An Overshadowed Classic: The 1966 NFL Championship Game

When you look back at the rich history of the Green Bay Packers, we focus squarely on the Lombardi era teams that won 5 NFL championships in the 1960’s. While the most iconic of these championships was The Ice Bowl for the 1967 title, a more gripping affair in the classic sense took place for the 1966 crown. While every championship has its importance this was the 2nd in a row which set the Packers up for the chance at winning 3 straight.

Bart Starr standing amidst a charging George Andrie (66) Bob Lilly (74) and the late Willie Townes (71) attempting a pass.

With the merger between the NFL and the AFL signed, each league would send their champion to play in a world championship game called the Super Bowl. While the sporting press sided with the traditionalist NFL there were revolutionaries who sided with the new guard if you will. The American Football League was established in 1959 and began play in 1960.

The new league had a flashier style of play and took to the air in a way that aside from the Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas, the rest of the NFL and traditionalists scoffed at. It was 3 yards and a cloud of dust over here. Evidenced by the perennial champion Packers’ signature play… the power sweep. If I were to tell you to close your eyes and picture the Lombardi Packers, the image of Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston leading either Jim Taylor of Paul Hornung would come to mind vividly.

The founder of the AFL was Lamar Hunt of Hunt Bros. Oil and a Dallas, Texas resident. He had been thwarted in an attempt to buy the St Louis Cardinals a decade previous and wasn’t taken seriously when asked about NFL expansion to Dallas. So once he started the American Football League with his Dallas Texans as a flagship team (now the Kansas City Chiefs), the NFL scrambled and put a team down in Dallas which was then named the Cowboys. Each began play in the 1960 season.

Over the next few years the AFL and NFL waged war for the top college athletes. The Cowboys took several seasons to learn how to win under the guidance of Head Coach Tom Landry. Yet in spirit because they had been borne out of expansion and were the new kids on the block, the Cowboys were AFL kindred spirits residing in the NFL. They had a new way of scouting and evaluating talent much like the AFL and although Coach Landry had been the defensive coach (the term coordinator didnt’ exist until 1967) for the New York Giants in the 1950’s, he pioneered several offensive formations and sets to undo the 4-3 he brought into prominence a decade earlier.

It took a few years to gain footing however Landry finally had a team that could challenge for the NFL Championship by the ’66 season. He would take on his old nemesis Vince Lombardi in The Cotton Bowl to decide who would go on to play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I.

Why was Lombardi a nemesis?? Lombardi was the Offensive Coach (Coordinator) of the New York Giants in the 1950’s before moving on to Green Bay. His offense used to sharpen Landry’s defense and vice versa for a great Giants team.

Another side note to this iconic championship it was Dallas’ Tex Schramm who stepped across league lines with Lamar Hunt to discuss the merger in the 1st place. It happened at Love Field and they met at the Texas Ranger Statue. So not only were the establishment Packers going to Dallas for the championship, they wanted to give the traitorous Cowboys their comeuppance. When you think of the city of Dallas from a national perspective, keep in mind we are only 3 years removed from JFK’s assassination there….and Lombardi was a Kennedy Democrat

Into this cauldron Lombardi and his team stepped…

With Tom Brown’s desperation last second interception to conclude the ’66 NFL Championship, the Packers survived and were off to Los Angeles for Super Bowl I. Tom Landry would go on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest coaches in history. His team wasn’t ready to carry the mantle of league champion yet but they would come back to win Super Bowl VI as the 1st of Landry’s 2 championships.

It was Vince Lombardi’s team who defended their ’65 NFL championship’65 NFL championship and would go on to win Super Bowl I. There they would defeat Kansas City to win their 4th overall league title. Now looking back they had to actually beat two upstarts to win it all originating from the city of Dallas to crown themselves as Team of the 60’s. This would be the last with the Hall of Fame backfield duo of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. It was quiet Bart Starr who elevated his play with a record 4 TD passes in he win down in Dallas. Out in L.A. he was even better carving up the Chiefs to win the 1st MVP of the very 1st Super Bowl.

Super Bowl I Trophy sits in the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.

Another championship loomed in 1967 but it was the prime time finish of the ’66 championship at night that pushed the Packers into NFL lore.

As for the trophy won out in Los Angeles, The Chancellor visited it in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame just two weeks ago.

Today this rivalry renews as the Packers are down in Dallas to take on the Cowboys in Jerry World. Hopefully this look back helps in explaining the rivalry began here which will enrich The Ice Bowl memories created a year later.

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Keep in mind we’re still campaigning to assist Jerry Kramer to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and you can help. Lend your thoughts as well by writing in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the address below. Please be respectful and positively lend your voice:

Please write & nominate #64
Send letters to:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Attention Senior Selection Committee
2121 George Halas Dr NW, Canton, 
OH 44708

 

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SUPER BOWL II CHAMPION 1967 GREEN BAY PACKERS & The Ghost of Vince Lombardi

To threepeat or 3 NFL Championships in a row…only time it’s been done in the modern era…19651966-1967…concluded with Super Bowl II win over the Oakland Raiders 33-14 and included the legendary ICE Bowl win over Dallas in the NFL Championship game 21-17. Legendary teams do legendary things! Can you imagine playing football in -15*F and wind chill near -50*F in 1960s fabrics?? Yikes but that’s what made the difference between Lombardi’s Packers and Dallas during that game. I can’t remember a famous last minute drive under similar conditions. I mean “The Drive” of Elway fame, Cleveland v. Denver in 1986, took place in a balmy 12 degrees.

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Super Bowl II was the final of 3 NFL championships in a row. Hence the 3 large diamonds.

But wow, three championships in a row! Vince Lombardi IS a football God and he kept teams from equaling that feat. Look at the strange circumstances that surrounded others trying to equal it…its Lombardi I tell ya’

1. Early 70s Dolphins after winning Super Bowls 7 & 8, loses to the Oakland Raiders in the famous Sea of Hands play in ’74 playoffs…Divine intervention? Go watch that play and you’ll see that the Dolphins had 2 backups trying to cover the throw from Ken Stabler to Clarence Davis…the Dolphins lost two DBs in the second half of that game and also gave up a bomb to Cliff Branch in the 4th quarter also…not saying Lombardi did it…but he had a hand in it…

2. Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowls 9 & 10 come into ’76 primed to duplicate. Long story short…Pittsburgh overcomes a bad start and in winning their last 9 games while only giving up 28 pts including 5 shutouts. Both Rocky Bleier AND Franco Harris rushed for 1,000 yds that season with Bradshaw injured.

Finally healthy they light up Baltimore 40-14 in the divisional playoff (only AFC playoff pt total that high in the 70s) and lose BOTH Franco and Rocky in that game? Really?? Without either RB able to play the next week, they lose to the Raiders in AFC title game 24-7. I’m tellin’ you…Lombardi has something to do with all these strange circumstances…

super bowl ii23. Oh those wonderful 49ers of late 80s lore. Won back to back in Super Bowls 23 and 24, started 1990 10-0 and went on to go 14-2 and host their old protagonist, the New York Giants in the NFC Championship. Now yes, Leonard Marshall knocked Joe Montana from the game…but leading 13-12 and running out the clock, dependable Roger Craig loses the ball, squirting out behind him without really being hit? WTH? Giants recover and make last second field goal to escape 15-13: I can’t make this up!! Ghost of Lombardi and another strange circumstance…

4. The boisterous Dallas Cowboys of Super Bowls 27 and 28, and fairly healthy yet without Jimmy Johnson are coming to San Fran for the ’94 NFC Championship, were geared up for this battle. OK, Emmitt Smith was nursing a hamstring injury. Including the playoff game with the Packers, the week before, the Cowboys had only turned the ball over 20 times all year!! ALLYEAR!!

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Jerry Kramer’s ring last week 9/23/17 in Green Bay

Wouldn’t you know they turned it over 3 times in 5 minutes and were out of it 21-0 after 7 minutes of play on their way to losing 38-28…so Emmitt’s hamstring had nothin’ to do with it! LOL. This represented the first time in NFL/NFC championship history that a team was down 21-0 in the 1st quarter. That is a span from 1933-1994!! 61 yrs that hadn’t happened. Off in the distance you can hear Lombardi’s ghost chuckling…

super bowl ii35. Then you had the steady Denver Broncos who won Super Bowls 32 and 33, over the Packers and Falcons respectively. With an opportunistic defense, John Elway with Terrell Davis (the 2000 yd rusher in 1998) was the engine that made that team go.

With the specter of a possible three-peat looming, Elway decided to retire. Shanahan whom many thought would start Bubby Brister the veteran over 2nd year player Brian Griese… a total brain freeze where Lombardi must have “clouded his judgment.” LOL So what happened…? Enter 1999, the Broncos struggled out of the gate 0-2 when Griese threw an interception against the Jets in week 3, Terrell Davis blew out his knee while making the tackle.

Now the two most indispensable Broncos: Davis and Elway were gone and the 0-3 record doomed the season… In a more ironic twist, tackle Mark Lepsis was a backup tackle in ’98, was the first to help Davis off the ground when he crossed 2,000 yards. It was he who fell on Davis in ’99 blowing out his knee on exactly the same spot on the field. Ah, that Lombardi…can almost hear his voice now “What the hell is goin’ on out here?”

super-bowl-logo-1967Now someone may ask “what about the 78-79 Steelers or the ’03-’04 New England Patriots?” Well let’s just say Lombardi’s intervention wasn’t necessary. The ’80 Steelers were swept by perennial division rival doormat Cincinnati, which gave the Browns the division title knocking Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. Hmmm maybe Vince was busy.

The Patriots just seemed to run out of gas in their playoff run. All strange circumstances of Green Bay’s 3 championships about to be equaled and goofy, weird circumstances kept it from happening EACH time. If you listen closely, off in the distance, you can hear Vince laughing.

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SUPER BOWL I CHAMPION 1966 GREEN BAY PACKERS

War of the Worlds… The first meeting of champions from both the upstart American Football League, and the established National Football League took place on January 15, 1967 in Los Angeles. NFL Films called it “Spectacle of a Sport” and it was when you think about it. Separate leagues, separate television contracts, and even different balls made the two leagues as different as night and day. The AFL was the league that went for 2 pt conversions and had the names of the players on the back of the jersey where the more established NFL was more conservative by nature.

Even the Super Bowl trophy was new as Pete Rozelle commissioned a new trophy produced every year. Up until that point the championship trophy rotated to the winning organization for that year. So the NFL trophy that made the rounds stayed in Green Bay at the conclusion of the 1965 season when the Packers dethroned the defending champion Cleveland Browns 23-12.

4654756ringDid you know the LA Coliseum for Super Bowl I had over 15,000 empty seats? The game was broadcast on 2 networks….well kinda…lol Pete Rozelle and the NFL had the main CBS feed and microphone, where the AFL’s NBC just gave a commentary over the video supplied by CBS for their broadcast. So after the game, commentators for both networks were fighting over the INDIVIDUAL locker room microphone after the game when it was time for the trophy presentation and subsequent interview of Vince Lombardi. That is nuts…

How far had the AFL come in the 6 years since its inception? The Chiefs were behind only 14-10 after a 1st half where the Chiefs held their own however the game changed on a Willie Wood interception in the 3rd quarter, running it back to the Chief 5. A few touchdowns later and the Packers were on cruise control 35-10 which was the final.

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Super Bowl I Trophy sits in the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.

In my opinion, this was the best of the Green Bay champions of the 1960s. They were more diverse than previous champions and the mixture of young talent with the veterans made for a lethal combination. The exact peak where veteran savvy and physical ability meet before aging would slow the Packer machine. You still had Jim Taylor as the bludgeoning fullback where at halfback Elijah Pitts along with rookie Donny Anderson supplemented aging Paul Hornung. Bart Starr was now the chief QB in the league who threw for 4TDs in the ’66 NFL title game against Dallas and 2 more against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl which doesn’t include a 64 yd TD strike to Carroll Dale that was called back. What 3 yards and a cloud of dust? This team wasn’t just running sweeps anymore.

Speaking of sweeps: Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Bill Curry, Fuzzy Thurston (always loved that name), and Bob Skoronski were still supplying those holes and were the essence of the Packers. They beat you on the line of scrimmage…that plain and simple. Forrest Gregg went on to win a 3rd ring with the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI and coached the Cincinnati Bengals to Super Bowl XVI. Kramer became the voice of that team thru a series of bestselling books. Curry went on to play in 2 more Super Bowls with the Baltimore Colts and coached at the University of Alabama as well.

Thurman SuperBowl XXV 233These men paved the way for many a 1,000 yd rusher in the 60’s. TE Marv Fleming has to be added to the mix since TEs had to block back then. Fleming replaced Ron Kramer as Starr’s short pass option over the middle. He would go on to play in 5 of the first 8 Super Bowls (3 with Miami) becoming the first man to win 4 rings (the Charles Haley of his day). Carroll Dale, Boyd Dowler, and “out all night” Max McGhee were steady, heady receivers. Max went on to enjoy success in the restaurant business… Chi Chi’s I believe.

Again…winning on the line was the name of the game with the Packers when it came to defense: Willie Davis, Ron Kostelnik, the late Henry Jordan, and the late Lionel Aldridge were draped on Len Dawson in the second half of Super Bowl I like a tailored suit. They were a veteran group that did its main job of stopping the run, and in a 4-3 defense, keep blockers off of the MLB. Since the late Ray Nitschke skated into the Hall of Fame, I think it’s fair to say they did it well. How many highlights do you see Nitschke making plays tackle to tackle? Tons. Texan Lee Roy Caffey and Hall of Famer Dave Robinson were solid at outside linebacker. Robinson along with Bobby Bell were the prototype to the modern outside linebacker with their size and range when the league brought in the Robert Braziles, Clay Matthews, Lawrence Taylors and Ricky Jacksons in the 80’s.

super-bowl-logo-1966The late Bob Jeter, former USC quarterback turned safety Hall of Famer Willie Wood, Tom Brown, and Hall of Famer Herb Adderley (converted RB from Michigan State) was simply the best defensive backfield in football…maybe football history. Who could read a QB better than a former QB? When it came to athletes Adderley in his heyday was Deion Sanders without the flash. Adderley won another ring in Super Bowl II with the Packers then would go on to play in 2 more Super Bowls with Dallas, winning in Super Bowl VI along with Forrest Gregg. However Adderley was still a starter and blanketed Hall of Famer Paul Warfield, of Miami, in that game some 5 yrs later.

Another look at this team tells you another story. Lombardi coached at a time when it was expressed Italians / Catholics weren’t viewed as football coaches. See how he didn’t get the job to replace Jim Lee Howell in New York originally. This is at a time where would be voted President back in the late 50’s. I bring this up because as you look up the racial make up for most teams in the 60’s, the Packers more than any team did more for diversity and breaking quotas than any other team. At least in the NFL. This group was champion a few years before the 1969 Chiefs who became the first team to win it all with minorities comprising more than half their roster.

Yet Lombardi had black linebackers and safeties on his defense or in the “thinking man spots” that wasn’t prevalent in the 1960’s NFL.

Lombardi had a lot to do with that obviously and they were constant champions. Not 3 in 4 yrs, not 2 Super Bowls in a row, not 4 Super Bowls won in a decade. They won half (FIVE) of the decades championships, there must have been suicidal Bears fans everywhere in the 60s.

Aside from football X’s and O’s this football team will never be forgotten.

Vincent T. Lombardi – Growing Up Lombardi & The 1965 NFL Championship Season

Vince Lombardi carried off the field by Jerry Kramer at the end of Super Bowl II

Vince Lombardi carried off the field by Jerry Kramer at the end of Super Bowl II

When the NFL talks about winning coaches, one name towers above all others…Vince Lombardi. He was a leader of men and motivated the Green Bay Packers to great heights in the 1960’s. His team won half the NFL championships of the 1960’s while appearing in 6 total. No team has won more than four in a decade in the modern era. Yet when folks talk about a three-peat, everyone keeps forgetting Lombardi and his Packers achieved this feat.

Think about that for a second… Chuck Noll would have had to take the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers to two more Super Bowls to equal that feat. Yet there is debate on who was the greater team. You have to give the edge to Green Bay because they did win three in a row. When they say no one has achieved this in the Super Bowl era, that isn’t entirely true.

The two that concluded this 3 year period were victories in Super Bowl I & II. Yet there is one season that seems to go overlooked of the Lombardi Packers…the 1965 NFL Championship team.

The 1961 Packers were known for Lombardi’s first championship. It’s the 1962 team that was remembered as Lombardi’s greatest and strongest team. Only a Thanksgiving Day ambush 26-14 loss to the Lions kept them from going undefeated. They were 13-1 while outscoring the opposition 415-148 while repeating as champions. Of course his ’66 squad won the first Super Bowl and the ’67 team was known for winning The Ice Bowl then Lombardi’s last game, Super Bowl II.

However when you go back to 1965, the Green Bay Packers were trying to re-establish themselves among the NFL elite. They had a chance to win 3 in a row after ’61 & ’62, however Paul Hornung’s season long suspension for gambling short circuited that effort. After watching the Bears and Colts win their conference in 1963 and 1964, the Packers were back to contend.  However there was a new bully on the block. The Cleveland Browns powered by Jim Brown had won it all in 1964, and were looking to repeat in 1965 to take their place among greatest league champions.

In their 23-12 victory over Cleveland, the Packers not only ended Jim Brown’s playing career on a down note, they would be the last to hold the rotating NFL trophy that moved from champion to champion. The following year was the first to be played under the merger agreement and the Tiffany Company started to produce a Super Bowl Trophy every year. Lombardi had driven his team back to prominence where they would sit atop the football world for three years. They had unseated a reigning champion to do it. That can’t be underscored.

After winning 99 games in 9 years, 6 conference championships, and five world championships, how does one follow that type of success?? Most of the Packers players had mainly played for Vince Lombardi and were used to his demanding, driving spirit. Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston, Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, and Herb Adderley had all grown up Lombardi. Now as we look back should they have replaced the Green Bay legend with a coach that was similar in temperament??

Vince Lombardi will always be seen as the gold standard when it comes to NFL coaches. One unique aspects of his tenure and times are the broken stereotypes that were forged through his career. It was thought of at the time he wouldn’t become a head coach or be successful because of his Italian and Catholic roots. It was one of the reasons he didn’t succeed New York Giant Head Coach Jim Lee Howell, whom he served as Offensive Coordinator during the championship years 1956-1958. Only once he was hired and successful in Green Bay did they try to lure him back. Ironically he beat the Giants for his first two championships. Prejudice is bad for business.

Furthermore the NFL during that time was one where black players were unable to play the “thinking” positions on defense such as linebacker or safety. There had to be a sensitivity to that plight because of the stigmas Lombardi himself faced. Although Willie Wood was unable to play quarterback in the pros, he went on to be an 8 time Pro bowl participant and became a Hall of Fame player. The same for Linebacker Dave Robinson, who was just elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past February.

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Ryan and The Chancellor at Vince Lombardi’s statue outside Lambeau Field 9/21/17.

One reason his legend has become so large is he passed away in 1970, just 3 seasons removed from coaching his great Packer teams. This leads to several question. He coached the Washington Redskins to a 7-5-2 record in his only season of 1969. Ironically his first season in Green Bay was 7-5 in 1959.

  • Would he have completed the rebuild of the Washington Redskins?? Remember they did play in Super Bowl VII just 3 years later.
  • Would his legend have been damaged had he only a  moderately successful career had he lived longer and coached the Redskins into the mid 1970’s??
  • If he had gone back to New York and coached the Giants in 1960 would he have been as successful as he went on to become in Green Bay??
Green Bay Packers 1965 NFL Championship Ring

Green Bay Packers 1965 NFL Championship Ring

After his passing in September of 1970, the NFL decided to name the Super Bowl Trophy in his honor.  In such a condensed time of 9 years, his teams won 5 championships. Don Shula, the NFL’s all time winningest coach won 2 in 33 years. Tom Landry won 2 in 29 years. All time greatest coach in NFL history?? You better believe it. Of all his great teams, it’s the 1965 team that seems to be forgotten. After all they were the first in the only successful three-peat in NFL history won on the field, and is the chief reason he’s immortalized.

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Adderley