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Sellout crowds begin to pack the stands by mid-September, and are to be found, still packing them, through the rain, wind, sleet and snow of late December. Fifteen to 20 million stay-at-homes tune in every week on TV—a sectarian Sunday afternoon congregation bearing respectable comparison with the Sunday morning turnout of most other denominations.... This is pro football, the spectator-sports phenomenon of the decade. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, 10 years old next summer, has grown up with the phenomenon.

Why has pro football attracted such numbers of devoted followers? In good part because it is powerful, fast and a superb demonstration of competitive skill. We have a further guess as to why so many of our readers are engrossed with pro football: it is to a remarkable extent an "executive" game, offering limitless opportunities for judgment and analysis—before, during and after, from one Sunday to the next.

The questions eternally asked about a pro quarterback are: "Can he assess the situation?" "Can he pick his plays effectively?" "Can he make the big play himself?" Above all: "Can he move the team?" And if the No. 1 man is hurt and has to ride the bench for a game or two: "Can his understudy learn to move the team?"

Few spectator sports—and we offer the thought to the psychologists and sociologists—are more likely to capture and hold the attention of the U.S. executive and his analytical teammates.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's own No. 1 pro football analyst is a 6-foot-2 Texan, Hamilton Bee Maule. His middle name comes from a great-grandfather who commanded a Confederate brigade at First Manassas. Before coming to this magazine seven years ago, Maule had been a college football player at St. Mary's in San Antonio, a merchant seaman, a professional trapeze artist and a seven-day-a-week sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Not unnaturally, he is known in our pages and in the locker rooms of pro football as Tex.

Maule's football parish is coast to coast. It embraces all the cities of the National Football League and of the American Football League as well. In a typical season he travels 25,000 to 30,000 miles simply to be at what he and his editors consider the most significant game of the week. His preparation of a story calls for pregame time with both teams, including field and locker room drill sessions, and a study, where possible, of earlier game films. After the final whistle he is back in the locker rooms again. Then he writes.

Last Sunday Tex Maule's assignment took him to Chicago for the Bears-Packers game (see cover, an action photograph which was rushed from playing field to the printer while Maule was still writing his story). Maule's account of the game begins on page 28.