The Detroit Lions, National League football champions the past two years, are out this season to do the unprecedented—win three championships in a row. In preseason games they looked lethal (top, opposite), but so did such powerful elevens as the San Francisco 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns.
As the 12 pro teams open a 72-game National Football League season on September 26, spectators will see brilliant, bruising football, most of it straight T. From the T will come the passing of Otto Graham of Cleveland, Norm Van Brocklin of Los Angeles and Bobby Layne of Detroit.
Layne, in his seventh year of pro football, will quarterback a Lion back-field that includes two old pros of proven status, Bob Hoernschemeyer and Doak Walker. The defensive back-field is about as impregnable as can be found, and up front in the line the Lions need no sympathy. Line Coach Buster Ramsey should be a happy man.
San Francisco, only one game behind at 1953's end, may have picked up that game and more with the addition of John Henry Johnson, back from a year of Canadian football with a terrifying reputation. Quarterback Y. A. Tittle will have plenty of ammunition to shoot with Johnson, Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny.
The Los Angeles Rams have the best passing quarterback in the league in Van Brocklin and a bright recruit in Billy Wade, Vanderbilt product just back from military service. Tom Fears, Elroy Hirsch, Bob Boyd and Bob Carey give the Rams the best end group in the business. The Rams, with a little luck, could take it all.
The other three Western Conference teams—Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Colts—are improved but not enough. Rising Bear hopes are based on Quarterback Zeke Bratkowski of Georgia, who may live up to his college reputation, and the trade that brought fullback Chick Jagade from the Cleveland Browns.
Green Bay's new coach, Lisle Black-bourn, has no major-league experience but may have the rookie of the year in Veryl Switzer of Kansas State. Still, only an extreme optimist could hope to get the Packers out of the second division this year.
Another new top coach is Weeb Eubank of Baltimore, former Cleveland assistant. Fred Enke will continue to shine as the Colts' field general. Zollie Toth, a pounding fullback, is ready after a year out for injuries. Baltimore may expect lumps from the power-packed Western Conference.
The Eastern Conference looks like a two-horse race between the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles, with the Browns a whisker favorite to win the privilege of losing to the West in the championship game, as in their last three seasons. Otto Graham, who led the passers last year, will again be spelled by George Ratterman. Chet Hanulak from Maryland and Maurice Bassett of Langston are reported to be the best of the first-year men.
The starless Philadelphia Eagles balance youth and experience. Bob Thomason and Adrian Burk give sound quarterbacking; Pete Pihos and Bob Walston are ends enough for any coach; the front line, with Frank Kilroy, Mike Jarmoluk, Frank Wydo and Chuck Bednarik, locks up a defense that can do the trick. The Eagles may do it.