The young pros have taken over: this is the novelty of 1965 in a game where calluses have always counted for more than college press clippings. Only a sturdy few remain of the players, coaches and owners who launched professional football into its most glittering, glamorous decade. Yelberton Abraham Tittle is selling insurance in Palo Alto. Frank Gifford is selling Frank Gifford on television. Gino Marchetti, for 13 years the finest defensive end in pro football, is selling hamburgers from Philadelphia to Baltimore, and Hawg Hanner is selling sacrifice as a coach for the Green Bay Packers. Hugh McElhenny is gone and so is Bill Pellington. Andy Robustelli and Alex Webster are only memories for New York Giant fans, and never again will Detroit see Yale Lary clamp his larcenous fingers on an interception or send a punt 60 yards down the field.
Bert Bell is dead and in his NFL commissioner's chair sits 39-year-old Pete Rozelle. "Most of the men who voted me in as commissioner five years ago no longer vote in league meetings," Rozelle said the other day as he reflected on the turnover. "Some of the new votes are new clubs—the Cowboys and the Vikings—and some are new owners of old clubs, for example Jerry Wolman in Philadelphia and Art Modell in Cleveland. Dan Reeves has taken control of the Rams, Lou Spadia runs the 49ers and Edward Bennett Williams is the director of the Redskins. Most of these men are younger than the men they succeeded."
The new men have not been shy about making innovations. Art Modell, despite grumbles from the older owners, introduced the concept of the exhibition doubleheader, and his annual show in the 77,000-seat Municipal Stadium has been hugely successful. Tex Schramm, the youthful general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, has come up with computerized scouting techniques that could revolutionize that phase of the game. Rozelle, of course, jogged pro football into the sphere of big-time television by bringing the old era of single-club deals to an end and booking the league as a bloc for revenues undreamed of a decade ago. It is probable that the relative youth of Rankin H. Smith was the decisive factor in his acquisition of the new NFL franchise in Atlanta (for the handsome sum of $9 million). Others who went after the franchise were solid in Dun & Bradstreet, but older.
There has been an even more arresting swing to youth among the coaches. Few old heads remain in a profession that belonged almost exclusively to older men only a few years ago. Allie Sherman of the Giants, Harland Svare of the Rams, Jack Christiansen of the 49ers, Norman Van Brocklin of the Vikings, Don Shula of the Colts and Harry Gilmer of the Lions are young coaches who have caught on in the last five years. Shula, of course, guided the Colts to the Western Division championship last year. Blanton Collier, coach of the Cleveland team that beat him for the NFL championship, is young in the league, if not in years.
But youth is served best of all on the playing field, where nearly every team in both the NFL and the AFL will have a cluster of kid whizzes. Consider the Packers, poised now to regain the world championship they held in 1961 and 1962. The Packers slipped to second place in 1963 and 1964 because Coach Vince Lombardi needed time to pump plasma into what was obviously a team operating on tired old blood. When the Packers open Sept. 19 in Pittsburgh no less than half the 40-player squad will be men with less than four years' service in the NFL. The other half will be battle-tempered oldsters, but Green Bay's faces of the future go with unfamiliar names like Dennis Claridge, Marv Fleming and Bob Long. The Starrs and the Hornungs and the Taylors will lead the Packers through a few more seasons, but Lombardi, like the wisest of his younger fellow coaches, is buying youth insurance right now.
The most exciting team in the NFL is undoubtedly the youngest—Minnesota—under the direction of young Van Brocklin, who stepped directly from the field into his head-coaching job. "You keep the good young ones," Van Brocklin says. "The others you can trade."
Allie Sherman, who must pray that he has not given the Giants too massive a dose of youth, summed up the general attitude when he traded Linebacker Sam Huff to Washington a year ago. "Sam is at a peak now," he said. "We can make an advantageous trade for him. You can't tell when a player will begin to go back and it will be too late to make the trade."
The trend to youth is reflected in other ways. Teams are spending more than ever to scout college players. Today most clubs budget upwards of $100,000 a year in the search for fresh flesh. Ten years ago the outlay was half of that.
The rise of the Dallas Cowboys and the Vikings is directly attributable to scouting, as is the imminent comeback of the Los Angeles Rams. Pittsburgh, the one team in the NFL that consistently has traded away draft choices for veteran players, has eroded slowly, but the cumulative damage has been so great that this year it more than likely will drop to the bottom of the Eastern Division. Old, good players are costly, and the draft selections squandered on them have returned to haunt the Steelers.
In its brief life the AFL has not, of course, changed as drastically as the NFL at the executive and coaching levels, but the trend to young athletes has been just as clear-cut. When the AFL got started five years ago most of the teams were composed of NFL rejects of both recent and ancient vintage. George Blanda, who had already sagged into the fading days of a not very distinguished NFL career, has been one of the AFL's top quarterbacks. So has Tobin Rote, ex-Detroit Lion. Many linemen were limping toward retirement only to have the day deferred by the AFL's desperate need for bodies. Today the AFL has drafted itself young. The big names this season are young names: Quarterback Don Trull, who in his second year should displace Blanda in Houston; Daryl Lamonica, in his third year with Buffalo; and, of course, Sonny Werblin's $600,000 pair in New York, Joe Namath and John Huarte. The latter are very likely still a bit too young to be spectacular this first season, but one or the other certainly should qualify as a quarterback of the future. Young Billy Joe has replaced aging Cookie Gilchrist on the championship-bound Buffalo Bills; young Matt Snell has replaced any number of geriatric cases on the Jets.
These changes in the old pro order have taken place so gradually that we have not had a feeling of sharp transition. This season, for the first time, the new order will be dramatically evident. For Hugh McElhenny of the magical legs you will have to read Charley Taylor of the Washington Redskins. For Y. A. Tittle and his golden passing arm switch to Fran Tarkenton of the Vikings. There may never be another Gino Marchetti, but Carl Eller of the Vikings is having a go.
Old George Halas is still head coach of the Chicago Bears but the bright new star of his team is a rookie running back from Kansas named Gale Sayers, and the new bulwark of the Bears' defense might well be another rookie, Dick Butkus.
This, then, is the season of the young pros—of young owners, coaches and players. Now begins, surely, the brightest decade of a sport that has known 20 years of uninterrupted growth. The owner of a baseball team lamented the shortage of prime young ballplayers the other day. His explanation for the shortage was the competitive allure of pro football. "Pro football," he said, "has become the glamour sport."
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