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For three long quarters Sunday, Chuck Conerly sat by the telephone on the New York Giant bench and listened to communiqu�s relayed to him by third-string Quarterback Bobby Clatterbuck from the scouts in the press box. On the field, Don Hein-rich manipulated the Giant offense expertly, picking at small flaws in the defense of the Chicago Bears, moving the ball in short, consistent gains, throwing once in a while but depending mostly on the power in the big Giant line and the strong, quick Giant backs.
Conerly watched quietly, hunched deep in the heavy sideline cape against the gray cold of the afternoon. He is a quiet, very relaxed man of 32, an extraordinarily competent quarterback and a proud one. The view of a football game from the sideline is not a good one, but Conerly needs only a quick glimpse of the developing action to know what is happening.
"You don't see much of a game when you're in," he said in his deep, southern drawl a few days before this Sunday afternoon. "You're looking for the guy you're going to pass to or the guy you're making a hand-off to, and you don't see much else. I guess I wouldn't even recognize half the guys I play against in a game if I saw them on the street afterward. They're just a blur when they are coming in at you, and you don't look at them again until you come out of the huddle. Then they are uniforms in a defense and you don't see faces, just the defense."
This day Heinrich had started at quarterback for the Giants against the Bears, according to the practice of Coach Jim Lee Howell, who has used his No. 2 quarterback as a starter for nearly two seasons. Heinrich begins with a ready list of plays designed to test the reactions of the opposing defense so that when Conerly replaces him—usually in the second quarter—he can probe at the obvious weaknesses.
"You don't find any big weaknesses," Conerly explains. "It's not like college football. Everyone is good and what you look for are habits a player develops. When you have been in the league a long time you get to know what a defensive halfback will let you do, for instance. One guy will let you throw underneath him—in front of him. The next guy covers pretty good to the outside but he doesn't move as good to the inside, and you throw that way to him. Little things are what you look for. Like you size up the defense when you're waiting to start the count and you see a safety man cheating a little bit toward an end you've got spread and you know he's got to cover that end in the defense they have called, and he's cheating over toward him because it will be hard for him to get there. So you call an automatic and hit the end quick."
An automatic, Conerly explained, is a play change made after the team has come out of the huddle to the line of scrimmage. Last Sunday against the Bears, Heinrich used as many automatics as he did plays called in the huddle to counteract the shifting Bear defense. They worked well on drives up the middle, often catching the big Bear line slanting the wrong way. Frank Gifford, Alex Webster and Mel Triplett pounded through these holes for long yardage. When Conerly finally came in to start the fourth quarter, the Bear defense had adjusted, so he relied mainly on the plays he called in the huddle.
"Quarterbacking would be an easy job if the other guy stuck to one defense all the time," Conerly says. "But you can't tell what the defense is going to do. You've got to play the percentages. Like against the Pittsburgh Steelers a while back. They had a couple of veterans in the secondary on the right side of their defense. They're pretty hard to fool. But on the left side they had Henry Ford and Gary Glick, and both of them are rookies. We ran a few to their side and found out they were coming up real fast on running plays. So I called a pass off a run to that side, and Gifford got behind Ford for a touchdown because Ford came up too fast. Did the same thing a little later. Two mistakes cost them two touchdowns. You can figure a rookie to make mistakes in this league. If he makes too many, he doesn't last long, so you can't figure on the veterans for mistakes like those."
THE HIGH COST OF MISTAKES
The Giants played nearly flawless football against the Bears. Their defense was magnificent, especially against the Bear running attack, one of the best in the league. The linebackers covered the outside beautifully, choking off Bear sweeps before they could start, and the two big Giant tackles—Roosevelt Grier and Dick Modzelewski—slammed shut the middle corridor. The Bear running attack was stopped cold. The Giant defense, looking like the old pros they are, made no mistakes—or at least, not until the very end.
"Mistakes cost you a lot more in pro ball," Conerly says. "Back in college, a club could make a mistake and, like as not, it wouldn't cost much. In the first place, the other team might not see it. Then, if they did see it, they might not have the personnel to take advantage of it. And if they did see it and had the personnel to take advantage of it, then there would be a pretty good chance they would make a mistake, too, and not be able to take the advantage they should have. But a mistake against a pro club nearly always costs you, and usually it costs a touchdown. The mistakes in the line may not—you got the secondary to help out. But a mistake back in the secondary—that's usually six points."