If Lombardi's young group holds up, the Packers have a better than good chance for a long time to come. Of the 40 players on the team as the season opened, there is a clear separation of oldtimers and newcomers. Nineteen of the 40 have been in the league more than five years; their average age is a little more than 29, their average experience is eight years. The other 21 are the Packers of the youth movement and the near future; their average age is a trifle more than 23, and their average experience is a little less than two and a half years.
For every old Packer, there is a young one waiting impatiently on the sidelines; this, as Lombardi knows well, makes for not only an eager young team, but an eager old one as well. Lombardi is a demanding and difficult coach, but the players don't mind this. An example is an experience of Ken Bowman. As a rookie Bowman was beaten three times in a row by Willie Davis, the great Packer defensive end, in Packer scrimmages. The third time he was beaten Lombardi told him, "Get off the field."
"I knew that if I couldn't produce I wouldn't be just off the field but I'd be off the Packer football team," Bowman said. "I also knew that if I could produce Lombardi would find a place for me on the team. We played a game the next Sunday, and I did what I had to do because I knew I had to do it."
The Packers, old and young, will come to a crossroads Sunday when they meet another team with almost the same combination of wise age and eager youth. The Colts, under the canny guidance of Quarterback John Unitas, turned back the young enthusiasts from Minnesota 35-16 on the hottest September 19 in Baltimore since 1896, and they did it with aplomb and an impressive display of depth.
While the Green Bay youngsters were demonstrating how well they have learned their lessons, the Colt victory was fashioned principally by the older ballplayers, with only an occasional assist from the new Colts. Unitas picked at the flaws in the Viking defense carefully and accurately, and he threw to tested receivers like Raymond Berry and Jimmy Orr. When the Colts needed to move on the ground, he handed the ball to Lenny Moore or Jerry Hill, both of whom have been around a long time.
"All we heard all week was contain," one of the Colt defensive players said. "Contain Tarkenton. So that's what we did. We let him have the middle and kept him from rolling out. If he has to throw from the pocket he misses."
The cogency of the Baltimore plan was immediately obvious. Throwing from the pocket, Tarkenton was inaccurate. Twice on one series of plays he had End Paul Flatley open behind a Baltimore defender, and twice he overthrew the receiver. In contrast, when Unitas sent Jimmy Orr downfield on a deep pattern and Orr beat a Viking corner back by a step, Unitas' long pass settled precisely in his arms for a gain that set up a Baltimore touchdown.
Baltimore was an impressive team in this victory; in Milwaukee against Green Bay the Colts will have to be as good or better. The Vikings, in the wilting heat at Baltimore, had no first-line replacements to spell their panting first teams either on offense or defense. The Packers will be able to dredge up quality football players from the deepest bench in football.
Despite their handy victory, the Colts showed some flaws that could be fatal against a team as accomplished as Green Bay. Flatley often beat the Colt secondary. Had Tarkenton been on target, the game could have gone to the Vikings. Starr is a cool and competent quarterback, and his receivers are at least as good as Tarkenton's. Like Unitas, he is a drop-back passer, and the Colt defense will have an entirely different chore in Milwaukee. Instead of trying to hold Starr inside the blocking cup they will have to try to force him out of it. They will find this difficult.
Although Unitas and the Colt offense proved again that they move the ball as well as any team, the brightest part of the victory was the sturdy Colt defense. With the retirement of Defensive End Gino Marchetti and Middle Linebacker Bill Pellington, the most serious problem facing the Colts had been to find replacements for them. But Dennis Gaubatz, a young middle linebacker obtained in a between-season trade with Detroit, gave the Baltimore defense more range than Pellington at his position, and Lou Michaels played superbly in Marchetti's place.