SI Vault
John Underwood
September 20, 1965
Pro football is for fat linemen, quarterbacks who cannot run and coaches who never vary an offense. So argues the author, who adds it is but a pale imitation of the intercollegiate brand
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September 20, 1965

The College Game Is Best

Pro football is for fat linemen, quarterbacks who cannot run and coaches who never vary an offense. So argues the author, who adds it is but a pale imitation of the intercollegiate brand

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There is, furthermore, a myth that pro ends and flankers have a unique, secret understanding of how to run a pass pattern. Television's isolated camera is taking care of that. It always shows a familiar tableau. The end runs downfield, cuts in—or out or slants or buttonhooks or does something else that he first learned in high school—and the quarterback throws him the ball. As simple as that. No mystery.

My lawyer friend had been standing mute for some time and I thought it safe to pause for breath, but when I did he grabbed the initiative—cunning little barrister that he is.

"No running attack, eh? No diversity? Did you know that Allie Sherman is going to the wing T this year? Haven't you heard of Jimmy Brown, Jim Taylor, John David Crow? What about Cookie Gilchrist and Keith Lincoln in that other league? What about Vince Lombardi's big back offense at Green Bay?"

I agreed that Green Bay was a refreshingly different cup of split T (the pun went unrewarded, but I enjoyed it immensely). Obviously, Lombardi, when he was learning under Red Blaik at Army, paid no attention to pro coaches who were at that time saying it was impossible to move a 250-pound tackle far enough to get a running game going. Lombardi could not but think a 240-pound guard could move a 250-pound tackle at least part of the time, and eventually he proved it. Allie Sherman will have to coach up to college standards to make the wing T work. Sure, the ground game is tougher on the participants, but football is supposed to be a contact sport. The good run is still the most exciting play in football. Interesting, too, is what happens when you run the ball better, the things that open up for you. The most effective quarterback in the league last year was Bart Starr of Green Bay—a "running" team. The most effective passing team was Minnesota, with Fran Tarkenton doing all that ridiculous scrambling. Compared to Tarkenton, half the quarterbacks in the NFL run like Pete Rozelle. And do not overlook the injury factor. According to the Classic Pro Quarterback Instruction Booklet, bad boys who run out of the pocket get hurt. Perhaps Tarkenton did not read that part. Babe Parilli once told me he'd rather get hit a glancing blow running from a red-dogging defense than have it cascade down on him.

"I am tired of hearing about scrambling quarterbacks," said the lawyer. "Let's get back to where you said there were no good running backs in pro football."

I did not say the pros do not have good running backs, I corrected him. They have great running backs. They get the best the colleges can offer. They just do not have great running attacks. No self-respecting college coach, certainly not John McKay or Ara Parseghian or Bobby Dodd, would prepare an offense that did not include a reverse trap or two, a few counters, a bootleg, a scissors, some rollouts, some post-turn blocking. You see sucker traps in the pros, but you seldom see effective two-on-one blocking. There is little faking. You almost never see a sustained drive, the kind that takes the heart out of a defense. The line play is not crisp, it is just violently heavy. College coaches in private call it pushing and shoving. They could add: illegal pushing and shoving. A college official refereeing a pro game would be throwing penalty flags all day. And the handoffs. Oh, the handoffs. I saw the Browns try what looked suspiciously like a reverse in the championship game with Baltimore, and the play was so badly executed, Paul Warfield could not have gotten to the ball in a taxi. If an opposing team pulled a double reverse on a pro defense the defense would consider it unethical.

Look here, I said, producing a page from the Sunday New York Times . I had kept it folded in my pocket hoping for this turn in the debate. Obviously, you will say, I had stacked the deck and, obviously, that is what I had done. Anyway, the page had stories of three pro exhibition games. The six teams involved rang up these yardage totals rushing the football: 21 yards, 49 yards, 113 yards, 87, 15 and 48 yards. The average for the six teams was a paltry 55.5 yards' rushing. Devastating, I said.

"Who got the 113?" asked the lawyer. He sounded rather subdued, it seemed to me.

Cleveland, I answered and that means Jimmy Brown. Which is another point. The pros don't block. Do you know what a look-out block is? It's what college coaches call some of the blocks they see executed in the pros. The blocker makes a pass at an onrushing lineman, turns and yells, "Look out!" to the quarterback. Jimmy Brown is one of the best look-out blockers in the business. He may be the greatest running back in the history of football, but he wouldn't play first team for a lot of college coaches unless he learned to block.

A college player blocks, gets up and blocks again. I once saw an LSU lineman block four different men on one play. The college player may not know the subtleties the pros talk about, is liable to make more mistakes than the pro and will not conserve his energy as well. But he is reckless and daring and unconcerned about his personal safety. He swarms on a ballcarrier. He pursues. He is easily inspired. Football is not his life's work, it is his sport. Red Blaik of Army believed that the extra weight and the attitude of the professional combine to work against him when he is called on to go beyond his immediate responsibility—pursuing a fleeing ballcarrier or blocking downfield. College teams thrive on going beyond.

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