By the time the game had reached its dying moments in Baltimore's crowded and hysterical Memorial Stadium, Los Angeles Rams Coach George Allen was playing for a tie and doing so happily. No one will censure him for this; the Rams had twice come back from what appeared to be certain defeat to achieve this much. The score was 24-24, and it reflects rather accurately the parity of talent between two fine football teams last Sunday afternoon.
"We weren't really playing for a tie," said Allen candidly after the game. "We were playing to avoid a loss. This doesn't hurt us. The next time we get the Colts we'll be in our own backyard and, if the division championship rides on that game, we'll win it."
Maybe. What Allen seems to have overlooked is that the Baltimore team he will see in Los Angeles in December may not be the same one at all that he was a bit fortunate to hold to a tie in October. No fewer than seven, of the Colt preseason starters were out of this game and, while their replacements performed creditably, it is reasonable to suppose that the regulars will be better.
For the record, Baltimore played without Alvin Haymond, a defensive back; Ordell Braase, defensive captain and end; Mike Curtis, corner linebacker; Raymond Berry, offensive end and an All-Pro; Jimmy Orr, one of the league's better flanker backs; Bill Curry, another linebacker; and Jim Parker, many times an all-league offensive tackle or guard.
It is a significant measure of the depth in quality of the Colts that the long injury list neither diminished their desire nor seriously lowered their level of performance. The offensive line did a remarkable job of denying the Rams' big front four defensive linemen access to the battered and tender body of Quarterback John Unitas.
A subtle difference in the technique of offensive line play contributed to the success the Colts had both in running against the Rams and giving Unitas time to throw the ball. The primary concern of the Rams, of course, was to put pressure on Unitas; but given time, the superb Baltimore quarterback can solve the riddle of any defense, as he did over and over again on this warm and faintly humid day. The Ram line, surprisingly, stunts a good deal where most sound lines with similar size and agility usually dispense with such frills.
"We have increased our line splits a good deal this year," said Dan Sullivan, a Baltimore guard who had the unenviable task of contending with 275-pound Merlin Olsen. "It is especially effective against a team that switches and stunts as much as the Rams do because it gives you time to pick up the moves. And, if the spacing between the offensive linemen is wide, they have to go farther on their routes."
The Colt spacing was helpful even when the Rams abandoned stunts, as they did in the second half of the game. When Olsen and Roger Brown, the two massive Ram tackles, stationed themselves en the outside shoulder of Sullivan and Glenn Ressler, the other Colt guard, they found themselves with a long road to Unitas. When they moved inside, as they often did, Ressler and Sullivan could pinch them together and tie them up in the traffic in the center of the line. Thus, given time, Unitas performed with his usual sure efficiency.
The Rams moved into the lead early in the first period when Roman Gabriel, their king-size quarterback, threw a perfect pass to Jack Snow, the ball sailing some 50 yards in the air before Snow, with half a step on defender Lenny Lyles, made a leaping, fingertip catch at the goal. The Colts, who are not a blitzing team, had tried a dangerous safety blitz on this play, and when the Rams picked it up and blocked out Rich Volk, the safety, Gabriel had ample time to find Snow, who had barely beaten Lyles. It was a play executed as nicely as if it were being traced on a giant green chalkboard, but it did little to discourage Unitas or the rest of the Colts, whose Lou Michaels kicked a left-footed 45-yard field goal later in the quarter.
In the first quarter there were portents of the offense that the Colts were to demonstrate later. The second time Baltimore got the ball, Unitas began exploiting a facet of the Ram defense that was to remain vulnerable for almost the whole afternoon.