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Original Issue


So deep in talent that even the loss of Paul Hornung means little, Green Bay should win its third straight championship. But if the Packers falter, Detroit's perennial second-place finishers are ready to move up and, with luck, so are the Chicago Bears. Baltimore's Colts are still a year or so away, and this is a shakedown year for the Rams, with a new coach, a new ownership and a new spirit. San Francisco has problems on defense. The Minnesota Vikings have embarked on a youth movement that should pay off in time. While the race will be closer than last year's, the finish will be nearly the same.

Vince Lombardi's squad should win its third straight league championship. Victory may not come as easily as it did in 1962, when the Packers won 13 games and lost only one in taking the Western Division title. It may not come at all if the Packers have one or two key injuries to the defensive team. But, with the possible exception of the Cleveland Browns of several years ago, no club that has been on top for so long has ever been as well equipped to continue its domination as Green Bay. Even the loss of Paul Hornung, the accepted leader of the team, should have no real effect on Green Bay's power. Jim Taylor (above), the granite-legged fullback who led the league in ground-gaining last season, seems to have shaken off the effects of a siege of hepatitis. Tom Moore, Hornung's replacement, is cut from the Hornung-Taylor pattern—220 pounds, a good blocker, a balanced, insistent runner. In Earl Gros, a massive second-year fullback from Louisiana State, and Elijah Pitts, Lombardi has a pair of second-string backs who could start for most pro teams. Bart Starr, playing his seventh season in 1962, acquired the final polish of a championship quarterback. He has the same capable corps of receivers to throw to again this season. The Packer attack will be as thunderous as ever behind the blocking of an experienced offensive line led by All-Pro Center Jim Ringo. This line last year was one of the most effective weapons in the Packer arsenal; it has not aged enough to reduce its speed or its power. Only on defense, where Green Bay held opponents to minimum points last season, are there any potential soft spots. Lombardi traded away Bill Quinlan, one of the league's best defensive ends against a ground attack. He has juggled his defensive line, moving Tackle Henry Jordan out to end and putting Urban Henry, or young Ron Kostelnik at Jordan's tackle spot. If the change works, the Packers may get a better pass-rush than they enjoyed last year, when Quinlan rarely penetrated to opposing quarterbacks. Some of the Packer defenders are teetering on that borderline where the wisdom of experience can no longer compensate for a vanishing youth. Their substitutes are young and strong, but if too many replacements become necessary the smooth, instinctive functioning of the Packer defense could be disturbed. Attempting a new fillip on offense, Lombardi is using a man in motion. Whether the system works or not, the Packers have enough to win a third straight title.

Alex Karras, the recalcitrant tackle who will sit out the 1963 season (and maybe longer, if he continues railing against the ruling of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle), constitutes the biggest problem facing the Detroit Lions this year. Regardless of his betting propensity, Karras was an extremely agile defender last year and was particularly adept at rushing the passer. George Wilson, coach of the Lions, has acquired the experienced Floyd Peters from Cleveland to try to fill the gap and has a promising second-year man in M ike Bundra, but the loss of Karras, even with such standouts as Roger Brown (below) and Joe Schmidt in the lineup, cuts down significantly on the efficiency of defense. Seldom a high-scoring team when they were winning championships, the Lions now must add fire to the offense to compensate for the higher scores opposing teams inevitably will run up on them. While Milt Plum, freed from the restrictions of Paul Brown at Cleveland, blossomed last year, the team's running and passing were never consistent. The first need is for a good, fast breakaway back. Ollie Matson, obtained from the Rams, may have enough speed left to fill this lack. Nick Pietrosante, a superb bangaway fullback, is no threat for the long gain and is susceptible to muscle injuries. Wilson will put his faith instead in his new blocking assignments, designed to put the team's best blockers ahead of the runners. The device could help take up the defensive slack, put Detroit into the championship game.

The Chicago Bears won five of their last six games in 1962—which has led Bear fans to believe that this, after a long drought, is the year. If it is, the Bears will have to depend heavily upon medical science. Bill George, their brilliant middle linebacker, has a bad neck; Tom Bettis, obtained in a trade to spell George, dislocated his elbow early in the training season, and the Bears may wind up with no strength at all in this vital position against the run. Willie Galimore, the mercurial running back who had operations on both knees, may have lost his speed. Tackle Fred Williams had a knee operation, too, and is doubtful. If Williams and George do not respond to treatment, the Bears can expect another season of vulnerability to the running game—a fault that cost them dearly in 1962. On the brighter side, Ronnie Bull, who was NFL Rookie of the Year in 1962, should be an even more effective running back in 1963. His improvement will lighten the load on Fullback Rick Casares (below), who carries much of the Bear ground threat. The Bears had a good pass defense in 1962 and should have a stronger one this year with a cohesive, seasoned secondary. This should take the pressure off the line, which for once can afford to be conservative. Certainly, now that the inventive Clark Shaughnessey has retired as defensive coach, the line's style of play will change. And if they get healthy and stay that way, the Bears, with their usual good air attack, could press the Packers in the West.

An old and sometimes true axiom in professional football is that you must establish your running game and earn respect for it before the passing will go. No more cogent example of this can be imagined than the Baltimore Colts of last year. Even with Johnny Unitas (above) throwing and Jimmy Orr, Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore receiving, the Colts won only half the games they played. Everyone in the park knew when the Colts needed yards badly that Unitas would throw. This made for long afternoons for Johnny, who spent much of the time waiting, bruised and weary, while the linebackers climbed slowly off him. The Colts still need an authoritative fullback to pose a threat of the run and to pick off onrushing linebackers before they reach Unitas. They may find one among returning players and a couple of promising rookies. They also need a tight end who can block and relieve Orr and Berry of some of the pressure on receivers. Defensively the linebackers are very strong; they will have to be. The retirement of Tackle Billy Ray Smith leaves a gap in the line as noticeable as a missing front tooth. The secondary is experienced, with Andy Nelson, Jim Welch and Lenny Lyles; Rookie Jim Maples stands a good chance of a job. Don Shula, the new Colt coach, was the defensive coach at Detroit for three years. He can be depended upon to do something about his own defenses, and if he finds a fullback, a tackle to replace Smith and a good blocking tight end his team could finish high.

Rosey Grier, the massive tackle acquired by trade from the New York Giants, typifies the change in the Los Angeles Rams. Cheerful and an uninhibited guitar strummer, Grier brought a winning philosophy with him to the Los Angeles camp. After a few days he had a cluster of Rams in his room bleating lustily to his guitar accompaniment. A club official, pausing in the courtyard of the team's quarters, shook his head. "Imagine that," he said. "Singing in the Ram camp!" There have been only dirges for the disorganized Rams in recent years, but this season, with young Harland Svare (above) in his first full year as head coach, the camp is far better organized and far more purposeful than in the past. The new look stems in part from the fact that the Rams are now being run by one man, Dan Reeves, who settled an eight-year civil war with other owners by buying them out. He is regarded as an astute football operator, and his competence seems to have filtered through the whole organization. With a very sound defense back from last year ("Better than the Giants," Grier says), the Rams have the foundation on which to build a fortress. Roman Gabriel, given a chance at quarterback in the second half of last season, has been throwing well to a group of fine receivers, but he maybe sidelined by left-handed rookie Terry Baker, who is a brilliant tactician. If Art Perkins or rookie Ben Wilson can fill a gap at fullback, the Rams could improve, but not enough to make the top four.

This is a unique club: most of the members are amateur head shrinkers. In July they called a players-only morale meeting, hoping to stabilize a team that tends to be emotional and erratic. Really, there is nothing wrong with the 49ers that one more strong running back, some offensive linemen to keep the quarterbacks reasonably safe and a few linebackers could not fix. But this is a lot, and add to it team dissension over Coach Red Hickey, a tough, hard-driving taskmaster, and you have trouble. On the affirmative side, San Francisco's strong point is passing, with Quarterback John Brodie throwing to two fast receivers—Bernie Casey and Jimmy Johnson. Although End Hugh Campbell, the rookie from Washington State who had good days in the East-West and All-Star games, lacks speed, he is exceptionally crafty and surehanded. Halfback Bill Kilmer, out for the season with a broken leg suffered in an automobile accident, will be missed, but rookie Don Lisbon could be an adequate replacement. Kermit Alexander, probably the best running back in college last year and the 49ers' first draft choice, just may break into the starting offensive or defensive backfield, he is that good. The defensive line, keyed on indestructible Leo Nomellini {below), is a good one. As usual, however, the 49ers are weak in linebacking. Even with a new attitude, San Francisco has too many old problems. The 49ers should be an explosive, exciting team to watch, but they will not be a threat to unseat Green Bay.

After two lean years during which Coach Norm Van Brocklin struggled along with the flagging talents of players sent to his club by other teams in the league, the Vikings have switched wholeheartedly to youth. Only three of the 36 men who started with the team in 1961 are still around. During the off season Van Brocklin traded away seven of last year's regulars. "Thirteen rookies could make the roster," Van Brocklin says. "In fact, six of them could start." One rookie not likely to start is Ron VanderKelen, the All-Star and Rose Bowl sensation, who competes with established Quarterback Fran Tarkenton. "Tarkenton is ready to turn the corner," Van Brocklin says. "This year he should reach maturity as an NFL quarterback." Last year, hampered by a light offensive line that offered him little protection and by injuries to his best receivers, Tarkenton was often under siege. Van Brocklin has provided more blockers this year. He has acquired Leon Clarke, a seasoned receiver, and in rookie Paul Flatley, from Northwestern, he has a" promising pass-catching prospect. Tom Mason (below) has become a superb runner and, with Bill Brown to help him, gives Minnesota a dangerous ground game. The Vikings will field the league's youngest secondary defense—which could mean that it will be the most porous in the NFL. To help the secondary, the line must learn to rush passers with more verve than it showed in 1962. Four wins would make a success of this first year in a long rebuilding program.