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Sport: The Left-Hander

4 minute read

Coaches and rival quarterbacks were viewing Frankie Albert with increasing wonder and alarm. Was he five years ahead of his time, or 50 years behind it? As signal-caller for San Francisco’s unbeaten (pro) 49ers, he frequently violates football’s ABCs by passing on fourth down, deep inside his own territory, instead of kicking. Because Frankie makes it work, other pro quarterbacks are trying it.* His theory: “As long as you have the ball you can make touchdowns.”

At other times, Albert operates as if he had a one-track mind and knew only one play. He once called the same play six times in a row. Says Frankie: “It’s just like playing checkers, the idea is to fool the other fellow.”

Tips by Telephone. This week it was the Baltimore Colts’ turn to be fooled by Albert & Co. It took some doing. The Colts were leading 10 to 0 at half time. Frankie, whose passes were misfiring, got grimmer each time he trotted in to the bench (which was each time his team lost the ball). Often he picked up a telephone and asked: “What have you got for me?” Up in the press box, armed with binoculars, an assistant coach gave him a G-2 fill-in (Sample: “Their ends are playing wide, so try a stop-and-go to pull them in, then pass. Trap the tackle on the left side of the line”).

Frankie concentrated on a ground attack, watched enemy reaction to the flankers he sent out and the men-in-motion he set off. Thinking three plays ahead, he expanded and contracted the enemy’s defense like a skilled accordion player. Last week’s final score: San Francisco 21, Baltimore 10.

At 28, Frank Culling Albert is easily the most spectacular T-quarterback going, and possibly the brainiest (chief rival: Sid Luckman of the Chicago Bears). Frankie is light (170 lbs.) and fast, and constantly working at what he considers his great talent: ball handling. Even in practice, he constantly asks his teammates whether they could see the ball on that last play. After one game, he asked the radio announcer how often he fooled him.

His skill at throwing footballs he takes almost for granted. Says Albert, casually: “When I go back to pass, first I look for the man called for. I’ve probably got my eye on the man-in-motion. If he’s covered, I look for the ends. If they’re covered, I run with it, or eat it.”

Wow Boy. Frankie, like Teammates Norm Standlee and Bruno Banducci, is an alumnus of Stanford’s famed 1940 “wow boys,” who went to the Rose Bowl and won. In those days, West Coasters brazenly mentioned him in the same breath with the great Sammy Baugh, prince of passers. But Frankie joined the Navy, got married, and didn’t fool much with football until two years ago. Now he is firing his left-handed passes as accurately as the great right-handed Sammy. So far this season, Albert has completed 108 passes in 180 attempts, an average of .600. Average gain: 12.98 yards. Only five of his passes have been intercepted.

The victory over Baltimore was No. 9 for Albert & Co., with five games left—two with the undefeated Cleveland Browns.

Frankie finds pro football “every bit as much fun as college football and more. Maybe the motivating force is extra money—but it’s for the wife and kiddies [he has two] rather than for the good old alumni. I guess I don’t like work and I’m too lazy to steal.”

*So are San Francisco’s schoolboy quarterbacks; a game was lost last week because one kid quarterback, lacking Albert’s skill, elected to pass on fourth down and failed.

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