The Baltimore Colts, playing with a controlled fury that was sometimes frightening to watch, reduced the Los Angeles Rams to sawdust before their 60,000-odd enraptured fans last Sunday. By winning 27-10, the Colts tied the Rams for the Coastal Division lead and established themselves, at the very least, as co-favorites to win the division title. For Baltimore, this was a last-ditch effort. A loss to the Rams would have put them two games behind with seven to go—and they are confronted by a more difficult schedule than the one facing Los Angeles.
The Colts were trying to rebound from a surprising 30-20 defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns the week before; the Baltimore press, in the days preceding this game, had been something less than kind, and the denizens of one Baltimore bar, as a practical joke, had hung John Unitas in effigy. Some joke.
Smoldering under such unaccustomed criticism, the Colts prepared for this game with almost as much fury as they showed in the game itself. Mike Curtis, a 232-pound linebacker in his fourth season, had to be taken out of practice at one point after he had almost unjointed rookie Running Back Terry Cole. Before the game the team had a meeting—without the coaches—and Cornerback Lenny Lyles talked to them.
"We just wanted to stress togetherness," he said. "We have to hang together ourselves, no matter what the fans or the coaches or the writers say about us. When you lose, it's sometimes easy to come apart and start looking for someone to put the blame on, but we didn't do that. We stayed together."
The two Colt lines—offensive and defensive—were the key to the ease with which the Baltimore team handled the Rams, a club which had won 14 straight league games before losing this one. The team awarded game balls to the entire offensive line after the game, but they might also have awarded four more to the defenders.
The morning of the game Bubba Smith, the 295-pound defensive end for Baltimore, got a call from his mother. "Suck up your guts and play the best you ever played, Bubba," she said. Whether because of this admonition or not, Smith was a holy terror. He and his mates dumped Roman Gabriel, who had been the best protected quarterback in the league until this day, five times for a loss of 38 yards and harried him so unmercifully that he was twice intercepted and picked up only 78 yards passing.
A couple of days before the game, Billy Ray Smith, who played a quick, smart game at defensive tackle, said, "Watch us Sunday. We'll make them forget Merlin Olsen and what's his name." What's his name—All-Pro Defensive End Deacon Jones—was just another player against Baltimore.
"They made some changes that hurt us," Jones said after the game. "They have been sending their backs out and throwing to them a lot, but today they kept them in and sealed the pocket. They made us take a wide outside rush, and lots of times we overran Earl Morrall. By the time we could get back, it was too late." Jones did not mention young Sam Ball, a third-year offensive tackle from Kentucky, but he should have. Ball, who was badly beaten a year ago by Jones in a key game late in the season, spent long hours studying the movies of that disaster.
"I looked to see what he was doing when he beat me," Ball said. "I made up my mind to resume doing the things I did when I was able to keep him out and not to do the things that cost me. I made some changes and they worked. I don't want to say exactly what they were—I've got to play against Jones again this year."
Norman Van Brocklin, the coach of the Atlanta Falcons, had warned of what might some day happen to the Rams after his team had lost to them in Los Angeles the week before. The blunt Van Brocklin, disgruntled as ever by defeat, greeted the Los Angeles sports writers by saying, "If the Rams ever lose that rush line, they're in trouble."