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On Saturday evening out Palo Alto way, doorbells of houses on a side street jangled. There on the porch was a little bitty old Red Riding Hood, maybe four years old, hollering "Trick or treat" and holding out a paper sack about as big as she was.
Beyond Red Riding Hood, standing out alone on the sidewalk, was a wide-shouldered, six-foot guy who wasn't doing much of anything. There wasn't much hair on his head, his ears stuck out some and his skinny-looking arms dangled loose when he wasn't scratching himself in embarrassment. If the little girl forgot to say thanks, the big man said it in a soft voice with a lot of Texas still behind it. Then he fallowed dutifully after his daughter.
On Sunday afternoon, the scene had shifted. In place of neighbors' doors were the bowed backs of the Chicago Bears' defensive line-up arrayed against 10 of the San Francisco 49ers, also bent over. But the 11th man, close behind the center, stood out for the simple reason that he also stood up. Even his signal-calling crouch was only slight; and once he had the ball, all six feet of him were erect as he faded with long steps, cocked his right throwing arm and side-stepped, almost negligently, incoming tacklers. The ball soared high, not too fast, in a lazy spiral, forward end up. While the Bear linemen rolled at his feet, he hopped straight in the air like a schoolboy, not to avoid them but just to see where the ball had gone.
Right End Billy Wilson, at first loping out with a deceptive air of ease, suddenly was jet-propelled. He laid hands on the ball and headed for the goal line. In an otherwise frustrating afternoon for the 49ers, this was one high and satisfying point. Combined with the Halloween begging of the previous evening, it was also a fairly typical example of the two lives of Yelberton Abraham Tittle, Junior, who doesn't quite know what to do with himself unless he's holding a football, poised to heave it somewhere else.
At 28 with 16 years of organized football behind him, Y.A. Tittle has one indisputable distinction: the two most improbable given names in the game. But beyond that, the record becomes cloudy. At the moment, he's number nine in the 14-name list of leading passers in the professional game. He can't run for peanuts, and he doesn't kick. His history includes service with a professional team (the old Baltimore Colts) which was able to win only one game while losing 11 in each of two seasons. As a college player at Louisiana State, he never made All-America; and as a professional his only official honor came in 1948 when he was named Rookie of the Year in the now defunct All-America conference. Only in one department does his current statistical standing make anyone look twice: it does seem to be a little hard to intercept a Tittle pass. In the first five games this season only one Tittle pass was trapped by opponents, and even on the unhappy afternoon of October 31st, when the 49ers dropped a heartbreaker to Chicago, 27-31, only one more worthy qualified as Tittle-interceptor. Considering that the man had passed 145 times, his record was something of a major feat.
All of which proves precious little about Mr. Tittle. What is important is a fairly general consensus that the current and operating quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers is the most valuable player in professional football today.
DAMN THE TORPEDOES
Buck Shaw, the quiet man of pro football coaching, had no complaints when the Bears knocked his team off its undefeated perch with a last-25-seconds, 66-yard touchdown pass. Tittle had not had one of his great days, but there were circumstances. He played the game as he had the week before, with his left hand in a cast. Broken on October 3rd, it was still so sore he couldn't use it in driving an automobile. Even at that he passed 31 times for 262 yards and one touchdown. The previous week, October 24, he played the entire game and threw two touchdown passes in San Francisco's upset win over the Detroit Lions.
By now, playing despite injuries is old stuff to Tittle. In 1953 he suffered a fracture of the cheekbone in making a touchdown against the Detroit Lions. Part of the break was dangerously close to eye nerves, but Tittle was back in uniform two weeks later and even insisted on getting into the game against the Detroit Lions for a couple of plays, hoping to pull a victory out of the fire. The loss of Tittle's competitive drive probably cost the 49ers the Western Division title. Up to the time of the injury they were tied with Detroit for first place.
A sunken-eyed Texan from Marshall, Tittle is a curious combination of businessman, athlete and rah-rah college boy. When you watch him on the playing field you can see the results of 16 years of practice and training. If he makes false steps, they seldom are obvious. He is a decisive play caller, and when a fumble or interception has given the 49ers the ball he rushes into the huddle and you get the idea of a man coolly exploiting even a momentary psychological advantage. Such businesslike tactics and his passes net Tittle a salary that now totals $15,000 to $20,000 for about five months' work a year. He's bought into a Palo Alto insurance agency, looking forward to the day when he can't heave that football quite so accurately.