The Quarterback lumbered casually out of the huddle, leaned on the center's backside with his left hand and looked the situation over. Then the curiously high-pitched voice snapped out the count with immense confidence, and the Philadelphia Eagles went into action from the New York Giant 13-yard line.
Norman Van Brocklin took the snap from center, trotted unhurriedly to his right and looked for an open receiver. The big Giant linemen, most of whom are easily as fast as Van Brocklin, rumbled down on him as he looked. He faked a throw once, still moving toward the right slowly, still searching for a free receiver. The linemen were very close now, and Van Brocklin, with some 1,000 pounds of disaster falling on him, finally lofted the ball gently toward the Giant end zone. Clarence Peaks, the very fast Eagle halfback, broke free as the ball began to drop and ran under it in the untenanted corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Van Brocklin picked himself up after the Giant linemen unpiled and shambled sedately off to the sideline, the broad Dutch face wrinkled in a wide grin.
It was a typical Van Brocklin play—called audaciously, executed with the cold, unworried precision of a surgeon. It was the kind of a play which makes the Philadelphia Eagles a 30% better football team simply by the acquisition of this 32-year-old, well-worn but neatly patched veteran of nine years' erosion in pro football.
Not that the possession of Van Brocklin is an unalloyed pleasure to a coach. The Dutchman has a wide streak of Dutch stubbornness and a strong respect for his own judgment. He runs a team brusquely and intelligently and brooks little interference from coaches who are fond of sending in plays. This may have been the principal point of difference between him and Sid Gillman, the coach of the Los Angeles Rams. Van Brocklin, who has been known to run the same unsuccessful play three times simply to prove that it can work, does not take kindly to the strict sideline direction of the Paul Brown school of coaching, and often Gillman's messages, via shuttling linemen, only irritated Van Brocklin.
He retired briefly at the end of last season, principally because he didn't want to play for Gillman. Van Brocklin has a fierce pride, and Gillman, obviously content to go with the more tractable Bill Wade at quarterback, didn't play Van enough to suit the Dutchman. Van Brocklin, who resented taking a bench seat to Bob Waterfield when his career began, resented even more occupying the same position to Wade. He stayed retired long enough for the Rams to make a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I didn't much want to come to the Eagles," Van said the other day. "You can't beat that West Coast living. But what else am I going to do? I guess if I knew what I'm going to do when I get through, I'd start doing it now." Since he has a warm, ingratiating personality and a master's degree in physical education, Van Brocklin's worries about a post-football career seem a bit exaggerated. He is an interesting split personality—off the field he is relaxed, fond of giving imitations (possibly his best is of Esther Williams climbing out of a swimming pool for a safety razor ad); during a game, he is likely to be irascible, a tremendous competitor with small patience for mistakes. Technically, he is probably the best passer in the league. His arms are thick, his hands stubby for a passer but immensely strong. His rubbery, slightly heavy-set body has absorbed the pounding a pro quarterback is heir to without injury. Van Brocklin is a surprisingly adept ball handler in view of his lack of speed. And his enthusiastic respect for his acumen as a play selector is justified.
"I like playing for Buck Shaw," he said. "He's a quarterback's coach." Translated, that means that Shaw, who got his early training in permissiveness as the coach of the 49ers when the uninhibited Frankie Albert was quarterback, lets the quarterback call his own game.
"Not that I'm criticizing Gillman," Van Brocklin went on. "I can't say anything against him. He never said anything to me that I could get mad about. He told some other people that he wanted to get rid of me, but he never told me."
Gillman got an offensive tackle and a defensive halfback for Van Brocklin, both first-line pro players, and the Eagles first draft choice rights this year, but no coach in the league would consider that he got the best of the trade. In nine seasons Van Brocklin has led the league in passing three times, in punting twice. He holds almost every Ram passing record, and he has thrown 118 touchdown passes going into the 1958 season. He can fire a slingshot-fast short pass or, with an easy flick of his meaty right arm, loft a 60-yard floater more accurately than any other thrower in the league. In a position where the knack of taking charge is, next to marksmanship, the supreme asset, he is firmly in the saddle every minute he is on the field.
AIR THREAT HELPS
Last year the Eagles lost twice to the New York Giants, and the 1957 edition of the Giants was not nearly as good as the 1958 club. When Van Brocklin left the field Sunday, in his heavy-footed, slow trot, he left with a 27-24 victory. Of course, not all the difference was Van Brocklin; the Eagle running game is helped with the development of Clarence Peaks, and the addition of Billy Wells, a Pittsburgh castoff, who had a great day.
But—and here is another reason for Van Brocklin's tremendous value to any team—the Giants had to worry first about the Eagle air attack, and with very good reason, since the Dutchman completed 16 of 34 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
Van is happy with the Eagles now. He has only one regret—the Rams are not scheduled to play the Eagles this year. And that may be the reason Gillman selected Philadelphia to trade the Dutchman to.
With Van Brocklin, the Eagles, after two games, appear to be the strongest threat to the Cleveland Browns for the Eastern Conference championship. The Browns, however, need fear no one, Van Brocklin included, in their division. After a shaky venture into the West and a 30-27 victory over Los Angeles, the Browns last week found the Pittsburgh Steelers so easy a victim (45-12) that Paul Brown rested his best quarterback, Milt Plum, and his best runner, Jim Brown, for the fourth quarter. It becomes clearer with each week that Brown has finished the rebuilding process needed when Otto Graham retired.
The Chicago Cardinals, using some single-wing to supplement Pop Ivy's new double-wing T, surprised Washington and, possibly, Ivy with a magnificent running and passing attack to win easily, 37-10. The game may have spelled the end of Lamar McHan as a first-string quarterback; M. C. Reynolds, taking over from McHan late in the second quarter, completed 16 of 25 passes for 228 yards.
Coach Weeb Ewbank's five-year plan for the Baltimore Colts is right on schedule: the Colts are a superbly balanced team with all the tools a pro club must have. They proved that by whipping the Bears 51-38 and taking position as the clear-cut favorite in the West. Age appears to have withered Detroit too much; the Lions struggled for a 13-13 tie with Green Bay. The most ominous note of warning for Baltimore came from the West: the Los Angeles Rams, not missing Van Brocklin a whit, used Bill Wade's passing and a ferocious defense to rout San Francisco 33-3.
SCOWLING ANGRILY, Norm Van Brocklin heads for the Los Angeles Ram bench en route to a new job with Philadelphia.