SI Vault
Tex Maule
September 13, 1965
Coach Norman Van Brocklin has alternately sweet-talked and whiplashed his young Vikings into contention for the NFL title. His chief weapon is a gambling, scrambling quarterback called Peach
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September 13, 1965

The Dutchman Is Half An Inch Away

Coach Norman Van Brocklin has alternately sweet-talked and whiplashed his young Vikings into contention for the NFL title. His chief weapon is a gambling, scrambling quarterback called Peach

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Dutch's career with the Rams was stormy. He played in the 1949 All-Star Game in Chicago and came to the Ram camp in Redlands, Calif. to find three fine quarterbacks already there. Bob Waterfield was No. 1; he had won the league championship for the Rams in his rookie year, 1945, and by 1949 he was firmly established as not only one of the best tactical and technical quarterbacks in football but also one of the best punters and place-kickers as well. Behind him was veteran Jim Hardy, and behind Hardy was a remarkable young rookie from Virginia named Bobby Thomason. Thomason could dribble a football the way Bob Cousy could dribble a basketball. In the Ram intrasquad game he had performed so well that his team had beaten Waterfield's.

So, coming in, Van Brocklin had no reason to be optimistic. He spent a good deal of his first year with the Rams on the bench, which he did not relish. Clark Shaughnessy was the coach of the 1949 Rams. Halfway through the season Van Brocklin told him that if he would play him he would break every passing record in the NFL book. Eventually Dutch almost did, but in his rookie year he had to be content with battling Waterfield for playing time.

After a couple of years the Ram fans—and the Ram players, sadly—split into Van Brocklin and Waterfield factions. At almost any game there would be a group chanting for Waterfield if Van Brocklin was in the game, and vice versa. Then Waterfield retired, and the Rams drafted Billy Wade. Van Brocklin became the Waterfield of the duo—the veteran quarterback being pursued by a rookie. By this time Sid Gillman was the Ram coach. He preferred Wade to Van Brocklin for reasons still unclear. Van Brocklin finally decided that it would be better to retire than to play for Gillman, and he announced that he would. Reeves, a man who has made few mistakes in his pro-football career, thereupon made a big one. Allowing Gillman to sway him, he let Van Brocklin go. Great quarterbacks are rarities; coaches are not so rare and not so important to their teams.

Van Brocklin went to the Eagles and to Buck Shaw, a coach who gave him his head and for whom he won a world championship. "He was the best," says Van Brocklin. "I liked playing for him. He left the quarterback alone. You have to do that. I got more information accidentally on the field than any coach can get on the sidelines. The receivers tell you who they can beat, and the blockers know what they can do to the defensive line. You can't get that on the sideline."

Van Brocklin won the 1960 championship with an Eagle team most observers considered no better than third best in the East, behind Cleveland and New York. Van Brocklin beat the Giants twice that year. The second victory was the key to the Eagle championship, and it was won on a typically ingenious and audacious call by the Dutchman.

Under the permissive Shaw, Van Brocklin was in effect the offensive coach. He and Charley Gauer, one of Shaw's assistants, chose the plays. For the second Giant game they had doped out a special play to capitalize on Sam Huff's habit of coming up fast from his middle linebacker post to meet running plays. The play was a fake trap on which Van Brocklin pretended to hand off to a back going into the line and then dropped back to throw a pass to the Eagle fullback, Ted Dean.

At the beginning of the fourth period the Eagles were behind 23-17. Huff had been reading Van Brocklin's audible signals very well, notably on a dive play that the Dutchman had called several times at the line of scrimmage. The number designating the dive was 21; whenever Dutch said, "Twenty-one," Huff hollered, "Dive!" and moved up to stop the play.

On the first play of the fourth period Van Brocklin called the fake trap pass in the huddle, then told the team that he would call, "Twenty-one," at the line of scrimmage.

"When I do, forget it," he said. "We'll go with the play I just called. The 21 is for old Sam. He's been reading our audibles and we're going to sting him."

At the line of scrimmage, Dutch hollered, "Set 21," and Huff reacted like a Pavlov dog, yelling, "Dive!" and moving up. Van Brocklin made a purposely sloppy fake to Dean, showing the ball to the defense so they would let him slip through the line unimpeded. Then he made a good fake to the other back, Billy Barnes, and Huff tackled Barnes at the line of scrimmage. Dean looped into the area that had been vacated by Huff, and Van Brocklin hit him with a perfect short pass over the middle. Dean carried the ball all the way in for the touchdown that put the Eagles ahead and, as much as any play, won the division championship for them.

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