So far, despite the doubts of some veteran front-office personnel, only one or two of the players have betrayed Prothro's trust. One stayed out until the wee hours of the morning and suffered through the subsequent practices with a blinding hangover; Prothro talked to him quietly about it but levied no punishment. "I just wanted to let him know I knew about it," Prothro said. "Shucks, I can't get too upset about it if it doesn't happen too often. I don't think it does that much damage, really."
Even more at variance with accepted pro football procedure is Prothro's cavalier attitude toward the game plan, a strategic formula that coaches arrive at by exhaustive, minute examination of movies of their opponent in action, and which they would no more do without than their pay checks. Before the Rams' opening exhibition with the Houston Oilers, which Los Angeles won 17-6, and before this game, Prothro ignored the films. "I want to get this ball club ready for the season," he explained. "I can't afford to spend a whole week just getting ready for Houston or Dallas. I told the players if they wanted to look at movies, the film would be available, but no member of the coaching staff would look at it with them."
When the season starts, Prothro will work up a game plan, but he is not enthusiastic about it. "I told my assistants I want them to work out as logical a plan as they can and try to figure out everything that can happen," he said. "But I told them that game plans can get messed up pretty quick and you can't depend on them that much. I mean when you're up to your butt in alligators, it doesn't do any good to remember that what you meant to do was drain the swamp."
Prothro, who is a life master at bridge, extraordinarily good at any card game and a capable chess player, is much more of a gambler than Allen, a perfectionist whose philosophy is based on avoiding mistakes. "I can play poker all night and watch one man win half the pots and wind up with more money just winning a few big ones," said Prothro.
"It's a lot different this year," said Gabriel. "George was a defensive coach. I'm not saying that to criticize him, because he was a great coach. But Coach Prothro is more interested in the offense. He spends a lot of time personally working with the receivers. His whole idea is different. For instance, say it's third and five. George would want you to hit a receiver five yards down-field. Coach Prothro would just as soon gamble on hitting one 50 yards down-field. And he doesn't mind throwing into the strength of a defense."
Gabriel, a very good long passer, looks forward to the new accent on offense. "It should be more fun," he said. "And another thing, this is a very relaxed camp. Coach Prothro has made it clear that he isn't that concerned with winning exhibitions. He wants to win when it counts. In the last few years two things have been wrong with the Rams near the end of the season. First, we were mentally dull from the tension which used to start with the first exhibition game. Second, we had injuries, and I think the injuries come when you get mentally tired."
Curiously, some of the players who complained about Allen's insistence on winning every game, including exhibitions, arc finding it hard to adjust to Prothro's philosophy. "The same guys who cried about the pressure are crying about the lack of it now," said Gabriel. "But I think it will pay off in the long run."
"I'm not worried about impressing the public in August," said Prothro. "By the time the season ends in December they'll forget about games like this one. I hope the team doesn't lose confidence while we are experimenting, and I don't think they will. They have been very cooperative. I'd like to start the season with every one figuring us for last place and the team full of confidence."
By December, it is doubtful that Prothro will have to concern himself with alligators.