THE FOOTBALL GAME THE FANS DON'T SEE

JOHN McMURTRY November 2 1963

THE FOOTBALL GAME THE FANS DON'T SEE

JOHN McMURTRY November 2 1963

THE FOOTBALL GAME THE FANS DON'T SEE

A 1962 all-star describes the other game that’s played almost every time the pros meet — the war of attrition that an onlooker can predict if he knows the signs

JOHN McMURTRY

ON THE NIGHT of Sept. 6 the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Toronto Argonauts 25 to 20, in a routine Canadian Professional Football League game at Toronto’s Exhibition Park. There were, in a special but interesting sense, two football games played there that night. There was the seesaw battle (Argos led 13 to 7 at half time) that had most of the fans and sportswriters standing on their seats shouting for a last, spectacular Argonaut attack to pull the game out of the fire in its dying minutes. And then there was the sixty-minute-long campaign of attrition that is a professional football player’s real work, and that decides the outcome of football games seven times out of ten during the regular season and nine times out of ten during the play-offs. On Sept. 6 it was this second game, as it almost always is, that provided the real drama of the evening; and it was this

second game, as it almost always is, that was overlooked by the very people who paid their way in to see it. (As well as by some who got in free; the sports writers know more of the players hy name than the fans, but in many cases they know even less about the game.)

What follows is a description of the second football game played on that night in September. The moves are the same in most games, although the com-

binations of moves are always different.

On the first series of plays in t.ie game, Winnipeg ran for one first down and passed for a second. Both times the Toronto linemen and linebackers were beaten by Winnipeg blockers; Toronto's defensive halfbacks had to make the tackles. When the ball changed hands, the first Toronto play was a pass the receiver should have caught easily. He dropped it, and the fans groaned. What should have worried them was the play back at the line of scrimmage where three Winnipeg defenders, Jack Delveaux, Herb Gray and Roger Savoie, broke through the Toronto line to rush the backtracking quarterback, Jackie Parker. By this time the game was only five minutes old; all the plays had been routine, but the Winnipeg team had already shown several unmistakable signs that, man for man, they were going to domicontinued on page 66

continued from page 23

Winnipeg wins championships with plays as old-fashioned as some high-school teams’

nate the Toronto club on this night at least.

As the first quarter continued, the trend of the game established itself

more clearly. Parker completed a few down-and-out sideline patterns to end Tom Cloutier (the end runs downfield ten yards, then does a ninety-degree cut for the sidelines where nobody can bother him from the outside). Although the passes were complete, the gains were short and Parker was still rushed; as well, the sideline pass which is almost impossible to stop if rightly executed, just happened to have the perfect timing which is very difficult to attain consistently. On the other

hand, Winnipeg continued to pound out first downs with the ground plays they’ve used for years. (Winnipeg’s playbook is as simple and old-fashioned as a high school’s, but the team wins games and championships.) When they were held to a small gain on a first down, quarterback Ken Pioen would drop back to loosen the Toronto defense, then, in that slicing style of his, slip through the Toronto line for a first down.

Penalties arrested a few of Winni-

peg’s drives, but it was obvious that it was only a matter of minutes before they would score. They ran their large fullback, Roger Hagberg, time after time until they pushed to the fouryard line. Then, when Argos moved their linebackers into the line, Pioen jump-passed to end Farell Funston for the score. On the Argo bench, after the touchdown, defensive end Gerry Wilson muttered to corner linebacker Ron Brewer: “Somebody gotta come up” (i.e., to stop the jump-pass). But the trouble on this play was that the Toronto linebackers were already up in the line in a goal-line defense. Pioen faked a hand-off to keep them low, then threw over their heads for the score.

In the second quarter the Toronto fans, belatedly, started to boo, then to cheer again when Parker rolled out on the Winnipeg forty and threw to end Jack Elwell for a touchdown. “Now,” a fan behind me enthused, “we’ll start to roll.” What the fan didn’t realize was that the Argos scored only because Parker was so rushed on his roll-out that the Winnipeg defensive halfbacks assumed he’d be stopped. They relaxed long enough to let Elwell behind them.

A few minutes later, Toronto scored again on a blocked kick. The same fan behind me yelled to his friend, “What’d I tell you! We’re on the roll now.” Winnipeg’s bench reacted differently — they just shrugged their shoulders. A pro team can sense it’s going to win. Winnipeg knew here that the Toronto players were momentarily “high” — a kind of emotional jag an athlete can sustain for a few minutes but rarely for a full game —and would soon let down. The Winnipeg team came off the bench and blocked Toronto’s convert — a play which is impossible unless the defensive team is going and coming as it pleases.

On the earlier blocked punt, Winnipeg was not outplayed so much as outwitted. A rookie Toronto linebacker, John Wydareny, traded places with the much slower Clare Exelby on the end of Toronto’s punt-rushing front line. End Gerry Wilson, meanwhile, moved out a little so that Wydareny, to Wilson’s outside, would get a free path to the punter. Normally Wydareny would have floated ineffectually by the kicker — the punting team always blocks to its inside, because it counts on the outside rushers being forced into a lane that will pass wide of the kicker’s pocket. However, on this play the pass from centre was low and to Dclveaux’s right. Consequently Wydareny, who is very fast, was able to reach Delvcaux when the punter moved out of his pocket to field the ball.

At half-time Toronto led 13 to 7. Most of the Toronto fans looked at the scoreboard and anticipated a win.

After the intermission (during which a coach can sometimes bring his team to the right competitive pitch to reverse the first-half trend) Winnipeg again showed the signs that indicated they would win the game. More than ever, the time-consuming Bomber ground game, led by Hagberg, was wearing Toronto down. (Western teams build their whole strategy around this ground-game possession.) At the same time, Pioen was still

making his demoralizing second-down runs from the pass pocket when Winnipeg seemed to be held.

There is nothing that looks luckier to a fan, nor discourages a defensive team more, than these last-second runs by the uuarterback from his passpocket. The offensive play seems to be stopped, then turns from disaster to success. But such plays are not lucky. When Ken Pioen made his clutch second-down runs, it was the protection he got in the centre of the line, between the tackles, that made them work. Winnipeg held out Toronto’s defensive ends and tackles until Pioen elected to run; then Winnipeg players threw second-effort blocks to get Pioen outside the defensive ends and inside linebackers. Once he was outside, Pioen had running room.

On the other hand, Toronto couldn’t handle Winnipeg’s inside linebacker. Jack Del veaux, or small (20X pounds) but tough defensive end Herb Gray. They continually blitzed past Argos’ offensive line to grab the hurried Parker. Furthermore, Winnipeg’s Roger Hagberg provided better pass blocking than Toronto’s smaller backs. When he carried the ball his off-tackle and dive (straight up the centre) plays were working so well that Toronto's defensive unit had to watch constantly for the inside running game. On the other hand, Argos had only the slight Dick Shatto to provide dive and off-tackle strength; thus, Winnipeg’s inside linebackers and defensive ends didn't have to worry, like Toronto, about the inside threat. They were able to concentrate on the dan-

gerous Parker. When I played against Parker as a corner linebacker, and he dropped straight back with the ball, I was relieved. But when he started to loose-limb his way to the outside around the end with the option of running or passing, I wanted to trade places with somebody in the stands.

After Pioen had made one of his long runs from the pass pocket, the Bombers’ George Fleming kicked a field goal. The score now stood at 13 to 10. The next time Winnipeg got the ball, Farrell Funston took a thirtyyard pass from Pioen, then threw a short lateral pass to halfback Leo Lewis, who ran twenty yards farther for the touchdown. A fan muttered, “pig luck,” when Lewis grabbed Funston’s lateral. However, the play was planned and in any case the important feature of the play was Winnipeg’s pass protection back at the line of scrimmage. The Bombers’ tackles had been dominating their opposite numbers most of the night. Given time, the passer will always complete — it is almost impossible to cover a receiver for more than four seconds. When Funston delayed from his wide position (he was a split end on this play) and then drifted into the centre, the play took almost five seconds. Because Winnipeg's offensive line held. Funston had the extra second to get in between the Argo linebackers (they fall hack only fifteen yards) and the deep defensive backs. As a result the pass was completed, and a touchdown scored.

Winnipeg deliberately kicked short on the kickoff and their rookie full-

back, lan Monteith, recovered the ball. It was the second big play of the night by a rookie (the other was Wydareny’s blocked kick), but soon after both these plays Wydareny and Monteith, respectively, were shaken up by older pros. After Wydareny's blocked kick he was run over by Roger Hagberg, and was one of the goats on Lewis’s fourth-quarter touchdown. Similarly Monteith, after he recovered the short kickoff, was almost knocked into the stands on a block by AI Hinton the next time he got in for a kickoff. It takes a full season for a first-year man to be ready on every play of the pro’s game.

A defender “goes for a ride”

With Winnipeg now leading 17 to 13, Don Fuell took over from Jackie Parker as Toronto quarterback. When a new quarterback comes in, the pace changes; it’s the last effort of a losing club to recapture that emotional jag the players call getting high. With Fuell as leader Argos did get high. Tom Cloutier, who had been doing a down and out pattern all night, did a down, out and down (instead of catching the ball at the sideline, he continued down the sideline) and got behind Winnipeg's Dick Thornton. The latter, as pass defenders do when they are beaten, “took a ride” by clutching Cloutier’s sweater. The referee saw Thornton go for his ride and called interference. It was at this point that Winnipeg coach Bud Grant turned to his bench and muttered, “They're higher'n a kite. Snuff ’em out.” The

players rose from the bench and shouted for a big series. A few seconds later, Leo Lewis crossed the goal-line after a ninety-one-yard burst. Lewis’ touchdown was sudden but, like all the Winnipeg touchdowns, it had been in the making all game.

Centre George Druxman got up off the ground to tear Toronto’s Walt Radzick off Lewis’ back when Radzick seemed to have Lewis stopped. Such a second-effort block wins ball games; even in the pro's game it is only seen when a team is angry. At the same time, Lynn Bottoms, thinking that Lewis was stopped, relaxed. By the time he recovered. Lewis, who is a shifty runner, was gone. That is why pros pile on — not because they’re dirty football players, but because they want to make sure the ball carrier really is stopped. The defensive team’s instructions are delivered in suggestive terms: “search” your man and “make him remember you.” As Lewis broke out of Radzick’s arms, defensive halfback Wydareny moved up to close the gap. But, as he lunged for Lewis, he dropped his eyes from Lewis’ belt buckle to the ground. The pro knows his body will follow his eyes, and that’s what happened here; Wydareny fell on his face. Toronto’s remaining defensive halfback, Jim Rountree, was off-balance because he had gauged his rush for a stationary Lewis. Lewis cut back and churned past Rountree’s vague right arm.

Winnipeg, now twelve points ahead, relaxed. Rountree, angry after Lewis’ run past him, ran the kick-off all the

way back to Winnipeg's forty - five -yard line. Winnipeg players called to each other to “get tough/’ hut with a twelve-point bulge they lost their concentration — perhaps the most important single element in football — and the Toronto team, led by Fuell, got high again. Once inside the Bombers' five, though, Argos were stopped short as Winnipeg, less complacent now, responded to the pressure. Fuell. however, wisely exploited Winnipeg's big rush. He dropped hack for a pass

on the third down and hit Shatto who had released his block to swing wide. This play is Shatto's specialty (especially since Argos always seem to be rushed), and he stutter-stepped past Winnipeg’s Dave Burkholder for the score.

With the score now at 25 to 20, Argo fans stood up and called for a win. But even before the Toronto touchdown, Winnipeg had already snuffed out the Toronto team's brief emotional jag. Toronto had been stop-

ped cold on the three-yard line for two downs, and only scored by Fucll's intelligent call. As the Toronto crowd roared for a winning rally, Winnipeg took the ball and on two downs rolled up Toronto's middle for the first down that ran out the clock.

Winnipeg had played tough football al! night on a more or less stable emotional plane: from the start of the game, the signs one watches for indicated that the Bombers would have little trouble in winning the game.

Here, a little easier to follow after this report, are the signs:

In the first few minutes of a game, look first at which team is throwing blocks twenty yards downfield on dive plays, and which players are getting up to throw a second block; which defensive team is getting through to the passer whether the pass is completed or not: and which team’s defensive halves are moving all the way up on the ground plays. Look to see which offensive line moves forward before standing up on pass blocks. These signs will usually tell you which is the best team for the evening before the first quarter ends.

Why?

Football can be seen as an elemental drama, a sixty-minute conflict that approaches allegory — your team against the visitors becomes you against the enemy. Thus when twentyfour wide-necked young men. who are all fully aware they have been hired mainly for their toughness, enact their drama before tens of thousands of involved onlookers, they feel a distinct and telling pressure. When Knute Rockne once said. "1 can tell a man's character by one minute on the football field." I think he was speaking with this pressure in mind.

Building winners from winners

The more important the game, the more punishing the conflict and the more distinct the pressure. That is why the team that stays tough all evening, rather than the one that gets high and lets up in cycles, is almost unbeatable in the play-offs. They are a team that, as a whole, possesses such a single-minded concentration on winning that the thought of losing, * of finding an out, never comes up. How' you can take a haphazard collection of athletes and give them this kind of concentration is difficult to say. All I know is that in pro football camp the first question you are asked on the first form you fill out is. “How many winning teams have you played for?"

The attempt to build up this winning attitude starts before football camp opens. Football camp puts a player's attitude to his trade to a continuous. brutal test. The whole process. from late winter to the last tense minutes before a game, is what the pro calls "getting ready.”’ The team that is “ready" on a certain night wins the game. The team that is “ready" all season w'ins the Grey Cup.

It was with this in mind that on Sept. 6. I entered each of the teams’ dressing rooms before the game to smell out the attitude that I knew was going to make the winner. Once again, I felt the cement-surrounded silence of a pre-game dressing room, and remembered the hop of a jittery stomach. But, because against an unwritten law I had intruded into the pre-game sanctuary, Toronto’s coach Wirkowski eyed me coldly, bumped into me and muttered. “Save that stuff till after the game.” With even colder eyes the Winnipeg coach. Bud Grant, stooped over me and told me I'd "better get out of here." Players I knew looked around, then told me they couldn't talk.

As I left the dressing rooms I was grateful I was no longer part of the pro-football players' repressive world.

I thought of how every player, like a head of livestock on the hoof, is arbitrarily assigned by a group of cigarsmoking general managers to a team or city he may have reason to shun; of how, if he objects to any part of his standard contract which states the absolute and discretionary pow'ers of the owners, he is cut or suspended with his only appeal to a commissioner who is simply an appendage of the owners. I thought of how' Winnipeg in thirty-six hours would have to play a second game because men who have themselves never played schedule back-to-back games for extra gate receipts. I remembered the pain and feeling of hopelessness one feels in the second game; for anyone who has played football for a living knows it is impossible to perform competently twice in less than one w'cek, let alone twice in thirty-six hours.

Then I heard the shout. I turned to see the dressing room door open and twenty-eight men, cleats pounding on the narrow passageway, pour out onto the bright field. I remembered the feeling of running on stage to the crowd’s roar, of jumping up and down in the last seconds before the game started. I felt the queer lift it gives a player when he and his teammates jostle together and extend their right hands until fingers touch.

As the game opened 1 watched the good athletes, as always, outplay the huge, slow players that most fans think are good pros. On this night, it was Jack Dclvcaux, Herb Gray, and Cornell Piper who were so much more effective than the two-hundredand-fifty-pounders, Bill Shipp, Walt Radzick, and Dan Nykoluk. In the Toronto backfield Dick Shatto completely out-shone his larger and faster backfield partner, Art Johnson. Over the season, it w'ill always be the athletes — men like John Barrow, Kaye Vaughan, Tony Pajaczkowski and AI Ecuyer — who will dominate the bigger men. Calgary’s Wayne Harris weighs 178 pounds and is not very fast on the straightaway; but his toughness and lateral mobility make him the hest inside linebacker in Canada. (Linemen in the American pro leagues arc often much bigger only because the American game, with its considerably narrower field, puts a premium on brute strength.)

What is true of the lineman is true of the backfielder. In 1961 Earl Lunsford was the most productive fullback in the history of pro football; yet he was just a little over two hundred pounds and slow. Dick Shatto has always been slight and not very fast; yet he is one of the best backs in the country. Garney Henley w'eighs one hundred and seventy pounds soaking wet, yet was the best all-around halfback in Canada last year. Even the great quarterbacks, Bernie Faloney, Ken Pioen, Jackie Parker, and Russ Jackson, have neither exceptional arms nor speed; they are simply fine athletes.

It is no coincidence that the powers of yesterday and today, Winnipeg and Calgary, have recruited unknowns who have multi-sport backgrounds. Similarly with Ottawa. The reason these teams have been, or are, formidable with little money to work with is that they look for the good athlete more than the specialist. The Ameri-

can game requires the specialist, the limited performer, and hence the allaround athlete is dispensable and plays in Canada. Some think this is the weakness of the Canadian game; I am inclined to think this is our game’s great strength.

As the game wore on, I watched the after-the-w histle pushing bouts — particularly one between Ron Brewer and George Druxman — that a pro accepts, not as material for a grudge but as part of the job he follow's. I

watched Herb Gray go after punt blockers rather than the punt, other men pile on. and good blockers “throw” at defenders who had no chance of getting to the ball. This wasn't what the fan loves to call dirty football. As long as there was no deliberate attempt at injury, which the pro considers "bush.” it was useful strategy. The team that did these things was going to have the jump on its opponents all night.

After the game has ended, no coach

will let an outsider into the dressing room for five minutes. Coach Grant, friendly after a win, told me, “Give ’em five minutes to blow it off.” Argos’ assistant coach Zock, understandably perhaps, just screamed at me. “Get out!”

So I listened at the outside of the dressing room door — cleats shuffling, bottles opening and muffled voices. After a few’ minutes, the door opened. 1 hen. with flash cameras and pencils, the Outside walked in and I left. ★