He called back to say that all of the coaches, curious about the way the game was played before most of them were born, had expressed an interest. It seemed odd at first for a pro coach to have never seen film of this historic game—a little like finding a doctor of English literature who had never read Macbeth. But success in pro football, as in any intensely competitive, constantly evolving arena, depends primarily on current intelligence: What did my opponent last do against me? What did he do last week?
A pro coach is not inclined to search for what he needs in old black-and-white film. History is … well, history. But no craftsman or professional can be completely uninterested in seeing how he measures up against past standards of excellence. How good was the game then?
How capable were the players? How clever were the coaches and schemes? The game in question defined excellence for an era. It pitted the best defense in the NFL, the Giants, against the best offense, the Colts, playing for all the marbles. Reid was born in the year this game was played, and one reason he had never seen it is that the TV broadcast has been lost. Instant analysis envelops pro football like a cloud, but with most plays there is no way to tell what really happened and why without a careful, slow-motion dissection of the film.
Even among pro coaches, he is notable for toting thick binders filled with notes and plans, and for fielding highly complex systems on both sides of the ball. Earlier in his career, he was quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers, grooming Brett Favre and helping that team to a Super Bowl championship in Colts coach Weeb Ewbank had designed a trick play, so secret that in his pregame meeting with his team in the visiting locker room at Yankee Stadium, he had mouthed the play call to them, fearful that the room was bugged.
Observing the opening formation, Reid noted with surprise that all but one of the Colts linemen were positioned to the left of center Buzz Nutter.
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Dupre was split far out to the left side of the backfield. He bent over, and Nutter immediately snapped the ball. Moore took the handoff—and was tackled for a loss. Sure enough, on the snap of the ball, Ameche remains in a set position until Moore actually takes the ball from Unitas.
I told Reid that I had listened to the NBC radio broadcast, and had been struck by how much more quickly the game moved then than it does today. Breaks between plays and possessions are longer and more frequent now, to allow for more commercials, and the use of video replay to reexamine contested calls by the referees causes still more delays.
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Modern coaches use these gaps in the action for analysis, for sideline conferences and hand signals, or, in the case of the quarterback, for giving instructions over a direct radio link to his helmet. In , the game, once started, was primarily in the hands of the players. Unitas called his own plays.
The game was faster and simpler. It also lacked many of the refined mechanical and tactical innovations that are commonplace in modern football. For instance, Reid was surprised to note that wide receivers assumed a three-point stance before the snap of the ball—today they stand upright, which allows them a broader view of the defensive backfield.
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The pass defenders, meanwhile, stood upright on the old film, with one foot forward, one back, and then just backpedaled to stay with the receivers. In the modern NFL, backfield defenders poise in a forward crouch with their weight evenly balanced on both legs, and retreat by taking short stutter-steps backward, ready to bolt in either direction and avoiding the crossover step, a potentially costly mistake that can offer a receiver the split-second advantage he needs to break away.
I studied the defenses more thoroughly than I studied my own offense. The guys made the plays. I just called them. Not on that day. Art Donovan never gets embarrassed.
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Orange soda! Many had. NFL rules allowed for regular-season ties and no title game had ever needed extra time to decide the outcome. Two sequences played a signicant role in creating the tie that binds the two teams forever in league lore. One was a near-miss, the other a direct hit. On a third-and-4 with left in the game and the Giants leading , Gifford took a handoff at the Giants Then I heard someone yell.
It was a frightening yell--you knew someone was badly hurt. It was Marchetti. Turned out he broke his leg. Unitas followed instructions… initially.
He handed off to [Alan] Ameche for a one-yard gain off right tackle. Then he stunned everybody -- especially Ewbank -- by fading back and floating a six-yard pass along the right sideline to wide receiver Jim Mutscheller. That set up third-and-goal at the one-yard line.
Unitas called "16 power," a play designed to send Ameche through the right side of the line.
Colts tackle George Preas and guard Aled Sandusky cleared out a hole that the pound Ameche roared through, falling from his momentum after crossing the goal line for the game-winning touchdown. As for the long-lasting impact of that game, the AP, via the Ocala Star-Banner , gave its take in It seems pro football has come of age.
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