There is jam-up of contenders in the East, where everybody talks championship. But the defending Giants have slipped, the Eagles have problems and the Cardinals are a mystery. The team most likely to succeed is Cleveland, which has undergone a major face-lifting, has a new quarterback, a new halfback, a new defensive end—and, of course, the brilliant Jim Brown. Should the Browns falter, the improved Steelers, finally making a serious bid, could win their first division title
Cleveland: trading to a title
It is one thing to be impressed with Green Bay's Big Back Offense (i.e., Paul Hornungand Jimmy Taylor), but it is quite another to emulate it. Paul Brown is trying. Moving with Rothschildian deftness, he traded Bobby Mitchell, a swift halfback and a first-draft choice, to Washington for Big Back Ernie Davis of Syracuse, immediately exciting a tremor in the NFL ( Jimmy Brown and Ernie Davis in the same backfield!). Then he dealt Quarterback Milt Plum, league-leading passer, to Detroit for Quarterback Jim Ninowski, who can run; in the same deal he got Halfback Howard (Hopalong) Cassady and Defensive End Bill Glass. Before he was done, 11 Browns were gone in exchange for eight players from other teams. The swirl of trade had a synthesizing effect on the Browns: third in the East in 1961, they suddenly became best bet for the division championship in 1962. They had strengthened their defense with Glass and the backfield was big. Then came the bad news that Davis had contracted a serious blood disorder and may not play pro ball this season, or perhaps ever. What will this do to the Browns? Handicap them, naturally, but Paul Brown's dealing also won him 207-pound Halfback Tom Wilson from the Rams and 215-pound Charley Scales from Pittsburgh. He is not conceding defeat for his plan. Fullback Brown (right) has found Wilson to be a fine blocker (something at which neither he nor Davis is expert). The Browns will still make a serious run for the Eastern title. Coach Brown himself is willing to try anything: he'll even let Ninowski call the plays (until, of course, Ninowski calls the wrong one).
Dallas: too soon for success
The Cowboys are relying on too many rookies (a dozen). To dodge a losing season, Coach Tom Landry must get the best out of Quarterback Don Meredith (left), whose best so far has been questionable. There is no questioning Meredith's arm, his skill or his popularity (he leads the team in training-table song); what worries his colleagues is his blithe spirit. Meredith is working on a $30,000 five-year no-cut contract. He is, they say, a fat cat. His wife was the first to join the team at its hotel-camp in Marquette. Don had the only car. Still, Meredith is liked, even when he doesn't know the plays (in the huddle last year he was heard to tell a receiver, "Just run downfield, I'll find you"). This year, says Landry with pride of accomplishment, Meredith has learned all the plays. His receivers—Bill Howton, Frank Clarke and Dick Bielski—are good and experienced. Too, the Cowboys have fine running backs: Don Perkins, who led all NFL halfbacks in 1961 with 815 yards, Amos Marsh and the 235-pound J. W. Lockett. Significantly, the first question Perkins asked this fall was, "Do we have any guards or tackles?" The answer will come in lumps, because the offensive line, despite Landry's frantic efforts to build it up, is not yet strong enough. Spreads may be used to give Meredith more time to pass. There are shortages, too, at linebacker and in the defensive secondary, where Don Bishop is the only proven member. Landry runs a taut training camp, "the toughest I've seen," says one old pro, and the three-year-old Cowboys are spirited. But they'll be another year trying on their uniforms before they really get in the game.
New York: tape and troubles
Everything seemed normal again in the Connecticut camp of the New York Giants last month. Halfback Frank Gifford, after a year's retirement, was back and passing for another touchdown for his favorite cigarette commercial. Gifford is sure to win the Giants more network time this fall; it is something else to believe that he will win them a second straight Eastern Division title. There is some doubt, even, that he will supplant sophomore Bob Gaiters as first-team left halfback. The Giants are hurting. They showed their deficiencies in last year's title game, losing terribly to Green Bay 37-0. What they had hoped would be a surplus of talent this fall has become a shortage. Rookies who were counted on were stricken by a series of mishaps: End Lou Kirouac's leg was shattered (he is out for the year, perhaps for good); Guard Bob Bill ripped ligaments in his leg; Guard Bookie Bolin broke his foot; and Safetyman Erich Barnes's shoulder was dislocated. Previously, Flanker Back Kyle Rote and Quarterback Charley Conerly had retired, leaving the jobs to Jim Podoley, who missed all last year with a damaged knee, and Y. A. Tittle, who is 35 years old. Pat Summerall's retirement pressed Punter Don Chandler into a new role: that of place-kicker. Ralph Guglielmi was bought from the Cardinals to back up Tittle, and the defense is still tinseled with such names as Huff, Patton, Katcavage and the effervescent Grier (left). But even the defensive and offensive lines looked mystified at times during exhibition games. By December the Giants will have lost their right to be embarrassed in another title game.
Philadelphia: Sonny, lukewarm
The emergence of Sonny Jurgensen (right) as a quarterback of quality occasioned some surprise last year, except by those who were on pass-catching terms with him. " Jurgensen always had it," says End Pete Retzlaff. "We knew it for years." The Eagle management didn't, and they were ready to trade him. What a mistake that would have been. Jurgensen led the NFL in touchdown passes (32) and yardage (3,723). The Eagles missed the Eastern championship by half a game and went to the Playoff Bowl in Miami, where the Lions beat them and where Jurgensen suffered a badly separated shoulder. Fully recovered, Sonny is back in form. With Retzlaff (50 catches, 769 yards) and Tommy McDonald (64 catches. 1,144 yards) to throw to, the Eagles generally consider themselves a top contender in the East, and should be. But there is grave concern over their defense. All-pro Halfback Tom Brookshier is still wobbling from a leg fracture. End Leo Sugar, the voracious pass rusher, has retired. Coach Nick Skorich, hopefully, has Irv Cross in Brookshier's spot and 6-foot-6 John Baker, acquired from L.A., will fill in for Sugar. Though they have fine backs in Ted Dean, Clarence Peaks and Tim Brown, the Eagles were 12th in the league in rushing last year—the blocking was that bad. To improve, Skorich traded for Center Jim Schrader of Washington and drafted two standout guards. The Eagles also have as McDonald's understudy Frank Budd of Villanova, who hasn't played football since high school but who runs the hundred in 9.2. If the race were to the swift, they would be unbeatable.
Pittsburgh: contenders at last
Coach Buddy Parker has been saying it for years: he will field his "best Steeler team ever" and give Pittsburgh its first pro championship. The city remains suspicious. Parker's Pittsburgh teams have been consistently disappointing but this year the Steelers are contenders, and Parker might have been a town hero last season had his team not lost five of its first six games (four by two to five points). The Steelers won five of their last eight games even though Quarterback Bobby Layne was forced to the bench with a watermelon-sized blood blister on his side. Parker, understandably, is practically standing pat, though the few changes he has made are vital. One newcomer, Quarterback Ed Brown, was never any marvel with the Chicago Bears, but he has battled almost on even terms with Layne. This gives Parker quarterbacking depth he hasn't enjoyed since Layne and Tobin Rote were his 1-2 at Detroit. All-America Fullback Bob Ferguson ( Ohio State) is likely to make a halfback out of John Henry Johnson, giving Pittsburgh a powerhouse running pair. Rookie Gary Ball-man ( Michigan State) has the outside speed that Tom (The Bomb) Tracy, released on the eve of the season, had lost. And there is End Buddy Dial (right) to catch passes. Parker has no reason to tamper with the defense. Where many teams are crying for linebackers, he has three. His best, however, Myron Pottios, is out for the year with injuries. The Steelers led the league in rushing defense in 1961. In early exhibitions this year they were alternately good and bad. They are that kind of team. They could finish first. They could also finish sixth.
St. Louis: hopes and fears
The Cardinals effected what amounted to a coaching swap with the Houston Oilers: they got back former Assistant Coach Wally Lemm, who last year won the AFL championship at Houston, for his former boss Pop Ivy, who got nothing but heartburn at St. Louis. Lemm quickly discarded Ivy's double wing for the standard pro flanker offense. He inherits a team that has fine material and terrible luck. No fewer than 14 players were hurt last year, among them the magnificent Halfback John David Crow (right). Tackle Ken Panfil and Halfback Joe Childress. This year the luck has improved, but only slightly. Crow sprained (not broke) his ankle in an exhibition game, as did Guard Mike McGee, and rookie Tackle Billy Wilson of Auburn severely injured his knee. Fortunately, the Cardinals have great strength and experience defensively (Linebacker Dale Meinert once chased the Eagles' Tommy McDonald 40 yards—and caught him). Offensively, the running is good with Crow (when ready), Prentice Gautt, Frank Mestnik and Childress. They will have excellent pull-out guards in a recovered McGee and Ken Gray. Passing is the concern. Quarterback Sam Etcheverry, the Canadian veteran, had a sore shoulder and a hard time last year (he led the league in fumbles with 15). He needs pass-protection and pass-catching help, especially at flanker. Rookies Bill Triplett ( Miami, O.) and John Elwell ( Purdue) are trying the position, behind Bobby Joe Conrad. Split End Sonny Randle has a promising running mate in rookie Charley Bryant ( Ohio State). The Cardinals often look like champions; more often they look like a mystery.
Washington: full speed ahead
Washington supports failure spectacularly. The ticket prices last fall were the highest in the team's history and so were the attendance figures—even though the Redskins have won but two games in two years. Now it appears the Redskins are willing to risk that allegiance by getting good. The slowest, most ineffective offense in the NFL has been inoculated with speed. Backs Bobby Mitchell (from Cleveland) and Leroy Jackson (Western Illinois) do 100 yards in 9.6 or better. For Mitchell, the Browns' star left halfback, and Jackson, a first-round draft choice of the Browns, the Redskins gave up their rights to Ernie Davis. This solved Coach Bill McPeak's speed problem, and kept the integrationists off Owner George Marshall's neck. Davis would have been the club's first Negro. Now it has two Negro stars in Mitchell and Jackson. Regular Fullback Don Bosseler and Halfback Billy Barnes, acquired from Philadelphia, will supply the power. Bosseler, injured most of last year, is an exceptional blocker, which should delight Mitchell because at Cleveland Jimmy Brown wasn't. Quarterback Norman Snead (right) had a promising first year, learning through adversity, and now has a backfield to work with. The offensive line is adequate, though there is a pressing need for pass receivers. The defense (which, after all, has had the most experience) is less in need of repair. An injury to Jim Kerr, a standout last year, hurts the secondary, but Bobby Freeman, obtained from the Eagles, helps it. A championship for the Redskins is out, but a .500 season is not remote. The question is, will Washington support a winner?