The answer is, I am going to try to beat them at their own game. Normally, I'm a gambler. I like to think of myself as a member of the wild-eyed, try-any-thing new breed of quarterback, but I am going to have to fight down that tendency against the Packers. I am going to have to school myself and my teammates to be patient, to be disciplined, to be controlled exactly like the Packers
. To beat Green Bay you've got to use a controlled short-passing game to certain vulnerable points, coupled with a strong, solid running game, always going forward, not giving them the interception or the fumble, because they're not going to give you the interception or the fumble. They're not going to make mistakes, so you can't make mistakes, either. Therefore I am going to eliminate from my repertoire all the plays that are potentially risky, full of possibilities for error, and throw Green Bay's simple, disciplined game right back at them. I might have to show them something different once or twice, just as they might show us an occasional variation, but there's a difference between showing the opposition something and really counting on it in your plan.
Most of all, I am going to give up my favorite play, every quarterback's favorite play: the home run. There is no way in the world that anybody is going to beat Green Bay with the long ball. Instead, you are going to get intercepted and sent to the Continental League. A big gambler is a big loser against the Packers. A gambler has to make an occasional wrong guess, and everybody knows that Vince Lombardi stands along the sidelines muttering over and over to himself, "Please let's not give them anything they don't deserve." With an attitude like that, the Packers eat up gamblers.
Even as great a quarterback as John Unitas has trouble throwing the long ball against Green Bay. The Colts have lost five straight times to the Packers. Last year their quarterbacks threw seven interceptions against Green Bay in two games. Why, in their first meeting last year the game had hardly started before Green Bay had intercepted twice. And in their second game the Colts opened with a long pass right down the middle, and there was Willie Wood to pick it off! Nobody is ever going to beat Green Bay with a bunch of gambles, with chancy plays, long passes, razzle-dazzle fleaflickers or any other rinky-dink technique. The Packers are too well schooled, too well disciplined and too experienced together, and you're not getting any yardage off them except by giving them a mirror image of their own style. I don't say this will always beat them; I do say there is no other way to beat them.
In our first 1966 game against the Packers, we were prepared to control the ball, eat out first downs and execute. Their defensive game plan seemed to be to wait and see what we were up to; they didn't rush the way they usually do, and Willie Davis didn't touch me at all that day, which is three or four times less than usual for Willie. Apparently they decided not to let me get away on any scrambles, and in order to do this they had to ease up on their pass rush so that there were always tacklers available at the line of scrimmage. This worked in our favor. But the main thing that worked in our favor was the fact that we played Green Bay-style ball; we didn't make mistakes. We tied the game in the second quarter on an 80-yard march that took us eight minutes, slow and steady, featuring the kind of short, low passes that Bart Starr practically invented and the kind of five-yard runs that Jim Taylor holds a patent on. In the fourth quarter we did the same thing all over again with about five minutes left, scored a touchdown after a long drive to go ahead 20-17, and when the gun went off we were right back on their five-yard line running out the clock.
We did not have a fumble or an interception all day. Green Bay had no interceptions and one fumble. We made no fundamental mistakes; they made one, and that was the old ball game.
Toward the end of the season, with our team completely out of contention, we met Green Bay again. The Packers moved out to a 21-3 lead while we were getting our wits about us, but then we settled down to a Green Bay-type of offense and came back to within five points of them. With two minutes left to play, we're making a nice, sustained march, it's second and nine, we have two time-outs left, and we've reached the 48-yard-line, and we try a fleaflicker.
Every team has a fleaflicker play or two. They're the kind that went out with Stover of Yale, except that even the brightest football coaches get tempted to try them once in a while. They're usually so complicated that it would take an hour and a half to describe the play in the huddle, so instead of saying something like, "Fake four right fake 34 draw fullback lateral to quarterback X up," you just say, "Fleaflicker!" and everybody breathes a silent prayer and off you go.
On this particular fleaflicker against the Packers I was supposed to hand off to Fullback Phil King; he runs to the right sideline, turns and laterals all the way back to me, and I throw a pass to Red Phillips. Got that? So did Green Bay. Instead of following Phil, they stuck right with me, and when that lateral came floating into my arms I was surrounded by Packers. I threw a bad pass down the field and Herb Adderley picked it off, and a few plays later Green Bay scored a touchdown.
So we lost the game 28-16, and on one humpty-dumpty play. I'm not faulting the play; we used the fleaflicker only one other time last year, and then it went for 60 yards against Baltimore. Any play that averages 30 yards a try can't be all bad. But I hate fleaflickers. They're desperation plays, and they should only be used when everything else has been exhausted. Although, come to think of it, they sure worked great in my bubble-gum days.