They came bundled in parkas and greatcoats and blankets and most of the 64,892 of them yelled "Beat Green Bay!" through the gelid afternoon. But in the end, making their way through the early dark and the swirling wind to the subway, they accepted a sad truth: this was still not the year.
For the truth, to New Yorkers, was just as bitter as the weather and just as evident: the Green Bay Packers are a better football team than the New York Giants. They won the NFL championship on a field better suited to ice hockey than to football. The atrocious conditions, however, had nothing much to do with the 16-7 score. In balmier weather the Packers might have won by a far healthier margin.
This is not to take anything away from the Giants. Shortly after the game had ended, Kyle Rote, the Giant offensive backfield coach who last year was New York's flanker back, said sadly, "I never before saw a team that tried so hard and lost."
He was right. This Giant team played superb football, but it made three mistakes. The first, an intercepted pass, almost resulted in a field goal. The next, a fumble in the second quarter, eventually led to the Packers' only touchdown of the ball game, a beautiful run by Fullback Jim Taylor, who stepped over and through a clutter of Giants to score from the seven standing up. Another fumble in the third quarter was converted by the Packers into a field goal. Green Bay, of course, played superb football, too, and it was guilty of only one egregious error—a blocked kick that gave the Giants their lone score of the day.
January 7, 1963
The two teams entered the game with oddly different attitudes. The Giants, still sensitive to the humiliation of their 37-0 defeat in Green Bay last year, played with fiery determination. The Packers, who went through the last three weeks of the season a tired, sleepwalking team, only began to come alive in the last four workouts before the championship game. But by the time they took the bus from the Hotel Manhattan to Yankee Stadium for the showdown, they were imbued with a furious professional determination to prove that the licking they had given the Giants a year ago was no fluke.
"We're a better ball club," said Hank Gremminger, one of the Packer safety men. "Look. It's cold as hell here right now. But my hands are sweating. I guess I'm like the rest of the guys. We're better. We'll show them. We're tired of reading about how they had an off day against us. I hope they have a real good day today."
The Giants did have a good day. Both teams were meticulously scouted. Long before the kickoff, Phil Bengtson, the defensive coach of the Packers, had a clear picture of the pattern of Quarterback Y. A. Tittle's play-calling. So, for that matter, did the Giant defensive coaches have a good idea of the plays Bart Starr likes to use under all conceivable circumstances.
The night before the game Bengtson, a tall, slim, dark man who is the genius of the Packer defense and who calls all the Packer defensive alignments from the sidelines, went over Tittle's preferences. The scene was Head Coach Vince Lombardi's "Five Thirty Club," which is not so much a club as an informal gathering of Packer friends, assistant coaches and wives for a convivial hour before dinner in Lombardi's hotel suite when the team is traveling. Quietly, under the hum of conversation, Bengtson said, "Tittle likes to throw on first down on the first series he calls. If the game is even, on the series after the first one, he is more apt to run. If he calls a running play and it gains, say, six or seven yards, he likes to come back with exactly the same play. If the first running play doesn't gain, you figure the first call a run, the next two passes.
"If he's got third and long yardage for a first down, he's more likely to throw to Frank Gifford or Joe Walton than he is to Del Shofner. He likes Shofner for the bomb—the long pass for a touchdown."
He stopped for a moment to collect his thoughts.
"Alex Webster's caught what? Forty-seven passes this year? And gained about 470 yards. That's because Tittle likes to keep him for a safety valve. He always knows where Webster will be. He'll keep Phil King in to block for him, then if everyone is covered, he'll look for Webster for the outlet. He hits Webster short behind the line. Shofner has caught only six more passes than Webster, but I'll bet he's gained twice as many yards, because Y.A. hits him deep." (Shofner caught 53 passes during the past season, gained 1,133 yards; and Webster did, in fact, catch 47, but gained only 477 yards.)
"He uses Webster for the tough yards, say, third and three or four," Bengtson went on. "We know that. It helps to know."
The Green Bay offense, just as carefully planned, was changed radically by the weather. Bart Starr, who must surely be the most underrated quarterback in football, had looked forward to a wide-open, gambling game. "We were too cautious late in the season," he said, after Green Bay had won. "But this is the one you point for all the way. In this one you should throw caution to the winds and go for the big one every time you think it's there. But you couldn't in this weather. They didn't have any surprises for us early in the game. They blitzed a lot in the beginning, but everyone has blitzed a lot since the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit and we were looking for it and we picked it up real good. But you couldn't take chances in that wind. You couldn't throw long because you weren't sure where the ball would go. We figured that the reverse, with Paul Hornung throwing, would go, but that's a pretty long pass, too, and he had to run most of the time when we called that. So the whole pattern of the offense was changed by the weather-mostly the wind."
For all the troubles the Packers had with the weather, the Giants had more. The gusty, fitful winds took away entirely one of the big guns of the New York attack—the long pass from Tittle to Shofner. Jesse Whittenton, the Green Bay defensive back who has done so well against Shofner in previous games, hurt himself early in this game; had Tittle been able to throw long, Shofner might have been able to get away for a touchdown or two.
"I busted up my ribs in the first quarter," Whittenton said after the game. ' "King had the ball on a sweep or a screen—I don't remember which—and I came up and got it in the side. I had figured to play Del tight, but after that I had to drop off him because I couldn't move around as good as usual. I had to give him the short one and I'm glad they couldn't throw the long one."
Shofner, as a result, had the best day he's had against Whittenton, his roommate when both were with the Los Angeles Rams. But it was not a good Shofner day—five passes caught, none of them behind Whittenton, for only 69 yards.
Whittenton's injury was one of several minor hurts that marked one of the most violent of all NFL championship games. Taylor, the Packers' wondrous fullback, was hit head on so enthusiastically early in the first quarter that he bit his tongue and for the rest of the game swallowed blood. This did not, as with less extraordinary men, curtail Taylor's talent for conversation. He is one of the most talkative as well as one of the most explosive backs in the game.
"He's a lippy guy," said Tom Scott, a Giant linebacker. "He takes it as a personal insult if you tackle him. He thinks the guy who hit him has challenged him and he just lets you know that the next time you try to stop him, he's going to make it hurt you."
Another injury, this one not incurred in the game, may have prevented a Packer touchdown late in the first quarter. After the Giants had moved down to the Packer 16 on one of their three offensive penetrations of the Packer 20-yard line during the afternoon, Ray Nitschke, coming in hard from his middle-linebacker position to harass Tittle, lifted an arm and deflected a pass which was picked off by Dan Currie, the Packers' left linebacker.
Currie started up field with an open route to the Giant goal and a covey of blockers. He ran well for some 30 yards, then began to stumble and meander like a drunken elephant and finally fell on the Packer 40-yard line with no enemy within shouting distance of him.
Currie was blocked two months ago by Tommy McDonald of the Eagles and his left knee was severely damaged. When that happened, he lay on the ground and alternately cursed McDonald and howled, "I'm finished!" He was not—luckily for the Packers—finished. But the knee is only good for some 30 yards of all-out running; after that it begins to give way.
"It started to wobble and I was wearing ripple-sole shoes and I couldn't keep my feet," Currie said. "If it had been a warm day and I'd had on cleats, I might have made it."
Green Bay's Nitschke, who recovered two fumbles in addition to deflecting Tittle's pass and was named the game's most valuable player, might have added an intercepted pass to his depredations on the Giants were it not for the cold. In the fourth period, with the Giants behind by nine points and driving forlornly for a meaningless touchdown, Nitschke dropped back to cover against the certain pass in a defense the Packers call the four-four walkaway—a defense designed purely to insure against a long throw for a touchdown. He leaped high and seemed to have a Tittle pass in his hands for an easy interception. Then he lost it. "My hands were so numb I couldn't feel the ball," Nitschke said later. "I should have had that one. On a warm day I would have."
One of those small things, seemingly of no consequence but which sometimes change the complexion of a football game, may have affected Nitschke's play on Sunday. Early in the week a story, probably apocryphal—certainly nobody seems to know where it came from or who wrote it—quoted Sam Huff, the Giant middle linebacker, as saying that Nitschke might, someday, be a pretty good middle linebacker if he ever got good coaching. Twitted unmercifully by his teammates, Nitschke set out to prove that he was, indeed, a good man on defense. He was a better one than Sam Huff in this game.
The Giant offense has not, in two championship games, scored on the Green Bay defense. The seven points the Giants got Sunday were scored by their special punt return unit. Erich Barnes, a marvelously quick defensive back, rushed in from the left side of the Giant line to block a kick by Green Bay's Max McGee. It was recovered for a touchdown by Jim Collier, an anonymous member of the club who performs only on special units.
"It was dangerous," Barnes said later. "When I go in like that, I'm exposing my area to a pass. [Most unlikely, since the Packers were punting from deep within their own territory.] If I block it, I'm golden. If they fake and pass—well, I'd rather not discuss that possibility. It's a judgment thing and you have to decide quickly. I saw Lew Carpenter line up tight and I felt I could go. No one touched me. It was that simple. I just ran in and blocked it. But I could have been burned." If he hadn't charged, New York would have gone blank.
Even so, this game was nothing like the 37-0 rout last year in Green Bay. "Our defensive line," said Rosey Grier, the massive Giant tackle, "made a much-improved stand because we knew their offense the second time around. They don't do anything any different from anyone else in the league but they do it so well. They execute so much better than any club in the league. They'll run a play through the same hole four or five different ways with that many different blocking angles. I changed up from last year. I used to look at their backs and key on them and I was chasing all around after the fakes. This time I concentrated on the linemen in front of me and I was in better position. When they came back with the counters, all I had to do was reach out an arm. When Taylor cut back, there we were in a nice tight bunch to fall on him."
Taylor, speaking with difficulty because of his cut-up tongue and mouth, agreed. He hobbled painfully out of the shower in the Green Bay dressing room.
"This was the toughest," he said. "I can't remember getting hit as hard before. They came to play,"
Bill Quinlan, the fine Green Bay defensive end, thought it was a rough game, too. Long after play had ended, he sat shivering in front of his locker in the dressing room. A well-wisher tenderly pulled a bandage from his right shoulder while Quinlan, who played with reckless abandon, winced and complained. "I never played under worse conditions," he said. "The wind cut you in two. And they came at us all day." The Giants had, certainly, come at Quinlan with a vengeance. They seemed to be taking a leaf from Lombardi's book: "Beat your opponent where he is strongest and you demoralize him."
Partly because of the weather and often because Coach Allie Sherman and his players wanted to prove that they could whip the Packers where the Packers are best, the Giants ran against the right side of the Packer line—Henry Jordan at right tackle and Quinlan at right end. It was the Giants' misfortune that they did not succeed. Jordan and Quinlan played heroically, and the Packer linebackers—Nitschke, Currie and Bill Forester—were, as they have been all year, the best in the league.
Rote pointed that out. "The Packers won because they have a fine offense and a great line," he said. "But most of all, they have three magnificent linebackers. When Tittle seemed to have them safely committed in one direction, they still were able to adjust and come back to break up the play."
"The backers and the line even made Y. A. change his delivery," said Sherman. "They are so tall they obscured Tittle's targets and blocked the path of the ball. Y. A. had to change to a side-arm delivery and that hurt his accuracy."
After everyone else had gone home, Allie Sherman said his farewell.
"They gave everything they had," he said. "We weren't humiliated. There was no humiliation this year."
There wasn't. The Giants were good. Green Bay simply was better.