In the most unusual Sunday of the young professional football season, all of the favorites won. It has been a long time since the pros have been decent enough to pay such a handsome tribute to the handicappers.
No one believed, for instance, that the Philadelphia Eagles would repeat their recent and horrendous 49-21 upset of the New York Giants; and the Eagles, who were six-point underdogs for last Sunday's rematch, couldn't really make a contest of it after the first quarter as the defending Eastern Conference champions methodically whipsawed them with equally effective running and passing for a 24-7 victory. And not just incidentally, the 68,783 customers formed the second-largest crowd in Giant history, second only to last year's regular-season game with Baltimore.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, sadly surprised by the Washington Redskins a fortnight earlier, reacted violently this time, tackling so exuberantly they forced seven Redskin fumbles, scoring after three of them and whipping Washington 27-6. The Steeler pass defense, notably porous in the previous match against the Redskins, held Washington quarterbacks to three completions in 16 attempts and, unbelievably, to a minus 13 yards net in the passing statistics.
So it went throughout the league. The World Champion Baltimore Colts, miffed by reports that they are growing old and complacent, beat the Chicago Bears 21-7, with a late two-touchdown surge. The Los Angeles Rams, sometimes possessed of the most explosive offense in football, finally ignited it and burst the previously intact Green Bay bubble 45-6. The San Francisco 49ers, using the same aggressive, knowledgeable defense which held the Rams scoreless a couple of weeks ago, loosed two of the hardest-running backs in the league on the winless Detroit Lions for a 34-13 victory. J. D. Smith and elderly but spry Joe Perry gained 152 and 145 yards respectively.
Finally, the Cleveland Browns won their second game from the same team which provided them with their first victory. They beat the Chicago Cardinals 17-7, injuring both the first-line Cardinal quarterbacks in doing it. The Cardinals finished the game with tall, gangling John Roach at the controls. Roach is a defensive halfback who once played T quarterback for Southern Methodist.
The Giants' amazing reversal of the 49-21 upset by the Eagles was due largely to defense, and the first objective of the Giant defense was stopping a small, tow-headed youngster from Oklahoma named Tommy McDonald, the favorite target of the Eagles' fine quarterback, Norman Van Brocklin. In the Eagle upset of the Giants he scored four touchdowns. On this cool Sunday he caught only two passes.
The night before the game, lying on the bed in his room in New York's Hotel Manhattan, McDonald seemed unusually relaxed. He tossed a penny in the air and caught it.
"I've always been doing things with my hands," he said. "If I'm just standing still I'll put three pennies on the back of my hand, toss 'em up and catch 'em on the way down, one at a time."
He got up from the bed. "Like this," he said and flipped the pennies up and caught them, his hand flicking out rapidly three times, like a lizard's tongue.
"Lying down on the floor or on the bed and tossing a ball up and catching it helps, too," he said, lying down on the bed and tossing a penny up and catching it. "You have to keep your eyes up and your arms away from your body, like this. See my hands? They're over my head and spread so I can see to catch. That's a big help when you're going for the long pass."
He got up again to demonstrate.
"You want to keep your eyes up at the top of your head so you can follow the ball, and you want to reach without leaning. Leaning throws you off balance."
He sat on the edge of the bed, his hands clasped between his knees and looked at them. "I got good hands," he said seriously. "Every receiver up here has. I lost part of this thumb [his left] in a motor bike accident when I was a junior in high school, but it's stronger than the other now. Van Brocklin calls me Tom Thumb."
His hands are not very large and appear slender rather than strong.
"Another thing," he said. "If you want to be a good receiver you got to be a good actor. Elroy Hirsch was a great actor. You got to put on a false face. Your man watches your face and he can read your eyes, so you got to act your way past him. You got to make him think you're a decoy. Hirsch did that. He'd slow down like his part of the play was over, then take off. Fast, slow, fast. Speed is one of my big attributes."
Sunday afternoon against the Giants, McDonald used his speed, his acting ability and his fine hands, and he caught only two passes. Unfortunately, he ran into a defense concocted by one of the most astute defensive coaches in pro football, the Giants' Tom Landry. And Jim Patton, the key to the Giant secondary defense, who was injured and out of the first game between the two teams, was healthy and very much present at this game.
"We gave them passes to Dick Bielski," Landry said after the game. "We had to double up our defense on McDonald and on Pete Retzlaff, so we had to cover Bielski only minimally. It worked out all right. Crow took McDonald short, and on the long passes, where he cut across field, Patton picked him up. It worked out pretty well."
Landry could gamble on this defense for two reasons: one, the Giant line overpowered the Eagle running offense; and two, the Giant linebackers and secondary defense were quick enough to hold Bielski's gains down to reasonably short yardage. The turning point in the game came, in fact, on Harland Svare's interception of a pass intended for Clarence Peaks. Landry has a few "pick-off" plays for his defense—plays in which a defender will purposely play a little out of position in order to lure an unsuspecting quarterback to throw into apparently unguarded territory. Svare's interception, good for 70 yards and a touchdown, came on a pass thrown into what must have seemed a very vulnerable spot. It wasn't. As McDonald found out, there were no apparent vulnerable spots in last Sunday's Giant defense.
GIANT END Bob Schnelker ignores threatening goal post to catch scoring pass from Quarterback George Shaw as the New York victory gave team the conference lead.