Playing through their home-town snow, sleet and slush like a herd of happy polar bears, the strangely wonderful Green Bay Packers righted a year of perverse fortunes and unexpected woes last Sunday by winning the National Football League championship from the Cleveland Browns 23-12. The victory was achieved with masterly ease—about the only thing that had come easy for the Packers this season—and the way it was fashioned stood as proof that by the test of survival Green Bay is not only the best but the smartest team in football. The win gave the Packers their ninth NFL title, and it may have been their most rewarding. It was a display of studied execution and relentless craft by a smart quarterback and a group of longtime friends who were determined to show that though age might slow a man down, emotion can speed him up.
Football is an emotional game, and perhaps because of the strain of their season the Packers were emotionally better prepared than the talented Browns. Consider their respective fullbacks, Jim Taylor and Jim Brown, who turned out to be the key players in the game. Physically, Taylor is no match for Brown. Emotionally, Brown is no match for Taylor.
After the game someone asked Taylor if he was aware of Brown. "I'm always aware of Brown," Taylor said. "When we meet head to head, I want to do better than he does. I think about it. Sure, I think about Brown. I want to be the best."
In the curiously placid Cleveland dressing room, Jim Brown, his face impassive as always, answered differently. "Do I think about Taylor? No, I don't. I think about the defense. It would be ridiculous to think about Taylor, wouldn't it?"
January 10, 1966
Although it might not have been ridiculous if Brown had mounted a personal vendetta and had concentrated on showing up his stumpy Green Bay counterpart, he never really got the chance. A year ago, against the overconfident Baltimore Colts, Brown had a fine day running wide outside a drawn-in Baltimore defense. This time, on a field less conducive to the sweep and cutback because it was soft and often slippery, he had some early success, but none at all in the crucial third and fourth quarters, when the Packers smothered Cleveland like the snow. The Green Bay defense, called from the sideline by Phil Bengtson, the defensive coach, and implemented by Middle Linebacker Ray Nitschke, read the Brown sweeps as though Nitschke were a party to their huddles.
"We knew when they came out in the double-wing set, with only Brown back and John Brewer and Ernie Green to the strong side, they would sweep to the strong side," End Willie Davis said. "So we flew out of there to turn Brown in. If we could turn him in, then he would run into Nitschke or the corner linebacker or the safety coming up."
"We knew from watching pictures of the game in Cleveland last year that Brown hurts you most on the sweeps when he cuts in and takes an alley just inside your corner back," Phil Bengtson said. "Either that or he makes his cut inside and then swings outside and he's gone. We wanted to make sure he couldn't cut into that alley."
In the first quarter and sporadically during the second, Brown did break loose to the outside. But, by and large, the Green Bay philosophy of defense worked well, and Brown, the best running back in football, was neutralized. He wound up with a skimpy 50 yards gained running.
At the same time, in spite of the sloppy going, Paul Hornung was able to cut and twist in his own distinctive fashion for 105 yards, and Taylor (see cover) came up with about the best game of his career, running straight over the Browns, the goo and even his own mired-down blockers while gaining 96 yards. This effective running, spiced with just enough Starr passing, gave the Packers essential control of the first half and genuine domination of the second, when they outscored the Browns 10-0 and held the ball for 38 of 56 plays.
It was fundamental football—not crude, but fundamental—and it followed the game plan that the intense Packer coach, Vincent Lombardi, had set forth four days before. Never mind that the plan was made when the weather was perfect, because neither four inches of snow nor 40 would have changed it.
Even had the Browns been able to cope with Mr. Lombardi and his fundamentals, there was something else they could have done nothing about. It just happened that a number of the Packer veterans had made up their minds to disprove the idea that they were ready for enforced retirement. Fuzzy Thurston, playing his eighth year in the NFL, had this obsession, and so did Tackle Forrest Gregg, playing his ninth year, and Guard Jerry Kramer, who was ending his eighth season. Jim Taylor had to be remembering that Green Bay was supposed to have just paid $450,000 to sign Illinois All-America Fullback Jim Grabowski, and Hornung was not forgetting the $600,000 that reportedly led All-America Halfback Donny Anderson to join the Packers just two days before. The old men were mad.
Before the game Kramer walked across the Packer dressing room to where Hornung lay on the floor, his head pillowed among the shoes and assorted debris of his locker.
"Hey, Goat," Kramer said. "Jim just offered me two wheels and the steering wheel if he wins the car for being the game's most valuable player. What have you got to offer?"
"I have to think about it," Hornung said to his best blocker. "Maybe I don't need you."
"Don't think too long," someone else said. "What you think is going to happen when you come out on the power sweep and Jerry is in front and he's got a big part of Jim's car?"
"We're not very healthy," Vince Lombardi said, but even this inveterate worrier was smiling. "These guys are players and they'll play. They accept pain and they accept adversity."
Taylor had a pulled groin muscle. Starr ignored the ache in raising his right arm and completed 10 of 18 passes. Hornung had a twisted knee, bruised ribs and a sprained wrist, but he played as well as he had in his 1962 Golden Boy season. After the game Fuzzy Thurston, his nose bleeding a little at the bridge, said what everyone felt about Hornung.
"Him and Taylor are great money players. You got it all going, you want them in there. I can't think any other ballplayers could of done what they did out there today. But Paul's got a little extra. He comes back in the huddle, he tells Bart what kind of defense they're in, how they're covering him, what he can do. And maybe two, three times a year, when you need someone to give you a lift, someone to make you a great ball club, not just a good one, he says something that picks you up that far. He did it today."
Hornung did it in the third period. The Packers had taken the ball on their 10-yard line and had moved it, steadily and slowly, as per game plan, out to their own 46, where it was second down and two. The Packer offensive line was rooting out the Cleveland tackles, and Starr's calls were precise and intelligent. But the Packers were ahead only 13-12, and none of them felt sure of victory. They were playing well, but they were also a little worried.
"We thought we were the best club," Thurston said. Fuzzy is a squat, immensely strong man with enormous confidence. "I thought we were. But I wasn't sure. And to beat a good ball club like Cleveland you've got to be sure. So Paul came back to the huddle and he said, 'Hey, this is 1962 again.' And all at once you could feel everybody in the huddle come up. All at once we didn't just think we could win. We knew damn well we would win."
On the next play Taylor, his green-and-gold uniform daubed with gray mud, sliced outside a fine block by Jerry Kramer on Dick Modzelewski and gained eight yards and a first down. Then Starr threw to Taylor for 10 more and another first down.
Now Starr used a play which had been set up in the first half, a run to the strong side of the Green Bay offense. In the first half Cleveland had been very much aware of the efficacy of the Green Bay running attack with Taylor or Hornung coming back to the weak side—the side with the spread end wide and no tight end.
"We wanted to make them aware," Starr said after the game. "We wanted them to overshift to the weak side, and they did, a little. Their defense played a fine game, but we created the right climate in their defensive thinking, and it was time to take advantage of it."
So now Starr faked Taylor to the weak side and handed the ball to Hornung, who rumbled for 20 yards and a first down on the Cleveland 15-yard line. With second down and eight yards to go on the Cleveland 13, Starr outguessed Cleveland again by coming back to that weak side. Hornung took a handoff from Starr and started to his left. Jerry Kramer, running with the surprising speed he has for his size, led Hornung around the corner. Forrest Gregg shifted over from right tackle and put a crushing block on the Cleveland corner back.
Hornung turned upheld, shifted his route slightly, and Kramer, leading the play, wiped out Walter Beach and another Cleveland defender along the sideline to let Hornung go in for the touchdown that insured the Green Bay victory.
Soon the champion Packers, who on this dark, snowy day had returned to their golden years, were back in their dressing room.
"Hey," Taylor (duly elected the game's most valuable player) said to Kramer. "How do I split up this car? You get the hood. Fuzz gets the trunk. But that ain't right. I got to figure out some way to cut this car into 11 pieces. Everybody ought to get a chunk."
Because Taylor plays on the offensive team, he made an excusable mental error. The car would have to be divided into 22 parts—and more. The offensive and defensive units deserve their shares, and who would deny a full share to bald, 31-year-old Don Chandler? He punted well, scored 11 points on three field goals and two extra points, and broke the Browns' last hope by getting himself roughed while attempting a fourth-quarter punt, the resulting penalty giving the ball back to the Packers. ("First time in five years my uniform has been dirty," Chandler said.)
On defense—and the Packers got into this championship game on defense—there were as many heroes as there were on offense, but the most unexpected was Bob Jeter, a quick, chunky corner back who replaced Doug Hart when Hart injured his foot. Jeter had the unenviable chore of covering the Browns' superfast end, Paul Warfield.
"Man, I was very nervous," Jeter said. "My stomach was upset. And they didn't waste any time testing me. They sent Warfield down right away on a deep sideline pattern. But I knew he was coming, and I went back with him." Jeter moved to the sideline with Warfield, leaped high in the air, batted the ball away and was home free.
"After that I knew I could take him," he said. "But also had to think about Brown on sweeps." In this even more important assignment, he performed nobly.
"I had to come up against Brown," he said. "You have to be brave to be the first man to hit Brown. But I had to do it, and the funny thing, it didn't hurt so much."
Lombardi and Kramer and all the rest of the Packers looked tired in the dressing room after the game. They had given all of themselves to winning.
"This is the best win I ever had," Lombardi said. "It came so hard, all year long. Everything was hard. The season. The playoff. Everything. I never worked so hard in my life for anything."
"I wasn't old enough in 1961 and 1962," Kramer said. "I didn't know how much it meant." He embraced Taylor and said, almost with tears in his eyes, "Toad, baby, I wouldn't trade you for Grabowski."
"Hell, he couldn't even wear your number," Thurston said, one old pro to another.
Groping for fumbled snapback, Cleveland's Lou Groza climaxed ineffectual conversion try with pass to holder Bobby Franklin.
Penalty on Ralph Smith (41) for roughing Punter Don Chandler (34) ends Brown hopes. Below, Chandler watches third field goal.