SI Vault
Morton Sharnik
September 18, 1972
It is the week of the Big Game and some of the players, conduits to the head coach—which means they are close to the boss—are exhorting the unchosen. Black studs as well as white dudes—Field Hands and Animals, The Boomer calls them—are banging on the metal lockers, stomping on the concrete floor, shouting, "Whoo-e-e, we're going to do it! Yeah! We're going to win! Right on!"
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September 18, 1972

Strong Impulses And A Short Fuse

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Despite this, offensive tackles remain the unknown soldiers of football. Brown's moment of glory, his great thrill, is when he runs through the goalposts at the beginning of the game. His name is announced, 70,000 people cheer and after that, forget it. Brown and his comrades are invisible men unless they fail. Then it's disaster—the defensive end has got through to dump the quarterback. At this moment the tackle is recognized, but only to be booed.

It was none other than a Colt offensive tackle who cheered in 1965 when first John Unitas, then Gary Cuozzo were knocked out of action. The ingrate allowed how Johnny U. was his friend and he was sorry that he was hurt, but, damn, now people will learn that there was more to the Colts than Unitas and his Golden Arm.

Spoken like a true OT. "We're thought to be mindless hulks, robots," says Brown, who claims general managers and owners are always surprised that tackles can do more than grunt. "It's probably the least desirable position in sport," says Mix, "but at least it's still part of a very special game."

For attention-getting reasons, tackles prefer the running game. Among other things, it gives them a chance to get in a few licks of their own. But runs can be tricky work. Except for the straight-ahead plays, which merely require the tackle to smash his head or shoulder into the man across the line, they can force the tackle to do some fancy stepping. On pitchouts, for instance, the tackle pulls and takes the cornerback. He knifes through and blocks the middle linebacker on traps and hooks the defensive end on the end run. But the most difficult task is handling the middle linebacker. Often it is a search-and-destroy mission.

The passing game, however, is the toughest. "They pay me Grand Theft dough to pass-block and I earn every cent of it," says The Boomer. It seems like a simple, unimpeachable responsibility—and so it is. Essentially the tackle merely has to battle doggedly for a few yards of dirt. But it is an unfair struggle, a handicap contest, and the advantage lies entirely with the defense.

"All the tackle has to do is face the most talented athlete on the field," says Eagle scout Charlie Gauer, who is considered one of the more astute offensive brains in the game. "Often the defensive end is the biggest and strongest player and quick as hell. We recruit savages for this position, then turn them loose to run full bore at the tackle with the license to grab, slap and punch. Meanwhile the tackle, a powerful bloke himself, can't act but must react. The tackle must counter the defensive end's every move, fighting a delaying action for three or four seconds until the pass is in the air."

Inevitably the first move of the defensive end is a smash to the tackle's head—the players call it getting your bell rung—and from there the violence escalates.

"Honest Injuns can't play offensive tackle," says Gauer, and a majority of the active players agree. Contrary to the rules, tackles do grab and hold to protect themselves and the passer. One tackle who chooses to remain anonymous for obvious reasons says, "I couldn't play if I didn't hook and hold."

"Oh, yeah, I grab a fistful of jersey on occasion," says The Boomer, but generally his style does not depend on holding. Mix claims he himself never holds. "I don't want to protest too much, but I've always played within the rules," protests Mix, one of the superb technicians and performers of the 1960s.

In general coaches don't care what a tackle does as long as he stops the rusher. Don't get caught but get the job done is the unwritten law of the trade.

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