The violent chess player
For the 1960 quarterback it’s not enough to be able to pass, run and buck the line. He also has to think
FOOTBALL HAS BEEN called chess with violence, but as the description applies to eleven of the twelve players, it doesn't stand much scrutiny; they do what they’re told — violently, all right, but with more instinct than thought. As for the twelfth, the quarterback, football does have points in common with chess. How many, and how much they have in common, depends on the quarterback and his coach.
Coaches map over-all strategy with their quarterbacks in long evening huddles over movies of the next opponent. But on weekends, when the boys begin knocking each other glassy-eyed in the playpens of the Western Conference and the Big Four, the decisions that influence the outcome of the game are decisions made by the quarterback — with occasional assists from the coach on the sidelines. This responsibility, added to the fact that the quarterback does ninety-nine percent of the passing and handles the ball on almost every play when he’s not going to pass, makes him the most interesting player and the most conspicuous figure in football.
While the quarterback was once, a few decades ago, a vague conveyor belt that took the ball from a hatless hulk playing centre and handed it around to his peers in the backfield
as they pounded into the line, he is now, in 1960, the vital, multi-purpose key to his team’s fortunes. Indeed, there is very little that the quarterback does not do, except play tackle, and some quarterbacks are so versatile that they could probably do that. Frank (Pop) Ivy, a tremendously successful coach at Edmonton, used to say he was convinced his quarterback, Jackie Parker, could play tackle, although Parker was so preoccupied as a quarterback, halfback, defensive back, field-goal kicker and part-time punter that he never got around to it.
The quarterback has attained an eminence matched by few other professional athletes in this country. Certainly there is no other job in the world of games-for-money that places so many demands on a player or brings him so much hysterical adulation if he does his job well. The giddy pinnacle, of course, was reached a few years ago when the capital of Saskatchewan was named for its football team’s quarterback, Glenn Dobbs. Mail addressed to Dobberville was duly delivered in Regina and some of the nuttier citizens attached that label to the license plates of their automobiles.
More recently a couple of westerners have been taken to the bosom of the populace, though with somewhat more restraint than was
exhibited in Saskatchewan. One of them is Joe Kapp, a Californian who found his way unheralded to Calgary last year at a moment when the wounds annually being inflicted upon the Stampeder box - office were growing nearly mortal. As large as a small steer, and as carefree, Kapp plays the game with rich abandon, throws strikes, runs like a footloose caboose, and gambles on anything, even third down wdth twelve to go. His flair has ignited the cow country.
Across the mountains there is Randy Duncan, a different glass of red-eye. A Rose Bowl hero, an All-American at Iowa in 1958, Duncan declined to play in the National Football League in his native land and moved instead to Vancouver, apparently for mere money. There, he was accepted with the quiet dignity usually accorded people like Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe. But, unlike Kapp, Duncan turned out to be considerably less exciting than his notices. He handled the bail expertly and was a precise and thoughtful field general but he showed no disposition to run with the ball when there was no place to throw it. The defensive halfbacks began to back off on him and intercept his passes, giving him the league leadership in that
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The violent chess player
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“If there's one personality trait all quarterbacks have, it's confidence”
ment. Now, in keeping with the modern method, Duncan must prove he can take off when his vision is blurred by beef dressed in enemy shirts, or he'll not survive in this country.
The decline of the pure passer had its genesis in the arrival in Edmonton of Pop Ivy from Oklahoma in 1953. Ivy instituted a split-T offense that featured a deceptive. mobile quarterback, in this case Bernie Faloney, who now plays for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Winnipeg's Blue Bombers caught up to Ivy after nearly four seasons of frustration with a multipurpose quarterback of their own. Kenny Pioen, a destructive runner and competent passer. Then the coach, Bud Grant, gave a trial to Jim Van Pelt in the fall of 1958 and his calm poise and leadership qualities earned him the job over Pioen. When Van Pelt, after guiding the Bombers to the Grey Cup that year, incurred a shoulder separation before the playoffs last fall, Pioen ran and passed in the accepted manner for another Grey Cup victory. He stayed on as the regular quarterback this fall when Van Pelt went off to the army.
The east, apparently a slow learner, finally got the message halfway through 1959 when Frank Clair, the Ottawa coach, deposed Frank Tripucka as his No. 1 quarterback. Clair had brought this former Notre Dame player from Regina where, as a pure passer, he'd outlived his usefulness in the alert Western Conference. With Tripucka throwing right and left, the Ottawas accumulated five straight defeats. Clair, at this point, turned his offense over to a pair of quarterbacks who had no compunctions about running with the ball, Russ Jackson, a remarkable young Canadian, and Babe Parilli, an experienced American. Ottawa won ten of its last eleven.
The lesson sunk in at Toronto, too, where the Argonauts, after four seasons in the cellar with an assortment of quarterbacks that included the world’s fiercest poet, Ronnie Knox, hired a solemn veteran of ten NFL seasons, Tobin Rote, for
more than forty-five thousand dollars for two years. In the east, only the Montreal Alouettes have retained a comparatively stationary quarterback, the colorful, extremely popular Sam Etcheverry, one of the game’s great passers. Etcheverry, who is in his ninth season, is a difficult man to dislodge.
The curious point about the Big Four’s general reluctance to accept the evidence of the need for a mobile quarterback is that the league has been dominated since 1956 by Hamilton with the varied weapons of Bernie Faloney — from Edmonton's 1954 champions. Unable to beat 'em, they've been a long time joining ’em. As further evidence that the days of the pure passer were numbered, there have been five western Grey Cup victories in the last six years, with the diversified talents of Faloney, Parker, Van Pelt and Pioen setting the offensive key. Significantly, the only eastern victory since 1953 has been engineered by Hamilton’s Faloney.
If there's a single personality trait that all quarterbacks have in common it's confidence, an abiding disregard for the possibility they'!! make the wrong decision. Even though they're calling their plays in the high-tension atmosphere created by the roar of twenty-five thousand people, all of whom are ready to second-guess them publicly and vociferously, they do it with sharp precision and with a complete assurance.
"Hell, that's the quarterback's job,” drawled Bobby Layne, a twelve-year NFL star who played an exhibition game in Toronto with the Pittsburgh Steclers this fall. “I don't think of it as Bobby Layne giving the orders; I simply think of it as the quarterback's job. Not that I'm the most qualified person, necessarily, but that I'm the person. A firm can't have three presidents, all talking at once, can it?”
The boos from twenty-five thousand throats rarely get through to the quarterback, the Argos’ Rote says. "Everything
is blocked from your mind except your concentration on the immediate situation on the field. Oh, when you come to the sideline after you've had a pass intercepted you hear them screaming, but very soon in your career you adopt the philosophy that those people screaming are paying your salary. The price of a ticket entitles them to scream.”
Second-guessers don't bother the quarterback, Rote says. “The average fan doesn't know any more about the technical side of this game than I know about his business. Very few know the inside reason for a quarterback's call.”
rhroughout the season quarterbacks think of little except next week's game. Bobby Layne has the theory that if he thinks about his pass patterns enough through the week, they'll just happen as a matter of reflex on Pittsburgh’s Sunday dates.
"I'm a daydreamer,” says Layne. “I’ll be driving along in my car or sitting with my wife in a movie, and really all my mind is seeing is my ends or backs going down the field making their cuts, and me throwing that ball to the spot where they're going to be when it comes down.”
Even after twelve years it's this way?
"Yes it is.” he says. "I guess it's a matter of pride in your work, although 1 think we are written up entirely too much. We're over-praised when the team wins and we re over-criticized when we lose.
I here never was a quarterback better than the line blocking for him, and a lot of those ends make catches that a quarterback (eels a little sheepish about taking any credit for.”
Both Layne and Rote, once teammates with the Detroit Lions, arc concerned about the kind of press they get—largely because they both have growing sons, of whom they’re immensely proud. Layne, whose nightlife activities have been widely publicized, says, "I'm in the open, and it gets exaggerated; I don't sneak anything I do. and a few years ago I didn't care what they wrote — 1 knew what was right and what wasn't. But now my two boys read it, and it's not fair to the kids.”
Rote, scalded by the Detroit press last year, feels the same way for Tobin junior, who is nine.
“Tobin used to like all sports but now he dislikes football,” says Rote. "He came home from school one day very upset because another little boy said that his daddy had read in the paper that Tobin's daddy was to blame because the Lions lost. I think you can say that too many sportswriters go on hearsay when they write their stories. Last year in Detroit I'd read the papers and find that the coaches placed the blame on everyone else — the offensive line, or the defensive line, or the quarterback. I remember one reporter asking me some questions at the start of the season about our prospects. I said my shoulder felt fine, that our offense looked pretty good and that all in all I thought we had a real fine club. Next day the headline said, ‘Rote Calls Lions to Win Title.’ Our club had traded away too many experienced players from our '57 championship team for me even to think that.”
Rote and the youthful Russ Jackson at Ottawa are examples of the two extremes of this year’s crop of quarterbacks on Canada's nine professional clubs. Rote is a black-browed, cold-eyed, calculating performer who, as a ten-year professional veteran, wanted a two-year contract from general manager Lew Hay man of the Argonauts. With complicated reservations, he got it.
Jackson is his antithesis, a young man with the toweled glow of a high-school
swimming captain. Jackson was named Canada’s outstanding athlete of 1959, easily outpointing the runner-up, the golfer Stan Leonard. He was voted the best native in Canadian football, too, and he won the Jeff Russel Memorial Trophy as the most valuable player to his team in the Big Four. Where Rote is walking dowm from the pedestal of athletic preeminence, Jackson is racing up it. Where Rote, at thirty-two, wanted as long a term in his contract as he could get, Jackson, at twenty-three, insisted on a one-year contract. For Rote, this may be the last time
he negotiates a football contract. For Jackson, it’s merely the beginning.
On the field their styles are similar, though Rote is a more commanding figure. His two hundred and fifteen pounds are so well proportioned that he seems almost slight, even at six foot three. He can throw hard and he is a damaging runner. Jackson, six foot one and a hundred and ninety pounds, is what Hamilton coach Jim Trimble describes as "the first approach to a true Canadian quarterback, the first Canadian at that position of genuine all-star calibre.”
“Jackson’s greatest asset is his ability to lead the other players,” Trimble says. "He walks into those huddles and nobody second-guesses him. Not even an all-star import like Kaye Vaughan, who has ten years’ more experience.”
Rote says the quarterback can abide no voice but his own in the huddles. "It’s hard to get the play off in the twenty seconds allowed, even with no backtalk,” he says. “Players make suggestions on the way to the huddles after a play. Your end, for example, will tell you that a defensive halfback is not playing him
tight. Sometimes the coach will send in something that he and the spotters think will work. A couple of years ago George Wilson, the Detroit coach, started calling all the plays from the bench, sending them in with a substitute, as Paul Brown does at Cleveland. But it didn’t pan out for us. We dropped it. 1 don't think anyone knows better than the quarterback what’s going on on the field.”
Accordingly, great pressures are exerted on the quarterback trying to pick the right play at the right time. Obviously, he’s not always successful. In last year’s Grey Cup game, for example, the Winnipeg line and linebackers were giving Hamilton quarterback Bernie Faloney no peace. Once, with second down and twenty-three yards to go, Faloney gave the ball to Gerry McDougall for a crack at tackle that netted two yards and, of course, compelled the Tiger-Cats to kick on third and twenty-one.
As Faloney walked to the Hamilton bench his coach, Jim Trimble, recalls taking him by the arm.
"How in the name of hell did you expect to pick up twenty-three yards offtackle?” he asked.
“Coach, so help me,” said Faloney in exasperation, “those guys have been riding my tail on so many plays I was trying to think of the one they’d least expect.”
Trimble is a great admirer of Faloney’s for his all-round capability; and he also has high regard for Jackson's ability to call the right play at the right time.
"A quarterback must know the rhyme and the reason for his sequences,” he says. "He must have clear in his mind what he’s trying to accomplish. Etcheverry at Montreal is a real poker player but, with all respect to Sam, he’ll often make the right move out of ignorance. Jackson will do it intellectually.”
$1,000 between winning and losing
Once, against Hamilton last season, Jackson came up to third down with a yard to go to the goal-line. He faked the ball to Dave Thelan, the fullback who, Trimble admitted later, the Tiger-Cats thought would carry the ball in that tough situation. Hamilton jammed up Thelan, all right, but Jackson kept the ball after his fake, waited for Thelan to pile past him, and then swept around the end and went in without a glove on him.
"It’s a guessing game,” says Jackson. “If they’d been expecting the sneak we’d have been dead.”
Rote had a similar experience against Cleveland in the NFL final of 1957. It was 7 to 7 when the Lions came up for fourth down early in the game. The Browns, and most of the people in the ball park, were expecting a field goal, and they employed a nine-man line to try to block it.
There is a difference of about a thousand dollars a man between winning and losing the championship game, and Rote thought of this as he walked to the huddle.
“It’s our money, boys,” he grinned to the players. "You want to gamble?”
They wanted to gamble.
“Let’s try the fake field goal,” said Rote.
They lined up in field-goal formation with the kicker back and Rote kneeling in front of him to take the pass from centre. The ball went down, the kicker advanced to boot it, and then Rote straightened suddenly, holding the ball and throwing it into the end zone where a Detroit receiver was all alone. The Lions went on to win 59 to 14.
A year later, aboard a bus carrying the Tiger-Cats to Toronto, Jim Trimble asked
Bernie Faloney if he'd ever worked a fake field-goal play.
"No," said Faloney, "but I saw Tobin Rote pull it on television last year.” "Think about it,” said Trimble.
That Sunday afternoon in Toronto the Argos were looking for a 34-yard field goal by Steve Oneschuk of Hamilton. Faloney straightened, threw the ball to an unguarded end. and wrapped up another iin Hamilton's string of victories over Toronto.
How much of this is chess? Jackson, nor his part, isn't sure. He was a brilliant Undent at McMaster University in his native Hamilton but he doesn't feel his intellectual capacity contributes greatly to bis success in his game. “It's a football mind you have out there.” he says rim ply.
Jackson won an honor science degree ind was asked to stand as McMaster’s nominee for a Rhodes scholarship. He gave lengthy consideration to the opportunity before declining to stand.
"I’d always wanted to play professional sports,” he says now'. “The idea of spending two or three years in England had less appeal when I considered that it probably vould have ended that ambition. I feel row that if I want to further my education I can do it here or in the States. Instead I took a year at the Ontario College cf Education because, really by a process of elimination, I decided I'd like to teach. Tve always liked working with kids and I can do that now, teaching mathematics in high school.”
People watching Jackson rock through a line will be surprised to know that his parents wouldn’t permit him to play football until his fourth year in Westdaie Collegiate in Hamilton “because 1 was too small.” In the year he turned sixteen, he grew eight inches and added nearly fifty pounds.
In his first season with Ottawa — the Rough Riders made him their first draft choice after Vancouver, the Argonauts and Calgary had passed him up — he was also taking his teacher’s course at OCE. Coach Clair used to mail him new Rough Rider plays to study while he attended teaching college in Toronto. The team would run through the plays in Ottawa without him until the Thursday night practice when Jackson arrived by plane after four days in school.
The first night it happened, Clair was dubious about the method’s efficacy.
"We'll try those new plays now, Russ,” the studious Ottawa coach said morosely. "Okay, coach, which one?”
Clair, standing behind the scrimmaging offense, told Jackson first one play, then the next, then the next, until he'd run through six.
"Son of a gun," recalls Clair in some wonderment, “the boy didn’t make a mistake. One of our halfbacks, who'd been running through the plays all week, gummed up a couple but Russ didn't miss a step.”
Rote has shown mental alacrity of another kind — in business he’s president of Rote-Nordix Michigan Inc., manufacturers of multiple-duct lightweight concrete conduit in Detroit, and not many quarterbacks can match ¡luit. One of his reasons for coming to Canada is that he talked business with the Bell Telephone Company in Toronto. He learned that on the strength of a contract with Bell, he eould expand his business to Toronto. And he got free of his Detroit contract — which permitted him to expand to Canada — by another piece of wily business.
This came about after he was traded to the Lions for four players by the Green Bay Packers in July of 1957. Rote had spent seven successful seasons with the
Packers. He went to Detroit right after signing a two-year contract for more than eighteen thousand dollars a year and two clauses that he regards as vital in a player’s agreement with a professional club, a no-cut and a no-trade promise. These stipulated that, once the season started, the club could not release him without paying him in full, and could not trade him to another team.
Acquiring him before the season started. the Lions picked up these obligations when they made their trade with Green Bay. But when Rote negotiated his 1959
agreement with Edwin Anderson, the president and general manager of the l ions, he was refused the two clauses he sought. And lie refused, shrewdly as it turned out. to sign without them. So he played the 1959 season without a contract. working out an option on his services from the preceding pact. Thus the Lions had no legal strings on his services for I960 and when Anderson refused once more to yield on the two clauses. Rote was free to take his wares elsewhere.
Here then is the quarterback, the moti-
vating force in this game that has been called chess with violence. In such an analysis, most of the game’s cerebral qualities must belong to the quarterback, whether it’s the pressure-cooker desperation of a Bernie Faloney. the intuitive response of a Sam Etcheverry, the high intelligence of a Russ Jackson or the shrewd business sense of a Tobin Rote. If there's more to football than pushing and pulling it's because, behind all the knocking of heads, there’s a quarterback lending direction — with high confidence. it