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Packers Players on Active Army Duty During the 1961 Season

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Green Bay Packers legend Boyd Dowler joins The Game before the Money Podcast and brings us into the Packers’ locker room with stories about winning 5 NFL championships under Vince Lombardi.

Green Bay Packers 1961 Season

Green Bay lost the opening game of the 1961 NFL season to the Detroit Lions. Ironically, the score of that game was 17 to 13, identical to the score of the 1960 NFL championship game. The Packers then won their next six games. Those wins weren’t nail biters either. The closest game was a 28-10 win over Minnesota. The other five wins were by at least 20 points. A couple of those wins were by more than 30 points. The Packers were coasting through the season.

Then, going into the first NFL week of November, Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, and Boyd Dowler needed to report to active duty in the U.S. Army.

Boyd Dowler Tells the Story

“We had three guys, me included, that were called up into the Army in the mid-season. Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, and I were all called up into the Army when they activated the Wisconsin National Guard unit to the 32nd Division. They activated the division and we were called in by the middle of the season.” – Boyd Dowler

Imagine that today. You have three starters from a team that played in the previous year’s NFL championship, called up into active army duty. Paul Hornung was the NFL’s points leader at the time. Boyd Dowler had back-to-back one hundred-yard receiving games going into November. Linebacker Ray Nitschke famously anchored that incredible Packers defense.

Vince Lombardi Calls in a Favor From President Kennedy

“Vince Lombardi got on the phone with President Kennedy and I would get a weekend pass every week to play. I would come back and play and then spend the week with the army. It worked pretty good, didn’t have any problems.” – Boyd Dowler in Episode 38 of The Game Before the Money Podcast

Dowler,Hornung, andNitschke could play in games on Sunday, but they would have to miss team practices while serving in the Army during the week.Hornung actually ended up missing a couple of games. Dowler andNitschke ended up playing in all of the Packers games.

But again, all three players missed practices during the week. That meant two of the most important Packers players on offense and one of the most important Packers on defense missed all the practice time with the team, in preparation for the games on Sunday. It may or may not have been a coincidence, but games got a lot closer for the Packers and they lost two of their remaining games. The team still won the West and qualified for the 1961 NFL championship game against the New York Giants at Lambeau Field, which was then called City Stadium.

President Kennedy gave his stamp of approval as Commander in Chief to make sure that Boyd Dowler, Paul Hornung, and Ray Nitschke could play in the NFL championship game. The president’s famous quote to the papers was, “Paul Hornung isn’t going to win the war on Sunday, but the football fans of this country deserve the two best teams on the field that day.” If you get a chance to watch the introductions to that game, the announcer states that Boyd Dowler is on furlough from the U.S. Army.

The 1961 NFL Championship Game

Dowler talked about the 1961 NFL championship game and his furlough on the podcast. “We got Christmas leave to come back for the championship game. I knowHornung had a big game.Nitschke had a good game and I caught a touchdown pass and played pretty well, too. So things were going pretty good….I didn’t miss a single game. You get to go back on the weekends, play football, and go to the championship game and win. Then you get out of the army in time to come back from training camp next year. Things are looking pretty good. Your life is going pretty good when you get all of those breaks at the same time.”

The Packers beat the Giants 37-0 in the 1961 NFL championship game. Dowler and Paul Hornung each tied for the second-most receptions for the Packers that day and each scored a touchdown in the win.

Dowler also booted a 64-yard punt for the Packers that day. That again illustrates what a great all-around athlete Boyd Dowler was. He could run with a track athlete speed. He was an excellent receiver, and he could even punt and throw.

The Giants and Packers also played against each other for the title the next year in the 1962 NFL Championship Game.

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