In Baltimore's eerie, fog-shrouded Memorial Stadium last Sunday a green-shirted ghost came out of the past to terrorize the National Football League. The Green Bay Packers of 1961 and 1962 returned in all their might and with all their computer precision to overwhelm the Baltimore Colts 42-27 and supplant them at the top of the NFL's Western Division with just one game left in the season.
The Packers had finished in second place for two years, and for a while this season it seemed they might sink even lower. The Green Bay offense had sputtered and stalled instead of moving with its old ferocious efficiency. The line blocked haphazardly, Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor ran gimpily and Bart Starr had to run for his life.
But last Sunday these vintage warriors—and their younger accomplices (SI, Oct. 4)—suddenly began to play like invincible champions. Fuzzy Thurston, who had been on the bench much of the year, returned to his guard position. Jerry Kramer, who played not at all last year because of an operation, was in his old familiar spot at the other guard. Forrest Gregg, who had been playing guard, went back to tackle, where he had earned all-pro honors. It was virtually the same offensive line that won two championships.
And behind it Hornung—the onetime gambler and alltime lover—ran and blocked with the joyous élan he had shown when he earned the nickname Golden Boy. Hornung was not alone. Jim Taylor thundered over the Colts with abandon; once he slammed headlong into a knot of would-be tacklers at the Baltimore 15, shook them off as casually as you might shake raindrops from your coat and ran on down to the Colt four. And Starr, afforded the kind of blocking he had long ago grown accustomed to and had begun to forget in recent weeks, calmly picked the Colt defense to pieces.
Because they had to beat the Colts to retain any chance for a title, the Packers spent five days sequestered in a motel outside Washington preparing for this game. Vince Lombardi brought them there early, ostensibly to avoid the danger of curtailed practice in the icy Wisconsin winter. There may have been another reason—the Packers are famous for their playboy tendencies and this was no time for play.
"The ballplayers stayed at the motel all the time," Lombardi said with a certain tone of grim satisfaction after the game. "They had a 10:30 curfew and they got lots of rest. Today they showed it."
The man who showed it most was Hornung—who has another nickname besides Golden Boy. Occasionally during the time they were at the motel, Hornung's teammates serenaded him. "The Goat's come back, the Goat's come back," they sang. "Thought he was a goner, but the Goat's come back." Hornung, because of his sloping shoulders, is called Goat Shoulders by the Packers, or Goat, for short. Until last Sunday, it had been a painfully appropriate nickname. "I got my legs back for the first time," Hornung said in the dressing room after the victory. "I guess all that rest did it."
Hornung carried the ball 15 times and gained 61 yards. He caught two passes and scored five touchdowns. He blocked with his remembered ferocity, helping to clear routes for Jim Taylor to pile up 66 yards on 17 carries. He was again the spark for the Packer team.
Although they performed superbly all of the dank afternoon, the Packers won the game with three key plays.
One came early in the second quarter. Leading 7-3, Green Bay had the ball on the 50-yard line, third down and two to go. In this situation Starr often calls a fake hand-off to Jim Taylor into the line, and then throws a pass. Often enough in past seasons this ploy has produced a touchdown. He called the play and Taylor faked the run. Hornung, who blocks for Taylor on a run of this type, feinted a block and ambled downfield. Starr passed to him and Hornung went the 50 yards untouched by any Colt, giving the Packers a 14-3 lead.
The next key move came late in the same quarter. With Green Bay ahead 14-13 after young Gary Cuozzo—at quarterback in place of the injured Johnny Unitas—had rallied the Colts stubbornly, Jim Taylor fumbled and Baltimore's Bobby Boyd picked up the loose ball and carried it to the Packer four. Suddenly the Colts had an opportunity to take the lead and, perhaps, to establish a winning momentum. Cuozzo called one running play, then tried to sneak a pass to Jerry Hill in the end zone. But Dave Robinson leaped high in the air, intercepted the ball on the Packer two and returned it 88 yards to the Baltimore 10 before Cuozzo himself forced the big linebacker to slow down enough for Lennie Moore to make the tackle from behind. A moment later the Packers scored and went ahead 21-13. More important, they retained solid control of the game.
"I was up tight on John Mackey," Robinson said later. "On the goal line, you have to stay up close. If you loosen up, they'll drive you right out of there. I saw Cuozzo out of the corner of my eye, and when he threw I dropped off Mackey and played the ball. It just wasn't quite high enough."
Late in the game, Starr dealt the final blow to Colt hopes. With third down and nine yards to go against a suddenly fired-up Baltimore team now trailing only 35-27, Starr sensed an imminent all-out blitz. He changed his play to a pass and hit Hornung in the area vacated by one of the linebackers. Hornung ran 65 yards for the touchdown with no Colts anywhere in his immediate vicinity, and Don Chandler kicked the point to make the final score 42-27.
Lombardi had planned to attack the Colt flanks with his running game, counting on Baltimore tightening the defensive ends and corner linebackers in an effort to stop the Packers' strong inside running. He was right. Starr called a number of wide plays, with Hornung or Taylor carrying, and turned the Colt flank several times for key gains, including an ultimate nine-yard sweep by Hornung for a touchdown.
Among the most notable improvements in the Green Bay offense was the performance of the line. Once considered the best blocking unit in football, it had faltered noticeably in recent weeks, neither opening holes for the running backs nor providing adequate time for Starr to pass.
The re-establishment of Thurston at guard and of Gregg at tackle did wonders. So well did the line operate against Baltimore that the Colts never once reached Starr before he could get his pass away. Starr responded by completing 10 of 17 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
"It was great individual effort by Bart and Paul and Jim," Jerry Kramer said. "No, I take that back. It was a great effort by everyone. We had confidence in ourselves again." Taylor, like Hornung, credited his improvement to his rejuvenated legs. "I said early in the week that my legs felt better than they have since September. That was the day I hurt my ankle in an exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Then I had trouble with an Achilles tendon, but I didn't want anyone to know about it, so I would say my ankle was bothering me if anyone asked. But today everything felt good."
"Shows you the value of clean living," Hornung said, walking painfully through the dressing room. Lombardi took him at his word. Instead of flying the team back to Green Bay, he shepherded them aboard a charter jet for San Francisco. They will be incommunicado at Palo Alto, preparing for the 49ers.
If the Packers should by some strange chance lose in San Francisco, then the most likely opponent for Cleveland in the NFL championship game would be the trounced but unbroken Colts. They must play the resurgent Rams in Los Angeles Saturday, without either Cuozzo or Unitas at quarterback. They will have to go with Tom Matte, who played quarterback at Ohio State, a team notable for its nonexistent passing. Behind Matte is George Haffner, up from the taxi squad. Cuozzo, having a separated left shoulder repaired, will be languishing in the same hospital where Unitas was taken after his injury in the Bear game.
It is to Cuozzo's credit that he came back to play a courageous second half in Sunday's game. Early in the third quarter he was hit hard, and his left shoulder was hurt. He was rushed to the dressing room and as the Baltimore fans wondered dolefully whether it was their lot to lose two superior quarterbacks in a single season, Matte filled in for a series of downs. Then Cuozzo came back. Against the best pass defense in the league he ultimately completed 20 of 38 throws for one touchdown. It was a frustrating culmination of a tense week for the 24-year-old dental student who has understudied Unitas patiently for three years.
"This whole week has been different," he said the day before the game, after he had been stopped coming out of the locker room by autograph seekers. "That never used to happen. It's different when you're No. 1." He climbed into his car to head for the Sheraton Belvedere and a lunch date. "It's not like being No. 2," he said, his dark, handsome face very serious. "When you make a mistake at practice as No. 2, everyone shrugs it off. But you do the same thing as No. 1 and you hear a kind of rustle, a kind of murmur. You are much more aware of everything you do. So is everyone else."
This game was only the second that Cuozzo had started since he joined the Colts. The other was against the Minnesota Vikings, and in that one he completed five touchdown passes. He played the second half in both Chicago Bear games.
"One of the worst nights of my life came after the game against the Bears last week," he said, remembering the 13-0 defeat. "I lay in bed and tried to sleep and all I could do was go over the mistakes I had made. There were some good things, like the long pass to Jimmy Orr that was called back. Jimmy called the pattern. It's funny. It was a pattern he had never run before, a fake to the outside and then a post, and he told me he could beat his man and he did. He does that a lot in a game, adjusts to different conditions."
Cuozzo doubtless had an even worse night Sunday, although his performance was good enough to have won most games. Not only was he playing against one of the quickest and one of the smartest defenses in football, but the Packers deprived him of one of his most dangerous targets when they jammed John Mackey at the line of scrimmage, forcing him out of his patterns. Mackey, a first-rate tight end, usually catches a big share of Colt passes, whether thrown by Unitas or Cuozzo. But Linebackers LeRoy Caffey and Dave Robinson made a point of grabbing Mackey at the line of scrimmage and harassing him. They succeeded so well that he caught only one pass all afternoon.
Despite Green Bay's resurgence and the gallant effort of the crippled Colts, it seems almost a shame that only a slim mathematical chance remains for the Bears. Of the three contenders, Chicago certainly presents much the most exciting attack. Gale Sayers, the Bears' rookie runner, scored a remarkable six touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. Some experts feel that Chicago, after a staggering start in which it lost three games in a row, may now be the best team in the league. But it is doubtful that the Bears could have defeated the Packer team that riddled Baltimore Sunday. It is even more doubtful that the Bears could defeat the Packers in Green Bay in a playoff for the division title, should that slight but definite chance become reality.
Finally, it is most doubtful that the Cleveland Browns, who clinched the Eastern title on Nov. 28, will be able to defeat the Western team that makes it into the championship game on January 2. Although the Packers, Colts and Bears have marked differences as teams, they have one important thing in common. Competing in the rugged West, they have survived a far more difficult schedule than has Cleveland. Each of the three teams won its two games with Eastern Division rivals. Five of the six victories came fairly easily; only the Dallas Cowboys managed to extend one of the three, holding Green Bay to a meager 13-3 victory.
All three clubs have defenses which are, at least statistically, superior to Cleveland's. More significantly, they have compiled superior defensive records against stronger offenses. Offensively, the Bears and the Packers can match the Cleveland running attack, even with Jim Brown. Along with Sayers, the Bears can unleash Andy Livingston, Ronnie Bull and Jon Arnett.
With Paul Warfield recovered from a collarbone fracture and operating at peak efficiency, Cleveland probably holds an advantage in passing over any of the Western teams, although it is a very narrow one over Baltimore. The Browns' Ryan must be rated ahead of either Chicago's Bukich or Cuozzo on experience, but there is little difference between them in accuracy. Of the three games the Browns have lost, two were to their two Western Division rivals, Minnesota and Los Angeles. Both losses were by sizable scores, the most recent being the 42-7 debacle arranged by the Rams on the Coast last week. Earlier in the season, the Vikings beat the Browns 27-17 and did it decisively, holding Jim Brown to one of the lowest rushing marks of his career—39 yards.
Looking ahead after the victory over Baltimore, one of the Packer veterans said, "I'm not too worried about the Browns. We have always played well against them, and we'll have them in Green Bay. I'm worried about the 49ers next week."
Lombardi wasn't worried. As he herded the Packers into the bus for Dulles Airport he made no attempt to conceal his elation. "We look like we are just now reaching our peak," he said. "I can't think of a better time."