The NFL has had its great football teams, yet none match the history and the tradition of the Green Bay Packers. The largest contingent of respectful fans throughout the nation follow this team religiously whenever the Packers play an away game. What about when they play at home??
There is a richness and a tradition for the current Green Bay Packers to benefit and draw strength that they’re playing on the same field that Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor ran to daylight. Dan Colledge, Clifton, Bulaga and the offensive line know that they are on the same field as Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Fuzzy Thurston, Jerry Kramer, Bob Skoronski, and later Bill Curry. Aaron Rodgers playing where Brett Favre and Bart Starr forged championship drives on the same field. Then for Mike McCarthy to walk the same sidelines of the legendary Vince Lombardi. How can they not feel that sense of history. The mystique in just being there has to be has to course through every player and coach who walk that sideline.
So today we bring you one of the legendary days in Lambeau Field’s history. The first ever championship game played at City Stadium (Lambeau’s former name) for the 1961 NFL Championship against the New York Giants.
These were two legendary teams. The Packers were on the rise having repeated as Western Conference Champions. In 1960, the Packers came up 9 yards short of a winning touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL Title Game. The Giants were in the midst of an 8 year stretch where they played for the NFL Championship on 6 occasions. They had traded for Y. A. Tittle to bring more life to the offense that year but lets face it when you talk about the Giants of that era, you’re talking about defense….I’m sorry I meant D-Fence!!
The Giants rise to prominence began in the 1956 season when the Giants muscled their way to the NFL Championship Game where they mauled the Chicago Bears 47-7 in a repeat of the famous “sneakers game” from 1934. To gain footing on a frozen field, the Giants switched to tennis shoes to gain a clear advantage over Chicago. In ’34 the Giants prevailed to stop the first ever undefeated NFL team. Bears came into the contest 12-0.
In ’56 a national televised audience (first for a championship) witnessed the birth of a dynasty. Tom Landry’s defense was relentless that day. Vince Lombardi’s offense was crisp in its execution and Alex Webster and Frank Gifford ran to daylight behind devastating blocking….huh? What am I talking about??
Well the New York Giants were coached by Jim Lee Howell but the offensive and defensive co-ordinators were Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry respectively. They departed after the 1958 and 1959 seasons to head their own teams in Green Bay and Dallas.
Now there was word that Vince Lombardi had a chance to be Howell’s successor in New York, yet there were grumblings that a Catholic would not be accepted as a head coach. Yes, prejudice reared it’s ugly head. However the Packers came calling and Lombardi went up to Green Bay to mold a team in his own image. One just like what ran over the Chicago Bears back in that 1956 Title Game. After a 7-5-2 1st season in 1959, the Giants changed their mind and wanted Lombardi to come back to New York as head coach. The Packers organization stood steadfast on their contract with Lombardi and wanted him to finish what he started. Could he ever…
So following the 1961 season, Lombardi had his second shot at an NFL Championship and against who?? You gotta be kiddin’ me?? He must have had the boys practicing tough leading up to this game because ….well take a look for yourself. In it’s entirety as it was broadcast to the world on December 31st, 1961. Yes we even have commercials in this…sit back and enjoy the first half…
What’s beautiful when you think of it, the Lombardi Packers finished their championships in 1967 with the famous Ice Bowl over Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys also at Lambeau. So he got to best New York at Lambeau and his former counterpart assistant coach in Landry also at Lambeau. Talk about full circle.
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My brother and I were at this game in 1961, I was 11, he was 10. We were on the 50 yd line about 10 rows up, great seats. My mother and future step father gave us the tickets, why because of the cold weather. I lived only 3 doors from linebacker Dave (Hawg) Hanner. We were considered poor in those days. Professional football players did not make very much money. I think Paul Hornung was paid around $20,000. The thing I remember the most was the crowd yelling “Sam Huff the Cream Puff”. I also have memories of a special sound, the noise of gloves and /or mittens trying to applaud and not able too. They owned the Giants. Reading Maraniss’s book on Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered”, Lombardi is quoted as saying he pulled back on his offense, not wanting to run up the score. He wasn’t talking to Maraniss of course.
Lombardi was close to the New York Giant organization because he used to be their Offensive Coach a few years previous. As kids we played football constantly. Our football was a old Duke Football, a ball one of us got from the trainer after the bumps wore off. After joining with the AFL the NFL changed to a new model football. Still called The Duke it had a smaller circumference than the one played with in the 1961 game. It was a real bastard to pass and catch with my 11 year old hands because of its shape. Big around the middle, it used to sprain my fingers all the time trying to catch tumbling punts. I could-da been a contender if we had not moved to Milwaukee when I was fifteen.
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I remember the old “Duke” football. Wow… appreciate the comment. Hell of an important game you were able to attend. Lombardi’s first championship. Thanks
Gave me chills as I read this….What a time to have been involved with professional football! Experiencing & living in a legion was awesome.
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Barbara, hope u got to watch the game also on the blog