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When rookie Coach Red Hickey told his young and credulous San Francisco 49ers how they could defeat the Los Angeles Rams in the first league game between the two teams this season in early October, they took his lessons seriously and obligingly won the game 34-0 despite the fact that they had lost an exhibition game to this same team 14-48 only a few weeks earlier. It was the first time any team had held the Rams scoreless in 10 years of league play, and it was regarded as somewhat miraculous by most knowledgeable pro football people. The ideal pro defense as used today has four very large, reasonably mobile men in the front line, three slightly smaller, even more active players in the second rank of defense and four very fast, reasonably large halfbacks in the secondary. The 49ers, along with most pro clubs, had men to fill these roles, but their deep defenders, in particular, lacked experience. Two of them—David Baker of Oklahoma and Eddie Dove of Colorado—were raw rookies. The other two—Abe Woodson of Illinois and Jerry Mertens of Drake—had only a total of a season and a half's experience between them. The job of the defense was to contain men like Ollie Mat-son and Tom Wilson, two of the most dangerous runners in the business, to say nothing of Billy Wade and Frank Ryan, two excellent passers throwing to the best pair of ends in the league in Red Phillips and Del Shofner. Jon Arnett, another fine runner, was handicapped by a leg injury. Fortunately, Hickey's rookies, backstopped by a great punter in rookie Tommy Davis, followed their coaches' battle plans faultlessly. The story of how they did it and how they could do it when they meet again on Sunday in Los Angeles is told on these eight pages.
Somersaulting Matson reflects violence of 49er tackling, which time and again sent Ram runners spinning through the air. Here Matson is beset by Clancy Osborne (33), Fred Dugan (87) and Henry Schmidt (74), with Baker (25) and Jim Ridlon (42) coming up.
Gang tackling also marked 49ers' rushing defense. Tom Wilson (24), pounding into a tight hole, is smothered by mass of linemen plus Linebacker Jerry Tubbs (50) and Halfback Baker (25) in one of many abortive sorties that Rams tried against the 49er line.
A NEARLY PERFECT NEW UMBRELLA
The ideal defense against a passing attack combines a fast-charging line, to put pressure on the passer, with an umbrella of four quick, veteran defensive backs with speed enough to stay behind the long passes and three linebackers who have experience and reactions quick enough to plug the line or cut off the short passes. Hickey had none of these. His line was good, but had not put pressure on the passers during the exhibition games. In Matt Hazeltine he had one linebacker who filled the requirements; the other two were Jerry Tubbs, new at middle backer, and Clancy Osborne, a rookie picked up from the Rams as much for his knowledge of the Ram offense as for his ability. The deep men were very fast, very young, very inexperienced. Their coach was a rookie, too—Jack Christiansen, a fine defensive back for the Detroit Lions but in his maiden season as a coach. As shown in the diagram on the right and in the pictures on this and the next five pages, Hickey solved his problem by taking a tremendous gamble. He assigned Abe Woodson (40) and Jerry Mertens (80) to the nearly impossible task of covering Del Shofner (29) and Red Phillips (82), man for man. Woodson and Mertens took their men wherever they went on the routes indicated by the diamonds in the diagram. The middle defensive area, inside the dotted line, was the responsibility of the linebackers and the deep men, Baker and Dove. All of the 49er secondary defenders—linebackers and halfbacks alike—were drilled over and over in releasing their men the minute the ball was thrown and converging on its destination. The four big men up front had the major responsibility for containing the Ram running, helped when possible by the linebackers, and helped sometimes by the very fast deep men coming up to the line.
Strong man of the 49er line was Leo Nomellini, a 33-year-old tackle. This 255-pound wrestler was immovable against running, as well as being the most effective rusher. Stronger even than most players his size, Leo nearly decapitated Ram Quarterback Frank Ryan once (see left), always dumped Center Les Richter (right) on Ram punts.
Key roles in the 49er defense were taken by Mertens (80) and Woodson (40), shown here playing on Phillips (82) and Shofner (29). They dogged these two fine pass receivers wherever they went. The safety men, Baker and Dove, helped on very deep patterns and on covering the short area in the middle (dotted circle) with Middle Backer Jerry Tubbs and with the other linebackers.
Panther-Quick reflexes plus sprinter's speed helped Mertens and Woodson in their assignments. As fast as the men they had to cover, they reacted so quickly that they were able to move with the feints thrown by the agile Phillips and Shofner and still recover well enough to be in position to knock down the pass (left) or harry the receiver so that he missed the pass (right).
Sideline views of 49ers' converging defense in action shows how it worked. Leon Clarke (84) has just caught pass. Woodson (40), Baker (25), Osborne (33), Tubbs (50) and Dove (44) are all turning toward Clarke in instant reaction to the situation.
Hit hard by Tubbs (50), first man to reach him, Clarke fumbles, and Dove (44), another of the fast-closing ring of 49er defenders, is on hand to scoop up the ball. Diagram at the right shows how the defenders gang up on the receiver after the pass is thrown.