After Green Bay had won its second straight National Football League championship by defeating the Dallas Cowboys last week, champagne flowed like cement in the Packer dressing room. The Packers, many of whom had played in previous championship games, accepted victory with the quiet relish of pros who had done a job well; none gave a thought to the Super Bowl—the game that will match the NFL and AFL champions this Sunday in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
But in Buffalo, the Kansas City Chiefs disposed of the Buffalo Bills to win the AFL title and then wasted a few magnums anointing Hank Stram, the young and inventive coach of the Chiefs. The sentiment of the Kansas City dressing room was one that has long obtained in AFL circles: "Bring on the NFL."
Well, at last the NFL will be brought on, but if any anointing is done in a Coliseum dressing room it will be of Vincent Lombardi, coach of the Packers. The Packers already have won the most difficult game they will play on the way to the championship of the professional football world. Fined $2,000 by the AFL for their bibulous Buffalo capers, the Chiefs can look forward to champagne without a penalty in Los Angeles—but they will have to go to the Packer quarters to get it.
Although the oddsmakers have established Green Bay as a 13-point favorite, the probability is that the Packers, vastly more experienced in clutch games than the Chiefs, will win by three or four touchdowns. One reason is that Green Bay is the most unflappable football team in history. The Cowboys, more talented than the Chiefs and just as talented as the Packers, lost because the enormous emotional tension of the championship game caused errors of execution. These cost the game-tying touchdown in the final moments and slowed Cowboy drives or created Green Bay opportunities earlier in the game. A fumble gave Green Bay a touchdown; an overeager offensive lineman who jumped offside strangled Dallas' last threat. Green Bay made no such mistakes.
"This is a game like any other," said Fullback Jim Taylor before the Packers beat the Cowboys. "Sure, we're up for it. But we're not excited. This is a tough game. You go out, and if you're man enough you win. You do what you have to do and you don't make a mistake. You don't have to get excited. If you lose, the world goes on. It's not a matter of life or death."
Lombardi, preoccupied with the Cowboys, did not turn his thoughts to Kansas City until after the championship game. He sent Scout Wally Cruice to Buffalo, but when the Packers started preparation for the Super Bowl last week he ruefully admitted that he wished he knew more about the Chiefs.
Lombardi certainly knows more than he says he does. He has three movies of the Chiefs in action—films that reveal them as surprisingly similar to the Cowboys except in defense.
Like his Kansas City players, Hank Stram is almost obsessed by the challenge of meeting the NFL champions. He, too, has three movies of his opponent in action. He chose them to give him a broad view of Green Bay. One is of an early game against Cleveland, one of a midseason game against Minnesota (which the Packers lost by three points against a scrambling quarterback not unlike the Chiefs' Len Dawson and Pete Beathard) and the third of the championship game, which gave Stram an opportunity to study a somewhat bigger and quicker version of his own team against the Packers.
I have not had as much opportunity to watch the Chiefs perform on the field as my colleague, Edwin Shrake. An expert on the American Football League and on football in general, Shrake also has seen NFL teams in action, so his is an educated eye. "In the game films the Chiefs wanted to see how the Packers progressed during the season," he says. "They wanted to see how the Green Bay personnel either improved or declined and what changes were necessary. But Stram says the Chiefs—whose workouts are closed to the public but open to the press at Long Beach—are preparing for this game as for any other.
"Stram says that his approach and procedures are the same. and adds: 'I think Green Bay and Buffalo have similar personalities.' "
The Packers traditionally have been devoted to fundamental football values, using a limited number of plays and performing those impeccably. Buffalo is not fancy, either, but the Bills' factor of error was much greater than Green Bay's.
Shrake says: "I expect to see the Packers have a hard time running on the Chiefs. Buck Buchanan is a good big tackle and Sherrill Headrick a very mobile middle linebacker. The defensive ends, Jerry Mays and Chuck Hurston, are good, and the outside linebackers, Bobby Bell and E. J. Holub, are very strong against the run. Look for Kansas City to move Bell up on the line quite a bit and go with a five-man line. The pass-rush is strong from Mays and Buchanan, but the Packers should be able to handle it, except possibly the blitz.
"Safeties Bobby Hunt and Johnny Robinson are good interceptors [they grabbed 10 passes each during the season], but the corner backs, Fred Williamson and Willie Mitchell, should have a great deal of trouble with Boyd Dowler and Carroll Dale. Both play loose and need help from the free safety. The Chiefs have speed on offense, and Flanker Otis Taylor is as good a receiver as any the Packers have seen all season. He is not as fast as Bob Hayes, of course, but at 9.6 for the 100 he is fast enough. He is also big (6 feet 2, 215) and a good blocker. Taylor has remarkable hands and is very hard to tackle after a catch. He takes a Herb Adderley delight in hitting people and knocking them down.
"Split End Chris Burford has wonderful moves, very good hands, not much speed. Tight End Fred Arbanas is a superb blocker with good hands—almost a Mike Ditka, although not as good a runner—but he is likely to be replaced by the big rookie, Aaron Brown, because of the shoulder separation the Bills gave him."
Moving on to the offensive line, Shrake says, "Left Tackle Jim Tyrer probably is the best in the league and he'll draw Lionel Aldridge in an interesting match. Ed Budde, the left guard, is very good. But the Chiefs should have no more success running than the Packers. They lack a really powerful fullback and often call on little Mike Garrett on short-yardage plays. Garrett is also the only back on the club who can go outside; Bert Coan, the other outside runner, is still bothered by an ankle injury.
"A blitz could hurt the Chiefs if the Packers use it, and I suspect they will. Dawson is accurate and he can scramble fairly well, but he retreats and hesitates and worries about throwing an interception. When he has time, he is dangerous, but the Chiefs may not have enough of a running threat to give him time."
Shrake concludes: "I don't think the Chiefs are as good as the Cowboys—I don't really think the Packers are, either—but I do think the Chiefs are as good as, say, Philadelphia, and they should play over their heads."
The Chiefs assuredly are a good football team, but the Packers are the best in a generation. If they approach their capability they should defeat the good Chiefs easily.
Almost all pro veterans agree that championships are won by the defense and the quarterback. The quarterback of the Packers is Bart Starr, who, in the last six years, has become one of the two best in the game. The other is John Unitas of Baltimore, not Kansas City's Dawson, the erstwhile third-string quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dawson has matured, but it is unlikely that any coach in either league would select him ahead of Starr.
An assistant coach who has drawn paychecks from clubs in both leagues says, "Starr never makes a mistake of any kind. He never throws a ball unless he is sure where it is going, and he never calls a bad play. He never gives you an edge—and this is a game of edges. I don't think Dawson has reached that point yet. He throws well, but he hesitates and he is caught too much. And the Chiefs have problems in a slow offensive line and in their secondary. If you have problems in your secondary against the Packers, you can forget about winning. Starr will cut you to bits. A slow offensive line against the Packer front four is in trouble, too."
If the two clubs had played in the same league, the Packers would still have an edge in experience over the years and in championship play. If you match the players and credit each with the honors he has won in his own league, the Packers have all the advantage.
Try it. Otis Taylor will be wide on the strong side of the Chief attack, and he caught 58 passes for the club last year, the same as Burford, the split end. He is a very good young receiver, but he will be covered by Adderley, an All-Pro corner back who has handled the likes of Gary Collins, Bob Hayes and Tommy McDonald. Chris Burford has played longer than Taylor, but he will be looking at Corner Back Bob Jeter. Last year Jeter covered Cleveland's Paul Warfield, a faster spread end with equally good moves, and almost shut him out. The Cowboys flipped Bob Hayes from side to side, and Jeter and Adderley allowed him one reception all day. Will Burford and Taylor do better against them?
The match-ups in the lines say something, too. Big as he is, Kansas City's 300-pound Tyrer will have no easy time blocking Lionel Aldridge, who starred against the Cowboys. Budde has the unenviable task of outsmarting the 10-year tackle, Henry Jordan, an All-Pro four times. Curt Merz must face Ron Kostelnik, one of the most underrated tackles in the NFL, who dominated the Dallas guard on him in the championship game. Dave Hill has Willie Davis, a perennial All-Pro defensive end, to worry with.
With Green Bay on offense, Forrest Gregg—a consensus choice for All-Pro at tackle—blocks End Jerry Mays. Gregg, too, has been around for 10 years. Jerry Kramer, All-Pro for three seasons, takes Andy Rice. Fuzzy Thurston, who did such a splendid job on the Cowboys' All-Pro tackle, Bob Lilly, will have Buchanan to block. Chuck Hurston, the defensive right end, must defeat Bob Skoronski, the Green Bay offensive captain and a formidable tackle.
With superior players knitted by years of dedicated teamwork—most of the Packers have been playing together longer than most of the Chiefs have been in professional football—it seems reasonable to suppose that Green Bay will win comfortably. Kansas City adherents claim, of course, that the Chiefs will be so fired up that man-to-man comparisons will become invalid. Well, the Cowboys were fired up, they played well over their norm for the season, they have better players, overall, than does Kansas City, and they still lost to the Packers.
So will the Chiefs.
THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE? IT'S GREEN BAY
The oddsmakers have pretty well established Green Bay as a 13-point betting favorite for the Super Bowl—which seems logical enough—but no one has yet determined who will be the sentimental favorite, which is not at all the same thing and quite frequently is not very logical. Last week, to find out whether Americans would maintain their traditional role as underdog fanciers by cheering for the Chiefs while backing the Packers, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED conducted an informal poll. The result: another lost tradition.
In 14 cities (three with NFL franchises, three with AFL franchises, two with double franchises and six nonaffiliates) the Packers led in the sympathy vote with 50.7%, an indication that you are not really alone if you begin each day with a short cheer for General Motors. There seemed to be only Packer rooters in Philadelphia, and most hoped that Kansas City would get clobbered. City of Brotherly Love, indeed. In contrast, Dallas supported the Packers with only a 40% vote, remembering that the Chiefs were once the Texans. The third NFL city, Los Angeles, also voted for Kansas City, by 70%, a tribute to the appeal of two ex-USC stars, Mike Garrett and Pete Beathard.
The AFL championship-game loser, Buffalo, loyally backed the Chiefs with 94%, while Houston voted 80% and San Diego 70% for Kansas City. New York and San Francisco-Oakland, the two cities with teams in each league, disagreed, as they do in most things. With its longtime NFL associations, New York voted 75% for the Packers, while the sympathies of San Francisco-Oakland were 70% with Kansas City.
Among the cities with no pro football connections, Seattle was for the Chiefs by 77%, obviously irked at having failed to receive an NFL franchise, and Springfield, Mass. offered up a 50-50 vote. But the other four independents (Columbus, O., Des Moines, Memphis and Salt Lake City) were solidly for the Packers.
A long locomotive for General Motors.