There is nothing seriously wrong with the Green Bay Packers, the football champions of the world, that Coach Vince Lombardi cannot correct by scowling a few times. But, almost brutally, an inspired and remarkably accomplished band of College All-Stars (graduates who will be pro rookies this year) managed to convince a lot of disbelievers of at least one important Lombardi dictum last week: the Packers have problems. The Stars slung Green Bay 20-17 in humid Chicago's Soldier Field—and they might easily have won by more.
Before the game, as the Packers toiled away at their training camp at St. Norbert College near Green Bay, Wis. Lombardi had looked troubled and mentioned, mostly to giggling skeptics, a trio of crises facing his 1963 team. In order of anguish, they were 1) complacency, the disease that can creep up on all winners; 2) the absence of Halfback Paul Hornung, suspended for a year for betting; and 3) the permanent loss of Defensive End Bill Quinlan, who had been traded away. What made Lombardi's apprehensions just a bit difficult to believe were the Packers themselves. They had enjoyed a good camp. Indeed, before their almost fatal run-in with the pro rookies, they were said to be ahead of their schedule of previous years.
In one scrimmage, when Reserve Tackle Ron Kostelnik was injured, 12-year veteran Dave Hanner and All-Pro Tackle Henry Jordan burst from the sideline and had a footrace to see who would replace him. Later, Linebacker Ray Nitschke and Center Jim Ringo engaged in a one-on-one, you-and-me drill that rattled beer mugs in downtown Green Bay. First, Ringo flattened Nitschke. Then Nitschke trampled Ringo and smothered the runner, All-League Fullback Jim Taylor. The Packers seemed both trim and eager. Moreover, they could even joke about the loss of Hornung.
It was Fred Thurston, the guard who joins Ringo and Guard Jerry Kramer to give Green Bay one of pro football's alltime offensive middles, who got up at an evening meal at St. Norbert and announced that he wished to dedicate a song. "Wherever you are, Paul, life goes on here as usual," he chirped tunefully. The swollen laughter that followed was proof enough to all, except possibly Lombardi, that the Packers were not only mechanically secure—they had the strong running bench of Tom Moore, Earl Gros and Elijah Pitts to replace Hornung—but that they were able to take Hornung's loss cheerfully.
As Quarterback Bart Starr argued: "Sentimentally, we miss him very much, but we've won before without him and we can do it again."
The Packers' third problem, finding a new defensive end, was the most technical, but it also seemed to be the easiest solved. From the Los Angeles Rams, Lombardi got 270-pound Urban Henry, who looked delighted with his change of address. Pushing Henry was Rookie Lionel Aldridge from Utah State, and soon there would be their No. 1 draft choice, Penn State's aggressive Dave Robinson. In the minds of most Packers there was really very little to worry about. Then came Chicago and the College All-Stars. Complacency may not be a problem with Green Bay anymore.
Stars of the Stars
It is unlikely that any All-Star squad in the game's 30-year history had more talent in the line from the standpoints of size, speed and mobility than the one the Packers met. As a package, it was also the most expensive, for the pros had paid some staggering prices for rookies such as Ed Budde (6 feet 5, 260, Michigan State), Jim Dunaway (6 feet 4, 254, Mississippi), Bobby Bell (6 feet 4½, 220, Minnesota), Dave Behrman (6 feet 4½, 265, Michigan State), Junious Buchanan (6 feet 6, 270, Grambling), Bob Vogel (6 feet 5, 240, Ohio State) and Chuck Sieminski (6 feet 5, 255, Penn State). What these collegians did was handle the Packers in an area where they have seldom been handled before—the line. At times, this vintage crop of graduates almost ate up the Packers, blocking viciously on offense, tackling as though they had just been introduced to this marvelous pastime. So tough was the collegiate line that Coach Otto Graham's Stars outgained the Packers and ran the ball on 35 ground plays to Green Bay's 25, a telling statistic.
The prideful rookies, led offensively in the line by Budde, Behrman, Vogel and Don Chuy of Clemson, swept away the Green Bay defenses and cleared paths for a wrath of driving, stylish backs, the best of whom were Washington's Charlie Mitchell, Nebraska's Bill Thornton and Southern Cal's Ben Wilson. Under the whip of the continuingly exciting passing arm of Wisconsin's Ron VanderKelen (nine of 11 completions), the collegians refused to be awed by the Packers and even had the disrespect to shove the game out of reach, 20-10, before Green Bay could mount a sustained drive. The winning margin came on another of those VanderKelen-to-Pat Richter passing gems that Wisconsin rooters admired so much last year, particularly in the Rose Bowl. This was a risky flat pass, designed to get the Stars a mere first down, but it turned into a thunderbolt when the Packers' Jesse Whittenton, who knows better, committed himself too quickly on the corner. Richter could have run to Green Bay, but he only had to go 74 yards for the touchdown.
Defensively, the All-Stars were just as spectacular. Their tall secondary never allowed a long pass and were on top of most short tosses. No less than six times the Packers were spilled for losses by such sure-tackling rookies as Lee Roy Jordan (Alabama), Bell, Fred Miller (Louisiana State) and Danny Brabham (Arkansas). Once Jordan, who weighs only 206, met the murderous Jim Taylor head on and drove him back. "It's a good thing Jordan isn't 25 pounds heavier," said admiring Scout Hampton Poole of Los Angeles. "He'd kill somebody."
What killed the Packers in Chicago was this combination of Jordan and friends and those things that Lombardi had been warning everybody about, but to little effect. The night was littered with almost as many Green Bay horrors as it was by collegiate heroics. Bart Starr threw badly. The Packers clipped twice and held once, and they interfered with a fair-catch punt. They fumbled the ball on the Stars' 13, had a pass intercepted, blew two field goals and overthrew a sure touchdown pass. The All-Stars made some of the same mistakes themselves, but one can be more forgiving of them than of the professionals. Starr wanted to take the full rap himself. "I stunk up the place," he said. He was honest, but only partly to blame.
Coach Otto Graham was shrewd enough to take advantage of the Packer deficiency at the defensive right end. Ray Nitschke, the linebacker, was out with an injury, and this added to the pressure on Urban Henry and Aldridge at end. The collegians made nearly all of their significant ground gains on this vulnerable spot. They began on their first touchdown drive, from six yards out, when Larry Ferguson crashed into embarrassed Green Bay's end zone on first down. This was the first of many embarrassments inflicted by a confident, almost impudent 1963 All-Star squad that was so good and so deep that Otto Graham could not even get Heisman Trophy Winner Terry Baker into the game.