The New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts must be rated as dead even for their championship game December 27 in Baltimore. The only advantage discernible is Baltimore's, and it is an advantage of position, not power. The edge has to go to the Colts because of the site; the vociferous, vastly enthusiastic Baltimore fans create a real handicap for a visiting team as they shout down the quarterback's signals, keep quiet for the calls of their own hero, Johnny Unitas.
But otherwise—in personnel, strategy, tactics, depth and poise—the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts are nearly mirror images. Both have superb quarterbacks who throw beautifully at any range; the Giants have much better reserve strength behind Charlie Conerly in George Shaw, who should be recovered from a thumb injury, and Don Heinrich. Should Unitas be hurt, the Colts have only Ray Brown, a defensive halfback who has played very few downs at quarterback.
The Giants have, over-all, a bit more power in their running attack with Mel Triplett, Phil King, Alex Webster and Frank Gifford, but the Colts have certainly adequate power from Alan Ameche and Billy Pricer, plus better breakaway speed than the Giants in Lenny Moore and the fast-developing cast-off from Washington, Mike Sommer. Both back-fields operate behind very similar lines—the two best offensive lines in football anchored on the two best offensive centers, Ray Wietecha of the Giants and the unheralded Buzz Nutter of the Colts.
The Colts, statistically at least, own an edge in pass receivers. Raymond Berry, Moore and Jim Mutscheller have caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than have Kyle Rote, Bob Schnelker and Gifford. But this may be more a reflection of the style of the Baltimore attack than of the relative abilities of the pass catchers. Unitas, supremely confident of his own ability to complete a pass (he set a league record this season with 32 touchdown passes) is likely to rely more often on his air arm than on his running game. Conerly, who is equally confident and equally accurate as a passer, will go to Gifford or Webster or Triplett for yardage more often than he will throw.
The defenses are almost precisely the same. Both teams have massive, mobile and wise front lines backed by tremendous linebackers. Although the Giant linebackers, headed by Sam Huff, are better known to the average pro football fan, the Baltimore trio is at least as good. An indication of the quickness and the speed of the Colt linebackers (Bill Pellington, Dick Szymanski and Don Shinnick) is their total of pass interceptions, 17, which is very likely the highest in the history of the league.
The Colt deep secondary may be a shade quicker than the Giants and a bit tighter knit, but there is little to choose in effectiveness. Neither is ordinarily vulnerable to the sudden shock of a long pass completed for a touchdown.
Temperamentally, the two teams are similar, too. Both are capable of rising to an occasion with professional aplomb. The Colts demonstrated this last weekend in their final game of the regular season, when they had to defeat or tie the Los Angeles Rams to win the Western Conference championship. The Rams, playing with their usual erratic brilliancy and supercharged by the information that their coach, Sid Gillman, was resigning after the game, broke away to a quick lead and actually dominated much of the first three quarters of play. But whenever Baltimore needed the hard yards for a first down or the big play for a touchdown, the requisite was produced. The Colts won, of course, 45-26, and watching the game you never felt they were in any serious danger of losing to the Rams. This was Baltimore's sixth straight victory after a very shaky start this season, and each of these victories was of the do-or-die variety, although most of them were decisive.
The Giants faltered briefly in mid-season, primarily because of the loss of Conerly with an injured ankle. But they, too, when faced with the absolute necessity for victory, responded magnificently.
All in all, the championship game matches teams equal in age, experience, muscle and imagination.
The winner should be the team with the breaks.
COLTS UNITAS (LEFT) AND EWBANK EXULT IN CONFERENCE WIN