"You can feel the excitement," said Fran Tarkenton, the New York Giant who shared NFC signal-calling duties with San Francisco's John Brodie. "It's a matter of pride and I think we're all aware that we represent the league this year."
"We've had exceptional concentration at practice," said John Madden, the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, who coached the AFC squad. "The players really worked hard."
The game itself confirmed the NFC's seasonal edge. Neither Dick Nolan, the San Francisco head coach, who had the NFC squad, nor Madden had time to put in any frills, so the offenses were simple and depended for their success on strength and execution.
The conferences agreed beforehand to use only man-to-man defenses, and for the first time they allowed blitzes. Consequently, the game was decided largely upon the outcome of individual matchups, and the NFL won most of those, especially in pass coverage.
The game started slowly, both clubs testing each other through an inconclusive first quarter, but even this early, with Brodie at quarterback, the NFC moved the ball more surely than did the AFC under Daryle Lamonica. The NFC's first drive carried 48 yards to a missed field goal, and the significant play was a 33-yard pass from Brodie to his 49er teammate, Gene Washington. Washington was being covered by Jim Marsalis of Kansas City, one of the best bump-and-run cornerbacks, but Washington shrugged off his bump, gained a step on him on the run and caught the perfectly thrown ball in full stride.
Brodie was given excellent protection on the play, which permitted him to wait for Washington to overcome Marsalis' bump. "The bump and run upsets your timing," Brodie said after the game, "but we were getting good blocking and we could wait for the receivers to break open most of the time."
Brodie completed only 10 of his 26 passes, but one was for 23 yards and a touchdown to Minnesota's Dave Osborn early in the second half. Knowing that the AFC had to stay in man-to-man coverage, he called a pattern that isolated Osborn on Andy Russell, the right linebacker who plays for the Steelers. Osborn beat Russell badly, putting the NFC ahead to stay, 10-3.
The touchdown was set up by another long pass to Washington and again the line held strongly, giving Washington time to beat Zeke Moore of Houston, who shared the right cornerback spot with Willie Brown of Oakland. When Moore was in the game the NFC quarterbacks threw into his territory often and successfully; when Brown played that corner they largely avoided him.
Lamonica, on the other hand, was under severe pressure, as was Bob Griese, the Dolphin quarterback, who played the second quarter and most of the fourth. Lamonica was frequently harried into forcing his passes and he completed but four of 21. Under pressure on the first series after the NFC touchdown, Lamonica threw behind Warren Wells, and Mel Renfro tipped the ball into the hands of teammate Fred Carr, the Green Bay linebacker. Carr returned the interception to the AFC 24, and four plays later Fred Cox of Minnesota kicked a 35-yard field goal to up the score to 13-3.
The AFC made only one more serious threat and that came after a fumble recovery on the NFC nine. From there Lamonica tried three passes. The first was almost intercepted. The second, to Fred Biletnikoff, was apparently a touchdown, but an official ruled that Biletnikoff had caught the ball out of bounds. After the game Biletnikoff said, "I know that I was in bounds. I think they missed my stutter step. My practice is to catch the ball, then look down at my feet and I was in bounds."