Young Gaubatz earned money for clothes, books, more guns and the limited entertainment available in East Texas by raising rabbits and chickens. "I had maybe five, six hundred rabbits when I was 14 or 15," he says. "I was playing football in West Columbus, Texas, where we had moved from Needville. Me and my daddy, who was a night watchman for Texas Gulf Sulphur, raised the rabbits. I sold 'cm for a dollar apiece cleaned, until I got so busy at school I didn't have time and had to sell out. Only big trouble I had was with the young does. They used to eat their first litter until I found out what you do. You put a piece of bacon rind in the hutch a couple of days before they're due, and when the babies come the mama eats the bacon rind and not the babies."
His upbringing has made Dennis a hard football player. "He never tells you when he is hurt," says Winner. "The other day at practice he was having trouble covering the halfback on man-to-man patterns. He just couldn't move. I asked him if he was hurt and he said, 'No.' After practice I checked with the trainers and found out that they didn't want him to work because they thought he might have pleurisy."
Mentally as well as physically, Gaubatz seems to have acquired the pressure-resistant qualities that a middle linebacker must have. A couple of weeks ago the Colts beat the Minnesota Vikings 41-21 in Minneapolis, with Unitas on the sidelines with a bruised back. The hero of the game was young Cuozzo, starting at quarterback for the first time in his three years with the team. He threw five touchdown passes and performed so brilliantly that the Vikings' Norman Van Brocklin gave up coaching—for 24 hours. Before the game, knowing that Unitas was out and feeling that the defense was on trial as never before, Gaubatz was ashen.
"I feel like a vibrator," he told a friend.
Then he went out and called a cool and thoughtful game against the most difficult quarterback in the league to contain, Fran Tarkenton. Afterward, Gaubatz held out his left hand to accept a handshake from a well-wisher. The middle knuckle of the right hand was purple and swollen to the size of a golf ball.
"What happened?" his friend asked.
"I don't rightly know," Gaubatz answered. "I didn't know I had it but now I kind of recollect I hit Bill Brown on the helmet with it. Didn't hurt none to speak of. I'm just glad to get out of this one. I'm glad we held 'em. This has got to be the toughest offense in the league to call against."
In the complex Baltimore system Gaubatz has a choice of a wide variety of plays and he calls them in a huddle, just as the offensive quarterback does. And, like the quarterback, he can change the call at the line of scrimmage with an audible.
"He's still learning," says Winner, "but he is picking it up real fast. Hell, I'm still learning myself. He had a tough job against the Vikings, like everyone does, because the Vikes really have two plays from every down. The first one is the play they call in the huddle. If that breaks down and Tarkenton begins to scramble, they got another play that develops from the scramble. They like to throw to their backs—Brown and Mason, or Brown and Phil King in this case, since Mason was hurt—and that makes it doubly tough on the linebackers. Dennis did a good job on them. He always does. He doesn't have the experience that Bill Pellington had, but he's more of a gambler and he has more range. Bill was one of the best defensive signal callers because he had been in the league so long. Dennis can't match him there, but Dennis will call the blitz more often and he's quicker getting in on the blitz himself because he has more speed and he's strong enough to shed blocks."
The Colts rely on zone defenses more often than not. "We hide the zone," Gaubatz says. "Any defense has weaknesses and the various zones have them, too. You got to figure what the quarterback will call and set a defense that will match your strength with his point of attack. If he comes out in a set that is obviously going to hit our defense where it's weak, I change off at the line. Then he changes and I change, and we're in a guessing game. So far this year we have guessed right pretty good."