-0.
We made it a lot closer in 1962 in Yankee Stadium, but lost to the Packers again. If you were there that day, you will remember that the wind was blowing hard and it was bitterly cold. The Giants were a passing team; the Packers could run or pass, and the high wind and bitter cold didn't make so much difference to them. That's an explanation, not an alibi.
Then in 1963 we met the Bears in Chicago. Early in the game, Larry Morris hit me just as I threw the ball and I could feel a pain in my knee. Late in the second quarter I stumbled on the icy ground as I threw and Morris hit the bad leg again as I went down. This time the knee felt like someone had stuck an ice pick in it, and pain was shooting up the leg as well.
At half time doctors and trainers worked on my knee, and it was taped and strapped. I wanted to play the second half and I did, and found that I couldn't get back fast enough to get set nor could I stride on the bad leg, and my passes were straying. The Bears intercepted five and we lost. I still think we would have won the game if I had been able to throw naturally in the second half. We were leading at the end of the first half.
I guess that game was just a sign of the things to come in 1964. Since the end of the season I have thought a lot about what happened. It is almost incredible that a team as good as the Giants could drop from the division championship to last place in one season.
There was, of course, a combination of circumstances. There was a small psychological thing right at the beginning of the year. In 1962 and 1963 we ended our exhibition season against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants did not worry much about exhibition games; if we lost a couple early we figured that we could put everything together for the last exhibition against Philadelphia and be ready for the season. Since the Eagles were in the doldrums in those years, it worked out fine.
But in 1964 our last exhibition game was against the Detroit Lions, and they murdered us. We did not start the season with a feeling of confidence; we started it wondering what was wrong.
Then the season started, and the real bugaboo hit. Injuries. I tore cartilage in my rib cage in the second game. Del Shofner pulled a muscle, then developed ulcers that were so bad he had to quit halfway through the year. Darrell Dess, a key to our offensive line, was hurt, Dick Lynch went out, Alex Webster had a bad back. We were almost always using a makeshift lineup, and that hurts in more ways than one.
It is hard to overestimate the value of veterans. For instance, with Rote or Gifford or Webster or any of our veterans, I got a continuing stream of information in the huddle. Gifford was one of the great students of defenses and defensive players. He would come back in to the huddle and say, "Yat, I can beat this guy inside," and I knew he could. Shofner would fill me in on the men covering him and I could depend on his dope. With rookie backs and ends it's different. They are busy running the patterns the way they were drawn on the board. They don't bring you back information, and often, even if they find out something, they are too shy to say anything about it.
So right away my intelligence system went to pieces. Without the veterans around to pick out the flaws in the defenses, I had lost most of what a quarterback depends upon.