The first afternoon in camp the New Orleans Saints' rookies scrimmaged. That night two of them packed up and went home. They did not even wait for the 10 bucks due them for their day's work.
"We haven't got time for the guys who don't want to hit," said Tom Fears, bred a pro with the Los Angeles Rams and hardened as a coach under the iron discipline of Vincent Lombardi at Green Bay. "We want to know now. The guys who went home would have left in a little while anyway. If we win games this year it will be because we're in better shape earlier than the other clubs. So we're going to be in shape when we leave California."
In the bull sessions around the National Football League, players until now have generally agreed that the toughest training camp in living memory was the one Norman Van Brocklin ran getting ready for the Minnesota Vikings' second season. Saddled in the first year with, as Van Brocklin put it, "a dog or two from every club in the league," he had operated what pro players call a country club. No one worked too hard, the practices were short and Van Brocklin, exercising what was for him unusual restraint, spoke softly and sweetly to the oldtimers. He felt their pride had been hurt when they had been placed on the available list by their parent teams, and he was trying to rebuild it. After a year he cared less about their pride than he did about their condition. The country club turned into a concentration camp. Fears is starting out with more useful talent than Van Brocklin had at Minnesota, and before his first training camp breaks up the rigors of that Viking second year may be recalled with nostalgia.
Going into the season, the New Orleans Saints must be rated the best of all the expansion clubs. The Dallas Cowboys, hastily assembled after a January league meeting in Miami in 1960, did not participate in the draft of college seniors in their first year and were offered the dregs from the other teams in the league. The Vikings began in time to take first choice in the draft, and the Atlanta Falcons were even better off. They were given two choices in each of the first five rounds of the college draft. The Saints got still more. They were awarded two choices in each of 17 rounds plus three bonus picks and two windfalls no new team could possibly expect: Gary Cuozzo and Jim Taylor (see cover).
Cuozzo is the four-year veteran who has understudied Baltimore's John Unitas with growing impatience since his graduation from the University of Virginia. He asked Carroll Rosenbloom, the owner of the Colts, to trade him, and Rosenbloom, a very fair man, agreed. Taylor, the best fullback in football since the retirement of Jim Brown, played out his option with the Green Bay Packers when Lombardi would not raise his salary to match the pay of bonus babies Jim Grabowski and Donny Anderson. The Saints traded high, valuable draft choices for both men but as a result begin their football life with top men at two key positions—quarterback and fullback.
Cuozzo is a real plum. At 26, he has been so thoroughly schooled by Unitas that he actually resembles him in execution and manner. He had few chances to play at Baltimore but did exceedingly well when, because of injuries to Unitas, he got into games. In 1965, for instance, Cuozzo took over against Minnesota on a cold, sleety and windswept afternoon. He led the Colts to a 41-21 victory, throwing five touchdown passes. The game prompted Van Brocklin to resign for 24 hours.
"Maybe on another team a day like that would move you up to No. 1," Cuozzo said the other afternoon in the dormitory at California Western University, the campus in San Diego where the Saints train to avoid the sticky heat of the Louisiana summer. "But with Johnny Unitas at quarterback, you just go back to the bench as soon as he gets well. I'm not complaining about that. Johnny U. is the best, and I'm thankful that I got to watch him for four years. I learned a lot. But there wasn't any future at Baltimore, and I knew it."
Cuozzo is quiet and intense and reminds you more of Bart Starr in his personality than of Unitas. He is a devout Catholic, does not smoke or drink and devotes the off seasons to studying dentistry in Memphis. He is a careful, thoughtful man with a flair for planning ahead, on and off the field.
"After last year, I decided that I would have to do something if I didn't want to spend the rest of my pro life on the bench," he said. "First I went to Johnny to find out what his plans were. If he had said he was going to retire in a year or so I probably would have stayed with the Colts, but Johnny said he wanted to play as long as he could, maybe another four or five years or more. So then I told Mr. Rosenbloom and Don Kellett [then general manager] that I wanted to be traded because I felt that I was wasting the best years of my career. Mr. Rosenbloom is a fine and generous man, and he agreed to trade me."
Cuozzo is lucky. Not many owners in football would be willing to trade so promising a prospect, no matter how unhappy he might be. Although the Saints have two other experienced quarterbacks in Bill Kilmer of San Francisco and ex-Cornellian Gary Wood of the New York Giants, it seems assured that Cuozzo will be No. 1. During one of Fears's long, punishing scrimmages recently Cuozzo was observed by Clark Shaughnessy, the one man who probably had more to do with the development of the modern T formation and the T-formation quarterback than any other person. Shaughnessy at 75 is still active, and his quick, sharp blue eyes miss none of the nuances of football.