You will note in Tex Maule's introduction to the pro football season on page 52 that Tex is looking forward to the NFL's Green Bay-Baltimore opening game with keen anticipation. I am, too. I must confess to a feeling of relief that the architects of merger, who have hogged the pro news all summer, have been evicted by the players and the game. This pro football issue (the largest issue in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S history, by the way) is primarily a salute to, and an analysis of, the individuals who are the game's bone and blood.
The scouting reports for the National League, beginning on page 57, were prepared by Maule, with the assistance of Morton H. Sharnik and Michael Quinn. Those for the American League are the work of Edwin Shrake, who was aided by Curry Kirkpatrick. Interspersed among the reports are color photographs of stars in action.
Every year here we play a game called pick and peck. Our pro experts pick the order of finish in each conference of each major league, and then the readers, all equipped with strong convictions of their own, peck at the rankings they consider unjust, outlandish or asinine. Rules of the game forbid Maule and Shrake to gloat over good picks or to swing at hecklers who rub their nerve endings over bad ones.
The game begins again with the picks on this page. You will see that Maule's choice for No. 1 in the NFL Eastern race is Dallas. Regular readers will remember that Maule became the most famous pro picker of all time after ranking those same Cowboys first at the beginning of the 1963 season. Reader reaction was vivid. Old acquaintances of Tex's, some of whom had learned their prevent defenses and influence blocks at his knee, chided him gleefully. As the season progressed and Dallas dropped to fifth place in the East, the peckers had a ball. The braying has not entirely subsided even now. "Hey, aren't you the guy who picked Dallas?" is a not uncommon question put to Tex by people meeting him for the first time.
Having made that selection for what he considered good and sufficient reason, Maule took his lumps and went about his business. He was then, and is now, the best known and most provocative of pro writers. Maule's normal high batting average for preseason picks was fattened last year, I hasten to say, when his predictions of the first two finishers in each NFL conference were right on the nose. The reaction confirmed another axiom of our game: excellence is its own reward. Peckers don't write when pickers are proficient.
Well, our writers have never been content just to go along with the herd. Take a look at Shrake's picks. Houston in the East? Kansas City in the West? Read the reports for the reasons why before choosing your weapons.
MAULE'S NFL PICKS
SHRAKE'S AFL PICKS