In the late summer of 1963, the Chicago Bears' George Halas - suddenly ecstatic - said to the former geneeral manager of the Redskins, Sid Carroll: "I think I can win the (NFL) title this year. For the first time since World War II, I've got 17 players." And he did.
That generally holds true today. Yes, Bear, I know every one of your redshirts is important and, of course. George, those special-teamers have won many a game for the Redskins. And the chapter on spirit and harmony in the coach's handbook, presumably written by the man who invented everything else about football except TV time-outs, Amos Alonzo Stagg is well taken.
But a coach - at whatever level of the game - without at least several of what Oklahoma's Barry Switzer calls "stallions and stingers" is fated to developing more character than championship teams.
Five superior players a year might assure a coach steady employment, assuming he has a mind: 10 ought to get him a Gator Bowl bid, at least. In the NFL, 15 take you to the Super Bowl and a chance to sit at the right hand of Pete Nocelle now and then.
If you have 22 and are named Vince Lombardi, you get to sell your sermons to the world.
"How many great players you need depends on their position." said general manager Jim Finks of the Bears. "If you have an exceptional quarter-back, an intimidator on defense, a big-play back or receiver, two kickers and a couple of offensive linemen, perferably a tight end and center, you're in fine shape to build."
Immediately, he realized that was almost exactly the bluprint of the Dallas Cowboys, the team with more quality players than anyone in the NFL at the moment, with the only possibly missing ingredient being maturity.
"You take their center (John Fitzgerald), their tight end (Billy Joe DuPree), their wide receiver (Drew Pearson), their quarterback (Roger Staubach) and Tony Dorsett," said Finks, "and you pick up any six players from anywhere around the league and you'll still have a very potent offense.
Add defense built on a foundation of Harvey Martin, Randy White and Cliff Harris, notice that once-peerless players with the Vikings, Redskins and Rams either are hurt or aging and you have a team that might have to work a bit to avoid the Super Bowl this season. "We've always approached the draft with the question: "What do we need for the Super Bowl?" said Cowboy president Tex Schramm. "We may do things a bit differently than most teams, but we have three categories for the college players we're considering.
First, can they do something special, meaning are they possible superstars? Second, could they be Super Bowl starter, solid players but not superior? Third, we look for players to fill out the roster with.
We've always felt we've had to have seven or eight truly outstsnding players. Great ones. Blue-chippers. Whatever you want to call them." Of the eight Dallas superstar, only three - Staubach, Pearson and Harris - were less than third-round draftees.
Recent history suggests that probasketball championship teams are easier to build but more difficult to sustain. No NBA team since the late '60s Celtics has won back-to-back championship. The Super Bowl is 11 years old - and three teams have won it two straight years with Oakland a decent bet to repeat this January.
Oakland's blockers and quarterbacks are so good," said Finks, "that you could take the runners off any 10 clubs in the league and they'd still do well. The Raiders don't have quite as much natural talent as Dallas but they do the best retread job of anyone with guys like (JOhn) Matuszak, (Dave) Rowe and (Pat) Toomey."
Some NFL coaches and general managers have odd ways of determining their strength. Everyone has 43 players, but how many of them can play? Halas once scanned the roster of one NFL team and said it had "41 1/2 players."
"Oh," he said, "they've got a half-baked halfback who's also a half-baked kick returner - pretty much half-baked whatever he does."
Carroll expanded the Halas boast of "63 saying it was his opinion that Lombardi's Packers had 22 "players" that year. No, Halas insisted. Paul Hornung was suspended for the season. Jerry Kramer was out with a serious injury and one or two others were troubled.
"So Lombardi has 13 players," Halas said, "and my 17 can beat his 13." The year before the Packers had beaten the Bears twice by a combined score of 87-7. In '63, the Bears won both games, by 10-3 and 26-7 en route to an 11-1-2 season and 14-10 victory over the Giants in the NFL title game.
Because his game is affected even more than football, a basketball coach. Frank McGuire has the final word on the subject. "You take all the strategy you want, copy this team's offense and that team's defense - and while you're all thinking. I am gonna be out getting players that'll beat every one of you."