It was the longest game in the history of the National Football League, and when the Green Bay Packers finally won it—13 minutes and 39 seconds deep in a sudden-death overtime period—they had captured the Western Division title and the right to meet the Cleveland Browns in the championship game. They had also demonstrated that all the courage in the world cannot compensate for the lack of a passing attack. Third-string Quarterback Tom Matte and his Baltimore Colt teammates had the courage, but the Packers had the passing and ultimately the 13-10 victory.
Right from the beginning the quarterback shortage became even more acute than anyone had anticipated. Green Bay's Bart Starr was eliminated on the game's first play, and it was Zeke Bratkowski who made the victory possible. Bratkowski had defeated Baltimore in Milwaukee in the first game between the teams this year, and on Sunday he did it again. By completing 22 of 39 passes for 248 yards he brought the Packers from a 10-0 deficit to a tie in regulation play and then moved them into position for the climax of the year's most dramatic game. Before 50,000 Green Bay fanatics warmed in the freezing weather by their own hysteria, Don Chandler thudded his toe into the game-winning field goal.
Meanwhile, Matte, an erstwhile halfback dragooned into service when Baltimore lost John Unitas and Gary Cuozzo on successive weekends, did as well as anyone could have expected. Unfortunately for the Colts, what Matte can do does not include passing. The Packers conceded the passes to him—which cost very little—and concentrated on limiting Matte's forays as a ballcarrier.
At the start, however, the Colts seemed to have the luck if not the horses. They almost evened the eight points laid against them on the first play from scrimmage, surely one of the most gorgeous windfalls ever to cheer an underdog. The Packers had received and Starr tried a sideline pattern to Bill Anderson, his tight end. Anderson caught the ball and was hit on a scrambling, clawing tackle by Lenny Lyles, the Colt corner back. Don Shinnick, trailing Anderson from his corner linebacking position, picked up the resultant fumble and rumbled 25 yards for a touchdown.
January 3, 1966
"I didn't see what happened after I threw the ball and Anderson caught it," Starr said later. "The next thing I knew Shinnick was coming down the sideline with the ball and a couple of blockers ahead of him. I didn't think I had much chance to tackle him, but I saw a green uniform behind me, and I thought if I could take out the blockers someone else would get him before he scored. So I tried to take out the blockers, and I got hit low on my back on the right side. I'm not a doctor, but to me it feels like a bruised muscle and not any damage to the ribs. Anyway, after that I couldn't raise my right arm above my shoulder. I tried throwing the ball on the sideline later on, but it was impossible."
That one play gave the Colts impetus to control the game until late in the third period.
"We figured we would have to play a hell of a defensive game," Baltimore Coach Don Shula said. "Our only offensive weapon was Matte's running. We couldn't throw. We had to win with defense and field position. We had to contain the Packers so well that every time they gave the ball up we would be in a good position to attack. It didn't quite work out, but I've never had a club that gave more than this one did. But I guess if you can't beat a team once in three tries you don't deserve to be in the championship game, and we couldn't beat Green Bay."
The Colt defense was certainly far more effective against the Packers in this game than it had been in Baltimore two weeks ago. In one electrifying episode the Colts stopped the Packers on the goal line with a new defense. "They came out in a five-one," Packer Guard Jerry Kramer said. "It fouled up our blocking, and Gaubatz had a clean shot at Jim Taylor. He made a good play, but we should have picked him up."
This happened late in the second period with the Colts leading 10-0 on Shinnick's run and a 15-yard Lou Michaels field goal, and with the Packers exhibiting far more strain and tension than the Baltimore team. Bratkowski had brought Green Bay 78 yards to the Baltimore one, a large portion of it on a deep pass intended for Bob Long on which the Colts' Jerry Logan was called for interference on the Baltimore nine-yard line. "He was all over me," Long said. "He was holding both my arms. If he hadn't been doing that, I could have caught the ball and gone in for the touchdown. Zeke did a beautiful job throwing all afternoon, and that ball was thrown just right." Bratkowski followed this play with a sideline pass to Anderson for eight more yards, down to the Baltimore one. It was a pattern very much like the one Starr had called to open the game—the pass that had seemed to mean disaster for the Packers.
Then Green Bay, running into that unfamiliar five-one defense, banged away at the line twice, once with Taylor and the second time with Paul Hornung. With fourth and one, Lombardi demonstrated his confidence in the Packer offensive line by calling for the touchdown try instead of the sure field goal.
"Someone hit me early and slowed me up a little," Taylor said. "Then Gaubatz slanted into the hole with a good angle and hit me hard, and the ball popped out from under my arm. I fell on it, but I was short of a touchdown. If it had bounced forward, I could have fallen on it in the end zone."
So it was still 10-0 as the first half ended and, though the Packers seemed the stronger team, it appeared that the Colts, who had beaten the Rams without Unitas or Cuozzo the week before, would win their second impossible, quarter-backless victory.
But Baltimore's good fortune ran out early in the second half with the first of two bad snapbacks from center. The ball was centered so high that Punter Tom Gilburg barely managed to keep it from sailing over his head toward the Baltimore end zone. Green Bay gained possession on the Baltimore 35 and Bratkowski, who had been throwing as well as Starr, hit Carroll Dale on a crossing pattern with a spectacular 33-yard completion that carried down to the Baltimore one-yard line. Now the Colts went into their new five-one defense again, but the Packers had adjusted their blocking and this time the defenders failed. Hornung followed a strong block by Kramer into the end zone, and somehow, at that moment, the whole feeling of the game changed. No longer did it seem possible that the Colts could fashion another miracle.
The Packers moved the ball handily during the rest of the second half, and although an interception stopped them on a fourth-period drive they came back immediately to set up a 22-yard field goal by Don Chandler, which tied the game with a minute and 58 seconds left.
Once during this drive Fuzzy Thurston toppled over when he tried to get up after a Packer running play. He climbed painfully to his feet and stumbled again and finally hobbled back to the huddle. Lombardi sent Kramer, on the bench at the time, out to relieve Thurston. Kramer had been taking a breather while Dan Grimm spelled him. Thurston, supporting himself by hanging on the shoulders of the players on either side, refused the substitution. He sent Grimm to the sideline and massaged his legs as Bratkowski called the play, then swept the Colt tackle out of Jim Taylor's way for a four-yard gain, which might have been longer if the Packer center had managed to cut off Gaubatz.
"I wasn't about to let someone else come in and play my position," Thurston said after the game, feeling a wide, red raw spot the size of a dime on the bridge of his nose. A lacerated nose is the trademark of offensive linemen. Blocking straight on into big tackles and ends, their helmets are forced down against the bridges of their noses. "I've spent too much time on the bench this year. They were going to have to carry me off the field to get me out of there."
For a while after the sudden-death overtime period began, neither team seemed capable of moving the ball. The Colts' best opportunity in the overtime period was a 47-yard field goal attempt by Michaels.
"I was scared to death when I saw them line up," Starr said later, sitting carefully on a stool in front of his dressing stall. "He can hit them from 50."
But then the second bad snap of the game came dribbling back. The ball hit in front of the holder, Bob Boyd, and, by the time he recovered it and put it down, Michaels' timing was off and the kick was short.
Eight minutes of overtime had elapsed when Green Bay took over the ball on its 20. Bratkowski, who had found Anderson an inviting target all afternoon, threw to him again on a crossing pattern for 18 yards and a first down.
Two plays later he hit Carroll Dale for 18 more, reaching Dale in a crack in the Colt zone defense. Now the Packers were on the Baltimore 26. Pitts and Taylor carried three times for eight yards, and it was fourth and two on the Baltimore 18. Chandler trotted out to kick the field goal.
"All I thought about was keep my head down and follow through," Chandler said later. "I looked up after I knew I had hit the ball good, and it went right through the middle. I wasn't nervous then, but I've been shaking like this ever since." He held out his hands and they were trembling.
"This was one of the toughest games I ever played," said Tackle Forrest Gregg. "They were hitting on every play. You got to give them a lot of credit for the way they played with what they had to play with. I'm glad it's over."
"It's not over yet," said Henry Jordan who, with Chandler, has the least hair of any Packer. "Today, I lost about half of what little hair I got. I figure I got enough left to last the Cleveland game next week."
Even if Starr's injury proves serious enough to keep him out of action against Cleveland, the Packers should beat the Browns. They have survived a season of adversity, while Cleveland was laughing its way through the Eastern Conference.
"This game was typical of the season," Vince Lombardi said. "We did just what we had to do. I hope we can do it next week."
The Packers should do it. Turn the page for the reasons.
CONFRONTATIONS AND CONTRASTS AT THE SUMMIT
If Bart Starr recovers sufficiently from the rib bruises he suffered last Sunday, the Packers and the Browns are a standoff at quarterback. If Starr is hurting or if his backup man, Bratkowski, goes all the way for Green Bay, then Cleveland will have a slight advantage. But in view of Bratkowski's fine performance against Baltimore, Cleveland's advantage may be very slight indeed. The Colts' Don Shula praised Bratkowski after the playoff game as a "carbon copy" of Starr and predicted that the Packers would lose little if he were to face the Browns. Against Cleveland's surging attack the opposing quarterback must control the ball with short passes and nagging short gains along the ground, and both Starr and Bratkowski do these things very well. Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung are fine short-yardage backs, running with power and intelligence, but neither is apt to get free for a long touchdown run, and now Hornung may have been slowed down by his injury Sunday. The Packer receivers are excellent at short and middle range, and Starr uses them with finesse. Guilefully, he will sometimes set up a bomb on third and short yardage by faking Taylor into the line and then throwing long to Hornung or Bill Anderson, his tight end. Bob Long is also a threat deep but, in keeping with Coach Vince Lombardi's conservative tactics, either Packer quarterback is likely to keep his passes short to medium.
Bratkowski has the size (6 feet 3, 200 pounds) and the poise to be a winning quarterback, and though he has spent 10 years in the NFL as a reserve quarterback he has frequently come through under pressure. In relief of Starr during the regular season he not only threw the winning touchdown pass in the first Colt game (37 yards to Max McGee) but also went into the second one for the injured Starr. All in all he completed 21 of 48 passes for 348 yards and two other touchdowns, yielding four interceptions.
Dr. Frank Ryan of the Browns is healthy and rested, and he has a sound No. 2 man in Jim Ninowski. Unlike the Green Bay quarterbacks, Ryan throws deep consistently—and he does it well. He has the receivers and the arm to do so, and he now has a major asset in a healthy Paul Warfield. At his peak Warfield is as good as any flanker in the league and is faster than most backs who will cover him. Garry Collins, the big, rangy spread end, has ample speed, good hands and fine moves. Although Ryan does not often throw to his tight end, John Brewer, Brewer is a competent receiver. And Ryan can always go to Jim Brown on safety-valve passes. Ryan is more of a gambler than Starr; otherwise, there is little difference between them in experience, tactical sense or in throwing, although Ryan may be the better long passer.
The Packer running attack sloughed off for much of this year. Only at the beginning and at the end of the season was it as strong as had been anticipated. Sunday's injury to Hornung makes Green Bay's ground game questionable once again, although he is likely to be reasonably fit. Jim Taylor and Hornung are a strong, consistent pair of runners—not game-breakers, but powerful short-yardage ballcarriers and excellent blockers. Moore and Elijah Pitts are not as good, either as blockers or as runners—although Pitts is more of a long-distance threat than either Hornung or Taylor—but they are better second-line backs than most clubs have. Still, when Taylor was hurt and Hornung had trouble getting into condition during the fall, the Green Bay ground attack petered out, reviving only briefly to destroy Baltimore in the key game of Dec. 12 (SI, Dec. 20). No one of the four good Packer runners can match Cleveland's Jim Brown, who again led the league in rushing (with 1,544 yards on 289 carries, scoring 17 touchdowns and averaging 5.3 yards). Ernie Green is as good a blocking back as Hornung at his best, and he can run a little, too. Because of Brown's incomparable abilities and the battering the Green Bay men have recently taken, Cleveland holds the advantage here.
In the very important kicking game, the two teams are equal. Don Chandler punts and place-kicks well for the Packers; his opposite numbers—Gary Collins as punter and Lou Groza as place-kicker—are as competent.
RECEIVERS VS. DEFENSIVE BACKS
Both Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler of Green Bay have a significant edge in height over Cleveland's left corner back Bernie Parrish, the man who will get most of their business. Parrish, although he is a fierce competitor and an intelligent defender, gives six inches to Dowler and three inches to Dale. A high pass to either of them leaves Parrish inches short of stopping the play. When the Packers flip the offense, Dowler, Dale, Max McGee or Bob Long faces Erich Barnes, and here Green Bay enjoys no such advantage. Barnes is 6 feet 3; the Packer receivers range from 6 feet 2 to 6 feet 5. Look for Green Bay to hit the spread ends and flankers on key sideline passes. The Packers also have a height advantage with their tight ends—the 6-foot-3 Bill Anderson and the 6-foot-4 Marv Fleming—over the strong-side safety, Larry Benz. But Benz is an exceptionally sound defender, and while Anderson has sure hands, he lacks speed. Fleming has a lamentable habit of dropping the ball. Overall the Packer receivers hold a narrow advantage over the defenders.
The Browns' Gary Collins, Paul Warfield and John Brewer constitute as dangerous a trio of pass catchers as there is in football. Playing flanker against Baltimore's Bob Boyd in the championship game last year, Collins caught three touchdown passes; at the same position against Herb Adderley of the Packers, it is doubtful that he will do nearly as well Sunday. Adderley probably will concede the sideline to Collins and deny him the inside, where he is most effective and where he caught his championship-game touchdowns. Although Boyd is a brilliant defender, he found his lack of height a fatal defect against Collins. On one play Collins, perfectly covered by Boyd, simply reached high over Bob's head to catch a perfectly thrown pass for a touchdown. But Adderley is a little taller than Boyd and can jump high enough to offset the inches he gives to Collins. And he is faster than either Boyd or Collins. At the other corner-back position, Doug Hart will have trouble with Warfield, who is faster than he is and just as big. Hart has done extremely well for the Packers this year, but he is the back most clubs pick on. If Warfield is truly at his peak, expect Ryan to throw to him both short and long. Hart will get help from Leroy Caffey, the good Packer corner linebacker, and now and then from the Packers' all-league free safety, Willie Wood. He will need it. Brewer will be taken by the Packer strong-side safety, Tom Brown, and checked at the line of scrimmage by one of the two Packer corner linebackers, Dave Robinson or Caffey. They nullified the Colts' fine Tight End John Mackey on Dec. 12, and they should be able to do the same to Brewer.
OFFENSIVE GUARDS VS. DEFENSIVE TACKLES
A few years back, the Packers' Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer were regarded as the best pair of guards in the NFL. Then Thurston grew older and Kramer fell sick. Well, Thurston is not that old and Kramer is well, and they rank at the top again. Thurston, a small but violent man, will block on big young Jim Kanicki. Kanicki overpowered Baltimore's Jim Parker last year, when Parker met him strength to strength. But he is young in the league, and Thurston, substituting savvy for strength, must be figured his superior. On the other side of center, Kramer is the very model of what a guard should be. He has the size and strength to block straight ahead, the speed to pull out ahead of the running backs and the agility to stay in front of a tackle in pass-protection blocking. But he has the peculiarly difficult task of blocking Dick Modzelewski, the stumpy and wide Cleveland left tackle. It is hard to knock Mo off-balance because he is built so close to the ground; it is hard to fool him because he has been around. An edge to Kramer.
In 248-pound Gene Hickerson and 250-pound John Wooten, the Browns probably have the strongest tandem of guards in the East. Hickerson is particularly effective leading sweeps. Wooten can root out a defensive tackle on straight-ahead blocking. He will, however, face Henry Jordan, the All-NFL Green Bay right tackle. Jordan, although small for a tackle at 250, is one of the wiliest of defensive linemen. He gives Green Bay a tremendous inside pass rush, varying his attack on his blocker from play to play. Because of his fast charge he can be trapped, but Middle Linebacker Ray Nitschke and Ron Kostelnik, the other tackle, cover the trap hole well for him. Hickerson will be confronted by Kostelnik, who has replaced Hawg Hanner in the Packer line. Kostelnik is the opposite of Jordan; at 260 he depends more on raw power than on cuteness. It will be difficult for Hickerson to move Kostelnik out on straight-ahead blocks, but with his speed and balance he should be able to keep Ron away when Ryan passes. An edge to the Packer defense.
OFFENSIVE TACKLES VS. DEFENSIVE ENDS
Vince Lombardi used Forrest Gregg as an offensive guard early in the season, and Gregg did a commendable job. But it was only when Lombardi put Gregg back in his natural spot at tackle that the Green Bay offensive began to move again in the championship style of 1961-62. Gregg is a perennial all-league selection at tackle, and his running mate, Bob Skoronski, is close to being as effective. They will be more or less evenly matched with the Brown defensive ends, Bill Glass and Paul Wiggin. The physical matchups are a standoff; Glass will face Skoronski and Wiggin will be head on with Gregg. Glass weighs 255, Skoronski 250; Wiggin's 245 will oppose Gregg's 250. Gregg should be able to control Wiggin most of the time on a pass rush. Skoronski will have a little more trouble with Glass, who is a strong and resourceful athlete unimpressed by the Packers' reputation. Both Wiggin and Glass are effective against the run. They may inhibit the Packers on their favorite play, the power sweep to either side. But Gregg and Skoronski should be able to hold off the Brown defensive ends long enough for the quarterback to ignore an outside rush on pass plays.
Willie Davis, the Packer defensive left end, is generally considered the best since the retirement of Gino Marchetti, the Baltimore terrorist who was the best of all time. He will be trying to beat either Monte Clark or John Brown of Cleveland, and he should outplay them often enough to make life unpleasant for Ryan. Willie is particularly adept at the pass rush, and his speed and ability to recover allow him to make tackles on the far side of the line against the Brown running game. Lionel Aldridge, the other Packer end, faces one of pro football's most consistent blockers, Dick Schafrath, the 255-pound Cleveland left tackle. Schafrath has been all-league for two years, and Aldridge is in only his third season with the Pack. He is a powerful, persistent rusher, but because of his inexperience it is unlikely that he will defeat Schafrath often. The duels between ends and tackles should be close to a standoff.
CENTERS VS. MIDDLE OF THE DEFENSE
Ken Bowman, in his second year as center for the Packers, has done a better than adequate job. The Packer center is often called upon to cut off the middle linebacker on a wide play, and he helps block the tackle on an inside run. He picks up a blitzing linebacker on pass protection, or helps a guard or tackle block the toughest of the front four men of the other team when no blitz develops. All of this Bowman does well. He is quick enough to reach Brown Middle Linebacker Vince Costello; he and Costello are of a size, so he will not be overpowered on a blitz up the middle. In this vital spot the Packers are ahead.
John Morrow, in his ninth year as a pro, is an efficient center who almost never makes a mistake. He will be lending help to the two guards on blocks against Jordan and Kostelnik and will now and then have the unenviable task of picking up Ray Nitschke on a blitz or of cutting Nitschke down on a sweep. Nitschke is as big as Morrow and a trifle faster, so Morrow is in for a long afternoon. He is an excellent straight-ahead blocker and is adept at picking up the blitz, but ultimately he may find himself overmatched if he is forced to take Nitschke head on too often. The edge goes to the Packers.
Although the Browns are a more explosive team than Green Bay, both on the ground and through the air, the Packers have the more consistent attack and the more dependable defense. The match-ups in both offensive and defensive lines favor Green Bay at most positions. The Packer pass defense, based on a quick rush and an excellent secondary abetted by big and fast linebackers, is the best in the league and should contain the Cleveland long passing attack. Green Bay's short-range passes and grinding ground game will give the Packers ball control and, ultimately, the championship in a taut, low-scoring game.