"That Gifford catch was the end for us," Steeler Coach Buddy Parker said later. "It looked then like we were beginning to pick up and they were sliding. But you could see the whole club come alive after that play."
Although Coach Allie Sherman did not believe that the game had a single turning point, he agreed that Gifford's catch was the big play of the game for the Giants. "He has come up with a big play—a real key play like this one—in nearly every one of the last six or seven games," Sherman said. He stared accusingly at the ring of sportswriters around him and added, "Ever since some people started burying him about seven weeks ago."
When the Giants face the Bears on December 29, they will play a team whose overall game is similar to that of the Pittsburgh team they beat Sunday. But there are differences. The Bears' pass defense is superior to the Steelers' and the Chicago passing has to be better than Ed Brown's was: The Bear defensive line is bigger than the massive Steeler line and may be a bit more agile. But the Giant offensive linemen proved in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game that they can move big men; they pried gaping holes in the Steeler line when they had to. Jack Stroud, on the bench for three quarters, was replaced at offensive tackle by rookie Lane Howell, and Howell blocked superbly. More important, the line protected Tittle well all afternoon, giving him a secure base from which to throw. The Bears undoubtedly will send their linebackers in more often than did the Steelers, and their linebackers are quick and adept at the blitz. But Tittle moves well against that tactic.
The battle between the Giant offensive line and the Bear defenders should be about a standoff—and a standoff is a victory for the offensive line. The Giants won't be able to run for much yardage, but then they won't have to; they haven't had to all season. The Giant backs are good hammerers—they pound and pound at a defense for short gains to force it to respect the run. However, the runners don't break away and break up games. Tittle, his arm and his receivers do that.
In the reverse situation, the Giant defensive line and linebackers should have a narrow edge over the Bear offensive line. The Bear blocking has been good all year, although the Bear blockers probably haven't seen as strong a set of defenders as they will in the championship game. This Bear team has depended for its thrust on a sound running attack and the short passes of Bill Wade. If the Giants can bog down the running attack and force Wade into the air, their chances of victory are bettered. A harried and hurried Wade throwing into the alert Giant secondary could bring disaster to the Bears. The Bear running backs are only a shade better than those of the Giants and the shade may be Ronnie Bull, a more explosive long threat than any Giant back. Joe Marconi, the Bear fullback, is no better than—in fact may not be as good as—Alex Webster or Phil King.
The Bears have good receivers in Angelo Coia, John Farrington and Johnny Morris and they have the best tight end in the league in Mike Ditka. Yet these men do not outshine Gifford, Shofner, Joe Walton and Aaron Thomas, and no one of them is the deep threat that Shofner is.
Actually, there is little to choose between the two teams in offensive and defensive lines, secondaries, linebackers and running backs and receivers. There is, however, a wide difference in favor of the Giants in the most important single position on a football team—quarterback.
"Tittle has been the greatest quarterback I ever saw," Sherman said after last Sunday's game. "No one realizes the difficulties he had to overcome this season. He never knew from one week to the next who would be in the back-field with him because of all the injuries we had. A quarterback is like any other player—he's better if he can always work with the same unit because he learns their timing and moves. But Tittle never had that chance. But he went on and did what he had to do. He was just great today—not only in throwing but in the game he called. I have never seen a better one."
Although some of this praise may be considered the natural ebullience of a winning coach, it is, essentially, true. For three years Tittle, who is in his 14th year of professional football, has been the best quarterback in the league. He is an exceptionally accurate passer at any range and a sharp-eyed and resourceful diagnostician of defense. He is an imperturbable field general, with the rare knack of absolute leadership. He should be able to foil the Bear blitz because he reads defenses so quickly and, too, because he throws the ball in a split second, faster than any quarterback except Johnny Unitas.
While Wade has had a good year, he is no Tittle. He has a strong and accurate arm, but he does not pick up broken pass patterns (when his receivers are forced to change their routes) or read defenses as well as Tittle. He is also much more apt to be trapped for a loss on a pass attempt, since his delivery is not nearly as quick.