Sometimes it seems there's no end to the minuscule details you have to remember on a pro football field, right down to the way you tie your shoes, and the reason is that the teams in the pro game are so evenly matched that the little things often decide games. If the teams are just about equal in major matters, you'd better get your minor matters down pat. In the case of a quarterback, that even includes how he uses his mouth, his larynx, his vocal chords. The way you count cadence can cost you a game, and the way you call a play in the huddle can make or break your offense. You've got to exude confidence. It can't be faked. You've got to know your job backward. You've got to sound self-assured and be self-assured. When you lean over that center and start your cadence count, you can't do it in a cracking, timid voice. You can't stumble around. It's a funny thing, but they tell me that Bart Starr used to be that way when he first came up but, as you may have noticed, he licked the problem pretty fast. The simple truth is the good quarterback has to be a loudmouth. He has to be heard all the way from the flanker back on the right to the split end on the left, and that's a distance of 25 or 30 yards.
A quarterback also has to watch his diction, and if you think that sounds silly, consider the fact that only one of the other 10 men has to misunderstand a signal and the whole play can be shot: more than likely, it will be shot. You can't go into the huddle sounding like Gomer Pyle or Lady Bird Johnson. You've got to say, "Open four right 29 G O on two" in pear-shaped tones, with total clarity, not, "Open foe rat twinny nan G O own tew." That's how a lot of plays are busted. There's no room for the least misunderstanding.
I remember one day when we were doing a skeleton pass drill at Minnesota and Lee Grosscup, "The Cupper," one of the really funny men of the era, was quarter-backing. Now, "The Cupper" was an American original; he never liked to do things in the old, tired style. So he's calling a play real loud in the huddle, and he chooses his own way of saying that the play will be run on the count of two. The Cupper says, "All right, we'll run this on the deuce. On the deuce!"
Van Brocklin was standing 50 yards away, and he covered the distance in about five seconds flat. He says, "Gross-cup, we don't want any of that Madison Avenue fertilizer around here! When you mean two, say two, not the deuce!" We all got a big laugh out of it later, but Van Brocklin was absolutely right. Nothing less than 100% simplicity will do in a pro football huddle. A quarterback has to practice Allie Sherman's KISS system: "Keep It Simple, Stupid!"
And even after the poor old quarterback has followed these rules, kept his language simple and forceful, learned the opposition defense and how to probe it, done his homework and studied his scouting reports, been a good boy and helped old ladies across the street, he still might lose the ball game. Maybe the other team's quarterback has been a good boy, too, or maybe the other team has just too many guns. Or maybe the other team benefits from that vastly underrated phenomenon of pro football: the factor of luck, fate, the breaks. To my mind, there's no doubt about it. Luck enters into everything, and more than averagely into pro football. And since pro football is a game of momentum, you can lose a ball game by 35-0 because of one little break that goes against you early in the game. You shouldn't, but you can.
I don't have much patience with these people who say that the breaks all even up over the long pull. You're not playing over the long pull; you're playing right now, and it tears you apart to lose on a dirty bounce, a missed call, some kind of lucky break. I remember in 1965 we needed one touchdown in the last two minutes to beat Green Bay. Well, we scored two. The first was called back for offensive interference and the second because an official said the receiver was out-of-bounds, and the game film showed that both calls were questionable, to say the least. That was good luck on the part of the Packers, but you couldn't have found that out from the standings. And if the Packers don't win that game, they don't win the Western Division championship, and they never get a chance to beat Cleveland for the NFL championship. So don't anybody tell me that luck doesn't play a big part. I'm not sour-graping; I'm just stating facts that are well known to every NFL player.
In that same year Green Bay tied Baltimore in the last period of the playoff game and then went on to beat the Colts in overtime and win the Western Division championship. After the game was over, everybody rushed to see the game film, and it looked to many as though the field goal that had tied the game was wide. Baltimore lost the game on a break, on a matter of centimeters.
I know there's an old trite saying that the best-disciplined team makes its own breaks, makes its own luck, and this is true. But there are lots of breaks that nobody can understand, breaks that have nothing whatever to do with a team's disciplines or skills. How about the situation where you throw a pass at one of your receivers and suddenly you see that the ball is headed right into the arms of a corner back, and then out of nowhere comes another one of your receivers to pick off the ball on the dead run? Believe me, it is possible to get plenty lucky in the NFL. It is possible to slop into a victory. The win is usually to the better team, but not always.
It may seem that I've gone out of my way to cite games in which Green Bay got lucky, but that is only because Green Bay is the greatest football team in the world, and I love to use them as an example. Probably just as many breaks have gone against them, but I don't remember very many. You have to understand that I've spent countless long hours of my life pondering the problems presented by the Green Bay Packers. I have spent as much time dreaming about them, planning how to play them, being preoccupied by them, being obsessed by them, as any quarterback in the National Football League. Up at Minnesota, Green Bay was always the big game for us. And we gave very respectable performances against the Packers over the last few years. In our last six games we won two and lost four, and against the Packers that's respectable. Not only that, but every one of those games could have gone one way or the other right up to the last few minutes.
Out of all that travail, even an idiot would have learned something. What I learned was a general approach to playing the Packers. I don't say it will always work, but at least it is an idea, a theory.