Along with Talbert, the most important new keys from the Rams will be Linebackers Jack Pardee and Myron Pottios and Defensive Back Richie Petitbon; other trades (19 in all) added Defensive Ends Ron McDole (Bills) and Verlon Biggs (Jets) and Return Specialist Speedy Duncan ( Chargers). Allen overhauled the weak defense, repaired the specialty teams and tuned up the offense, getting Wide Receiver Roy Jefferson from the Colts. Then Sonny Jurgensen, whom Wide Receiver Charley Taylor appropriately calls "the sparkplug who makes all us valves move," broke his shoulder making a tackle and will be out six weeks. Bill Kilmer will fill in but no one can really replace Sonny, the consummate quarterback despite the handicap of it being his 15th season under his eighth coach. "You just make the little adjustments," he says with a wry smile. "They all have different ways. But it's no problem."
No problem at all, if Taylor knows what he is talking about. "All these guys George brought in, man, they are some ballplayers," he says. "They're the backbone, the motivation. They're loud, not afraid to speak out and let you know where it's at. It's like when Green Bay was winning. They had guys who didn't mind walking up and Thud!' busting you in the chest."
The New York Giants, on the other hand, spent the preseason wondering whether they would have enough men of any sort. They led the league in walkouts (six) and freak injuries (Tackle Charlie Harper suffered a hairline fracture of his ankle when he jumped out a first-story window during a fire in the Giants' dining hall). Head Coach Alex Webster somehow managed to maintain a sense of humor through it all. When ex-Yankee Pitcher Whitey Ford asked him to sneak off for a game of golf, Webster declined. "They walk out when I'm here," he said. "I don't dare leave them alone."
The most important of all the walkouts, Quarterback Fran Tarkenton, was the only one to return (with a reported $125,000 contract); fortunately for the Giants, for as goes Tarkenton so goes the ball club. Last year Fran and a weak schedule put the Giants into contention, with only a final-game loss to the Rams keeping them out of the playoffs. But Tarkenton spent the exhibition season working with new receivers, while the other half of the offense, Running Back Ron Johnson, spent it recovering from a minor operation. So there was testing on offense, where many of the weapons were missing, and even more testing on defense, where nothing is certain except that Spider Lockhart will be at free safety, Fred Dryer at left end and Jim Files at middle linebacker.
And, of course, nothing comes easy to Philadelphia, where the Eagles, who finally find themselves competitive, also find themselves opening the season playing five of last year's division winners (they miss only Baltimore). But Eagle fans, who no longer have Norman Snead to boo, should be very discriminating about their next victim. Especially if they intend it to be Pete Liske, who moved in from Denver to take over for Snead. "Pete's style of play appeals even to the defense," says Linebacker Adrian Young. "He's willing to put his shoulder into people, get his butt squashed. It's appealing. That's a defensive style."
The Eagle defense, centered around Middle Linebacker Tim Rossovich (page 90), developed style both on and off the field last year, and if Liske can bring some consistency to the offense, Philadelphia may survive the first five Sundays and win some. Last year, despite a 3-10-1 record, the Eagles finished right in the middle of all statistical departments. "We feel we're respectable now," says Young. "Some people would disagree. We'll just have to convince them."