The Colts started jumping in Gaubatz' direction soon after the end of the 1964 season because Bill Pellington, who had been their middle linebacker and defensive signal-caller for 12 years, retired.
"We liked Dennis because he had done a hell of a job against us as a substitute for Joe Schmidt when Joe was hurt," says Don Kellett, the Colts' general manager. "We called Harry Gilmer [the new Detroit coach] and Russ Thomas [ Detroit's director of player personnel], and they wanted more than we wanted to give up. Finally, it came down to the last phone call and Thomas said, 'O.K., we'll give you Gaubatz for Joe Looney and a draft choice.' I'm not saying what the draft choice was. Anyway, I said, 'Russ, that's the same deal we offered you yesterday, and you said there was no way you could make it. You changed your thinking?' 'I guess that's it,' he said, and we made the deal and Shula nearly fell off his chair laughing. It was a real good deal."
Shula wasted no time indoctrinating Gaubatz in the Baltimore defensive system which—now that Clark Shaughnessy has left the Bears—may be the most complicated in the league. "I got a call from Pittsburgh," Gaubatz says. "I was working in the Ford plant in Detroit, and I knew the Lions didn't like me but I didn't know I was going to be traded. Then I got this call from the office to call Thomas or Gilmer in Pittsburgh. I thought, 'Oh, Lord, they done traded me to Pittsburgh.' I returned the call and Thomas said, 'I'm not going to beat around the bush. We traded you to Baltimore.' All I said was, 'Thanks,' and I hung up. Then the phone rang again, and it was Shula. I was upset right at first, then I started to feel real good about it. I was glad to leave Detroit."
Shula had called to start Gaubatz on a course of instruction as the defensive signal-caller of the Colts. The course was taught in brain-crushing detail until the season began, and the lessons are by no means ended.
"We got lots of defenses," is the way Gaubatz puts it. "I think it's a good idea. Way we figure, you got to give the opposing quarterback a lot to think about and not much time to think about it in. We don't show but two defensive sets when the quarterback come up to the line of scrimmage, but we change ever thing when he start to drop back to pass. So he ain't got more than three, maybe four, seconds to recognize the defense, decide what to do and do it. That shouldn't be enough time, we figure."
Gaubatz himself has about the same amount of time, before the snap, in which to analyze all the factors contributing to the defense he will call—and he has been well prepared for these highspeed hunches. "The defensive coaches analyze the movies and the scout reports on Monday," Dennis says. "Then they give us the defenses on Tuesday. Winner will give me a chart of what the quarterback is liable to call in any situation on any part of the field, and I study that. I know, for instance, that you've got to be careful when Green Bay has third and short yardage in its own end of the field. Third and two or three, you figure Bart Starr will send Jim Taylor into the line for the first down and you got to respect Taylor. Anybody says he ain't been run over by Taylor ain't played against him. I been in places where all he had to do was make a move and go and maybe he's gone for more yards, but he sees me and runs right at me. He can hurt you. But to go back to that third and two or three. I'm Taylor-conscious but I know that Starr, in the last couple years, has thrown maybe 10 or 15 long passes from there and a lot of them worked. He fakes Taylor in the line, you come up fast, and then he throws deep and it's six points. So when is he going to do that? I don't know yet. I just got to hope. I got to believe in me."
In the sure, swift movements with which he stalks his opponents, Gaubatz resembles a hunter. The resemblance is not accidental. "I wanted a gun since I can remember," he says. The first one he bought cost him 10 Saturdays of 10 hours' work at a grocery store. His pay was $2.50, and each week he trotted from the grocery to the hardware store to deposit the cash with the proprietor until he had his gun.
"I'd crawl a mile on my belly through the marsh to get a shot," he says. "I think hunting has helped with football. It gives you the eye. I ain't the best shot in the world, but I been shooting a long time."
A friend of Colt Owner Carroll Rosen-bloom took Gaubatz hunting the other day, and he does not agree with Dennis. "He hit geese we couldn't see," he announced. "He hit damn near everything that moved, for that matter. I never saw a better shot."
"I reached up pretty high for a couple of geese," Gaubatz says. "Just lucky, I guess."