January 19, 1969
By Dwain Esper
Pasadena Star News
For George Allen, it was a great way to start 1969.
"We did it the Ram way, the hard way," he said as he clutched the game ball in the dressing room following a 10-7 West triumph over the East in the 19th annual Pro Bowl game under wet skies on a soggy Coliseum turf.
A surprising throng of 32,030 braved the elements to witness a defensive struggle which was resolved in the final two minutes on a four-play 54-yard touchdown drive as executed by Roman Gabriel.
Up until that time, the spectators were restrained in their praise, preferring instead voice disapproval at some the failures elicited on the slippery field.
Emerging as heroes of the contest were Rams' Gabriel and Merlin Olson, who collected most valuable player and lineman of the game awards, respectively.
Gabriel set up, both scores with passes to former Ram Carroll Dale, now with the Green Bay Packers.
Olson, the well-known 270 pound resident of South Pasadena, performed in a spectacular fashion from his defensive tackle position.
"I was looking at the films of the 1967 Pro Bowl game," Olsen revealed. "I was disappointed in my performance in that game. I certainly wanted to do better this time."
Although Olsen will wait until he sees the movies to assess his 1969 efforts, members of the East offense were willing to give him the benefit of any doubt.
Time and again, he stifled the East attack in the most critical periods. He even cut scrambling Fran Tarkenton down to size.
“After playing against Tarkenton so long," Olsen explained, "I've learned some of his tendencies. And he was unable to make those quick, fast moves on that wet field."
The players voted the game ball to Allen for another blockbusting job of preparation.
"I guess it's the first game ball I've received since the Rams beat the Bears in Chicago in 1967,” he said. “It’s a real honor.”
Allen based his game defense on things he picked up in the 1967 Pro Bowl. Coincidentally, the East was coached then by Tom Landry of Dallas, as was the case Sunday. And, the game was played in the rain. The East won 20-10.
“We studied films of that game very closely," admitted West linebacker Max Baughan, who called defensive signals as he does during the regular season with the Rams.
"Even though we were restricted in what we could do, we had about 14 or 15 defenses for this game," Baughan went on. “And, we mixed them up pretty good.”
"We tried to put our strength in the right place for the plays Tom Landry tends to use."
The East had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but Allen's defense rose to the occasion every time but once- a West 34-yard touchdown bomb from Dandy Don Meredith to Paul Warfield.
Sam Baker of the East and Bruce Gossett of the West missed on seven of eight field goal tries, during the damp afternoon and that held scoring down, too.
Allen employed Baltimore's Earl Morrall in the first and third quarters, Gabriel in the second and fourth.
Landry used a similar arrangement with Meredith and Tarkenton.
Neither team was able to muster much of a running game on the soggy turf. Tarkenton's improvised scrambles topped the East (five carries for 46 net yards) while Donnie Anderson led the West (four for 33).
Leroy Kelly, the leading rusher in the NFL, managed two net yards on 111 carries, another tribute to Allen's methods of confinement.
Morral and Meredith found the going extremely rough in the first period.
On the second series of the game, Mel Renfro intercepted a Morrall pass on the West 37.
Two plays later Baughan slammed Kelly for a seven-yard loss, bringing out Baker for a 48-yard field goal attempt, which was far short.
“He kicked well all week in practice," said Landry. "But he just wasn't hitting it right today."
Later on in the period a 30-yard Baker punt gave the West a scoring chance from the East 45. Morrall, who completed only nine passes on 25 attempts for 59 yards all day, missed-twice.
Then Gossett tried a 52-yard field goal, which would have equaled the Pro Bowl record. The ball hit the crossbar and fell back on the playing field, no good.
Morrall put together a modest drive from his own 48 to the East 20 and then failed on three passes just into the second quarter. But, Gossett failed on a 41-yard effort.
"There were a number of things conspiring against Morrall, said Allen, "He was being rushed pretty well, and he had to hurry his throws. Also, his receivers were covered. And. Finally, he threw poorly on occasion.”
When Gabriel came on the scene, the situation didn't improve at all. His first pass was intercepted in the end zone for a touchback. The second time he took control, he fumbled the handback from center Mike Tinglehoff, recovered the ball, then fumbled again when hit by Walter Johnson. Dom Brumm scooped it up on the 35 and set sail for the endzone. But Tom Mack caught him and made a spectacular tackle on the West four.
"That was a big play by Mack," said Olsen. "We very well could have been down seven points, if Tom hadn't made that tackle.”
Although Kelly scooted around left end for an apparent touchdown on the next play, the East backfield was in motion, costing a five-yard penalty.
Two plays later Olsen roared through to spill Tarkenton for a 14-yard loss.
"I had the angle on him that time, and he couldn't get away," said Olsen.
Tarkenton's next pass, intended for Jackie Smith, was picked off by Willie Wood and returned 56 yards to the East 29.
But Gabriel couldn't move the West, bringing on Gossett for another field goal attempt from the 37. This time Erich Barnes got a hand on the ball, nullifying the effort.
Tarkenton came right back on a 65-yard march, highlighted by a 34-yard pass to Warfield to the West 28. But the defense once again rose to the occasion, bringing the drive to a halt.
Baker's 36-yard field goal was deflected by Kermit Alexander, preserving the shutout as the fans wondered if either team ever would get on the scoreboard.
It was at this point that Gabriel finally adjusted to the situation.
"At first I was having trouble with Tinglehoff," he explained. “Morrall places his hands up close when he receives the ball from center. I have my hands further back. Yes, we worked in practice, but somehow I trouble today."
At any rate, Gabriel unloaded a 45-yard strike to Dale and a 16-yarder to fullback Bill Brown to get down to the East two. Although linebacker, Chris Hanburger, dumped Gabriel for a 10-yard loss, Gossett saved the day with a 20-yard field goal as just 38 seconds showed on the clock.
After two more missed field goals by Gossett and Baker in he third quarter, a poor Anderson punt- it sliced off his foot for 25 yards- gave Meredith a chance to get the East in the scoring column.
From the West 34, Dandy Don fired a perfect strike to Warfield, who had a step on Alexander at the goal line. Warfield made the grab and stepped into the end zone. Baker kicked goal for a 7-0 lead.
“It was my fault," said Baughan. "Kermit was isolated on Warfield. I should have had help for him in that area."
With five minutes to go in the game, the East suffered a setback deep in its own territory. On third down, Tarkenton fired a pass to Smith, who was pinned by Roosevelt Taylor a yard short of the first down on the 21.
“That may have been the key," said Landry. "Smith just couldn't make that extra yard.”
Baker's subsequent punt traveled 33 yards to the West 45. And Gabriel was in business with 3:45 remaining.
First he called a sweep, Anderson cruising around left end for six yards.
"We hadn't used a sweep all day," explained Gabriel. "Our line did a good job making the East think we were gong to do something else."
Then, Gabriel hit Dale for 25 yards to the East 23.
"It was a curl and go," said Gabriel. "I think the East was guessing with us for the first time."
Said Allen, "Gabe and Carroll worked a lot together this week, even after practice. Dale is a real student of the game. He runs the most intelligent patterns of anyone I know."
Next, Anderson cut up the middle for 22 yards and first down on the East one.
"We lined up to the left, just like on the sweep," said Gabriel. “Tom Mack, Howard Mudd and Mick Tinglehoff made it look like the sweep with their faking.”
With the defense lured outside, Anderson did the rest. Bill Brown then crashed over from the one to give the West a 10-7 lead with only 1:57 showing on the clock.
Of course, Tarkenton wasn’t about to concede the issue. At worst he could claim a field goal and send the game into sudden death
Olsen dumped him for an 11 yard loss to get things rolling, Nevertheless, Tarkenton came back from his own six to complete two passes to Jones for 25 yards, another to Smith for seven and then scrambled his way out of bounds for 18 to the West 43.
On third down after two incompletions with 15 seconds to go, Tarkenton faded straight back and then scrambled to the right with Jim Marshall in hot pursuit. Marshall caught up and hit Tarkenton so hard, he fumbled.
And there was Merlin Olsen to fall on the ball as the final gun sounded.
It was a significant ending to the 1968 football season, which had extended through the better part of six months.
And, they'll all be back next July.