Defensive coach Tom Landry had warned defensive end Jim Katcavage that he needed to line up wide to defend against Tobin Rote’s rollouts. That tip put him in position to drop Gene Gedman for a first-quarter safety that provided the winning margin in the game. This was just the sort of play that Giants fans came to expect in the late 1950s, when their “Dee-Fense” chants echoed throughout Yankee Stadium and inspired the first truly celebrated defense in the sport’s history during the Giants’ championship run from 1956 through 1963.
It was also the first 4-3 defense in pro football, a base defense devised by Landry that is still the base scheme for most NFL teams 50 years later. Landry’s defense took full advantage of the immense talent on hand. The four-man defensive line was the very first “fearsome foursome.” Ends Katcavage and Andy Robustelli were rangy and quick, and Katcavage was also noted for his aggressiveness. Robustelli was very bright and would later become the team’s defensive coach on his way to the Hall of Fame.
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Tackles Roosevelt Grier and Dick Modzelewski were a study in contrasts:
Rosey was a gentle giant who tended to play just as well as he needed to, while the stumpy Modzelewski was more fiery and plugged the line with as much desire and smarts as talent.
The 4-3 was crafted to funnel plays to the middle linebacker position, where Sam Huff was a hard tackler and natural leader with a reputation for playing mean. On his flanks were
Tom Landry’s 4-3 defense and a key field-goal block by Harland Svare (left, kneeling) led the Giants to a win over the Lions in 1958.
The secondary was anchored by ball-hawking safeties Emlen Tunnell and Jimmy Patton. The aging Tunnell was too much of a freelancer for Landry’s tastes and would give way to former Giants corner-back Dick Nolan in 1959. The cornerbacks of 1958, Ed Hughes and Carl Karilivacz, were supplanted by Lindon Crow and Dick Lynch in 1959, and Crow was replaced by Erich Barnes in 1961. Barnes and Lynch were risk-takers who made a lot of big plays.
The years of 1956 to 1963 were a great period in Giants history, and their aptly feted defense was a major reason why.