Before the game of October 27th is covered there is plenty of background that is vital to this saga. Don Shula becomes defensive co-ordinator for the Lions in 1960 after Detroit's disastrous seasons of '58 & '59.
George Allen was brought to Chicago to work in player personnel in October of '58. Though Clark Shaughnessy would never want anyone attempting to help him coach the Bears defense, Papa Bear Halas has decided in 1960 that Allen should work with the defensive backs besides continuing to upgrade the talent in Chicago.
The first time they are on opposing sidelines is November 20th, 1960 and the Bears pass rush has a tremendous game in defeating Detroit. The Bears falter late in the season, and Shula helps guide the Lions to the play-off bowl in Miami. Detroit and Chicago again split the series in '61, and both teams believe they can dethrone Green Bay in '62. Allen becomes defensive coordinator sometime in '62 (no one is sure which week), and Chicago plays improved defense yet the Lions defense is the talk of the league after they massacre the Packers on Thanksgiving.
Rumor's abound in Baltimore that Weeb Ewbank will be dismissed and his replacement just might be one of these two firebrands. The last time these two men face each other as coordinators the final score is 3-0. No doubt for these men defense rules. Don Shula gets the job in Baltimore and the '63 Colts play improved football late in the season to post a winning record.
The Colts lose twice to the Allen's defense in '63, but much more important the Bears are able to beat the Lombardi Packers twice in '63 and win the championship. Shula turns the tables in '64 and crushes the Bears twice, and also beats the Lombardi Packers twice to win the division title. Green Bay outlasts Baltimore in overtime to end the Colts season in '65, and though the Bears rally after an 0-3 start both men again are back to watching Green Bay play for a title. Shula vs. Allen 1960-62 is 3 wins and 3 losses.
Shula vs. Allen 1963-65 is 3 wins and 3 losses. George Allen believes he should be named head coach of the Bears right now (Halas kinda promised him the job), but when the Rams come calling Allen quickly accepts the job. After winning a contract battle in court Halas then releases Allen to allow him to take the job. Baltimore beats the Rams in Los Angeles 17-3 in a defensive battle in late October of '66 the first time these men square off as head coaches. Allen has done an admirable job of coaching and reorganizing the woebegone Rams during the '66 campaign and one of the highlights is beating the Shula Colts 23-7 in late November. Again both men watch as Lombardi wins another championship.
The NFL is reconfigured for 1967 into four divisions each with four teams with interesting names for the division. The Rams, Colts, 49ers, and Falcons are in the Coastal division. So, these two men know that to face Lombardi and the Packers for the western conference crown they must beat each other during the season. During the regular season, Shula's Colts and Allen's Rams both beat Lombardi in hard-fought games; but what happens when they play each other?
They tie in October and set the stage for winner take all in the Coliseum the last day of the regular season. Shula and the Colts are beaten badly and though they lose just one game during the year, no play-offs. Allen and the Rams are rewarded with a trip to frozen Wisconsin and a play-off loss to Lombardi in his season of destiny. Lombardi retires from coaching, and both men feel they have the team to win it all in 1968.
Though their personalities are very different, their teams are very much alike. That said, let's take a close look at the teams leading up to October 27th. Los Angeles begins 6-0 and allows just 67 points. The Ram defense is led by left defensive end and league Defensive Player of the Year Deacon Jones (a league-leading 22 sacks, though unofficial). The Ram pass rush leads the league in sacks with 51 (tied with Dallas), so Deacon has plenty of help from his cohorts on the line—especially from All-Pro tackle Merlin Olsen, and a linebacking corps that can either blitz or cover. Maxie Baughan at right linebacker is by far the best "weak side" linebacker in the league in '68.
|George Allen and Maxie Baughan|
|Jack Snow runs the sideline|
|Morrall in the pocket|
|Fred Miller, with the ball, challenges Gabriel|
The bible for all football fans in August of each year is Street & Smith's magazine, and Bob Oates states the following about Los Angeles (he picks them 1st): "(B)ut if the Rams are now coming up, Baltimore now has the strongest team it ever had".
In his write-up for Baltimore who he picks second "the Colts yielded fewer touchdowns than any other team in 1967 and finished second to Los Angeles in points allowed." Ok, the background has been given and the Colts are at home with a record of 5-1 having just been upset by Cleveland. George Allen's Rams in their last eleven road games entering this game is 10-0-1.
Ready? Here we go! Los Angeles scores first on a Gossett 19 yard field goal as the Colts stiffened near the goal line. Baltimore takes the lead when Jerry Hill goes over from the one, and later in the quarter Morrall quarterback sneaks from the one. 13-3 Baltimore after one period. Second quarter and Jimmy Orr catches a deep pass from Morrall for 44 yards and a commanding half-time lead. Baltimore's defense shuts down the Ram running game as Mike Dennis off the bench gains only 33 all day against the Colts. The Colt zone coverages will not let Casey & Snow get open deep as they gain only 37 yards on 3 receptions.
Both teams are known for their excellent half-time adjustments on defense—Baltimore allowed 20 points all season in the 3rd quarter, but 7 of those points come from a Bernie Casey 1-yard touchdown catch. The Rams allowed only 27 points all season, but 7 of those came from tight end Tom Mitchell's back-breaking 41-yard catch and run from Morrall. Neither team scores in the 4th quarter as Baltimore wins a game they must 27-10.
Watching and digesting the highlight film of this game shows that the Colt pass rush was the difference with 5 sacks. Curtis in his famous photo is shown leaping in the air and grabbing Gabriel around the helmet in bringing him down. The four Colt lineman were relentless in coming after Gabriel.
|Mike Curtis sacks Gabriel by the head|
|Willie Ellison on a scamper|
|Mitchell tosses ball behind his back after a long touchdown reception|
No one and I mean no one would have stated on October 27th, 1968 that Allen and Shula would ever meet in a Super Bowl, let alone with different teams, yet that is exactly what happens in January of 1973—but that is a story for another day.