By the end of the day so many teams—five to be exact—were in a position to take the NFL's Western Conference championship that the only sure thing about the league's wildest race in years was that Dallas (0-10-1), with a few breaks, might have been challenging for the title, too. The San Francisco 49ers, again using their double-wing formation, whipped the Los Angeles Rams 23-7 and were in first place. The stumbling Baltimore Colts tripped on the last play of their game with Detroit, lost 20-15 and were in first place. But the most surprising team of all was the Green Bay Packers. Rested and ferocious after a week-and-a-half layoff, they almost demolished the Chicago Bears, 41-13, and they were in first. The Chicago Bears are a half game behind the leaders, and the Lions, growing stronger by the week, are another half game back. Of all these, only the 49ers, who play the Packers and Colts in successive weeks, have it in their own power to win the title. But after what Green Bay did to Chicago it would be a brave man indeed who picked the 49ers to win.
Coach Vince Lombardi has installed a very sound, powerful offense for the Packers, and it is animated by three of the most violent runners in football: Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung and Tom Moore. Taylor, at fullback, is not big as pro fullbacks go—he weighs some 210 pounds. "But he is a very heavy 210," says Hornung, the old Notre Dame glamour boy who has become a hard-headed, rough pro halfback and who Sunday scored 23 points in an inspired performance, setting a new NFL season mark with two games still to play. "I mean he runs over people." So does Moore, who can go around people too.
The Packer line can be as rough as its runners. Like Taylor, it weighs heavy. "The guards are big enough," Lombardi says, "maybe 245 each. But the tackles only weigh about 250. It's not a big line, but it is a quick one."
It was quick enough to block a Bear punt and recover it for a touchdown, and it was quick enough to open wide avenues through the big Bear line. On behalf of the Bear defense, it must be pointed out that on Sunday it played an inordinately long time, because the Bear offense had difficulty holding on to the ball long enough for the defenders to catch their breath.
"Two things I think went wrong," said Bear Defensive Coach Clark Shaughnessy. "The defense was tired going in. They've been playing a long time every Sunday afternoon, and they're tired physically and mentally. And I may have guessed wrong today on the Packers. We expected them to use delays and count-downs—slow-developing plays—and our linemen were waiting. We weren't getting the quick charge you need to put pressure on a passer. Why, against Detroit we threw Ninowski for over a hundred yards' loss on his pass attempts. What did we get on Starr? Nothing."
Packer Quarterback Bart Starr, given this leisure for searching out pass receivers, responded with what may have been the best day in his short career. The Bear defense is a complicated, shifting one, never set until the ball is snapped, and the young Starr waited coolly for it to jell before making his final decision. Once he called a play in the huddle, changed it three times at the line of scrimmage and, at last, sent Hornung skittering outside the overcommitted Bear flank on a 10-yard touchdown run. Again, when the Bears overloaded at the last second to shoot linebackers at Starr from his right flank, he tossed the ball neatly over the charging Bears into the arms of Hornung, who cantered placidly into the end zone.
All in all, Bart Starr called a game worthy of a quarterback far older in battle than he is.
"Bart's calls were nearly perfect," Lombardi said after the game. He was crowded into a corner of the dressing room under the Wrigley Field stands, nervously puffing a cigarette. "You can't send in plays against the Bear defense because you never know what it will be. It is very complicated. The quarterback often has to automatic, and Starr's automatics were perfect. He played a hell of a game."
Lombardi crushed out the cigarette, which he had only just lighted. "What's the final in Baltimore?" he asked. A reporter said the Colts had won it, 15-13, with a minute to go, and Lombardi, a short, stocky man noticeably grayer as a head coach than he was two years ago as a New York Giant assistant, slumped.
"We've still got a chance," he said. "We played a good game today. The Colts won't win both on the Coast."
Another reporter came in and said that the Lions had scored again and won 20-15.
"You sure?" Lombardi asked. He was sweating now in the steamy heat of the dressing room, and he was very, very nervous. 'Don't tell the kids. Don't get them upset. Are you sure?"
"Absolutely," the reporter said, and Lombardi relaxed. He lit another cigarette, leaned back, took a long, luxurious drag on it and smiled.
"Two weeks ago I said we were out of it unless they lost a couple," he said. "Now they have. How about that?"
The Packers left for San Francisco right after the Bear game so they could spend a week in Palo Alto growing accustomed to sunshine and warmth. Lombardi is a meticulous, thoughtful man, and he is overlooking no detail in the last two games.
Last season both the Packers and the Colts swept their two-game series on the Coast, but it was the first time that either club had ever been able to accomplish this.
"I didn't think we could come back after we lost to the Rams a couple of weeks ago," Lombardi said as he prepared to leave. "We played our guts out and went ahead late in the game, and they came back to whip us in the last few seconds. The team went flat after that. That's when Detroit beat us. We were tired, every way. But we're back now."
In all the uproar in the West, the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles defeated St. Louis to clinch their first conference title since 1949 went almost unnoticed. The Eagles won rather methodically, with Norm Van Brocklin producing his usual quota of touchdown passes and the feeble Eagle running producing merely a threat to make the passes go.
"Van Brocklin's tough," said Lombardi, speculatively, just as he left. He walked through a small crowd of Green Bay fans who had come down on the train for the game and smiled at them. They howled happily back at him, then headed home for the happiest small town in the U.S. (see next page).
SWIFT-CUTTING HORNUNG swings in behind block on way to five-yard gain.