An Appreciation: Bart Starr Part 2

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The Game before the Money

(Starr painting by Robert Hurst) Bart Starr Appreciation Part 1 located here.

Bart Starr remains the only quarterback to win 5 NFL championships. Tom Brady’s closing in with four, and Otto Graham might have won 5 NFL championships had the Browns started in the NFL rather than the AAFC. Regardless, Starr stands alone with 5 rings, and is also the only quarterback to win 3 straight NFL championships.

Yet in the “Greatest of All-Time” discussion, many garner more attention. People often mention  Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, and Peyton Manning first. Even quarterbacks without championships – Dan Marino comes to mind – often find themselves introduced into the conversation before Starr.

The situation isn’t unusual to Starr. Although listed in the heritage of great Alabama quarterbacks, his college career differs greatly from Tide icons like Joe Namath and Ken Stabler. Starr played a considerable amount in his freshman and sophomore years, but an injury knocked him out of his entire junior season. Alabama hired a new coach for Bart’s senior year. He promptly benched all the seniors in favor of players that would be around for another couple of years. Starr rode the pine through much of a 0-10 campaign.

While that might leave many frustrated and bitter, Starr moved forward. He stresses that the opportunity to attend Alabama and gain his education was a tremendous blessing. Rather than finger pointing, he prefers to encourage others to be resilient. “I think it’s a strong whistleblower for those out there who read or hear those kinds of stories to note that if it happens to them, there are opportunities and ways to rebound and come back from something,” he told The Game before the Money.

Starr rebounded by taking advantage of his opportunity with the Packers. As a 17th-round draft choice, simply making the team seemed remote. Starr, however, put in long hours to improve his shot. “I worked and trained harder than I’d ever done at any time in my life between the end of my senior year in college and first going to Green Bay.”

Brett-and-Bart-96657707512Bart is set to attend Brett Favre‘s number retirement ceremony on Thanksgiving.

Although Starr led the Packers to 5 championships, the 1967 NFL Championship (the Ice Bowl) stands his most recognized achievement. His leadership guided the Packers to victory through the tremendous adversity of sub-zero temperatures, a stout Cowboys front seven, and atrocious field conditions.

“You plan for what you’ll do in certain down and distance situations, and at certain time elements in the game,” Starr said. “We came down to the last few minutes, but the ground had become very unstable. That was a big factor in our play calling on that final game-winning drive….We tried a couple of end runs, and that’s a good example of what we could not do.”

The legendary Packer sweep on the shelf, Starr threw underneath the Dallas coverage to Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein, as well as a toss over the middle to Boyd Dowler.

The Packers got near the goal line with time running out, but a couple of handoff attempts to Anderson left the running back slipping in the slick tundra, unable to make it to the line of scrimmage. Starr, needing to compensate for the slippery conditions, had an idea. “I told (Coach Vince Lombardi) that I was standing upright underneath the center, and I could shuffle my feet and then lunge into the end zone.”

The plan removed several obstacles. Anderson wouldn’t need to get out of a three-point stance and stay upright before getting the ball. Also, the call eliminated the chance of a fumbled exchange between the quarterback and halfback. Starr kept the ball and crossed over the goal line, giving the Packers a 21-17 victory and a trip to Super Bowl 2.

“We called a wedge play, with our right guard and center doubling, wedging on the defensive left tackle of the Cowboys,” Starr explained. “We knew that play would work. We’d seen it. We ran it (the blocking formation) a couple of times earlier in the game and it gained a minimum of two yards.”

Bart Starr might not be the statistical leader that Unitas, Marino, or Fran Tarkenton was. Bart, however, was an incomparable leader on the field, and scored high in characteristics the box score can’t convey. From a challenging end to his college career to overcoming the Dallas Cowboys and the artic Wisconsin winter, Starr’s resolve overcame impediments that crush ordinary men.

He sums it up while looking back at the adversity he overcame in college. “We need to be very, very strong and tough when we have to be.”

You can have all the stat leaders you would like when the chips are down, but when I need the strongest, toughest quarterback for the game I most need to win, I’ll take Bart Starr over anyone.

Listen to the Ice Bowl’s final drive here.

The Game before the Money features stories from 40 NFL legends, including Bart Starr.

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An Appreciation: Bart Starr Part 1

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(Painting by Robert Hurst)

Before I had the privilege of meeting Bart Starr, I repeatedly heard the same things from his teammates and others who had met him. “Oh, he’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.” “Bart’s the perfect man.” “Salt of the earth.”

Bart’s one of those rare people that all those good things you hear about him beforehand turn out to be true. I first met him at a Tri-Star autograph show in Houston, hoping to interview him for The Game before the Money. He didn’t have time that day to interview, but gave me a number to reach him at later. He did, however, have time to chat with everyone who wanted to meet him. He granted everyone who wanted to meet him a good amount of time, and was kind and respectful to all. He and I had a pleasant conversation about Wisconsin, the people and the weather there.

I could do a post on how great a quarterback Bart was, the record number of NFL championships, and the rest of his football accolades, and I will in a future post. Today, however, I think it’s important to appreciate Bart Starr the man. The day I met him in Houston I keep thinking, “You know what? He is the nicest guy.

Nice doesn’t always have the best reputation for a compliment, especially in football. More to the point, Bart’s respectful and considerate to all. So much so that you realize it immediately upon meeting him. Like the Dalia Lama of sports, he is present with every person he interacts with.

When Bart survived two strokes and a heart attack recently (how’s that for toughness?), the comments beneath the news articles often noted instances of Bart’s kindness, something he had done for a child or a neighbor. Indeed, he raffled off the Corvette he won as MVP of Super Bowl 1 to raise funds towards establishing a ranch for at-risk youth.

People talk a lot about character and leadership these days. The epitome of such things is Bart Starr. In an age where it’s easy to spot a football star or other celebrity getting in trouble and setting a bad example, Starr continues to be the man he always was and always will be. He looks for ways to assist, ways to lead, ways to give. He’s the classic example of prioritizing what you contribute over the recognition you receive for those contributions.

There’s a reason why Brett Favre postponed his number retirement ceremony in Green Bay so that Bart could attend. When you think about it, that’s pretty incredible. Here’s a man, one of the greatest quarterbacks and largest personalities of his generation, shelving his own party until the man he respects most can attend. That’s respect, and an excellent example how when a man like Starr is so respectful of others, the amount of reverence he himself garners is immense.

Read the stories of 40 NFL legends including Bart Starr in The Game before the Money.

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Packer Legend Terdell Middleton Passes Away

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The Green Bay Packers website announced that Terdell Middleton passed away. Middleton was a popular player for the Packers in the late 1970s. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in 1978. The effort landed him on the cover of the 1979 Packers yearbook.

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Middleton starred at Memphis State in college and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals dealt him to the Packers during the preseason. An occasional return man, he returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown his rookie season. He became the franchise’s fourth 1,000-yard rusher in his second season, but never played a full 16-game slate afterward.

The Packers released him before the 1982 season, and he played two years for division rival Tampa Bay before returning to his hometown to play for the USFL’s Memphis Showboats. After leaving football, Middleton reportedly spent 15 years as a firefighter.

He passed away just a few days shy of his 60th birthday.

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Classic NFL Games — 1962 NFL Championship — Second Half

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This is part two in a two-part series, covering the second half of this classic contest. Part one, covering the first half, can be found here. The game summary is in present tense to hopefully give a feel for events unfolding in real time.

The Packers lead 10-0 at halftime. The brutal weather conditions curtail the Giants prolific passing game. A potential 17-point lead looks insurmountable. Green Bay receives the second-half kickoff an opportunity to take that sizeable advantage.

Tom Moore fields Don Chandler’s kick. Moore breaks down the sideline. He races all the way to the 50, but fumbles as he goes down. Ken Iman recovers for the Packers. Green Bay’s fortunate to recover all of their fumbles today.

Jim Taylor is stuffed by Dick Modzelewski on first down. The Packers line up strong right on second, and Bart Starr completes a pass to Boyd Dowler at the Giant 41. On 3rd and 1, Tom Scott forces Taylor to fumble at the line of scrimmage. Fuzzy Thurston recovers this one for the Packers, although they are forced to punt. Max McGee’s punt is downed at the Giant 6.

The Giants come out of halftime’s gate looking sharp. Alex Webster takes the first down handoff to about the 10, where he’s dragged down by Henry Jordan and Ray Nitschke. Webster runs off tackle on second down, breaking into the Packer secondary. Hank Gremminger tackles him at the 23-yard line. Webster takes his third handoff in a row for 2 yards to the 25.

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Y.A. Tittle now looks to pass. He airs it to Del Shofner for a first down at the Giant 36. Phil King runs to the 41, and Webster adds 2 more yards before Bill Quinlan wraps him up. On 3rd and 3, Webster goes off tackle left and gets to the midfield stripe.

Tittle calls a pass on first down. Quinlan and Bill Forester force Tittle to hurry, and the pass intended for Shofner falls incomplete. The Giants run a play-action to stall the pass rush, but the Packers bulldoze through. Tittle’s dump to Webster only gets them back to the line of scrimmage.

The Packers aggressive defense is called for offsides, giving the Giants 5 yards. On 3rd and 5 linebacker Dan Currie snuffs out a screen to Joe Morrison. Chandler’s punt bounces into the end zone for a touchback.

Paul Hornung takes a handoff, but Sam Huff, Bill Winter and Jim Katcavage of the Giants crush him for a 5-yard loss. Starr misses two straight passes to McGee, the first nearly being intercepted by Dick Lynch. McGee lines up to punt for Green Bay.

Giant cornerback Erich Barnes notices Packer Lew Carpenter lined up inside and decides to rush McGee, letting Carpenter go free. Barnes’ gamble pays huge dividends; he blocks the punt. Packer Gary Barnes tries to pick up the ball near the 3, but the rookie from Clemson can’t find the handle. A mass of blue shirts converge. Jim Collier falls on top of the ball at the goal line. The refs signal a Giants touchdown and Yankee Stadium goes delirious.

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“It was dangerous,” Barnes told Sports Illustrated. “When I go in like that, I’m exposing my area to a pass….It’s a judgment thing and you have to decide quickly.”

The score is now 10-7, Packers. Tom Moore fields the kickoff, breaks a tackle at the 25, and gets to the Packer 34.

What happens next wouldn’t happen today. Starr tells the officials that his teammates can’t hear the signals. The Packers return to the huddle while the officials quiet the crowd.

Giant lineman Rosey Grier refuses to be quiet. He slams Jim Taylor for a 1-yard loss on first down. The Packers run a sweep, but Modzelewski and Scott push Taylor back another 2 yards. Starr throws to Kramer on 3rd, but it’s broken up and nearly intercepted by Winter. Momentum favors the Giants right now.

The Packers punt again, McGee booting a low, sinking punt. Just as quickly as momentum changed in the Giants favor earlier, Lady Luck winks at the Packers. Sam Horner fumbles the punt and Ray Nitschke comes out of the rugged pile up clutching the ball. The Packers regain possession at the Giant 42-yard line.

Taylor busts left on a sweep for 12 yards. Andy Robustelli brings him down, and they both roll to a stop. Taylor casually gets up and tosses the ball to the refs. Robustelli charges Taylor with a clenched fist headed towards his face. Taylor jerks back, looking as surprised as a high school football coach after an icy Gatorade bath. The refs, however, appear indifferent. Two of them grab Robustelli rather calmly, possibly asking him to politely reconsider punching ol’ Jimmy after the play.

NFL PLAYOFFS

The Packers gain nothing on first down, and Taylor fights for 4 tough yards on second. Starr slips while passing on third. The ball floats in the air, seemingly without direction. Boyd Dowler comes from nowhere to lasso it in on the sideline at the Giant 22.

It’s not, however, enough for a first down. The Packers line up for a field goal, and Kramer again pushes it through the uprights. The Packers get points off the turnover, but the Giants can still take the lead with a touchdown. The score is 13-7 with 4 minutes left in the third.

The Lombardi legacy as we know it had not been built. The Packers were in their third straight title game, having lost to the Eagles in 1960 and topping the Giants in 1961. They were good, not iconic. The legend remained under construction, future Hall of Famers like Willie Davis laboring long hours as crew.

“Those games really were signature moments at the most critical time in the league’s history,” Davis told the New York Times decades later. “We were these nobodies from little old Wisconsin, and they were the Giants from big and sophisticated New York. And they were a recognized great team with lots of stars. But we had Lombardi, we were determined, and we were ready to show it.”

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Willie Davis had a Hall of Fame career with the Packers.

The Giants, winners of the 1956 title, were runners-up in 1958, 59, and 61. They weren’t about to cower to the young Packers. After Willie Wood’s kick sails through the end zone for a touchback, the Giants adjust their offense to the steady 25mph winds.

Tittle drops back two steps, and immediately throws to Frank Gifford on the sideline. The “Sideline Pass” nets the Giants 6 yards. After Forester and Quinlan stop Webster for no gain, the Giants run the exact same Sideline Pass for a first down. Packer cornerback Herb Adderley experiences difficulty defending the play, which is over almost as quickly as it starts

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Sports Illustrated put Frank Gifford on the cover previewing the game.

Tittle throws Del Shofner’s way twice. Packer Jesse Whittington breaks up the first pass. Whittenton tackles Shofner immediately after Shofner grabs the second one at the Giant 42. Coincidentally, Shofner and Whittenton were once roommates with the Rams. The refs measure for a first, and declare it 3rd and 1.

Alex Webster barely gets enough for the first down. Tittle throws to tight end Joe Walton across midfield to the Green Bay 47. Tittle goes back to Shofner on second down, and a bizarre sequence ensues.

Willie Wood breaks up the pass. Back Judge Thomas Kelleher tosses a flag for pass interference. Willie outstretches his hands in disbelief as Kelleher runs past him to mark the ball. Kelleher trips over Wood. Wood gets ejected for bumping Kelleher. This also tacks 15 yards of personal foul yardage onto the play. The Packers find themselves without a future Hall of Famer in the secondary. The Giants happily find themselves camped on the Packer 18.

Afterward Wood said, “I jumped up to protest and my hand must have hit him in the chest. I guess he must have thought I was trying to throw a punch.”

Kelleher stated, “In my opinion, Wood committed an overt act in striking me that called for disqualification.”

Commissioner Pete Rozelle noted that ejections carry at least $50 in fines.

Tension fills Yankee Stadium. The home team knocks on the door to take the lead late in the third. Optimism and excitement warm the frosty fans in the dropping temperatures.

Tittle overthrows Shofner on first down. On second down, Tittle hands off to King, who hands off to Gifford on a reverse. Gifford’s met immediately by Packer Bill Forester and back to Tittle, nearly 10 yards behind him. Tittle throws right to linebacker Dan Currie, who drops an easy interception. A collective sigh of relief fills Yankee Stadium.

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The Giants run a play-action pass on third, but tight end Joe Walton gets nabbed for a penalty behind the line of scrimmage. This sends the Giants back to the Packer 40, and a 3rd and 32 situation.

Tittle completes a 7-yard pass to Webster, but the Giants again get flagged. What was once 1st and 10 on the Packer 18 is now 3rd and 47 near their own 40! The Giants punt after an incomplete pass. The ball stops at the Packer 28, ten yards behind the original line of scrimmage.

An action-packed third quarter ends. The quarter featured momentum shifts, an ejection, scoring by both teams, but no lead changes. The Packers still own a 13-7 margin.

FOURTH QUARTER

The Packers start on their own 28. Starr fakes a handoff to Taylor, and gives to Tom Moore on kind of a reverse sweep. Moore breaks all the way to the 43. He’s had good kick returns and now a good rush today. After an incomplete pass, Taylor gets to the 47 before Huff, Grier and Modzelewski slam him down. Starr fires incomplete in McGee’s direction, and the Packers punt again.

The Giants start on their 24. Phil King goes left for 3 yards, where Jordan and Nitschke  unpleasantly greet him. Tittle fires a Sideline Pass to Gifford, but this time it’s incomplete. Tittle throws over the middle on third, where Gremminger bats it in Adderley’s direction, and Herb nearly intercepts.

Elijah Pitts fields Don Chandler’s punt at the Packer 22. He makes a nifty return to the Giant 43. Two handoffs result in only one yard thanks to Modzelewski and Huff. Bart Starr backpedals deep on third. He fires to Max McGee who makes the catch at the Giant 30.

The Pack go back to the run, but Huff, Modzelewski, and Tom Scott bust Taylor at the line of scrimmage. The Packers run a draw to Taylor, and Jim Katcavage isn’t fooled; Taylor gets knocked back 2 yards. The Packers try a draw to Moore, and Katcavage laughs, pounding Moore down also.

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Jim Katcavage played 13 seasons for the Giants.

Green Bay lines up for a field goal, but the kick falls short. Jimmy Patton picks it up at the 3 and maybe gets to the 5. The Giants start deep in their own end.

Dan Hanner stops Alex Webster for no gain. A second down pass to Shofner misses. The Packers jump offside, giving the Giants 3rd and 5. Tittle then connects with Gifford down the sideline at the 25. Adderely forcefully knocks Gifford out of bounds. Gifford’s body sails several feet, almost into the player bench. He still picks up the first down.

Tittle then hits Walton at the 37 for another first down. The Giants are moving, trailing by only 6 with about 8 minutes left. A touchdown puts them ahead.

New York runs a play-action, but the pass intended for Walton falls harmlessly to the ground. A Sideline Pass to Gifford gains 7, but a busted play-action on third forces the Giants to punt again. Both defenses excel at disrupting plays now.

The Packers start at their own 28 with 6:53 left. Taylor runs a counter to the 34. Moore gets to the 38. The Pack faces third and short, which Taylor picks up.

Hornung, who replaced Moore on the previous play, dashes across midfield but is shaken up. He leaves the game, and Moore returns. Taylor runs around end to the Giant 41 and a first down. It’s still a one score game with 4:25 left, but the Giants need a stop.

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An inside handoff to Moore proves big, and he gets to the Giant 29. The Packers then stall for a couple of plays, Taylor getting bent at the line of scrimmage and Dowler dropping a pass on the 18. Remember these guys aren’t playing with gloves. Bare hands football in the brutal cold in 1962.

The Packers face 3rd and 10. They fail to pick it up, but defensive holding grants them a first down on the 24. Tom Moore bobbles the first down handoff. He hangs on, but Patton smacks him for a 2-yard loss. Green Bay runs a draw to Taylor, who slips on the rock solid turf and falls back to the 27. With 2:15 left, the Giants call time out.

Third and 12. Green Bay clings to a 6-point lead. They need points to make it a two-possession game. The Giants need a stop, a turnover, or a sack out of field goal range.

Starr fades back. Nobody’s open. The fierce Giant pass rush forces him out of the pocket. Like Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre would do for the Packers decades later, Starr darts out of the pocket and past the line of scrimmage.

Linebacker Tom Scott foils Starr’s plan. He clocks Starr a few yards later, and a gang of blue jersey follow in mashing Starr to the icy ground.

 

Packer lineman Jerry Kramer lines up to attempt the game-clinching 30-yard field goal. The wind gusts and swirls. It’s been so unpredictable today that at times it’s blown the centerfield flags at Yankee Stadium in opposite directions simultaneously. It’s even torn pieces off the American flag overlooking the field.

Paul Hornung established himself as the Packers trusted kicker for years, setting an NFL scoring record of 176 points in 12 games. (The record’s only been broken once in a 16-game schedule, narrowly by LaDainian Tomlinson.) A knee injury’s hobbled Hornung since Week 5, and Kramer’s been the substitute kicker. Lombardi hoped Hornung could kick today, but Hornung proved inconsistent in pre-game warm-ups. The responsibility, and quite possibly the Packers’ chance to repeat as champs, rests upon Kramer’s leg.

Packer center Jim Ringo, who lost feeling in his right hand because of nerve damage, instead snaps the ball with his left hand. Starr places the ball on the turf. Kramer kicks it. The ball sails through the uprights with 1:50 left.

“I just aimed for the middle and prayed,” Kramer would say about the kick afterward.

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The Packers lead 16-7, and the Giants now need two scores instead of one to win. Kramer now replaces the ejected Wood on kickoffs. His kick is bobbled by Sam Horner, who regains control and takes it to the Giant 27.

Tittle looks to his deep threat Shofner, but the winds render the ball incomplete. Tittle throws directly to Packer Ray Nitschke on second down, but the linebacker drops the pass. Nitschke would later say he couldn’t feel his hands because of the bitter cold. He said it was an easy catch any other day.

There’s 1:27 left. A quick touchdown and an onside kick is the Giants only hope. Shofner makes a catch at the Giant 45. Walton catches one at the 50. Hank Gremminger bats the ball away from Shofner on 2nd and 5, but a Green Bay offsides call gives the Giants another first down.

Joe Walton makes a grab at the Packer 32 and the Giants call time out with 33 seconds left. Tittle fires in the end zone, and Whittenton nearly intercepts. Tittle fades back with 20 seconds left. The Packers haven’t been rushing Tittle hoping he’ll eat up more time in the pocket. Tittle follows the plan, an throws incomplete toward Walton with 8 seconds to go.

Tittle finds Walton on third down, and the tight end gets all the way to the Packer 4 as time expires. The Packers repeat as champions with a 16-7 road win.

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SUMMARY

Kramer’s three field goals tied a record for field goals in championship games. The record was held by several people, including Pat Summerall and Kramer’s teammate Paul Hornung. Ironically, Kramer’s counterpart Don Chandler currently co-holds the record for most field goals in a Super Bowl with Ray Wersching. Each hit 4 – Chandler as a Packer in Super Bowl 2, Wersching in Super Bowl 16 with the 49ers.

Kramer’s field goals were not only the scoring difference – but the third field goal provided an enormous cushion for the Packers. Imagine Kramer had missed his final attempt. The Giants would be driving deep – all the way to the Packer 4 — with a chance to win. Clock management would be of much greater concern; the Giants likely wouldn’t run 12-13 seconds per play, and the time ate up by the kickoff return would have been saved. It’s very possible that New York would have the ball on the Packer 4 and still have time to run two or three more plays. A thrilling 14-13 Giant victory is not out of the question.

Players remember the game not only for the terrible weather conditions, but for the hardnosed play of both teams. This contest was extremely physical even by 1962 standards. The ground, frozen so hard that some players likened it to concrete, added extra punishment.

“I’ve never played a tougher game,” said Paul Hornung in the locker room.

“I never took a worse beating on a football field,” added Jim Taylor. “The Giants hit me hard and then I hit the ground hard. I got it both ways.”

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The 30th NFL championship paid the winning team $5,888 per player, and $4,166 per player for the losing team. Both were records at the time. Tickets went for $8-10 on average.

Ray Nitschke earned MVP honors, recovering two fumbles and forcing an interception. Jerry Kramer received the Packer Game Ball. He scored 10 points, made key blocks on the line, and connected on 3 of 5 field goal attempts in debilitating weather conditions.

The second straight title laid the foundation for Lombardi’s Packers to later be recognized as one of the greatest dynasties in league history.  The 1962 championship remains a key pillar to that dynasty.

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Classic NFL Games — 1962 NFL Championship — First Half

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In honor of the NFL playoffs and the recent passing of Allie Sherman, we examine an overlooked classic. This is part one of a two-part series. I’ll write the game’s action in present tense, hopefully giving a feel for the events unfolding live.

The 1962 NFL Championship was a heavyweight showdown. The prizefighters were the Green Bay Packers, entering the game with a 13-1 record, and the 12-2 New York Giants who hadn’t lost since mid-October. Both head coaches – Allie Sherman and Vince Lombardi – had been assistants with the Giants under Jim Lee Howell.

The teams didn’t meet in the regular season. Their last rendezvous was the 1961 NFL Championship at Lambeau Field, a 37-0 Packer victory. The Giants hungered to avenge the embarrassment. Fans also wanted revenge. A “Beat Green Bay! Beat Green Bay!” chant thundered from the stands, and one fan hoisted a “OK YA – Make Green Bay Pay” sign in the end zone seats at Yankee Stadium.

Fifteen future Hall of Famers lined up that day. The Packers offensive line boasted two, plus Jerry Kramer, for whom many fans vehemently advocate HOF membership. The Giants defensive line countered with their own Hall of Famer in Andy Robustelli, plus two All-Pros — Rosey Grier and Jim Katcavage. Dick Modzelewski was no slouch either.

The teams not only fought each other, but also fierce cold. The official temperature was 20 degrees at kickoff, and dipped to 14 by the final gun. Tolerable football weather, but the 25-30mph winds that gusted up to 45mph made it feel much colder. Vince Lombardi Jr. remembers feeling colder than during the Ice Bowl.

FIRST QUARTER

The wind fittingly blows the ball off the tee before Willie Wood kicks off. Rookie Earl Gros holds it for Wood, and Joe Morrison returns the ball to the Giant 30. The Giants start on the ground. Three straight handoffs – one to Alex Webster and two to Phil King – establish the running game nicely. The Giants move to their own 46.

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Alex Webster was a key part of the Giants offense for a decade.

Y.A. Tittle drops back and gets pressured up the middle. He spots All-Pro receiver Del Shofner wide open on the sideline, but overthrows him. We soon find out how Shofner got open. A 15-yard offensive pass interference penalty gets marked off, and the Giants have 1st and 25 on the 31. Webster gains 11 back, but two incompletions force the Giants to punt. Don Chandler’s punt nearly gets downed by Mickey Walker at the 2, but bounces into the end zone. The Packers score the first break with a touchback.

Paul Hornung runs for two yards. Erich Barnes forearm clubs Hornung in the head, long after the whistle. What would be a penalty, fine, and possible suspension today doesn’t raise an eyebrow.

Jim Taylor, the league’s leading rusher and MVP, takes the ball 10 yards to the Packer 34. Bart Starr hits Ron Kramer for another 10 yards. Taylor then exacts revenge for Hornung by plowing over Barnes on a sweep, en route to 14 yards. The Packer offense is cruising, and is across midfield.

Starr throws an incomplete pass, however, and then Taylor fumbles on a draw play. Jerry Kramer pounces on the ball — a second early break. Green Bay runs a screen to the right to Taylor. He scampers to the Giant 29, picking up a first down. After a 3-yard run, Green Bay sets up a screen to the left to Taylor. Fuzzy Thurston’s block springs him to the 19.

NFL PLAYOFFS

The refs measure for a first. Kramer, who started the game with a fractured rib, leaves the field. The refs take a bit to decide it’s 3rd and 1, and Kramer runs back to the huddle. He doesn’t even miss a play.

Taylor takes the ensuing handoff, but Dick Modzelewiski, Rosey Grier, and Sam Huff combine to stop the play cold. Lombardi chooses the field goal. Kramer, who took over kicking duties after Hornung’s mid-season knee injury, boots it through the swirling winds and between the uprights. The Packers lead 3-0.

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The mighty wind kicks up Yankee Stadium’s dirt.

Sam Horner makes a nice kickoff return to the Giant 38. Phil King rushes for 5 yards, Alex Webster for 3. Tittle then completes his first pass of the day, a strike to Shofner that puts the Giants at the Packer 33. Tittle goes right back to Shofner for another 8 yards. A screen to King gets to the 16, and the Giants look poised to take the lead.

Ray Nitschke has other ideas. He stuffs King on a draw play, then charges Tittle on a 2nd and 9 throw. Nitschke deflects the pass, which becomes the equivalent to a pop fly for Packer linebacker Dan Currie. Currie intercepts the ball and has clear sailing to the end zone. Currie’s injured knee begins wobbling, however, and he collapses around the Packer 40.

Two incomplete passes later, Paul Hornung runs towards the right end, appearing to look downfield to throw. He keeps the ball, however, and scampers to midfield for a first down.

Taylor gets stuffed by Andy Robestelli and Jim Patton. He now has 7 carries for 38 yards. On 2nd and 10, Starr hits Ron Kramer at the Giant 34. That makes 6 first downs for the Packers already. Taylor takes the ball on the next three plays, and Huff, Katcavage, and Patton team up to stop him. Huff hits Taylor well after the whistle on 3rd down, but under 1962 rules the ref pays no mind. Perhaps he’s just thankful Ol’ Sam didn’t plow into him by accident.

The first quarter ends with the Packers missing a field goal. Kicking with a fractured rib in 35mph winds can do that to a guy, I guess.

SECOND QUARTER

The Giants dodge the turnover bullet and start on their own 20. They alternate handoffs to King and Webster. Three runs give them a first down at their 32. The Giants shift gears, but throw three straight incompletions. The wind really affects the passing game today. Frank Gifford would say, “(Tittle) threw one at me which I started to catch, when the wind caught it and it suddenly flew 10 feet over my head.”

The Giants punt. Rookie Jim Collier smothers return man Elijah Pitts as he catches it. The Packers set up shop at their own 32. Both teams have had pretty good field position thus far, but it hasn’t amounted to many points. Hornung runs the sweep behind fine blocks by Kramer and Thurston, and breaks an Erich Barnes tackle. Hornung bursts for 6 more yards on a draw.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch Paul Hornung run. He dodges defenders with miniscule lateral movements that maintain his forward speed. He doesn’t cut so much as gracefully run around people.

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Jim Taylor takes the next handoff, and his forward progress carries him to the Giant 47 and a first down. Again, Huff and Barnes provide extracurricular violence after the whistle, this time in the form of a headlock. Taylor, who needed stitches for his elbow at halftime, noted that he and Huff exchanged uncouth words. While shouting, Taylor accidently bit his tongue.

Starr misses on first down, and on second the Giants stuff a screen to Taylor. Starr fades back on third, skids on the slippery turf, and throws a dart to Boyd Dowler for a first down at the Giant 33.

Dick Modzelewski gets even on the next play, sacking Starr for an 11-yard setback. The Packer drive stalls, and Max McGee’s punt is downed at the Giant 5. The first time anyone’s been bottled up in their own territory.

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Modzelewski played 14 NFL seasons.

Alex Webster picks up 9 yards on 3 carries. Nitschke, Bill Quinlan, Willie Davis, and Herb Adderley all provide tackling assistance. The Giants punt.

The Packers fare no better on their subsequent possession – 3 rushes, no first down. Grier and Huff punctuate the Giants swagger by thumping Taylor for a 4-yard loss on third. Max McGee’s short punt puts the Giants at their 29.

Three Packers close in on Tittle, but Tittle deftly lofts a screen to Phil King for 6. On second down at the 34, Dan Currie pops King at the line of scrimmage, forcing a fumble. The ball bounces into the Giants backfield, behind two unaware Giant linemen, Darrell Dess and Ray Wietecha. Ray Nitschke recovers for Green Bay.

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The Packers give to Hornung. He rolls right. He abruptly pulls up and floats a pass to Dowler at the Giant 8. Forrest Gregg and Jerry Kramer trade blocking assignments for the next play. Jim Taylor follows center Jim Ringo’s block and plows into the end zone. Kramer connects on the extra point and it’s 10-0 Packers with 2:39 left in the half.

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Ringo didn’t know if he’d play in this game. A pinched nerve removed feeling in his right arm. He couldn’t snap with his right hand, and switched to using his left.

The ball again blows off the tee on the ensuing kickoff. The gusts reportedly tore two stripes off the American flag, and at one point the swirls had flags blowing in opposite directions. Earl Gros holds the ball for Willie Wood, and Johnny Counts takes it from the 9. He bursts up a middle seam, and breaks all the way to the Giants 41 before Wood makes a shoestring tackle. New York’s special teams have produced excellent return yardage thus far.

Webster runs for 3, taking us to the 2-minute warning. There is no commercial break on the broadcast, much different than today’s NFL. On 2nd and 7, Gifford runs a deep route and tight end Joe Walton flares right. Tittle hits Walton at the Packer 41, and Walton scurries out of bounds to stop the clock.

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Joe Walton scored 9 TDs in 1962.

Henry Jordan and Bill Quinlan stuff Phil King on first, and then Tittle misses Gifford and Walton on second and third down. The drive stalls on the Packer 39. The wind takes Don Chandler’s field goal attempt far right.

1962 rules place the ball back at the Packer 20. The Packers run out the clock and take a 10-0 lead into halftime.

SUMMARY

The wind stifles the passing game, the Giants major strength. Lombardi would state he wished to surprise the Giants with his own passing attack, but the weather prevented it. Turnovers and random football bounces have consistently helped the Packers and hurt the Giants.

Both teams are playing exceptional defense. The Giants style looks a more physical, smashmouth style. The Packers look more disciplined and designed, each man covering his own assignment.

Ray Nitschke and Alex Webster Square Off

Ray Nitschke also utilizes the headlock.

Classic Games — The Ice Bowl (original broadcast)

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BART STARR PAINTING BY ROBERT HURST. PRINT WITH AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF THE BOOK IS AVAILABLE IN OUR SHOP FOR $50.

The 1967 NFL Championship, often called the Ice Bowl, was played on December 31, 1967. Tomorrow’s NFC Divisional Playoff between the Cowboys and Packers will be the first time these two legendary franchises have met at Lambeau Field in the playoffs since that iconic day.

To celebrate, we’re posting the original Cowboys radio broadcast of the epic final drive. Be sure to listen to the post-game interviews of Dan Reeves, Lee Roy Jordan, and Mel Renfro in the Cowboy locker room.  Priceless.

 

The Ice Bowl is covered in depth in The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL, as interviews with Bart Starr, Carroll Dale, and Bob Skoronski of the Packers liberally detail their memories of the game, along with insight to what Coach Lombardi discussed in the locker room and on the sidelines.

Also, please note that you can order the game’s entire broadcast by clicking here.

 

THIS MIGHT SURPRISE YOU: WHAT WAS THE WORLD LIKE LAST TIME YOUR TEAM WON A TITLE?

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This is the first in a four-part series.

Knowing how much I love history, my wife bought me a birthday card listing facts about the year I was born. I started wondering what was happening the last time teams won a championship. Let’s find out, and I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had researching.

We’ll start with the NFC East and NFC North Divisions. Some of the most decorated trophy rooms in football reside here, their championships might seem longer ago than one might think. As Bruce Springsteen says, “Glory Days – They’ll pass you by.”

 

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Company dominated, winning 3 out of 4 Super Bowls. For their last title, the Cowboys topped Carnell Lake (remember him?) and the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 30.  That January of 1996. Bill Clinton’s first term in office. Hootie and the Blowfish had the number one song in the country. A stamp cost 32 cents. Keyshawn Johnson would be the first pick in the upcoming draft, with future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden going fourth overall. Yep, it’s been so long since the Cowboys won the Super Bowl, that a Hall of Famer’s been drafted since then. Maybe we shouldn’t mention that HOF Walter Jones was drafted the next year. Or that the Colts drafted Peyton Manning merely two years later. Then again, maybe that puts it all into perspective.

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Above: Jerry Jones and Barry Switzer wrestling for the Lombardi Trophy.

NEW YORK GIANTS – Fairly recent for the Giants, of course, after winning in February 2012. What was going on? Tim Tebow’s overtime playoff touchdown pass against the Steelers was part of those same playoffs. The U.S. encountered several tragedies later in 2012, including the shootings at Sandy Hook and the movie theatre in Colorado. Superstorm Sandy ravaged the East Coast. While the Giants championship doesn’t seem so long ago, a lot’s happened since then.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES Norm Van Brocklin, old enough to play against Sammy Baugh, quarterbacked the Eagles to their last championship in 1960. He mentored a spritely, young Sonny Jurgensen that season. John Fitzgerald Kennedy won the country’s presidential race in 1960, and was simply “President-Elect” the day the Eagles beat Green Bay 17-13. Kennedy and then still-living presidential icon Herbert Hoover could have cut the rug to 1960 chart toppers by Elvis Presley (“Stuck On You” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”), Chubby Checker (“The Twist.”), and the Drifters (“Save the Last Dance for Me”). Quite the Inaugural Ball. And this was before handy dandy things like space travel, the Beatles, and handheld calculators. Mankind had merely just invented the Etch-A-Sketch when Ted Dean scored the winning touchdown and Chuck Bednarik made the game-saving tackle against the Packers. How on earth did they figure out Dean’s yard-per-carry without calculators?

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Above: Kennedy and Hoover

WASHINGTON REDSKINS – The Redskins topped the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl 26 on January 26, 1992. President George Bush Sr. telephoned Coach Joe Gibbs as players Mark Rypien, Charles Mann, Gerald Riggs, Jeff Bostic, Chip Lohmiller, and Ricky Sanders poured champagne over themselves. The Dow Jones topped out at just over 3,400 that year. Before we crowned the next Super Bowl winner, we’d all rushed out to see the following flicks: Wayne’s World, White Men Can’t Jump, Basic Instinct, A League of Their Own, and A Few Good Men. Good year for Hollywood as D.C. basked in the glow of winning, and we basked in the glow of VHS and the Popcorn Pumper – complete with that little compartment to melt butter in.

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NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS – They weren’t here to start no trouble, the 1985 Bears were just doing the Super Bowl Shuffle. Did the Washington roster bring back memories? Well, how about President Reagan’s congratulatory phone call getting passed around from Richard Dent to Dan Hampton to Walter Payton to Willie Gault? And of course,  “The Refrigerator” William Perry and shade-sporting, headband-touting Jim McMahon. You might remember McMahon getting fined for writing on those headbands. You might also remember that when the Bears won in January 1986, ancient Bear pioneers Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange were still alive to Shuffle to the champs’ theme song. They also could have shuffled to Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Janet Jackson’s “Nasty,” and “Danger Zone” from the Top Gun soundtrack. Little did Bears fans know they were headed toward their own danger zone, still waiting for that next ring nearly 30 years later.

DETROIT LIONS – Think that’s long? The Lions had waited nearly 30 years for their next championship by the time Da Bears trounced the Patriots in Super Bowl 20, and are still waiting. Detroit last won in 1957, although they had a good run of success in the 50s – winning 3 titles. All that changed when they traded Bobby Layne to Pittsburgh. Layne defiantly cursed the franchise, stating the Lions would never win again. So far our money’s on Bobby. The Lions haven’t come close to a league title since they traded him in a simpler time when there were only 48 states. (The U.S. granted Alaska and Hawaii statehood in 1959.) One Michigan native just told me, “That’s why so many people follow college football there.”

GREEN BAY PACKERS – Doesn’t seem like too long ago that Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and A.J. Hawk ran off the field winners of Super Bowl 45. Still, they are 3 of only a handful of Packers remaining from the roster that hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February of 2011. Up-to-minute tech geeks posted on their iPhone 4, but couldn’t get the 4s with built-in Siri until the World Series rolled around. The Japan earthquake struck that year, and the Navy Seals struck down Osama Bin Laden. How sneaky is inflation? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation calculator, $100 in 2011 had the same buying power as $105 does today. Equivalent to one fewer latte or five fewer scratch-offs.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS – Famously lost four Super Bowls in the 1970s. Often overlooked is whom they lost to – the Steelers, Dolphins, Raiders, and Chiefs – the most powerful teams in those franchises’ histories, and some would argue some of the greatest teams ever assembled. The resilient Vikings never won an NFL title, with their last shot being Super Bowl 11, played on January 9, 1977. That team featured soon-to-be Hall of Famer Mick Tingelhoff, and current Hall of Famers Carl Eller, Paul Krause, and Fran Tarkenton. Tarkenton would later retire the game’s all-time leading passer. $100 in your pocket back in ’77 scored you $392.50 worth of today’s goods. That’s a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd records, or a lot of tickets to a hip new movie named Star Wars. You might have also put that $100 toward a brand new Apple II computer or Atari 2600 – both were released in ’77. Postage stamps cost 13 cents, and a gallon of gas only 65 cents.

SUMMARY

Having a little fun here with football, the cost of living, and history. It’s fun looking back and seeing what else was going on in the world when a particular team won. We’ll cover the rest of the NFC next week.

Letter From a Champion — Robert Kahler of the 1944 Packers

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We tracked down Bob Kahler a while back. At the time he was the last surviving member of the 1944 World Champion Green Bay Packers. He requested we asked questions via snail mail rather than by phone. True to his word, Mr. Kahler promptly wrote us back. Here are his responses in his own outstanding penmanship.

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Perhaps Kahler’s speed impressed Coach Lambeau. Bob set an American indoor record on the 70-yard low hurdles at Nebraska, making it to the finish line in 7.8 seconds.

The Packer’s “high school facilities” paled in comparison to Nebraska’s, but what perhaps surprised Bob most was the cigarette smoking in the Packer locker room. Even Don Hutson, whom Bob had the unfortunate assignment of covering during practice, puffed away.

Kahler, who was born in 1917, passed away in April of 2013 at the age of 96. He was one of only a handful of men alive who played for Curly Lambeau in Green Bay. Those Packers wore blue and gold uniforms, rather than the famed green and yellow.

Lambeau chose blue and gold to mimic the Notre Dame uniform he wore for one season. As a freshman, Lambeau shared backfield duties with George Gipp in 1918, Knute Rockne’s first year as head coach. Lambeau might have had a storied college career were it not for a six-week bout with tonsillitis that prompted a return to his hometown of Green Bay. He accepted a job with the Indian Packing Company for $250 a month, and never returned to school.

Nolan Luhn told us that Coach Lambeau also approached him after the 1945 Orange Bowl. Lambeau promised Luhn that the Packers would draft him if he didn’t sign with another team. Green Bay selected Nolan late in the 1945 NFL Draft. From what Kahler and Luhn have stated, it seems like Lambeau often attended college bowl games to scout and sign players.

You can read Nolan’s story in The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL published by the University of Nebraska Press.