This Might Surprise You — The NFL’s Coaching Elite (Pt 1)

In “QB Reality – Why Most Teams Stand No Chance,” I pointed out that a small number of quarterbacks own the majority of championship rings. Today I’ll tell you about an even grander elite class – the championship coaches club.

Of the first 30 Super Bowls, only 4 winning coaches won only one Super Bowl. Free Agency seemingly levels that statistic out at first glance — with the next 19 Super Bowls handing the Lombardi award to 11 one-time winners. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll find that very few coaches even make the Big Game, let alone win it.  A total of 49 coaches have coached in the 49 Super Bowls, averaging one compounded appearance per game.

The vast majority of coaches who make a championship game make multiple appearances, or they played for or worked under one of those frequenting Super Bowl Sunday. When I say vast majority, I mean just about every single head coach. The trend dates back to when the Detroit Lions were the Portsmouth Spartans. Sounds crazy? We’ll take a quick look in this post before fully submerging next week.


Potsy Clark coached the Portsmouth Spartans in the first NFL Championship Game.

Vince Lombardi’s name symbolizes championship football. He won 5 championships in 7 years with the Green Bay Packers, leading them to 6 championship games in 8 years. Lombardi didn’t just pop out of nowhere to land the Packers in championship games. Lombardi previously served as an assistant on the New York Giants, who won the NFL Championship in 1956, and made the NFL Championship Game in 1958.


Lombardi on top of the world with Jerry Kramer and Forrest Gregg.

The Giants head coach was Jim Lee Howell, who won the NFL championship as a player in 1938 under the great Steve Owen. Owen’s Giants earned 7 NFL Championship Game appearances, Howell’s 3. Owen’s playing career also included a title with the 1927 Giants. Tracing Lombardi’s championship bloodlines date back to the league’s first decade. Tom Landry’s do likewise,  serving with Lombardi on the same Giants coaching staff.


Lombardi and Landry with the Giants.


Steve Owen with Frank Filchock.

Turns out that nearly every single coach to win an NFL title – or even finish second – meets at least one of three criteria. The phenomenon dates back to the 1920s. In our next post we’ll point out the criteria, go over NFL champions by decade, and demonstrate the resilient stranglehold a superior set of coaches have on NFL title games.


Paul Brown.



Chuck Noll.



Don Shula.





“Entertaining and Engrossing.” — Library Journal

A Brief History of — The NFL Draft

Enormous media coverage surrounds today’s NFL draft. It wasn’t always that way. Bob Griese told us he didn’t know the draft had taken place – even though he was the fourth-overall pick. Players from The Game before the Money era often learned their pro football destinations through newspapers, college coaches, and friends. It apparently wasn’t until the 1970s that teams called players during the draft.


Chaos often surrounded acquiring talent before the draft existed. Don Hutson signed with both the Green Bay Packers and the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers after his college career at Alabama ended. NFL President Joe Carr awarded Hutson to the Packers since the Packers mailed their contract just a few minutes before the Dodgers. Hutson helped lead the Packers to 3 NFL titles and still holds NFL receiving records 8 decades later.


Don Hutson.

The Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers both highly desired Minnesota All-American Stan Kostka in 1935. Kostka deftly fueled a bidding war, signing a sparkling $5,000 contract with Brooklyn. Philadelphia owner Bert Bell didn’t like being outbid, and scoffed at a rookie’s salary rivaling superstar Bronko Nagurski’s. Bell proposed a player draft to keep rookie salaries down, and to give lower-tier teams a better chance at top-tier talent.

Bell’s draft proposal passed, and the NFL held its first draft in 1936. The Eagles selected Heisman winner Jay Berwanger, who opted for a higher salary in foam-rubber sales. The Boston (now Washington) Redskins selected Riley Smith.

The draft succeeded in keeping salaries down. Smith signed for $250/game, far below Kostka’s deal. The draft, however, failed to balance out talent. The Packers, Giants, and Bears won 7 out of the last 9 championships before the draft, and also won 7 out of the first 9 championships after the draft’s initiation. Curly Lambeau apparently scouted players at bowl games, as Nolan Luhn and Bob Kahler told us he approached them after the Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl, respectively. Other teams didn’t scout as well, some drafting ineligible players who were still in college.

The first NFL draft netted 4 Hall of Famers – Wayne Millner, Tuffy Leemans, Dan Fortmann, and Joe Stydahar. Brooklyn selected coaching icon Paul “Bear” Bryant in the fourth round.


Pro football integrated in 1946, with Kenny Washington and Woody Strode playing for the Los Angeles Rams, and Hall of Famers Bill Willis and Marion Motley suiting up for the Cleveland Browns of the AAFC. They all, however, signed as undrafted free agents. The Chicago Bears made George Taliaferro the first African American to be drafted in 1949. “I thought it was the most incredible thing that could happen,” Taliaferro said when interviewing for The Game before the Money.


George Taliaferro.

Taliaferro signed with the AAFC’s Los Angeles Dons before the NFL draft, however, and honored that contract. He earned AAFC Rookie of the Year honors. The NFL later held a dispersal draft of AAFC players after the AAFC’s demise, and Taliaferro was the second-overall pick. The Lions snatched future Hall of Famer Lou Creekmur in the dispersal draft.



The NFL instituted the “Bonus Pick” in 1947. Paul Hornung explains in The Game before the Money: “First pick of the draft in those days was a bonus pick. Each team put their name in a hat, and you drew them out. Four­teen teams; here comes the bonus pick. After that the draft starts in predetermined order: 1, 2, 3, 4. Next year, the thir­teen remaining teams were eligible for the bonus pick.”


“The Golden Boy” at Notre Dame.

Congress investigated the NFL, among other pro sports leagues, for antitrust violations in the 1950s. Congress declared the “Bonus Pick” too close to a lottery and suggested the NFL halt the practice. The NFL did so after the 1958 draft, conveniently after each team had selected one “Bonus Pick.”

The Congressional pressure demonstrates societal changes. What was unacceptable in 1958 is now celebrated as part of today’s NBA draft. Teams covet “Lottery Picks” and sports fans eagerly watch the “NBA Draft Lottery.”


The American Football League held their first draft in 1960. Some players were drafted by both leagues, and the two leagues warred over players.

Teams used scouts as “babysitters” to protect their draft interests. The babysitters would travel to a prospective draft pick’s college, wine and dine them, and do their best to keep the athlete from signing with the rival league. Walt Garrison said a Rams scout took him and his friends out to dinner, bought him a pair of boots, and then stayed in a hotel room with him during the NFL draft. The scout left the instant the Cowboys beat the Rams in drafting Garrison.

Tony Lorick signed with the Baltimore Colts, although the Colts hesitated in drafting him. The Colts heard a rumor that Lorick had already signed with the Oakland Raiders as their first-round pick. Unsurprisingly, Raiders owner Al Davis proved to be the source of the rumor.

Davis wouldn’t lose out on Fred Biletnikoff the next year, however. He signed Biletnikoff on the field at the Gator Bowl, national television cameras all around. Fred’s Florida State team had just defeated Oklahoma. It wasn’t the first time Davis signed a Hall of Famer on the field. He signed Arkansas standout Lance Alworth to a contract beneath the goal posts following the 1962 Sugar Bowl.


Biletnikoff flying high in the Gator Bowl.

The shenanigans surrounding Chiefs legend Otis Taylor depict the lengths babysitters would go to protect draft interests. A group of NFL scouts took Taylor and several other draft prospects to a motel in Richardson, Texas, checked in under assumed names, and hoped to keep the draft picks there to keep them from signing with the AFL. A Chiefs scout close to the Taylor family learned Taylor’s whereabouts, and tried to sneak into the hotel as a journalist, using a camera as part of his disguise. An NFL scout recognized the Chiefs scout, and subsequently called police reporting the Chiefs scout as a suspicious person. Despite threats from the police, the Chiefs scout snuck Taylor out of the NFL scouts’ motel at 3:30 in the morning, promising a new Ford Thunderbird.

The battles changed the course of destiny for teams. Imagine Taylor playing alongside Hall of Famer Tommy McDonald, catching passes from Eagles quarterback Sonny Jurgensen. Picture Hall of Famer Ron Mix next to Jim Parker on the Baltimore Colts offensive line. The Bills won back-to-back AFL titles after losing Hall of Famers Carl Eller and Paul Warfield to the NFL. Would the championship run have lasted longer and into the Super Bowl era?

The two drafts provided leverage to rookies drafted in both leagues. Some players, like Joe Namath, Donny Anderson, and Jim Grabowski, negotiated huge contracts. Namath famously collected over $400,000, Anderson scored $600,000.


Namath and the Bear.

Not all players based decisions on money. Garrison said he wanted to stay close to his Texas roots, and preferred the Dallas Cowboys to the Kansas City Chiefs. Eller enjoyed Minnesota, and was happy to sign with the Vikings rather than create a bidding war between Minnesota and Buffalo.

The two leagues merged in 1966. Grappling over draft picks stood as a large contributing cause.


The draft now gets dissected and diced in ways Bert Bell would have never imagined. The NFL Combine tests prospects where a mere index card asking for player stats in the 50s and 60s served the same purpose. Bob Griese learned the Dolphins drafted him when an assistant coach off-handedly mentioned it while crossing paths in the hallway. Now players sit by the phone with their agents and friends, watching the draft unfold on ESPN.

Some teams built their dynasties and legends around drafts. The Steelers 1974 draft produced Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert and center Mike Webster – all Hall of Famers. The Packers scored Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr and Bob Skoronski in 1956, then Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke, and Jerry Kramer in 1958. The Bears netted Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus with back-to-back first round picks in 1965. Dallas selected Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes, and Mel Renfro in 1964.


Staubach quarterbacking the Navy Midshipmen.

Drafts remembered for being especially rich include the 1983 draft. Known for producing legendary quarterbacks John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly in the first round, Hall of Famers Bruce Matthews, Darrell Green, Eric Dickerson and Richard Dent also entered the league. The 1957 draft launched 9 Hall of Famers, including 4  of the first 8 picks. The 1964 draft contained a record 10 Hall of Famers. Many declare the 1989 draft the best modern draft. Four of the first five picks – Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders – all found their way to Canton.








List of Super Bowl Winners and Super Bowl MVPs

Just to make it easy for you to locate, here is a list of Super Bowl winners and MVPs.

Super Bowl                                                                               MVP

1. Green Bay Packers 35, Kansas City Chiefs 10                Bart Starr

2. Green Bay Packers 33, Oakland Raiders 14                   Bart Starr

3. New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7                                 Joe Namath

4. Kansas City Chiefs 23, Minnesota Vikings 7                    Len Dawson

5. Baltimore Colts 16, Dallas Cowboys 13                           Chuck Howley

6. Dallas Cowboys 24, Miami Dolphins 3                             Roger Staubach

7. Miami Dolphins 14, Washington Redskins 7                   Jake Scott

8. Miami Dolphins 24, Minnesota Vikings 7                         Larry Csonka

9. Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Minnesota Vikings 6                   Franco Harris

10. Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17                   Lynn Swann

11. Oakland Raiders 32, Minnesota Vikings 14                   Fred Biletnikoff

12. Dallas Cowboys 27, Denver Broncos 10                         Harvey Martin & Randy White

13. Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31                    Terry Bradshaw

14. Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19                 Terry Bradshaw

15. Oakland Raiders 27, Philadelpia Eagles 10                      Jim Plunkett

16. San Francisco 49ers 26, Cincinnati Bengals 21               Joe Montana

17. Washington Redskins 27, Miami Dolphins 17                John Riggins

18. Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington Redskins 9          Marcus Allen

19. San Francisco 49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16                   Joe Montana

20. Chicago Bears 46, New England Patriots 10                  Richard Dent

21. New York Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20                        Phil Simms

22. Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10                Doug Williams

23. San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16               Jerry Rice

24. San Francisco 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10                   Joe Montana

25. New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19                                Ottis Anderson

26. Washington Redskins 37, Buffalo Bills 24                        Mark Rypien

27. Dallas Cowboys 52, Buffalo Bills 10                                   Troy Aikman

28. Dallas Cowboys 30, Buffalo Bills 13                                   Emmitt Smith

29. San Francisco 49ers 49, San Diego Chargers 26              Steve Young

30. Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17                       Larry Brown

31. Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21            Desmond Howard

32. Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24                      Terrell Davis

33. Denver Broncos 34, Atlanta Falcons 19                             John Elway

34. St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16                           Kurt Warner

35. Baltimore Ravens 34, New York Giants 7                         Ray Lewis

36. New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17                    Tom Brady

37. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21              Dexter Jackson

38. New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29               Tom Brady

39. New England Patriots 24, Philadelphia Eagles 21            Deion Branch

40. Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Seattle Seahawks 10                    Hines Ward

41. Indianapolis Colts 29, Chicago Bears 17                            Peyton Manning

42. New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14                 Eli Manning

43. Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23                    Santonio Holmes

44. New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17                   Drew Brees

45. Green Bay Packers 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 25                  Aaron Rodgers

46. New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17                  Eli Manning

47. Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31                    Joe Flacco

48. Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8                            Malcolm Smith

49. New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24                Tom Brady

50. Denver Broncos 24, Carolina Panthers 10                         Von Miller


No team has been shut out in Super Bowl history, although two offenses have been shut out. The Redskins and Giants each scored their touchdowns on special teams in Super Bowls 7 and 35, respectively……Chuck Howley is the only Super Bowl MVP from a team that lost (SB 5)…..Only 8 defensive players have been Super Bowl MVP…..The NFL pays for the championship rings, up to $5,000 per ring…..The Vikings never had a lead in any of their 4 SB appearances…..The lowest halftime score was 2-0, a lead the Steelers took into the locker room in SB 9……Don Shula was the first coach to lose two SBs, losing SB 3 with the Colts and SB 6 with the Dolphins…..Steve Tisch, chaiman of the New York Giants, is the only person to win a Super Bowl ring and an Oscar (as producer of Forrest Gump.)…..

Interested in football history? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL. 

Thinking Out Loud: My 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

The Pro Football Hall of Fame represents the highest level of personal achievement a player can reach. Fans can submit votes for the 2015 class online here. You can select up to five players, plus the Senior Nominee. Below is whom I voted for, and why.

Mick Tingelhoff (Senior Nominee). Mick started at center for the Minnesota Vikings as a rookie in 1962. He played every single game for the Vikings through 1978. 240 consecutive games, plus playoffs and Super Bowls. An epic career. Really one of those guys who should have been in the Hall years ago. You can read Mick’s story in The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL, available from Amazon here.


Tim Brown. Brown didn’t lead the NFL in many receiving categories, leading in receptions only one season. Still, he had nine consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards. The tenth year of that stretch he had over 900. Also an exceptional punt and kick returner, he led the NFL for a season in each category. As a fan, I always regarded Brown as one of the most potent threats in the league for a long time. His induction is also overdue.


Don Coryell. An iconic coach. He unleashed offense like never before, making winners out of the lowly St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers. Dan Fouts made the Hall of Fame quarterbacking his offense. Louie Kelcher described Coryell as a player’s coach in The Game before the Money. While he didn’t make a Super Bowl, he took NFL offenses to the next level.

Charles Haley. Five Super Bowl rings. Although Bob Skoronski also won five championships and likely won’t (unfortunately) earn Hall honors as a lineman, Haley was a pronounced force on the defenses he played on. It’s no coincidence in this fan’s opinion that power in the NFC shifted from the 49ers to the Cowboys when Haley switched sides. He wasn’t quite the caliber of Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, or Bruce Smith as far as impacting games as a defensive player, but he was close. Certainly heads and shoulders above the majority of his peers.

Will Shields. Offensive linemen get the least amount of recognition with fans. You can’t argue with 12 Pro Bowl selections, however. Most players in the Hall have fewer, some nearly half as much. He and Tingelhoff are the most deserving members of this potential class, in my opinion.


Junior Seau. Very close call between him and John Lynch for my final vote. I just gave the nod to Junior just because I remember him affecting the outcomes of games more than Lynch. Both were one of the top players at their positions for a long time, and both deserve induction.


Kurt Warner. Warner is unquestionably a Hall of Famer in my opinion. Is he a first-ballot HOFer? Not so much. He took traditional losers to Super Bowls, but I didn’t think of him as one of the absolute best quarterbacks of his time like I thought of Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. I’m a huge Warner fan, but I’m waiting until next year.


Terrell Davis. A lot of great arguments for his induction, but I just don’t think he played long enough to warrant it. For whatever reason, my mind puts him at the exact same level as Billy Sims. A back who dominated the league for a short period of time. Bo Jackson is another guy that would certainly belong in the Hall had his career been longer.

Tony Dungy. Not really ready to include him yet. I would put Tom Flores in there first. Coryell. Dan Reeves. Marv Levy. Dungy’s a great man and an excellent coach, but I personally thought many of his teams underachieved in the playoffs. Maybe that’s not on him, but again, I think a few guys need to go in before him.


Jerry Kramer, who had crucial roles in two classic championship games: the 1962 NFL Championship chronicled here, and the legendary Ice Bowl (1967 NFL Championship).

Al Wistert. A perennially All-Pro on both offense AND defense. He anchored an Eagle defense that still owns the distinction of being the only team to shut out their opponents back-to-back times in the NFL Championship.


Ken Stabler. Really a head scratcher why he’s not in. One of the most recognizable players of the 1970s, and one of the guys who made the NFL what it was back then. He has great stats to back up his induction, plus a Super Bowl and regular trips to the playoffs in a time when the AFC sported the dominant Steelers and Dolphins. The Raiders were always in that mix. I like Ray Guy, but it’s very interesting to me how they put him in the Hall before Stabler. And for that matter, Cliff Branch.


A few more I’d like to see get in include, L.C. Greenwood, Harvey Martin, and a pair of Bronco linebackers, Randy Gradishar and Karl Mecklenburg. Mecklenburg’s been a semi-finalist the last few years, so perhaps his time is coming.


Who would you put into the Hall of Fame?



Classic NFL Games — 1962 NFL Championship — Second Half

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.


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.


“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.


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.”



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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Y.A.  Tittle Walking Off Field After Game



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.”


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.






Classic Games — The Ice Bowl (original broadcast)


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.


A Brief History Of — Controversial Calls in the NFL Playoffs

Disputes followed the Dallas Cowboys victory over the Detroit Lions in the 2014 NFC Wildcard. Fans from both teams point to missed penalties, Ndamukong Suh’s overturned suspension, and the dubious Picked-Up-Flag Gate (PUF Gate). We’ll examine PUF Gate first, then delve into other famous “no-calls” and “blown calls” in NFL playoff history.

When officials nullified the pass interference penalty on Anthony Hitchens in the Cowboys/Lions affair, Matthew Stafford screamed, “How does that get overturned?!!?” The on-field mics that caught Stafford’s displeasure give us clues to the answer. As a fan, getting to hear the on-field audio is a tremendous treat. I love that they mic players during games.

Cowboy defensive back Orlando Scandrick simply walked up to the official and said, “Hey, every single penalty tonight’s been on us.” And the ref picked up the flag. Now, it appears that the official might have been headed over to pick up the flag before Scandrick’s comment. We’ll guess that it took more convincing than Scandrick’s plea, but the question is, “Who convinced whom that the call should be overturned?”

Stafford got an explanation from an official on the sideline. Refs ruled that Hitchens didn’t touch the Lions Brandon Pettigrew before the ball arrived, and therefore no foul. Even Michael Strahan took offense, and narrated the replay on Fox’s post-game show.  Replays showed Hitchens grabbing Pettigrew’s jersey, a clear defensive holding call that got missed.

But football’s bigger than one play. The Lions didn’t help themselves by following the chaos with a 10-yard punt. The Cowboys scored the game-winning touchdown on the ensuing possession, even making a fourth down in the process.

The NFL, quite strangely, admitted to numerous missed calls in the game and confirmed the pass interference penalty should have stood. In unbiased journalistic mode, I’ll add that the league also admitted missing a bunch of penalties that should have been against the Lions.

The NFL rarely states things like this publicly, so it’s interesting to me that the league officially notated a myriad of officiating blunders. Below are a few other playoff plays that fans of certain teams would declare “blunders.” Since we started with last week’s wildcard game, we’ll even go round-by-round for ambiance.


The Packers and Colts faced off at Lambeau Field to determine who would play the Cleveland Browns in the 1965 NFL Championship. Johnny Unitas suffered a season-ending injury a few games before, and Bart Starr got knocked out of this game very early tackling Colts linebacker Don Shinnick. It ended up being Tom Matte quarterbacking the Colts, and Zeke Bratkowski leading the Pack. Green Bay lined up for a game-tying field goal late in the fourth. Don Chandler, who Vince Lombardi acquired specifically for situations like this, shanked the ball to a point where the nets behind the goal posts might not have caught it. But this was 1965, the goal posts were on the goal line, and the uprights didn’t stretch much higher than the crossbar. The ball maybe went directly over the upright, and in believing so, the refs called it good. The game went into overtime (the NFL’s second ever overtime game), and the Packers won 13-10.

Colt Tony Lorick describes his team’s frustration in The Game before the Money: “It seemed like it went high and over to the outside. We were clapping because it was no good.”

Packer Carroll Dale pointed out that we’ve all seen kicks that we thought looked good or no good, but the refs call it correctly from a different perspective. Bratkowski trumps everyone with his semi-famous comment: “I got a ring on my finger that says that kick was good.”

Whether the refs made the correct call or not, the game led to the NFL raising the height of the uprights by 10 feet for 1966. Colts head coach Don Shula called it the “Baltimore Extension.”


The Packers, however, aren’t always treated so well by the officials. The winning slant pattern for touchdown grab by Terrell Owens became legendary, but not so legendary is a clear fumble by Jerry Rice a few plays earlier. The Packers recovered the fumble, which would have pretty much ended the game in the Packers’ favor, but officials ruled Rice was down. The play would likely have been overturned by replay, but unluckily for Green Bay, the NFL decided to forgo replay reviews for one season.

My guess is that Rice got the Ted Williams treatment; the referees couldn’t imagine Rice fumbling in the fourth quarter, so they gave him the same benefit of the doubt umps gave Williams on balls and strikes. It’s even hard for me to believe Rice would fumble, and I vividly remember watching that game live on television.  In the video below, the play is around the 4:30 mark.


The Immaculate Reception. Is there a more famous play in NFL history? Furthermore, is there a more controversial play in NFL history? No one can even say with certainty that Franco Harris actually caught the ball. Add to it a bizarre rule that a ball couldn’t bounce off an offensive player into the hands of a teammate, and now you’ve got double the controversy. This play is so confusing that many fans believe it happened in an AFC Championship rather than the Divisional Playoffs. And, surprisingly to many, this win didn’t lead to a Steeler championship. The Dolphins beat them in the AFC Championship.

Raider Jack Tatum always claimed that the ball bounced off Steeler Frenchy Fuqua. Fuqua started to discuss the play with the media before a teammate stopped him mid-sentence. Art Rooney always said to “Keep it Immaculate,” and speak cryptically of the play to build its lore.

The camera angles will always keep it “Immaculate.” It’s almost if Arnold Zapruder were the camera man. The film leaves whether the ball touched the ground a mystery, just like the Zapruder Films leaves to mystery if there was a gunman behind the fence on the Grassy Knoll. Football’s a lot more fun to debate, however.


If there is a more famous and more controversial play in NFL history, it might be the touchdown pass from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson to win the 1975 NFC Divisional Playoff between the Cowboys and Vikings, know as the Hail Mary. Nate Wright, Paul Krause and generations of Vikings fans (including those born after 1975) will always contend Pearson committed offensive pass interference. Unsurprisingly, Cowboy fans shrug and say, “Hey, it’s football” or “The defender fell down.” Impossible to argue with those statements because it is football and the defender did fall down. Whether or not he was pushed down is another question entirely.

An earlier 4th and 16 play that coincidentally starred both Wright and Pearson adds to the plot, and many question whether Pearson legally caught that ball as well. I covered the game play-by-play in two earlier posts – the first half here and the storied second half here.


Elvin Bethea tells us that this is where all the talk about using replay started. On a crucial play that would have tied the game going into the fourth quarter, Mike Renfro catches a Dan Pastorini pass. Now, whether he landed both feet in bounds is the question, and the officials took a record amount of time discussing before making ANY sort of call. If this play truly is the seed of replay, there was no ruling on the field to stand. Or overturn.

Finally, the refs called it incomplete. Possibly because it had happened so long ago that they couldn’t remember it. We’ll give you some time to decide in this video.


The surprising Broncos were near the goal line at home in Mile High Stadium and threatening to score. The ball ended up on the ground, the Raiders falling on top of it. Bronco Rob Lytle never fumbled, however. At least that was the decision on the field. The Broncos punched it in the end zone, wound up winning by a field goal, and moved on to Super Bowl 12.

Controversy ensued. Sort of. John Madden will say, “Controversy? What Controversy? That was a fumble!”

Many Raider fans still curse the no-fumble call, but when I discussed the play with Raider Otis Sistrunk, he appears to have moved on, choosing to focus on happier Raider moments. “I don’t remember that play that well. I just know we lost against Denver when we should have beaten them….When you lose, you don’t remember much. I even forgot what the score was.”


 Super Bowl 13 remains one of my favorite NFL memories, and I wouldn’t call myself a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. The game had everything for an 8-year old child at the time. The biggest stars stood on that grand stage – Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Joe Greene, Tony Dorsett, L.C. Greenwood, Billy Joe DuPree, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Rayfield Wright – the list is amazing.

Many say this game decided who would rightfully claim the “Team of the Decade” title. Most analysts predicted a defensive struggle, but it turned out to be a high-scoring, tremendously exciting affair – just as John Brodie predicted in the pre-game show.

Super Bowl 13 produced so many memorable moments. Bradshaw fumbling and the Cowboys returning it for a touchdown. Rocky Bleier making a spectacular touchdown catch at the end of the first half. Cowboy Jackie Smith sitting all by himself in the end zone, only to drop a crucial score. The Steelers building a lead, and the fervent Cowboy comeback which included recovering an onside kick mishandled by a young Tony Dungy. The Steelers prevailed 35-31, but it was one of those games that it’s sad that somebody had to lose.

In the middle of the madness was a pass interference call against the Cowboys. Benny Barnes got tagged with flag covering Lynn Swann, giving the Steelers a valuable first down and putting them in striking distance for a score. Swann later did just that, putting the Steelers up by their biggest lead of the day.

The pass interference stirred immediate controversy, and many Cowboy fans still blame their loss on referee Fred Swearingen’s call. They contend Swann actually pushed Barnes down and should have been the one flagged. Others say it should’ve been a no-call. Tom Landry was blunt about it, “I don’t think it was a good call.” Barnes stated that he came close to punching Swearingen and questioned his impartialness, “Maybe he was for Pittsbugh,” Barnes said. Cowboy linebacker Thomas Henderson incredulously asked, “Who is that guy?” in classic Hollywood fashion.

Lynn Swann simply said, “My hands are clean.”

I’ll add that his clean hands sport four Super Bowl rings. Zeke Bratkowski would likely say that’s all the visual evidence you need.

Couldn’t find video of the pass interference call, but here’s the touchdown:


This is nowhere near a complete list (I hear you Seahawks fans!). Like The Best Running Backs I Remember and My Favorite Gamers, the list is based solely on my fading memory. Indeed, I started watching football at the end of the 1976 season, so I only saw the games from 1977 AFC Championship on. And like our friend Otis, I don’t remember that controversial play.

Remember IBM’s “You Make the Call?” What calls in NFL playoff history would you have made differently?

Legendary Insights — An Afternoon with Cotton Davidson


Saturday December 6th was a great day for fans at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame’s Lone Star Tailgate preceding the Baylor/Kansas State game at nearby McLane Stadium. Besides hearing live music and downing tasty barbeque, fans were treated to an opportunity to meet Baylor and NFL legend Cotton Davidson.

Cotton graciously greeted fans, including the rival Kansas State fans who sauntered in. He spun stories of his outstanding 12-year pro football career. Originally a first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Colts in 1954, Cotton lost his opportunity to be the Colts franchise quarterback before the 1955 season when the U.S. Army drafted him. Cotton claimed he didn’t do much in the service other than play football and baseball.

While Cotton marshalled Uncle Sam’s football squads, the Colts signed Johnny Unitas. Before Cotton returned to the Colts, Unitas cemented himself as a NFL star. Can you imagine Andrew Luck or Johnny Manziel drafted into military duty while the Colts and Browns found superstar quarterbacks, closing down their opportunities?

Such was the scenario between Davidson and Unitas. Cotton and Johnny U became roommates and good friends, and Cotton speaks nothing but praise for Unitas both as a quarterback and a person.

Lamar Hunt signed Cotton in 1960 to quarterback Hunt’s new startup – the Dallas Texans of the American Football League. Cotton played two seasons in Dallas before being traded to the Oakland Raiders. He and Tom Flores split time as the Raiders starting quarterback for several seasons, Cotton’s career came to a close in training camp entering the 1968 season, as a teammate injured Cotton’s shoulder. The Raiders subsequently traded for Daryle Lamonica, and Cotton’s career came to a close.

Many at Saturday’s event greeted Cotton as, “Coach.” Cotton served as an assistant under Baylor coaching icon Grant Taeff. Other attendees stated that their father or gra.ndfather played with Cotton.   The warm personal nature of those interactions underscores the fact that many of football’s best elements happen off the field. As Walt Garrison states at the beginning of The Game Before the Money, “When you leave, you got your friends and your memories. That’s it.”

An added surprise to Saturday’s fun was the presence of Louie Kelcher’s junior high school football coach. He spun a yarn about teaching Kelcher the importance of pressing on and refusing to quit. “Quit’s the worst word in the English language,” he said. He also noted that if you quit once, you’re in danger of turning quitting into a habit.

On Thursday, December 11, we were in Houston, Texas with Oiler greats Elvin Bethea and Garland Boyette. They traded stories about the old days and signed copies of The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL. We’ll recall that event in our next post.

NOTE: You can read both Cotton Davidson‘s and Louie Kelcher‘s stories, along with those of 40 NFL legends in The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL. AVAILABLE HERE

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