Tacked up on a wall outside the Baltimore Colts' training room at St. Mary's College is a sign scribbled by one of the team's equipment men that reads, "We may be bent, dammit, but we're not broken."
Maybe the equipment man was describing the blocking sleds and shoulder pads. The motto does not apply to the Colt team.
The defense has given up 80 points in the first two games of the regular season, including 42 to a team quarterbacked by a little-used second stringer. The next point the Colt offense scores will be its first of the season.
Few people expected the Colts to come on like gangbusters after starting quarterback Bert Jones was hurt in the final preseason game and forced out of the lineup indefinitely. But nobody foresaw the team's getting beaten like a dusty rug in its first two games.
Reaction among the fans and press has been less than favorable. A Memorial Stadium crowd totaling 9,000 under capacity frequently booed the Colts during their 42-0 trouncing by Miami Sunday. Columnists have condemmed the team's management for the loss of three 1977 regulars, running back Lydell Mitchell, tight end Raymond Chester and wide receiver Freddy Scott.
Even the National Broadcasting Company showed its disapproval, switching Sunday's game off national television with the Colts down, 28-0, at the half and broadcasting the second half solely to the Miami area.
But Coach Ted Marchibroda has not panicked. "We are two games down (on the American Conference East leader New York Jets) but there are 14 games remaining," Marchibroda said yesterday. "We opened against Dallas and Miami - two pretty good teams - so we might have been 0-2 had we had everyone healthy."
Amond those ailing with Jones (separated shoulder) are five-time All-Pro offensive tackle George Kunz and fellow starting tackle Dave Taylor, both out for the season; former second-team All-Pro defensive tackle Joe Ehrmann, who suffered a pulled hamstring early in Sunday's game; outside linebacker Stan White, out six weeks with a knee injury, and starting cornerbacks Nelson Munsey and Norm Thompson.
"With all those first-stringers out, it is hard to sustain aggressive play and hitting, plus we lose good execution by playing second stringers," Marchibroda commented.
"The critical thing now is to get everyone healthy again. When we have everybody back and our new people learn the system, we'll be in good shape."
Two of those new people, running backs Don Hardeman and Joe Washington, will be part of a regular five-back rotation once they learn the system. Marchibroda will use some of his running back on run situations and others on passing downs in an effort to make up the loss of all-purpose Mitchell.
Marchibroda added that the injuries to Jones and White were especially critical because they are team leaders and call signals on offense and defense. White's absence has put the defensive chores on linebacker Derrel Luce, a little-used reserve last year.
Jones' condition is a week-to-week proposition, according to the head coach. "We're just saying each week that hopefully Bert will be able to play," Marchibroda said.
Bill Troup, Jones' backup, also sustained a shoulder injury in the final preseason game and had missed most of last week's practices before being called on in place of third-stringer Mike Kirkland for the Miami game. Troup showed his rustiness and was intercepted five times.
"The job of the second-string quarterback is to win, but he can't do that without practicing," Marchibroda summarized. "We'll be all right, but these are tough times, right now."