Gasping through a temperature that was nearly 100° in the shade—and there wasn't any shade—on the Northwestern practice field at Evanston last week was the latest batch of new blood for the pros. It's a big batch, too, as far as size and ability go. The 47 College All-Stars squad is a far cry from the unwieldy masses of 70 or 80 in the past. Today each player realizes he is a member of a football squad and not of an extravaganza.
Watching the large linemen and swift backs sweat under the scorching sun I realized more than ever that football is a young man's game. And an equally erudite observation came to mind: how utterly futile it is for an all-star squad with three weeks' practice to attempt to defeat the champions of the National Professional Football League. Unless the professionals treat the game as an outright exhibition or underestimate the intangible of unafraid youth afire with a winning desire, their cause is hopeless. There has been nothing, up to this point, in the case history of one Paul Brown, coach of the Cleveland Browns, to indicate a lackadaisical attitude either toward an exhibition or a league game. I happen to know, having coached the All-Stars to a 0-33 defeat in 1951 on his maiden trip to Soldier Field.
There was a time, not too far distant, when professional football was simply semipro. This in the '30s, too, while I was playing. It is my firm belief that a good college squad could have beaten many of the league teams of that time. There were great individual stars in professional football in those days, but the college game was better organized. But that era has gone into history and a new day has dawned for professional football. The gap has widened so far that it can be compared to college baseball and the major leagues.
The emergence of the professional game can be laid to many causes. Perhaps the most important is a sound financial backing which has enabled the clubs to pay proper salaries to players, coaches and scouts. The avocation has become a business, and the semipros have grown up to become pros.
The late Arch Ward of the Chicago Tribune, who inaugurated the series between the College All-Stars and the professionals in 1934, was a much worried man after last year's game. Arch's promotion had certainly been a success from a financial standpoint, but his beloved All-Stars had not beaten the pros since 1950. He felt that something drastic must be done. I suggested that a squad of professional all-stars, selected from all the other teams in the league, meet the champions of the year before. This would be a surefire draw, I argued, and would create national interest. To this group could be added the newly graduated class of pros-to-be. He conceded I had a good idea except for the slightly important point that the professional teams would never agree to it, because it would break up their entire training camp schedule and series of exhibition games by the absence of key stars. So this idea fell through. He finally hit upon the idea of acquiring the services of professional coaches who were retired from active coaching. Allow them to hand-pick their players several months in advance and thus "fight pros with pros." Arch felt that college coaches were too stereotyped in their offensive thinking. He longed for a wide-open, semi-spread type of attack, with passes predominating. This year's squad is the result of his thinking.
There was a fine nucleus of professional coaches to draw from. Curly Lambeau, whose name is synonymous with the once-proud Green Bay Packers, was selected as the head coach. His assistants are of equal caliber. No one has done more in the development of professional football than my friend Steve Owen. The former N.Y. Giants coach was generally conceded the best defensive coach in the league. Add to these Hunk Anderson, who for years was the aggressive line coach of the "Big Bad Bears," and Hampton Pool, the brilliant offensive strategist, formerly head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. Encompassed in this staff are well over 100 years of professional football playing and coaching.
Without giving away any valuable scouting information to the Browns I can say that the 1955 offensive version of the All-Stars is definitely a professional model. Few plays will be run without ends being split wide and back-field flankers. It is no secret that the desired requisite of a professional coach is to have a quarterback who can throw the ball short and long, three good receivers who can catch the ball and run √† la Don Hutson, and a big fullback who can keep the middle honest and at the same time protect the passer from the pounding of the determined defensive ends. This All-Star squad has those ingredients coupled with a large defensive line.
HARNESSING THE POWER
But the big problem is to harness that potential power by the night of August 12. The coaches feel that Ralph Guglielmi, ex-Notre Dame and the Redskins' No. 1 draft choice, and George Shaw, ex-Oregon and Baltimore bonus pick, can fill the bill equally well at quarterback; that Fullbacks Dick Bielski, ex-Maryland and Eagles draftee, aided and abetted by Alan Ameche, ex-Wisconsin and Baltimore No. 1 draft choice, can handle the offensive fullback chores; and that good receivers are legion. But one thing must be remembered. Paul Brown, despite the retirement of Otto Graham, has those same ingredients molded into a cohesive unit.
Regardless of the outcome of the game, the All-Stars are studded. I was most interested in who the coaches, with all their knowledge of the requirements of the ideal professional football players, felt were the "tenderloin" prospects for the league; in other words, sure-fire bets. There were some differences of opinion on the No. 1 prospect, but the choice lay between two players—Max Boydston, the 6-foot 2-inch, 207-pound ex-Oklahoma end and the Cardinals' No. 1 draft choice, and Larry Morris, the 6-foot 2-inch, 218-pound center via Georgia Tech and draftee No. 1 of the Los Angeles Rams. "Would you play them on offense or defense?" I asked. "Hell," drawled Steve Owen, "I'd play 'em both ways."
The game this year will be played under practically pure professional rules instead of the college rules which were in effect last year. So "free substitution" and separate offensive and defensive units will probably be used by both squads.
Other "tenderloins"—and this is not necessarily in the order of evaluation—were 230-pound Jim Temp of Wisconsin, who will be used as a defensive end at Green Bay. The mammoth Negro tackle Roosevelt Grier of Penn State, who will align his 260 pounds on the Giants' defensive line this fall. Frank Varrichione, 230-pound ex-Notre Dame tackle, will play regularly for Pittsburgh. Guard Tom Bettis of Purdue will back up the Green Bay line with his 225 pounds. Dick Szymanski, the 227-pound center from Notre Dame, can't miss at Baltimore.
George Shaw and Ralph Guglielmi, both of whom we mentioned before, are brilliant quarterback prospects. Dave Middleton, the 190-pound Auburn slasher and the Lions' No. 1 draft choice, has made a tremendous impression in camp as a halfback. Dick Moegle, the youngest player on the squad at 20, will be always dangerous at halfback for the 49ers. The 183-pound former Rice speedster is especially a threat on punt and kickoff returns. The Cardinals will be thankful for Linden Crow, the Southern California star, who will be used as a defensive halfback. The 215-pound Bielski is rated just as highly as Ameche at fullback.
There are many others not mentioned by the coaches as "tenderloins" for one reason or another. Frank Eidom, the SMU halfback, is on Army leave, but the coaches feel that he could make any team in the league. Joe Heap, another N.D. contribution to the squad, must be placed close to the top. He will play halfback for the Giants. Jim Salsbury, the UCLA guard and Detroit property, has had a foot infection since arrival and could not be evaluated properly. It's my belief that the Lions will use him.
One thing is for sure: the All-Stars are going to furnish a lot of new blood to the old pros.
"I don't know when I've enjoyed a ride more."