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The best football game ever played—last year's championship epic between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants—seems likely to return for another showing this season, the casts even stronger.
The New York Giants, who grow mightier from week to week as the pro football year wanes, clinched the Eastern Conference title by demolishing Cleveland 48-7 last Sunday; Baltimore, after a shaky spell in midseason, took over the Western Conference lead by outrunning the San Francisco 49ers through the last handful of minutes in their game 34-14. Baltimore need only tie the feckless Los Angeles Rams on Saturday to ensure its second conference title.
San Francisco, which plays the Green Bay Packers, and the Chicago Bears, who meet Detroit, retain mathematical chances to tie for the Western title, but in the light of the recent form of the Colts, theirs must be faint hopes.
The Colt and Giant victories were very similar performances, although the New York triumph was the more impressive. Both these teams are superbly equipped with very large, very strong football players who have been in the National Football League long enough to qualify as experts in their arduous trade. Both have really fine quarterbacks, both have good running backs, cagey, sure-handed receivers, and both have a certain serene confidence in their ability which allows them to retain complete poise and assurance in almost any circumstance.
The Colts flew to San Francisco Thursday, facing a jinx which had seen them lose 10 games in a row in Kezar Stadium. They were a relaxed, unperturbed group, however; they laughed off the inevitable predictions of defeat they were exposed to in the Clift Hotel as they waited for Saturday afternoon. A bootblack, not recognizing a member of the Colt party in a barber chair, bet a shoe-polish salesman a year's free shines against 75 cans of shoe polish, and the Colt grinned. The bishop of the Catholic diocese in San Francisco granted special dispensation for the Colt Catholics to eat meat on Friday evening. "I shouldn't, after what you did to us in Baltimore," he said gruffly. "But I will because I don't want your boys to collapse after our boys whip them."
Surprisingly, San Francisco fans seemed immensely confident that the 49ers could reverse the 45-14 shellacking visited upon them by the Colts in Baltimore only two weeks before. Tickets were impossible to find at $50. apiece. "Sell?" said one fan. "Gosh, it'd cost you five bucks just to look at my ticket." The chef who prepared the team meals for the Colts at the hotel advised Coach Weeb Ewbank, Owner Carroll Rosenbloom and General Manager Don Kellett that the 49ers would whip the Colts; he was unceremoniously ushered from the dining room as a result. Ewbank worried for a while that the chef might retaliate by serving the team a case of food poisoning, but the meals were good and wholesome.
Riding to the game, the Colts were relaxed and confident. When the bus passed University of San Francisco, Bill Pellington, a linebacker, pointed to the campus. "Hey, Gino," he said to Marchetti, Baltimore's all-pro defensive end. "They tell me you were so famous there that they retired your grades." Marchetti, who may have attended four classes during his career at USF, nodded agreement.
In their dressing room, the Colts were still relaxed, although they were no longer joking. In the 49er dressing room, the atmosphere was grim and still. "It's our turn now," someone said into the silence.
But it wasn't. The 49ers played a much better game than they had in the massacre in Baltimore, but they simply could not match Colt manpower or finesse. Raymond Berry, one of the finest ends of the last decade, caught two touchdown passes, one in the end zone on a prodigious leap for an unbelievable grab. ("It'll work, Coach," he told Ewbank earlier in the game, of the pattern he ran to get free. "I'm aware of it, Raymond," said Ewbank. "I just wanted you to know," Berry replied.) Lenny Moore ran 64 yards to a touchdown with a Unitas pass after changing his planned route in mid-course; he was supposed to slant in over the middle. "I saw that cat come in too far," he said, speaking of the defensive halfback covering him. "So I just broke back out to the outside and hoped Johnny would read me." Johnny read, him, and the pass found Moore in the clear behind the 49er defender.
Milt Davis, thin and scholarly, who plays defensive halfback for the Colts (and off season studies dentistry), had one of the six interceptions which crushed San Francisco hopes. He dived to pick off the pass, fell to his knees and ran 57 yards for a touchdown. "Somebody was hollering 'Lateral, lateral!' " he said. "I got about 11 blocks though and I figured I'd go for the six." Davis later pulled a hamstring muscle and may miss the Ram game. Alan Ameche, the powerful Colt fullback, has bruised ribs but should play. Both would be available for a championship game.