"He's just as tough as Lombardi," Ray Nitschke once said. "The difference is when Lombardi yells at you, you don't know if he means it or not. When Bengtson hollers, you know he means it." At the time Bengtson took over from the hard-driving Lombardi, many observers felt that the Packers would miss the whip and perhaps they do.
"Phil is a softer man than I am," Lombardi said recently, sitting behind the big desk in his office in Green Bay. "I don't say that critically. He is a fine coach, the best defensive coach I know, and I can't think of a better coach for the Packers. But it is not in him to be harsh and demanding and make the players hate him. You have to have someone on the staff who is a driver. If it isn't the head coach, then it has to be someone else. I think Phil should Jet one of the assistants do the job. Give him a free hand."
Lombardi does not take an active part in coaching the Packers anymore and it is unlikely that he ever will. He appears at practice for 20 or 30 minutes when he can, but he does no coaching.
"I stand on the sidelines and watch, just to let the boys know I still have my eye on them," he says. "I see them cutting their eyes at me and I know what they're thinking, but I don't say anything to them."
He also goes over game film with the coaches, but any suggestions he might have—and they are few—he gives to Bengtson privately. He has resigned himself to keeping his hands off the reins and he has contained himself with the iron self-discipline he has always preached.
Bengtson, who has been an assistant coach all of his football life until now, has taken secure control of the club. He has made few changes; the Green Bay practice lacks only the figure of Lombardi to be precisely the same as before. "That was the idea from the outset," he says. "This is a veteran team used to doing things a certain way."
He makes no effort to stimulate the players' emotions. "They are champions," he says. "I think that takes a different type of motivation. It has to come from the player himself. I think adversity causes them more trepidation than it does an ordinary player. They don't have to be told to get up for a big game."
The injuries they suffered early this season cost the Packers their old stock in trade—ball control. Instead, the other team exercised control, maintaining its drive through the weak spots in the Packer line. "A month ago Detroit picked up extra yards veering toward the end Aldridge plays when he is well," Bengtson said. "They kept the ball for all but one play in the last nine minutes and 40 seconds of the first game we played. With the defense healthy, I think we can stop that."
If Starr comes back strong the Packers could be as deadly as ever. At 34, though, Starr may be more vulnerable physically than in the past and slower to recover. In the last couple of years he has been nagged by injuries of one kind or another. Bratkowski was 37 last Sunday and is no sturdier than Starr.
Certainly there is no feeling of despair on the team; the reaction is more one of bewilderment than of dismay. Elijah Pitts, the veteran halfback who missed half of the 1967 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, says, "It seems unreal. I mean, us blowing games like this. I know we're as good as we ever were when we're all together."