The Bart Starr Endorsement Letter for Jerry Kramer

Bart's Sneak III

Back in October, I wrote an article in which Bart Starr, Jr. responded to a perception that his father did not endorse Jerry Kramer’s enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That viewpoint was out there because of some comments made by Peter King of Sports Illustrated. In fact, this is what King wrote in his MMQB mailbag chat with one of his readers, just a couple of weeks before Kramer was nominated as a senior candidate by the Seniors Selection Committee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 23:

Finally, a few years ago, I asked Bart Starr if there was anyone else he thought had been forgotten unjustly in the Hall process, and he said left tackle Bob Skoronski. He was effusive in his praise of Skoronski. I asked him if he wanted to mention anyone else, and he said no. Did he forget Kramer? I suppose it’s possible. But I gave him his chance, and he didn’t mention Kramer.

This was not the first time King has brought up the conversation he had with Starr either.

When I mentioned that to Bart Jr., he thought that his dad’s comment to King was misinterpreted.

Starr may have mentioned Bob Skoronski, because he felt that No. 76 was one of the unsung teammates of his who he felt deserved a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In terms of Kramer, Starr had always felt that No. 64 deserved a place in Canton and should have been inducted decades ago, when Starr and many of his teammates were inducted.

Bart Jr. also mentioned that his father had been suffering from some memory loss and dementia issues around the time of this interview with King, which also may explain his response.

Starr was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, along with teammate Forrest Gregg. Many of his Green Bay teammates followed over the next decade. Players like Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo and Paul Hornung.

That was the period in which Starr felt Kramer should have been inducted.

Starr was enshrined because of his great career in Green Bay, as he led the team to five NFL titles in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls. Starr was the MVP in both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

As a matter of fact, Starr is the highest-rated quarterback in NFL postseason history with a 104.8 mark. Starr led the Packers to a 9-1 record in ten games. Starr threw 15 touchdown passes versus just three picks for 1,753 yards in those 10 games.

Starr’s most famous play in the postseason involved Kramer. It was his legendary quarterback sneak in the closing seconds of the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.

That game was played under arctic conditions that day, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero. If you added in the wind, it was bone-chillingly cold, as there was a minus-48-degree windchill for the game. But when it counted most, with 16 seconds to go and no timeouts, Starr followed a classic block by Kramer on Jethro Pugh of the Cowboys, as he shuffled happily into the end zone, scoring the winning touchdown in the 21-17 epic win.

Back to my discussion with Bart Jr. now. A day after our conversation, he sent me a text which spoke to King’s comments about his father.

Hi Bob- Peter may be pleased to know that today we mailed a letter to the Hall of Fame on behalf of Jerry. Dad’s endorsement could not have been stronger or more sincere. Our entire family has been among Jerry’s greatest admirers for more than 50 years, and we look forward to celebrating with the Kramer family in Canton.

Thank you and very best wishes,

Bart Starr, Jr.

Since that letter was sent, I have received a copy of the note. Here is that heart-felt letter from Cherry Starr writing on behalf of her husband Bart.

Bart Starr letter to PFHOF

With this letter, Starr joins peers who currently have a bust in Canton like Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Merlin Olsen, Frank Gifford, Bob Lilly, Doug Atkins, Alan Page, Bob St. Claire, Joe Schmidt, Gino Marchetti, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Chris Hanburger, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Lem Barney, Chuck Bednarik and Tommy McDonald, as those who have all written notes on behalf of Kramer for his rightful induction into the hallowed halls of the best of the best in Canton.

On February 3 (the day before Super Bowl LII), the 48-person selection committee will vote on the Class of 2018 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Later that day after the voting has been finalized, this is what I envision will happen:

Kramer will get a knock on his Minneapolis hotel door by David Baker, the President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After Kramer opens the door, this is what he will hear from Baker, “Jerry, it is my great pleasure to tell you that you will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players, coaches and contributors to ever play this game.”

A Scout’s Take on the Hiring of GM Brian Gutekunst by the Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst as GM

Brian Gutekunst

Last week I had the opportunity to talk with NFL scout Chris Landry to get his take about who the Green Bay Packers were possibly going to hire to become their new general manager and new defensive coordinator.

Landry told me that the Packers were most likely going to hire from within to replace Ted Thompson (now senior advisor to football operations), and if they did, Brian Gutekunst would be the best choice.  Well, that’s exactly what the Packers did, as they hired Gutekunst.

Besides saying Gutekunst would be the best candidate for GM, Landry also though that the Packers would look to someone like Vic Fangio to be their next defensive coordinator after head coach Mike McCarthy fired Dom Capers from that role.

The Packers definitely were interested in Fangio, but he decided to remain with the Chicago Bears as their defensive coordinator, after agreeing to a new three -year deal on Friday. The Packers instead went with Mike Pettine as their new defensive coordinator earlier this week.

More on Pettine and other coaching changes later in the story.

Back to Gutekunst now. I had another conversation with Landy this past Wednesday on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show to get his take on the hiring of Gutekunst and the other changes made in the front office.

“I think they are significant,” Landry said, speaking of the changes made. “Brian Gutekunst is the new GM. Definitely the right move if they were going to promote from within. But they have lost some key guys. Obviously Eliot Wolf is going to Cleveland now to be with John Dorsey.

“I think Eliot is a good guy, and I think he’ll do a nice job for them. I think that was expected, once you make a decision to promote from within. When you have two or three guys [competing]. Guys like [Alonzo] Highsmith, who I think is a bigger loss than Wolf, because he’s a better evaluator of talent. Wolf is a little bit more organized and he’s probably going to be a bigger asset to John Dorsey in Cleveland.

“Listen, there are changes. There always is. I will say something which is unique and different and I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, but now you are going to have the head coach and GM both reporting to the President [Mark Murphy]. I’m just not sure about that. He [Murphy] thinks it was necessary. Mark Murphy thought there were some communication issues.

“I think you correct that by having a GM who does a better job of communicating. I’m very curious to see how that’s going to work out. I think that’s a little bit of a cop-out. I think it’s another way of saying Mike McCarthy won’t look with the same view of Brian Gutekunst, who is a younger guy, he won’t look at him with the same type of respect that he had for Ted Thompson.

“So, here’s what we are going to do. Mike, you can report to me. Brian can report to me. And I’ll just be the guy the kind of President who won’t have to worry about egos. I think that move had more to do with Mike McCarthy and potentially massaging his ego.”

In 12 years as head coach of the Packers, McCarthy has a 121-70-1 regular season record and has a 10-8 postseason record. The Packers have won six NFC North titles and have gone to the postseason nine times under McCarthy, which includes four NFC title game appearances and a win in Super Bowl XLV.

Speaking of McCarthy, he has made a number of changes on his coaching staff. Let’s get back to Pettine to start with.

This looks to be an excellent hire, just like it would have been had he brought on Fangio. Pettine’s track record as a defensive coordinator with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills was certainly outstanding.

From 2009 through 2012, the Jets ranked 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th in overall defense. In 2013, when he ran the Bills defense, Buffalo finished 10th in total defense.

Pettine worked under Rex Ryan, who himself was a defensive coordinator before he became a head coach with the Jets and Bills.

The Ryan-Pettine  defensive system is pressure-based. Both the 3-4 and the 4-3 defense will be used, which means players must understand each concept.

Ryan thinks the Packers hit a home run when they hired Pettine, according to this article by Rob Demovsky of ESPN.

“He’ll be the best coordinator in the league; that’s how good he is,” Ryan said. “I think the big thing is, the fan base ought to be super excited about him because this is a good get. There’s other names out there or whatever, but this is the best coach out there that they could’ve got.”

Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine II

Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine

After being very successful under Ryan as a defensive coordinator, Pettine was hired to be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Pettine had a 10-22 record with the Browns in 2014 and 2015, but was then fired along with GM Ray Farmer after the 2015 season.

That seems to a be a broken record with the Browns under owner Jimmy Haslam, as the team has made multiple head coaching and front office changes since Haslam became the owner in 2012.

That 10-22 record of Pettine doesn’t look so bad today, as the 2017 version of the Browns went 0-16.

Besides interviewing Pettine, McCarthy also interviewed three in-house candidates, associate head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss, secondary/safeties coach Darren Perry and secondary/cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. for the defensive coordinator job.

McCarthy decided to go with Pettine, but has been able to keep Whitt, who now will serve as the passing game coordinator. There is no word yet on whether Moss or Perry will or won’t return to the Packers.

The Packers also hired Patrick Graham to the defensive coaching staff on Thursday. Graham, who is 38, has worked under Ben McAdoo with the New York Giants and Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots . Graham has coached both the defensive line and linebackers.

These additions were made after McCarthy had fired defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley and defensive quality control coach Tim McGarigle.

Also, defensive front assistant coach Jerry Montgomery left to become the defensive line coach at Texas A&M.

On the offensive side of the ball, there has also been changes. Edgar Bennett was removed from his post as offensive coordinator. There is still no word whether Bennett will remain on the coaching staff.

Replacing Bennett will be be former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who spent three-plus seasons (24-28) as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins and the last two seasons as the offensive line coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

While Philbin was the offensive coordinator of the Packers from 2007 through 2011, Green Bay never finished outside the top 10 in terms of total offense in the NFL.

Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt (contract not renewed) has been replaced by Frank Cignetti, who has spent the past two years as QB coach of the Giants under McAdoo.

Wide receivers coach Luke Getsy left the Packers to become the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State and he was replaced by Jim Hostler, who had that same role with the Colts. Hostler also worked under McCarthy in 2005, when both were with the San Francisco 49ers, as McCarthy was offensive coordinator and Hostler was QB coach.

Bottom line, there are still a lot of moving parts going on within the front office and the coaching staff of the Packers.

In terms of replacing both Wolf and Highsmith, Gutekunst will likely promote director of college scouting Jon-Eric Sullivan and director of pro personnel John Wojciechowski to be his top assistants.

The Packers were able to keep Russ Ball in the organization after he also interviewed for the GM job along with Wolf, as the Packers promoted him to executive vice president/director of football operations.

I would expect that all the coaching staff and front office changes will completed by next week heading into the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida.

A Scout’s Take on Who the Packers Might Name as Their New GM and New DC

Mark Murphy and Mike McCarthy

It’s been a crazy week for the Green Bay Packers after they finished their 2017 NFL season by losing 35-11 to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field. The loss put the record of the Packers at 7-9.

It wasn’t the only loss suffered by the team.

We learned on Monday that head coach Mike McCarthy fired defensive coordinator Dom Capers Sunday night. We also learned that two of the defensive assistants to Capers were also given the pink slip. They would be defensive line coach Mike Trgovac and assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley.

If that news wasn’t enough for Packer Nation to absorb, it was also learned that Executive Vice President, General Manager & Director of Football Operations Ted Thompson would transition to a new role as senior advisor to football operations.

That of course means that Mark Murphy, President & CEO of the Packers, will be hiring a new general manager.

Murphy talked to the media on Tuesday and talked about how the process will work.

“This is an attractive job and we’re going to have a lot of strong candidates across the league,” Murphy said. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to put the right person in place to help us win championships.”

The front office of the Packers has three candidates who might end up with the job. That would be V.P. of football administration/player finance Russ Ball, Director of Football Operations Eliot Wolf and Director of Player Personnel Brian Gutekunst.

In fact, the Packers have already scheduled interviews with Ball, Wolf and Gutekunst.

Brian Gutekunst

Brian Gutekunst

The Packers would have most likely interviewed another member of their front office for the GM job, but Senior Personnel Executive Alonzo Highsmith left the organization to join former Packers executive John Dorsey in Cleveland and he’s now the Browns Vice President of Football Operations.

It is also believed that the Packers will also look outside the organization as they look for a new GM. It has been reported that the Packers will also interview former Bills GM Doug Whaley.

Murphy told the media that Jed Hughes, a consultant from Korn Ferry, will assist him in the search for a new GM, although the ultimate decision will be his.

One of the other things that Murphy told the media was that the head coaching job of McCarthy’s was safe.

“You know Mike is our man,” Murphy said. “He is our coach and we have all the confidence in the world in Mike that we’re going to have great success moving forward.”

It was later learned that McCarthy was given a contract extension last season which will run through 2019.

On Wednesday, McCarthy made some more moves regarding his coaching staff, this time on offense. McCarthy removed Edgar Bennett from his role as offensive coordinator, while quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt did not have his contract renewed.

There is a slight chance Bennett might remain on the staff, after receivers coach Luke Getsy left to become offensive coordinator at Mississippi State. Bennett had been the receivers coach for the Packers from 2011 though 2014. In all, Bennett has been on the Green Bay coaching staff since 2005, when Mike Sherman was the head coach.

Two former assistant coaches for the Packers under McCarthy may be returning when it’s all said and done. One possibility might be Joe Philbin, who was Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line coach last season,  and who also worked under McCarthy from 2006 through 2011 and was offensive coordinator in five of those years.

Plus, another name to keep an eye on is former New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo, who was on McCarthy’s staff in Green Bay from 2006-13, including coaching quarterbacks for two of those years.

There is definitely a lot of moving parts going on within the Green Bay organization, as well as key additions to both the coaching staff and perhaps at general manager from the outside as well.

It’s been awhile since the Green Bay Packers had this much attention in terms of prominent hiring opportunities within their organization.

The Packers haven’t hired a new general manager since 2005, when former Packers’ President  Bob Harlan hired Thompson. Plus, McCarthy hasn’t hired a new defensive coordinator since 2009, when he hired Capers to replace Bob Sanders, who McCarthy had fired.

With all this news going on, I wanted to get the opinion of one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry. I had an opportunity to talk with Landry on Wednesday on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show about the vacancies that the Packers have both at general manager and at defensive coordinator.

Landry has an unique perspective in all of this, as he has known Thompson since both were members of the Houston Oilers’ organization back in the 1980s, when Landry was a scout with the Oilers and Thompson was backup linebacker with Houston.

Landry first talked about the job opening at general manager.

“I think they probably promote from within at GM,” Landry said. “I think there would be a consideration of looking at a guy like [Reggie] McKenzie. I don’t think [John] Schneider would come. But they probably would consider that.

“They tend to want to go in-line with their philosophy closely tied to Ron Wolf. Ted was part of that. So, I think that’s probably where they go. Probably promote from within. But we’ll see there.  [Brian] Gutekunst is probably the best guy. I’m not as big a fan as other people are on Eliot Wolf. It’s his last name.

Eliot and Ron Wolf

“I think there are some good candidates. It’s a really good job. I would look outside maybe a little bit more than they will.”

One name that Landry did not mention who is within the organization of the Packers is Ball. Yesterday, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a piece which says that the next GM of the Packers will probably be Ball.

I talked about Ball earlier in the summer of 2017 with Landry, when we were chatting about who may be the possible successor to Thompson and this is was his response about Ball:

“He’s [Ball] an administrator, just like Andrew [Brandt],” Landry said. “Andrew was not a football guy. Russ is not a football guy. He’s an administrator.”

That sort of tells you that Landry does not believe the Packers should hire Ball as their next general manager.

After Landry talked about the GM possibilities, he turned his attention to who the next defensive coordinator might be.

“I think Vic Vangio is the type of guy that there are looking for at the defensive coordinator spot,” Landry said. “I know I talked to the Packers yesterday morning at length about Dave Aranda, who is a bright, young defensive coordinator at LSU. I think he would be a good fit.

“But I think somebody like Vic Fangio would make some sense. It’s certainly more in line with what I think Mike McCarthy will go with.”

Wisconsin fans will note that Aranda was the defensive coordinator for the Badgers from 2013 through 2015 and he helped put together one of the top defenses in college football. Aranda also interviewed with the Packers in 2015 for a coaching job under Capers.

But things come and go quickly when it comes to pursuing coaches and it was announced that Aranda has received a boost in salary ($2.5 million in each of the next four seasons) at LSU. Aranda was making $1.8 million in 2017. Besides some interest from the Packers perhaps, Texas A&M was also trying to pry Aranda away from LSU.

In terms of Fangio, he interviewed for the head coaching job of the Chicago Bears, where he has been the defensive coordinator under John Fox the past three seasons.

It is believed that the Bears will be looking for an offensive-minded head coach, but one never knows.

Vic Fangio

Vic Fangio

The 59-year old Fangio has a solid reputation as a defensive coordinator, as he did a great job in that position with the San Francisco 49ers under head coach Jim Harbaugh from 2011 through 2014. The 49ers were always in the top five in defense under Fangio.

In 2011, the Niners were fourth in total defense, in 2012, they were third, in 2013, they were fifth and in 2014, they were fifth again.

With da Bears, Fangio took the defense to the top ten this year, as Chicago finished tenth in total defense, after finishing 14th in 2015 and 15th in 2016.

Fangio runs the 3-4 defense that the Packers employ, plus has been a defensive coordinator under Capers twice, once in Carolina with the Panthers and once in Houston with the Texans.

Time will tell what the Packers will do at filling their openings at GM and defensive coordinator, but Fangio certainly appears to be a great fit for the defense and Gutekunst is probably the best choice for being the next GM, at least according to Landry.

Wisconsin Football: Updated (12/31/17) Bowl History of the Badgers

Paul Chryst at the Orange Bowl

The Wisconsin Badgers are now 15-14 in their bowl history after last night’s 34-24 victory over the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl.

The bowl game was the 11th bowl game the Badgers have played in the state of Florida since 1995.

Wisconsin has played in the Hall of Fame Bowl once (1995), the Outback Bowl four times (1998, 2005, 2008 and 2015), the Capital One Bowl three times (2006, 2007 and 2014), the Champs Sports Bowl twice (2008 and 2009) and now the Orange Bowl (2017).

The Badgers have now beaten the Hurricanes twice in bowl games (the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl and the 2017 Orange Bowl).

The bowl victory was the fourth straight victory for the Badgers and their third consecutive bowl win under Paul Chryst, who took over the head coaching duties in 2015. Chryst now has an overall record of 34-7 in three seasons (10-3, 11-3 and 13-1) in Madison, which includes bowl wins now in the Holiday Bowl, Cotton Bowl and now the Orange Bowl.

The run of success that the Badgers have had in bowl games started when Barry Alvarez arrived on the scene as head coach at Wisconsin in 1990. Up until that point in time, the Badgers were 1-5 in bowl games.

Alvarez and the rest of his coaching staff built a program that went 118-73-4 in from 1990 through 2005, which includes three Big Ten titles, three Rose Bowl wins and an overall bowl record of 8-3.

Alvarez later became an interim head coach of the Badgers for both the 2013 Rose Bowl (20-14 loss) and the 2015 Outback Bowl (34-31 win) to put his overall record at 119-74-4 and 9-4 in bowl games.

Alvarez is now athletic director at Wisconsin, a position he took in 2004. Alvarez served in a dual role as head coach/athletic director in 2004 and 2005 before he just remained as athletic director since 2006.

Alvarez has hired three head coaches during his time as AD. First it was Bret Bielema (70-28), who coached the Badgers from 2006 through 2012. After that came a two-year period (2013 and 2014) with Gary Anderson (19-8).  Alvarez then hired Chryst in December of 2014 to become head coach for Wisconsin.

Here is the complete history of the 29 bowl games Wisconsin has played in:

  • 1953 Rose Bowl: USC 7, Wisconsin 0
  • 1960 Rose Bowl: Washington 44, Wisconsin 8
  • 1963 Rose Bowl: USC 42, Wisconsin 37
  • 1981 Garden State Bowl: Tennessee 28, Wisconsin 21
  • 1982 Independence Bowl: Wisconsin 14, Kansas State 3
  • 1984 Hall of Fame Classic Bowl: Kentucky 20, Wisconsin 19
  • 1994 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 16
  • 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Duke 20
  • 1996 Copper Bowl: Wisconsin 38, Utah 10
  • 1998 Outback Bowl: Georgia 33, Wisconsin 6
  • 1999 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31
  • 2000 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9
  • 2000 Sun Bowl: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 20
  • 2002 Alamo Bowl: Wisconsin 31, Colorado 28
  • 2003 Music City Bowl: Auburn 28, Wisconsin 14
  • 2005 Outback Bowl: Georgia 24, Wisconsin 21
  • 2006 Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin 24, Auburn 10
  • 2007 Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin 17, Arkansas 14
  • 2008 Outback Bowl: Tennessee 21, Wisconsin 17
  • 2008 Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State 42, Wisconsin 13
  • 2009 Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin 20, Miami (FL) 14
  • 2011 Rose Bowl: TCU 21, Wisconsin 19
  • 2012 Rose Bowl: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38
  • 2013 Rose Bowl: Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14
  • 2014 Capital One Bowl: South Carolina 34, Wisconsin 24
  • 2015 Outback Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Auburn 31
  • 2015 Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin 23, USC 21
  • 2017 Cotton Bowl: Wisconsin 24, Western Michigan 16
  • 2017 Orange Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Miami (FL) 24

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer, Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein Recount the Final Drive in the “Ice Bowl”

Bart Starr QB sneak II

This upcoming Sunday, which is New Year’s Eve, is the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous games in NFL history. I’m talking about the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game.

It’s very apropos that the 2017 Packers will be playing this Sunday, but the NFL schedule makers got it wrong when they scheduled the Packers to play in the indoor warmth of Ford Field against the Detroit Lions, as opposed to taking on an opponent at Lambeau Field.

The forecast for this Sunday in Green Bay calls for a frigid day, as the temperature may climb to 10°, with an expected low of -13°. That’s pretty cold. But that’s still nothing like the weather conditions experienced on New Year’s Eve in Green Bay in 1967.

One never knows what will happen in the region where the Fox River connects to the bay off Lake Michigan this time of year. And on December 31, 1967, the region was given the coldest and most frigid day since they first started documenting weather conditions in Green Bay.

For the NFL title game between the Cowboys and Packers, it was shocking to find out that the game-time temperature was -13°. If you add in the wind throughout the game, the temperature plummeted to -50°.

Nice weather if you are a polar bear. But not if you are a professional football player.

The players were shocked by the weather conditions, because just the day before the game, the temperature was in the high 20s and low 30s under sunny conditions with little or no wind.

But then Sunday came.

On Friday night, NFL Network will be documenting the “Ice Bowl” in one of their Timeline specials at 9:00 ET.

I thought I would document the game as well, but mostly focus on the epic 68-yard drive that the Packers went on across the frozen tundra with less than five minutes to go in the game.

Thankfully, I have been able to talk with three of most important participants in that drive to recount what happened in those final moments of that chilling championship contest.

Those players are right guard Jerry Kramer, halfback Donny Anderson and fullback Chuck Mercein.

But before I get to that legendary drive, let’s look at what happened to set up that momentous drive which the Packers executed.

The Packers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, thanks to two Bart Starr touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

The Packers also had a fantastic chance to increase their lead, when cornerback Herb Adderley picked off a pass from quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys and took it to the 32 yard line of the Cowboys in the second quarter. But the Packers squandered that opportunity and didn’t score.

Things went from bad to worse in a hurry for the Packers late in that second quarter. Starr fumbled as he was hit by defensive end Willie Townes of the Cowboys going back to pass, and the other defensive end, former Marquette star George Andrie, scooped up the ball in rumbled in for a touchdown from seven yards out with a little over four minutes to go before halftime.

Then with less than two minutes to go in the first half, Willie Wood fumbled a punt from Danny Villanueva at the 17 yard line of the Packers. That led to a 21-yard field goal by Villanueva to make the score 14-10 at halftime.

The Packers truly struggled offensively in the second half.

“We had minus-nine yards in 31 plays in the second half at one point,” Kramer said.

Then the Cowboys ended up taking a 17-14 lead when wide receiver Lance Rentzel caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from halfback Dan Reeves on the first play of the fourth quarter.

That remained the score when the Packers got the ball back on their own 32 yard line with just 4:50 left in the game.

Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across the arctic-like football field to win the game.

It didn’t seem likely, not with the way the offense had performed in the second half.

Kramer described his mindset and that of his teammates at that moment.

“I don’t think we ever considered the possibility of losing,” Kramer said. “We didn’t really acknowledge the fact that we didn’t gain any yardage in 31 plays prior to that. We knew where we where when we got in the final huddle. We knew what we had to do.

“I asked Bart about that years later, about what made him think we could go 68 yards and score a touchdown after we had made minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that. Bart said, ‘Jerry, I came into the huddle and started to say something. Then I looked in your eyes, I looked at Forrest’s eyes and everyone else in the huddle, and I knew I didn’t have to say anything. So all I said was, ‘Let’s go.’

Kramer said there was calm in that huddle.

“Even at that point of the game there wasn’t any panic with us,” No. 64 said. “There was a sense of urgency however. We still believed that we could do it.

“The beautiful part of that was the contribution by so many different players in that drive. Players like Chuck Mercein, Boyd Dowler and Donny Anderson.”

Anderson concurred with Kramer about what needed to be on that drive.

“I recall that there was no nonsense at all on that drive,” Anderson said. “It represented the discipline that Lombardi had taught us. We knew that we had to execute and we were determined to get the job done.”

The drive started with Starr completing a swing pass to Anderson which gained six yards. On the next play, Mercein ran the ball for seven more yards off tackle to the 45-yard line and near the sideline of the Packers.

Chuck Mercein II

Mercein vividly recalled that moment.

“I remember that play well, as it was the our initial first down of the drive,” Mercein said. “That was a big confidence booster for me and the team. Because at that point, none of us had done anything in the second half. I’ll never forget because I kind of got shoved out of bounds right in front of the Green Bay bench. I could hear Coach Lombardi yell, ‘Atta boy, Chuck!’ That really brought my spirits up. It was wonderful.”

On the next play, Starr completed his only pass to a wide receiver in the drive, as Dowler caught a pass that gained 13 yards and another first down. Dowler ended up having to leave the game for a few plays, as he was shook up a little after his head hit the frozen turf hard after he was tackled.

Even though Dowler only caught one pass in that drive, it was his two early touchdown receptions from Starr which put the Packers in position to win the game on that drive.

After the Dowler catch, this is when Mercein and the Packers had a hiccup in the drive. Townes made another big play, as he broke through and tackled Anderson for a nine-yard loss.

Mercein explained what happened on the play.

“It was the Green Bay sweep and my responsibility was to block the defensive end there,” Mercein said. “I expected Townes to be on my outside shoulder, but he rushed inside instead, and I only was able to brush him with my left shoulder. I didn’t give him a good enough pop and he was able to get through and put us in a big hole.

I felt particularly bad about that because of my bad execution. It was the lowlight of the drive for me.”

That loss put the Packers in a second and 19 hole, but two swing passes to Anderson netted 22 yards and the Packers had a big first down. If you look at those receptions on film, you see some pretty nifty footwork by Anderson. Not easily done on a truly frozen tundra.

Anderson explained.

“I recall that I had to balance myself,” Anderson said. “Not to run like a sprinter, but to balance yourself. Be a little more flat-footed. I also figured that a quicker guy might be better off under those conditions than a heavier guy.”

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

It was at that point when Mercein caught a 19-yard swing pass from Starr after first conferring with No. 15.

“Sure enough, I was open just like I expected and Bart flipped the pass to me that got caught up in the wind a bit and I caught it over my outside shoulder, ” Mercein said. “I was able to outrun linebacker Dave Edwards and took the pass to the 11-yard line, plus was able to get out of bounds.”

The next play was a running play, known as a give play to Mercein.

“Bart saved that give play for the right exact time,” Mercein said. “Bart later said it was the best play call he ever made.”

On the give play, left guard Gale Gillingham pulls to the right, which then opens up a hole as defensive tackle Bob Lilly followed Gillingham down the line. Still, left tackle Bob Skoronski had to seal off defensive end George Andrie to make the play work.

“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed,” Kramer said. “It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’

Mercein vividly recalls that run.

“The hole was great and I can still see that hole,” Mercein said. “I can still hear myself clomping down on the ice with the noise of my cleats hitting the ice. It was very loud. Forrest Gregg was coming down from the right tackle spot and if I could have cut, I think I could have scored.”

As it was, the Packers had a second and two from the three-yard line of the Cowboys. Anderson then took a hand off from Starr and to many it appeared that Anderson scored on the play. But the referee instead placed the ball about 18 inches from the goal line and it was first and goal.

“After the run, I’m laying across the goal line with my waist and the ball,” Anderson said. “Cornell Green of the Cowboys yelled that I scored, while Jethro Pugh told him to be quiet. The ref then picks up the ball and puts it 18 inches back from the goal line.

“Later on as we saw film of the game, Coach Lombardi said to me, ‘Young man, I think they took one away from you there.’

After two two unsuccessful running attempts by Anderson to score after that, as he slipped both times, the Packers called their final timeout. There were 16 seconds to go in the game.

After conferring with Lombardi on the sideline, Starr called a 31-Wedge in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, unknown to anyone in the huddle, Starr decided to keep the ball himself due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

That wedge play was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films,” Kramer said. “I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And Coach Lombardi said, ‘What?’ And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says, ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh.’

So after Starr called the play with just seconds to go in the game, what was going through Kramer’s mind?

“Responsibility. I mean I had suggested the play on Thursday. It seemed like the play was squarely on my shoulders,” Kramer said. “I knew I had to perform. I knew that to be successful as a blocker that I had to keep my head up and my eyes open.

“And also put my face into the chest of the defensive tackle [Pugh]. That is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the safest and the surest way to make a block. I felt great personal responsibility to the team on that block. When I came off the ball, I was on fire.”

Starr followed Kramer’s textbook block on Pugh and happily scored the game-winning touchdown.

Bart's Sneak III

Center Ken Bowman also helped to move Pugh out of the way so Starr could score.

“I’ve analyzed that play a lot. “Bow” was there, there is no question about that,” Kramer said. “But when Jethro got up like I expected and then I got into him, the rest was a forgone conclusion. Jethro was then out of position and also out of the play. The play was over for him then.”

What did Kramer feel when he saw Starr laying in the end zone after his game-winning quarterback sneak?

“I turned around after the play and looked for Bart,” Kramer said. “And I saw him laying fairly close to me across the goal line, and I had an incredible sigh of relief. It was just a wonderful moment to see Bart in the end zone.”

Mercein talked about what was going through his mind when Starr called the wedge play in the huddle.

“Bart came into the huddle and called a 31 wedge play,” Mercein said. “We had put that play in earlier in the week when Jerry [Kramer] suggested it to Coach Lombardi because Jethro Pugh played high on short-yardage plays.

“We didn’t have many goal line plays. We definitely didn’t have a quarterback sneak. Anyway, when Bart made the call, I was excited. It was brown right, 31 wedge. The 3-back, me, gets the ball and goes to the 1-hole, which is in between the center and the guard.

“I take off thinking I’m going to get the ball and after one and a half steps or less, I see Bart was keeping the ball. Now I’m thinking that I can’t run into him because that would be assisting him and be a penalty. But I can’t really stop, so I go flying over the top of Bart with my hands in the air, not because I’m signalling touchdown, but to let the refs know that I wasn’t assisting Bart.”

The Starr touchdown occurred with just 13 seconds left in the game, which  gave the Packers a 21-17 victory. After the game, Kramer’s block was shown over and over again on instant replay. Because of that, Kramer made that the title of the book he and Dick Schaap had been working on during the 1967 season.

I wrote about how Instant Replay was put together in one of my many discussions with Kramer.

After that thrilling win, which was the signature moment in the legacy of the Packers under Lombardi, the players were ecstatic.

“After that game, I was interviewed by Tom Brookshier,” Kramer said. “There had been a negative article about Coach Lombardi that had come out recently from Esquire magazine. The article compared him to Mussolini and a pigeon walking around with his chest thrown out. It was just a hatchet job.

“Tommy asked me about Coach Lombardi. I had made up my mind previously to talk about him, as I heard that Coach’s mother was really upset with the article. She even cried over it.

“So when Tommy asked me about the coach and mentioned the criticism, I said, ‘People don’t understand Coach Lombardi. They don’t know him. But we know him. We understand him. And we love him. And this is one beautiful man.’

“And that still fits today. I still feel that same way.”

A few minutes later Brookshier was interviewing Lombardi himself. They were both looking at the block Kramer made on Starr’s game-winning sneak. Kramer recalls watching that interview.

“Tom says, ‘Here we see Jerry Kramer make a block on Jethro Pugh for Bart Starr’s touchdown.’ So Coach is watching the replay and he yells, ‘Way to go, Jerry! Way to go!’

“He said that with that incredible smile on his face, and he just enjoyed the hell out of it. And so did I.”

Vince at the Ice Bowl

Both Anderson and Mercein also got well deserved praise after the game as well.

In the locker room after the game, Lombardi told Anderson, “Donny, you became a man today!”

Mercein also heard some kind words from Jim Grabowski, who was the starter at fullback for the Packers before he hurt his knee midway through the 1967 season. Grabowski told Mercein after the game that he couldn’t have played any better at fullback.

In that 12-play drive, Mercein accounted for 34 of the 68 yards that the Packers traveled in that epic final journey to victory.

Anderson caught three passes for 28 yards in that drive and picked up 22 of those yards after he was tackled for a nine-yard loss by Townes.  Plus, No. 44 looked to have scored the winning touchdown at one point on his second down run from the three-yard line.

Kramer, along with Skoronski, Gillingham, Bowman and Gregg, did a yeoman’s job on the final drive with their blocking, both in the running game and the passing game.

When it was all said and done, it was No. 64’s classic block on Pugh which opened a lane for Starr to squeeze through and score the winning touchdown. That moment became the signature play of the Lombardi era. Not to mention the most famous block in NFL history.

It’s appropriate that Starr’s sneak was the signature play of the Packers under Lombardi, because it occurred on the signature drive of Green Bay with Lombardi as their head coach.

So many players were responsible for that drive. Starr, Dowler, Skoronski, Gillingham, Bowman and Gregg all certainly played a big part in the success of that victorious excursion. As did flanker Carroll Dale and tight end Marv Fleming.

But the drive probably doesn’t succeed without the work done by Kramer, Anderson and Mercein.

The victory by the Packers gave the team their third straight NFL title in the modern era, a feat that has never been duplicated by the way. Two weeks later, the Packers won their second straight Super Bowl.

But that 33-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II wouldn’t have happened without the intestinal fortitude shown by the Packers on that final heroic drive against the Cowboys on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

A Scout’s Take on Miami (FL) vs. Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl

Miami vs. Wisconsin at the Orange Bowl

On December 30th, this upcoming Saturday night, the 12-1 and No. 6-ranked Wisconsin Badgers will face the 10-2 and No. 10-ranked Miami Hurricanes in the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. This game will be the 11th time that the Badgers have played a bowl game in the state of Florida since 1995.

Wisconsin has played in the Hall of Fame Bowl once (1995), the Outback Bowl four times (1998, 2005, 2008 and 2015), the Capital One Bowl three times (2006, 2007 and 2014) and the Champs Sports Bowl twice (2008 and 2009).

The Badgers and Hurricanes have met once in a bowl game, as they played each other in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, as Wisconsin won 20-14.

This will be the first appearance of the Badgers in the historic Orange Bowl game, which dates back to 1935, when the Hurricanes played Bucknell and lost 26-0. This year’s Orange Bowl will mark Miami’s 11th appearance in this classic game.

This will be the 20th time that the Orange Bowl will be played at Hard Rock Stadium. And except for three games at Miami Field from 1935 through 1937, all of the other 60 Orange Bowl games were played in the aptly named Miami Orange Bowl.

The Badgers go into this game with a 14-14 record in 28 bowl games. Here is the complete history of the 28 bowl games Wisconsin has played in:

  • 1953 Rose Bowl: USC 7, Wisconsin 0
  • 1960 Rose Bowl: Washington 44, Wisconsin 8
  • 1963 Rose Bowl: USC 42, Wisconsin 37
  • 1981 Garden State Bowl: Tennessee 28, Wisconsin 21
  • 1982 Independence Bowl: Wisconsin 14, Kansas State 3
  • 1984 Hall of Fame Classic Bowl: Kentucky 20, Wisconsin 19
  • 1994 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 16
  • 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Duke 20
  • 1996 Copper Bowl: Wisconsin 38, Utah 10
  • 1998 Outback Bowl: Georgia 33, Wisconsin 6
  • 1999 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31
  • 2000 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9
  • 2000 Sun Bowl: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 20
  • 2002 Alamo Bowl: Wisconsin 31, Colorado 28
  • 2003 Music City Bowl: Auburn 28, Wisconsin 14
  • 2005 Outback Bowl: Georgia 24, Wisconsin 21
  • 2006 Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin 24, Auburn 10
  • 2007 Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin 17, Arkansas 14
  • 2008 Outback Bowl: Tennessee 21, Wisconsin 17
  • 2008 Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State 42, Wisconsin 13
  • 2009 Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin 20, Miami (FL) 14
  • 2011 Rose Bowl: TCU 21, Wisconsin 19
  • 2012 Rose Bowl: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38
  • 2013 Rose Bowl: Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14
  • 2014 Capital One Bowl: South Carolina 34, Wisconsin 24
  • 2015 Outback Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Auburn 31
  • 2015 Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin 23, USC 21
  • 2017 Cotton Bowl: Wisconsin 24, Western Michigan 16

I did a complete bowl history story about the Badgers last year, which you can read here. As I mentioned earlier, before this year, the Badgers have played in 10 bowl games in the state of Florida since 1995. I’ve been to six of those games, seeing as I live in the Tampa Bay area.

It started in 1995 at the Hall of Fame Bowl when Barry Alvarez and the Badgers took on the Duke Blue Devils.

Because I was a college buddy of defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove of the Badgers, I was able to see the Badgers work out at Tampa Stadium in practice a day before the game.

Cossy

Kevin Cosgrove

A couple of friends and I also sat next to the coaches’ wives at the actual game as Wisconsin beat Duke 34-20.

That was the first game in which Cosgrove was the defensive coordinator for the Badgers under Alvarez. He replaced Dan McCarney, who had left to become head coach at Iowa State.

Cosgrove stayed on as defensive coordinator through the 2003 season. He coordinated those great defenses on the 1998 and 1999 Wisconsin teams that won back-to-back Big Ten titles and the Rose Bowl.

In 1998, the Badgers were ranked fourth in the nation in total defense and first in scoring defense. In 1999, they were ranked 15th in the country in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.

Running back Ron Dayne of the Badgers was the MVP in both the 1999 Rose Bowl game and 2000 Rose Bowl game, when he rushed for a combined 446 yards and five touchdowns.

My fondest memory of watching the Badgers at a bowl game was being at the team hotel (Westin Tampa Harbour Island) after the Hall of Fame Bowl and smoking a victory cigar with a number of the coaches (including Alvarez and Cosgrove) overlooking the Hillsborough River from the balcony.

Cosgrove is now the defensive coordinator at New Mexico under head coach Bob Davie. The Lobos went to back-to-back bowl games in 2015 and 2016 after not having been to a bowl game since 2007.

Under Alvarez, the Badgers were 8-3 in the bowl games they played under him from 1994 through 2006. As an interim head coach at the 2013 Rose Bowl and the 2015 Outback Bowl, Alvarez had a 1-1 record.

I was at the 2015 Outback Bowl when Alvarez and his Badgers were victorious. Running back Melvin Gordon ran for 251 yards and three touchdowns as the Badgers beat the Auburn Tigers 34-31 in overtime.

Before Alvarez arrived in Madison in 1990, the Badgers had only appeared in six bowl games. But Barry and his Badgers compiled a 118–73–4 from 1990-2005 and that led to to 11 more bowl appearances.

Barry Alvarez and Paul Chryst

Barry Alvarez and Paul Chryst

Getting back to this year’s Orange Bowl now. This looks to be a defensive battle.

The Badgers are first nationally in total defense (253.2 yards per game), second in rushing defense (92.6) and third in scoring defense (13.2).

The Wisconsin defense had six players who were either on the first or second All-Big Ten team this season. The first-team selections were All-American linebacker T.J. Edwards (coaches and media), cornerback Nick Nelson (coaches and media) and safety D’Cota Dixon (coaches).

The Badgers also had three players named to the second-team All-Big Ten named by the coaches. The players were senior defensive lineman Alec James, senior defensive lineman Conor Sheehy and senior linebacker Garret Dooley.

The Hurricanes meanwhile, produced 30 turnovers this season on defense, which is tied for third in the country. Because of that, Miami uses the Turnover Chain on their sideline. That chain goes around the neck of the player who comes up with a takeaway.

Junior defensive back Jaquan Johnson has a team-high four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Junior defensive back Michael Jackson also picked off four passes. All told, sixteen different Miami players have come up with a turnover.

Wisconsin is tied for 11th in the country with 26 turnovers created.

Overall on defense though, the Hurricanes are tied for 38th in the country in total defense (359.8 yards per game) and 17th in scoring defense (19.9).

On offense, Wisconsin is led by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who has rushed for 1,847 yards, which is tops in the Big Ten and fourth in the FBS. Taylor has also scored 13 touchdowns.

Taylor was also named first-team All-Big Ten at running back by both the coaches and the media. In addition to that, Taylor won the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year award in the Big Ten.

In the passing game, sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown 21 touchdown passes versus 15 interceptions for 2,386 yards. No. 12 was also named Honorable Mention Big Ten by both the coaches and the media.

Hornibrook’s primary weapon in the passing game is senior tight end Troy Fumagalli, who has 43 receptions for 516 yards and four touchdowns. Fumagalli was named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and second-team All-Big Ten by the media. In addition to that, Fumagalli won the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award in the Big Ten.

Troy Fumagalli

Troy Fumagalli

After a season-ending leg injury to sophomore wide receiver Quintez Cephus, who had 30 receptions for 501 yards and six touchdowns at the time of his injury, Hornibrook has relied on three other young wide receivers who have played well.

Sophomore A.J. Taylor, freshman Danny Davis and freshman Kendric Pryor have combined for 55 receptions for 881 yards and seven touchdowns. All have been utilized on reverse run plays, and Pryor has been especially effective, as he’s run for 63 yards and two touchdowns.

Everything on offense for the Badgers starts with their massive offensive line.

Four of the offensive linemen were honored for their play this season. Named to both the coaches and media’s first-team All-Big Ten squad were junior guard Beau Benzschawel (6’6″, 317) and junior offensive tackle Michael Deiter (6’6″, 328).

Named to both the coaches and media’s second-team All-Big Ten team was sophomore offensive tackle Dave Edwards (6-7, 315), while freshman center Tyler Biadasz (6’3″, 316) was named third-team All-Big Ten by both the coaches and the media.

On offense, Miami is led by junior quarterback Malik Rosier, who has struggled somewhat in two straight losses after the Canes started 10-0. For the season, Rosier has thrown 25 touchdown passes versus 11 picks for 2,917 yards. No. 12 has also rushed for 427 yards and five touchdowns.

The main threat in the running game for the Hurricanes is sophomore Travis Homer, who has rushed for 902 yards and seven scores.

The two main weapons for Rosier in the passing game are senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios, who has 52 receptions for 942 yards and nine scores so far this season, while senior tight end Christopher Herndon IV has 40 catches for 470 yards and four touchdowns.

In terms of the head coaches in this game, both have done well in bowl games. Paul Chryst of Wisconsin is 2-0 in bowl games as the head man of the Badgers, as Wisconsin beat USC 23-21 in the 2015 Holiday Bowl, plus beat then undefeated Western Michigan 24-16 in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. Overall, Chryst is 33-7 since he took over the head coaching reins of the Badgers in 2015.

Chryst was 1-1 in bowl games while he was the head coach at Pittsburgh.

This past 2017 season, Chyrst won both the Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year (coaches vote) and the Dave McClain Coach of the Year (media vote) in the Big Ten.

Mark Richt of is 11-5 overall in bowl games with both Georgia and Miami, which included a win in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl, when the Hurricanes beat the West Virginia Mountaineers 31-14.

While he was at Georgia, Richt and his Bulldogs beat Alvarez and his Badgers 24-21 in the 2005 Outback Bowl. Since becoming head coach of the Canes in 2016, Richt has led Miami to 19-6 record and overall has a 164-57 coaching mark.

I wanted to get a read on this game by talking with one of the best in the business, NFL Scout Chris Landry. I was able to talk with Landry on Wednesday on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Steve Carney and Len Martez.

Landry believes the turnover issue will be a key in this game.

“The thing that jumps out at me, when you look at this Miami team this year, is that they played a couple of really good games and in some other games they have gotten by,” Landry said. “I thought that the stretch of the two big wins [Virginia Tech and Notre Dame] kind of set everyone on fire, but then things sort of came back to reality.

“The other thing that jumps out at me is Wisconsin has to protect the football. If they turn the football like they have done in some Big Ten games this year, Miami will make them pay. They [Miami] are very athletic and very skilled. I think Wisconsin, if they are patient, they can run the football, but this Miami defense will play eight-man fronts to limit the run game.

“So can [Alex] Hornibrook make plays? Can they find a way to make enough plays in the passing game to be successful? That’s going to be the key. Plus, this Miami team offensively will be going up against a very good Wisconsin defense which I think is very underrated.

“So I think it will be a good matchup. Miami has a little bit more athleticism on offense, but I like Wisconsin’s defense a little bit better. This should be a really good one.”

A Scout’s Take on the State of the Green Bay Packers

Dom Capers III

For the first time since the 2008 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers will not be playing in the postseason. There are a number of reasons why the Packers are 7-7 and already eliminated from playoff contention in 2017.

Injuries are certainly one big reason why, especially the broken right collarbone suffered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 6, which kept him out of action for several weeks, a time in which Green Bay went 3-5, to put their record at 7-6 going into last Sunday’s game versus the Carolina Panthers.

Even with a gutty performance by Rodgers, who was hit a number of times during the game, it wasn’t enough, as the Packers lost 31-24, which more or less eliminated the playoff hopes of the Packers.

That became official, when the Tampa Bay Bucs lost to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night in Tampa.

Rodgers was not 100 percent in the game against the Panthers, as one could tell with three deep passes that were under-thrown and picked off. Still, Rodgers did throw three touchdown passes as well for 290 yards and had the Packers in position to score the game-tying touchdown. But after Rodgers completed a pass to Geronimo Allison, the second-year wide receiver fumbled and the game was all but over.

After the Packers were officially eliminated, the Packers placed Rodgers back on injured reserve and ended his 2017 season.

But it wasn’t just the injury to Rodgers and to other players which torpedoed the 2017 season for the Packers.

There was also the uneven and inconsistent play on both the offensive and defensive lines. Being good in the trenches is a vital ingredient in terms of winning in the NFL or in any type of football.

The area that stuck out the most this year for the Packers, was the very disappointing play by the defense of the Packers.

This came after the 2017 NFL draft conducted by Ted Thompson and his scouting staff, which gave defensive coordinator Dom Capers the first four picks (CB Kevin King, S Josh Jones, DL Montravius Adams and OLB Vince Biegel) that the team utilized in the draft.

Add to that, Thompson also signed a couple of free agents to help the Packers on defense, which included former All-Pro and Pro Bowl OLB Ahmad Brooks.

But you wouldn’t know that based on the performance of the defense this season.

Going into Saturday night’s games versus the 11-3 Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, the Packers are ranked 26th in total defense in the NFL. The Packers give up on average 356.4 yards per game, as well as 21.3 first downs per game. The “D” also gives up 5.6 yards per play. That just won’t cut it in today’s NFL.

It gets worse.

The Packers are ranked 24th in passing defense, as they give up 240 passing yards per game. What’s even more troubling, is that they allow opposing quarterbacks to have a 100.5 passer rating, which is third-worst in the league.

Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 26 touchdown passes versus just 11 interceptions, plus have been able make big plays, as they have completed 48 passes of 20-plus yards. In addition to that, the Packers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete a whopping 68.4 percent of their passes, which is the second-worst mark in the NFL.

The Packers are also dead-last in the league in giving up first down completions. It seems like the defense just can get off the field, at least until after a score. Part of the reason that the Packers are susceptible in the passing game is the lack of a pass rush. The Packers have just 32 sacks, which ties them for 16th in the NFL. Compare that with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have a league-leading 51 sacks.

In terms of stopping the run, the Packers were fairly solid in that area early in the season, but have fallen off as of late. Currently, the Packers are ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing defense, as they allow on average 116.4 yards per game and a 4.0 average per rush.

The bottom line is that the Packers allow 23.8 points per game. That puts a lot of pressure on the offense to score, especially when you have a backup quarterback starting a game, like the Packers have done seven times with Brett Hundley. The third-year quarterback from UCLA now gets to start two more games to end the 2017 season for the Packers.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to get a read on the Packers by talking with one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry. I was able to do that on Wednesday, as I spoke to Landry 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

Before I talked with Landry, he and Duemig were talking about defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and outside linebacker Lavonte David of the Bucs. Landry had told Duemig that he had given both McCoy and David blue grades for their performance defensively in 2017 thus far.

Here is how the color ratings work according to Landry’s grading scale:

BLUE (B) = The best. The top line players in the league. Blue players make the plays that are the difference in close games. Superior talent, big plays and consistent.

RED (R)= Red players win for you. They have starter type production in the league. Top line Reds are usually Blues in either the running or passing game but fall short in the other. Red players are impact players and start on contending teams.

PURPLE (P)= Purple are players you can win with. They are usually Red in some areas and can match up with some Reds but overall fall a little short of Reds. A very good player. Solid starter who will usually get the job done at least in some areas. NFL scouting axiom is to not play anyone who is below purple.

Thompson, Murphy and McCarthy

Knowing all that now, I wanted to find out who on the defense of the Packers had a blue grade and also what the status of Capers might be.

“The Packers didn’t get any blue grades at all this year,” Landry said. “Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels were red-grade guys, who had pretty good year’s. To a lesser degree, you had Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, who were what we call high-purples and partly in the red at times.

“If you go on the offensive side, [David] Bakhtiari graded in the red. Aaron Rodgers is the only guy when he’s been healthy is in that upper tier, and he’s certainly a perennial blue-grade player. This year hasn’t been quite so much. Davante Adams is a high-purple and Aaron Jones has done some good things.

“But the biggest problem that they have is that I don’t think they are talented enough on defense. I don’t think they have enough bodies there. I think Dom is a good coach, but he could pay for this with his job. That’s just the way it works in this league. They’ve not been good enough on defense with him. Why haven’t they been able to consistently improve that defensive personnel, where it needs to be, particularly with edge-rushers, is beyond me.

“They have just missed. It’s pure and simple. They just haven’t been good enough in doing that. I don’t think their defense is very good. It’s quite frankly, a team which is built, or totally reliant on the quarterback. And I think playing him [Rodgers] last week is a perfect example. And I’m all for that. It’s the only chance that they got.

“And going into next year, if they don’t play any better, they are kind of in the same boat. And it’s unfortunate, because they have got an elite quarterback, as good as anybody in the league and one of the best of all-time in terms of physical skill-sets, to not have a defense, to not have a better running game, to not be a better team at the line of scrimmage, is almost criminal when you think about it from a football standpoint.

“They have just completely missed the boat. I don’t just dismiss the one Super Bowl, I don’t want to make it sound like that, but this is a team with this quarterback, that there is no reason why they couldn’t be what New England is, in the NFC. They are good enough with their quarterback. They go in every year with a chance. But the rest of the team pulls them back.

“I think that is a byproduct of them missing an awful lot in a lot of the personnel moves that they have made over the years. So, that’s my take on it.”

After that emphatic declaration, I responded that Ted Thompson also bares some responsibility with all the personnel issues which were brought by Landry.

“That whole staff did,” Landry said. “The whole personnel department. They have missed on some personnel moves.”

So what does this all mean? It means that the Packers won’t be playing in the postseason for the first time in almost a decade and there were definitely some reasons for that. Landry brought up a number of them.

Lack of talent on defense was his No. 1 issue. Is that because of the complicated schemes that Capers utilizes? Or it because Ted Thompson and his scouting staff just aren’t drafting or acquiring the right players? Or is it both?

No matter the cause, there is a sense that changes will definitely be made within the organization of the Packers this offseason.

It’s not that the Packers have not been successful under Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy since they joined forces in 2006. Since that partnership took place, the Packers have had 122-68-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

But as Landry noted, there should have been even more success over that time.

So now the onus is on team president Mark Murphy to see if he’ll dictate any changes in the front office this offseason. Plus, there will be pressure on McCarthy to make changes on his coaching staff, especially regarding the status of Capers.

Time will tell what will happen, but based on the comments from Landry, one of the best of his kind in the scouting business, something has to give.

1957 Was a Very Special Year for the State of Wisconsin

Milwaukee Braves Lambeau logo

Back in 1957, in both the United States and in the state of Wisconsin, things were quite different than they are today. For example, a gallon of gas cost just 24 cents. You could buy a brand new car in a price range of $1,800 to $3,400. The average cost of a new home was around $20,000. You could rent an apartment for $90 per month.

And with Wisconsin being the dairy state in the country, products in that genre were quite inexpensive based on today’s prices. A dozen eggs cost just 55 cents. A gallon of milk cost just $1.00. Butter was just 75 cents per pound. American cheese cost around 55 cents per pound.

And seeing that Wisconsin also loves it’s beer, it’s important to know the beer prices at the time. You could go into a tavern and a have a glass of beer for just 10 cents. You also could buy a six-pack of beer for less than a dollar.

Yes, things were quite different in 1957 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States. The man who would follow Eisenhower as President, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book called Profiles in Courage.

I bring up Kennedy for two reasons.

One, JFK played a big part in the Green Bay Packers winning the 1961 NFL title, due to his friendship with Vince Lombardi.

Secondly, I was born on JFK’s birthday, which is May 29. I was born on that day in…you guessed it…1957.

That year was very special in the hearts of sports fans in Wisconsin.

In Green Bay, the Packers were going through a very tough time. The team was losing on a consistent basis and hadn’t had a winning season since 1947.

Plus, the NFL was seriously looking at moving the Packers out of Green Bay due to the antiquated stadium that the team was playing in, which was old City Stadium, which had been built in 1925 and was also used by Green Bay East High School. The capacity for the stadium was just 25,000.

That is why the Packers also started playing some of their games in Milwaukee starting in 1933, which had larger venues (State Fair Park, Marquette Stadium and Milwaukee County Stadium) for the Packers to utilize.

And unless the Packers built a new stadium in Green Bay, the team was likely going to move to Milwaukee permanently or to some other location.

But in April of 1956, in a 2-to-1 vote in a municipal referendum, a new stadium was financed by the way of a bond issue. The original cost of the new stadium was $960,000 and was to be shared equally by the Packers Corporation and the city of Green Bay.

City Stadium Dedication Program

The stadium was located in southwest Green Bay and surrounded on three sides by the village of Ashwaubenon. Work started on the stadium in February of 1957 and the stadium was christened as new City Stadium on September 29, 1957, as the Packers opened their season against the rival Chicago Bears and their founder and head coach George Halas.

It’s also important to note, that Halas himself campaigned for the new stadium in Green Bay before the vote in April of 1956.

The Packers beat da Bears at their new stadium 21-17 in front of 32,132 fans, as Vice President Richard Nixon was in attendance, along with NFL Commissioner Bert Bell.

But even with the new stadium, which would later be re-named Lambeau Field in 1965, in honor of one of the founders of the team and their first head coach, Curly Lambeau, the team went 3-9 in 1957.

In fact, after the season-opening win against the Bears, the Packers did not win again at home, either in the new stadium or in Milwaukee, where the Packers still played three home games per season.

One of the teams which visited new City Stadium were the New York Giants, who were the defending NFL champions in 1957. The offensive coordinator for the G-Men then was none other than Lombardi, and it was he who would take Green Bay back to greatness in 1959, when he was named head coach and general manager of the Packers.

In that case, Halas availed himself to Green Bay once again, as both he and Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns were staunch supporters of Lombardi getting the new head coaching gig in Green Bay.

Also in 1957, thanks to the scouting prowess of Jack Vainisi, the Packers drafted Paul Hornung out of Notre Dame with the first pick in the 1957 NFL draft. The “Golden Boy” had won the Heisman trophy with the Fighting Irish in 1956 and may have been the catalyst for Lombardi coming to Green Bay. That is certainly what legendary right guard Jerry Kramer believes.

Hornung played a big role in the success of the Lombardi Packers, that is for sure.

Back to new City Stadium, now Lambeau Field. The stadium has seen three NFL titles (1961, 1965 and 1967) won by the Packers over the years.

The 1967 NFL championship game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, is considered among the best games in NFL history. Who can forget Bart Starr scoring the game-winning touchdown behind a classic block by Kramer with just 13 seconds remaining?

New City Stadium, now Lambeau Field, has seen many renovations over the years and is now considered the crown jewel in the NFL in terms of having a great game-time experience.

Between the actual stadium, the Atrium, the Packers Hall of Fame and the new Titletown district, the stadium has become a year-round place to visit. The current capacity of Lambeau Field is now 81,441.

Lambeau Field is now the longest continuously occupied stadium in the NFL by a large margin. The next closest is Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, which opened in 1972, which is 15 years later than when new City Stadium opened.

Lambeau Field in 2017

Besides Green Bay getting a new stadium in 1957, there was a lot of excitement at Milwaukee County Stadium, where the Milwaukee Braves played.

The city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin were very passionate about the Braves and had led MLB in attendance ever since the Braves moved to Milwaukee from Boston 1953. In fact, the Braves were No. 1 in attendance from 1953 through 1958.

  • 1953- 1,826,397
  • 1954- 2,131,388
  • 1955- 2,005,836
  • 1956- 2,046,331
  • 1957- 2,215,404
  • 1958- 1,971,101

As you can see by the figures above, the attendance in 1957 really blossomed. The Braves had finished just one game out from winning the National League pennant in 1956, as the Brooklyn Dodgers took the crown instead. The Braves were in first place for 126 days during the 1956 season and Milwaukee and Wisconsin knew that the Braves were ripe for winning the NL pennant and perhaps the World Series in 1957.

Everything did indeed fall into place for the Braves in 1957, as the team went 95-59 and won the National League pennant and advanced to the World Series to face the New York Yankees.

The Braves were managed by Fred Haney and their general manager was John Quinn.

1957 Milwaukee Braves

The 1957 Milwaukee Braves

The starting pitching was led by Warren Spahn, who had a 21-11 record and an ERA of 2.69. No. 21 also had 18 complete games. “Bullet” Bob Buhl was 18-7 and had an ERA of 2.74 and had 14 complete games. Lew Burdette was 17-9 and had an ERA of 3.72 and he also completed 14 games. No. 33 would later have one of the greatest World Series performances in history.

Saves were not considered to be a big part of the game back in 1957, but in the late innings, the Braves usually brought in Don McMahon, who was 2-3, had eight saves, finished 19 other games and had an ERA of 1.54. McMahon struck out 46 hitters in 46.1 innings.

In closing out games, the Braves also used Ernie Johnson, who was 7-3, had four saves, finished 16 other games and had an ERA of 3.54.

In terms of how the pitching was ranked in the National League, the Braves were second in ERA (3.47) and first in complete games (60).

The offense of the Braves was led by NL MVP Hank Aaron, as the right fielder hit 44, homers, drove in 132 runs and had a batting average of .322. Aaron was helped by slugging third baseman Eddie Mathews, who hit 32 homers, drove in 94 runs and hit .292.

Both Aaron and Mathews were National League All Stars in 1957 and they were joined by Spahn, Burdette, shortstop Johnny Logan (10-49-.273) and second baseman Red Schoendienst (6-32-.310).

Schoendienst came to the Braves via a trade earlier in the 1957 season, when Milwaukee acquired him from the New York Giants.

Other players chipped in offensively, as left fielder Wes Covington had 21 homers, 65 RBIs and a .284 average, while catcher Del Crandall had 15 homers, 46 RBIs and hit .253.

Because of a knee injury to Billy Bruton, time was split in center field, as both Bruton (5-30-.278) and Andy Pafko (8-27-.277) each saw playing time there.

At first base, Frank Torre (5-40-.272) and Joe Adcock (12-38-.287), platooned at the position.

One of the biggest things which helped the team in the second half of the 1957 was the call up of Bob “Hurricane” Hazel, who also received some playing time in the outfield as a left-handed hitter. Hazel hit seven homers and drove in 27 runs and hit .403 in 41 games.

The Braves were led in the World Series by a number of players, but especially the performance of Burdette. Burdette pitched 24 consecutive scoreless innings, won three games, pitched two shutouts (Game 5 and Game 7) and had an ERA of .067.

Lew Burdette in the 1957 World Series

Lew Burdette in the 1957 World Series

Aaron hit .393 in the World Series and hit three homers and drove in seven runs.

It took seven games for the Braves to beat the Yankees in the World Series.

  • Game 1- Yankees 3, Braves 1 at Yankee Stadium
  • Game 2- Braves 4, Yankees 2 at Yankee Stadium
  • Game 3- Yankees 12, Braves 3 at Milwaukee County Stadium
  • Game 4- Braves 7, Yankees 5 (10 innings) at Milwaukee County Stadium
  • Game 5- Braves 1, Yankees 0 at Milwaukee County Stadium
  • Game 6- Yankees 3, Braves 2 at Yankee Stadium
  • Game 7- Braves 5, Yankees 0 at Yankee Stadium

But when it was all said and done, the Braves had won their first World Series since 1914, when they were still in Boston.

The Braves and Yankees would face each other in the 1958 World Series again, but this time the Yankees won it, as they came back from a three games to one deficit and beat the Braves four games to three.

Burdette did go 20-10 and had an ERA of 291 in 1958, but he did not fare as well in the 1958 World Series, as he was 1-2 with an ERA of 5.64.

Aaron had another fabulous season in 1958, as Hammerin’ Hank hit 30 homers and drove in 95 runs, plus hit .326. No. 44 also hit .333 in the 1958 World Series, but didn’t hit a homer and only drove it two runs.

Still, the 1957 season was the crowning achievement for the Braves in Milwaukee. And even though the team left for Atlanta after the 1965 season, Milwaukee fans will never forget players like Aaron, Mathews, Spahn and Burdette.

In his time in Milwaukee as a Brave, Aaron hit 398 homers, drove in 1,305 runs and hit a cumulative .319.

Meanwhile, Mathews hit 452 homers, drove in 1,271 runs and hit a cumulative .277 in his 13 years in Milwaukee.

Mathews and Aaron

Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron

In his 13 years in Milwaukee, Spahn was 234-138, which included winning over 20 games per season nine times. No. 21 had a cumulative ERA of 2.88. Spahnie also had 232 complete games.

Burdette meanwhile, was 173-109 in 11 years in Milwaukee with an cumulative ERA of 3.28. The Nitro, West Virginia native also had 146 complete games in Beertown plus had 17 saves.

Warren Spahn II

Warren Spahn

But all in all, 1957 was truly a special year in Wisconsin, as the Packers had a stadium built for then which is now considered the ultimate shrine in the NFL, while the Braves did something that has yet to be achieved again in Milwaukee, although the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers came close. That is, winning a World Series title.

When people talk about classic cars, you always hear about the ’57 Chevy Bel-Air. When people in Wisconsin talk about memorable years in the history of sports in the Badger state, 1957 should be one of the years that should be right near the top.

I know 1957 will always be a special year for me, because that’s when my journey through life began.

How will Aaron Rodgers and the Packers Fare vs. the Panthers

Aaron vs. Panthers

In a must win situation, just how will the 7-6 Green Bay Packers and the just cleared to play Aaron Rodgers fare against the 9-4 Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday?

Based on some historical data, I would say quite competitively.

First, both teams have a lot to play for on Sunday. The Packers need a win to keep their postseason hopes alive, most likely as a Wild Card, while the Panthers still can win the NFC South and perhaps get a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

The Panthers and the New Orleans Saints both are 9-4, but the Saints own the tiebreaker over the Panthers because of beating them head-to-head twice and also because of a better divisional record.

The Packers have a slim chance of winning the NFC North, but the Minnesota Vikings would have to lose all three of their remaining games (including one vs. the Packers at Lambeau), wile the Packers would have to win all three of their remaining games.

The Wild Card appears the most likely route for the Packers to get into the playoffs, as the Packers will hold a head-to head edge on the Panthers with a victory, plus have that same edge on both the 8-5 Seattle Seahawks and 7-6 Dallas Cowboys currently if all ended up with a similar record at season’s end.

Currently the Packers are seeded ninth in the NFC playoff picture, but a lot could change in three weeks. No matter what, the Packers have to run the table, just like they did in the 2016 season, to make the postseason.

Which takes me to the historical data.

In 2016, the Packers were 4-6 and needed to win all of the remaining six games to make the playoffs. Not only did they do that, but they also won the NFC North. Plus, the Packers also won two games in the postseason to advance to the NFC title game before they lost for the first time in two months.

So winning out in 2017 is definitely possible, plus the team is already on a two-game winning streak thanks to back-to-back overtime wins the past couple of weeks keyed by backup quarterback Brett Hundley.

But how will Rodgers perform coming back from a broken (right) collarbone and against a stout Carolina defense, which is ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense.

Again, let’s go back to historical information.

Rodgers has done this before, as he also broke his (left) collarbone in 2013. In the first game back after the injury, which happened to also be a do-or-die situation in Week 17 vs. the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, Rodgers performed very well overall.

In that particular game, a lot rode on the outcome. The winner would win the NFC North and the loser would go home.

Rodgers wasn’t sharp early in that game, but as the contest wore on, his performance improved. No play was bigger than the one that No. 12 made with just 46 seconds to go in the game and the Packers facing a fourth and eight situation from the Chicago 48-yard line and trailing 28-27.

Rodgers rolled left and eluded a sack from future teammate Julius Peppers, with some help from fullback John Kuhn on a chip-block, and he threw long to wide receiver Randall Cobb for a game-winning 48-yard touchdown pass with just 38 seconds to go.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

In the 33-28 victory, Rodgers threw for 318 yards and also two touchdown passes to go along with two interceptions. Rodgers had only a 85.2 passer rating in the game, but he was clutch when he needed to be, which also included running for a key first down on the game-winning drive.

In an ironic twist, after playing with the Packers from 2014 through 2016 (25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions for touchdowns), Peppers now plays with the team that drafted him, the Panthers. And now once again, Peppers gets to face Rodgers in his first game back coming back from a broken collarbone.

Peppers is currently tied with Mario Addison in leading the Panthers in sacks so far in 2017 with 9.5. Carolina is tied for third in the league with 40 sacks.

Now let’s look at how Rodgers has fared against the Panthers. Overall in his career versus Carolina, Rodgers is 2-2, but has played very well. In those four games, Rodgers has thrown 12 touchdown passes compared to just two picks for 1,230 yards. That adds up to a 112.2 passer rating against the Panthers.

But let’s peel back the onion even more and look at two fairly recent games against the Panthers, when Rodgers faced up against Cam Newton at quarterback and a number of the defenders he will be facing on Sunday were playing.

The first occurred in 2014 at Lambeau Field in Week 7. In a 38-17 victory by the Packers, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 255 yards. His passer rating for the game was 154.5.

Then, in Week 9 of the 2015 season at Bank of America Stadium, the same year the Panthers were on their way to the Super Bowl, Rodgers threw four touchdown passes versus one interception for 369 yards (96.6 passer rating), as the Packers lost to the Panthers 37-29.

So, based on all that, what will happen when Rodgers and the Packers face the Panthers on Sunday?

Well, just the fact that Rodgers will be in the lineup makes the Packers much better, even though Hundley kept the playoff hopes of the Packers alive by going 3-4 in seven starts.

The new and improved running game behind Jamaal Williams the last five games (352 yards rushing and three touchdowns) makes the offense much more versatile.

The play-action pass should be very effective this Sunday, as should the screen pass, which has also been a nice weapon as of late for the Packers.

Speaking of the passing game, Williams has also been an asset there as well, as he’s had 18 receptions for 193 yards and two more scores in the past five games.

Since Rodgers has been out, Davante Adams has become the No. 1 receiver on the Packers with Hundley at quarterback, while both Cobb and Jordy Nelson have had secondary roles. With Rodgers under center now, I believe No. 12 will distribute the ball better to all of his receivers, which also includes the tight ends.

The offensive line of the Packers has been solid as of late, with Jason Spriggs playing okay at right tackle now that Bryan Bulaga is out for the season (torn ACL). The rest of the line remains intact with left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Lane Taylor, center Corey Linsley and right guard Jahri Evans doing their usual reliable work.

Before he broke his collarbone in Week 6 versus the Vikings, Rodgers was having another MVP-type season, as he had thrown 13 touchdown passes versus three picks for 1,385 yards (103.2 passer rating).

So, how do I see this game? The defense of the Packers definitely has holes, both in stopping the run and with injuries in the secondary. I believe that Newton and company will get their fair share of points against the D of the Pack, but I also think that Rodgers and company will do the same against a very good defense.

Will that mean a win for the Pack? That I can’t say for certain, but this could be the type of game that comes down to the final possession.

Just like the Week 17 game against da Bears in Chicago in 2013.

The History Between the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns

 

Jim Brown and Willie Davis 1965 NFL title gameWhen the 6-6 Green Bay Packers take on the 0-12 Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, this will be only the 19th time the two teams have met in the regular season. That is somewhat hard to believe, knowing that the Packers have been in the NFL since 1921 and the Browns first joined the league in 1950.

Yes, both teams have been in different conferences in the NFL up until the NFL-AFL merger and beyond, but it is still a bit surprising that the teams only have met 18 times up to this point.

It’s also a bit shocking that the two teams have only met once in the postseason as well, especially knowing how good both teams were in the 1960s. As it was, the only time the two teams met was in the 1965 NFL title game at Lambeau Field. More on that game later.

By the time the Browns came into the NFL in 1950, after first dominating the All-American Football Conference from 1946 through 1949 (four league titles), the Packers had fallen on hard times.

1950 was the year when founder and head coach Curly Lambeau left the Packers to coach the Chicago Cardinals.

The Packers had won six NFL titles (1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939 and 1944) under Lambeau, but the things changed for the Packers once Don Hutson retired after the 1945 season and the All-American Football Conference was born in 1946.

That meant the Packers and the rest of the NFL were competing monetarily for draft picks and veterans with the AAFC.

That hurt the Packers financially, as did the fact that Lambeau purchased the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949. That purchase did not sit well with the members of the executive committee.

Nor did the team’s play, as the Packers went 3-9 in 1948 and then 2-10 in 1949.

Then the Rockwood Lodge burned down on January 24, 1950, and Lambeau ended up resigning a week later to coach the Chicago Cardinals (later the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals and now the Arizona Cardinals).

The 1950s turned out to be the worst decade in the history of the Packers, as the team was just 39-79-2.

Meanwhile, the new kid on the NFL block, the Browns, dominated the NFL for the most part in that decade. The Browns played in seven NFL title games and won three of them (1950, 1954 and 1955).

The Packers and Browns only met three times during the 1950s, and as one might expect, Cleveland dominated, winning all three times by a combined score of  92-17.

But the Browns did help the Packers quite a bit in 1959. That was when their founder and head coach Paul Brown, along with assistance from George Halas of the Chicago Bears, heartily endorsed New York Giants offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi to become the next head coach of the Packers.

The Packers were reeling then, as the team had sunk to a 1-10-1 record in 1958 under head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean. Thanks to the efforts of super scout Jack Vainisi of the Packers, Lombardi was indeed named the new head coach and general manager of the team in 1959.

Brown wasn’t done helping the Packers either. After Lombardi assumed his dual role in Green Bay, he and Brown made a number of trades.

The first three trades happened in 1959, when Lombardi first traded star wide receiver Billy Howton to the Browns for halfback Lew Carpenter and defensive end Bill Quinlan.

In his second trade, Lombardi parted with a fourth-round pick in the 1960 NFL draft for defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

In the third trade, Lombardi traded a fifth-round pick in the 1960 NFL draft for defensive back Bob Freeman.

In 1960, Lombardi and Brown made another deal. This time Lombardi parted with end A.D. Williams for defensive end Willie Davis.

Then in 1961, Lombardi traded a third-round pick in the 1962 NFL draft for quarterback John Roach, who served as Bart Starr’s backup for a couple of seasons until Zeke Bratkowski arrived on the scene.

Bottom line, it was quite a haul for Lombardi in those trades. He was able to get two future Hall of Famers in Jordan and Davis, plus acquired a four-year starter at defensive end in Quinlan. Carpenter was also a solid reserve and special teams player for five years with the Packers.

Jim Taylor vs. Browns in 1961

Lombardi and Brown only faced off against each other one time as head coaches, which was in 1961. The Packers dominated that game, by beating the Browns 49-17 at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

The 1961 season was the first that Lombardi and his Packers brought their first NFL championship to Titletown, with some assistance from President John F. Kennedy.

Lombardi and the Packers won another NFL title in 1962, while Brown was fired by owner Art Modell after that season.

New head coach Blanton Collier led the Browns to the 1964 NFL title, but did suffer a 28-21 loss to the Packers at Milwaukee County Stadium in the regular season.

Collier and his Browns made it to the 1965 NFL title game again, this time against Lombardi and his Packers at Lambeau Field. This would be the first appearance in a NFL title game for Green Bay since 1962.

The running game of the Packers had struggled almost the entire year in 1965, as the Packers finished 10th in the NFL in rushing. Still, the Packers could not be stopped toting the rock on this snowy and muddy day on the frozen tundra against the Browns.

Paul Hornung running the power sweep

Green Bay rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and Hornung, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders so the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.

Meanwhile, the defense of the Packers held the great Jim Brown to just 50 yards rushing.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.

The 1965 season was the first of three straight NFL championships for the Packers. No team in the modern history of the NFL has ever duplicated that feat.

In 1966, the Packer won their second straight NFL title and also Super Bowl I. On their way to those achievements, the Packers beat the Browns 21-20 in the second game of the season at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in a stirring comeback.

The Browns, eager to repay the Packers after the 1965 NFL title game defeat, jumped to a 14-0 lead. But the Packers bounced back and had the ball down 20-14 late in the the game.

In the closing seconds of the game, and on fourth down, Starr hit Taylor with a nine-yard touchdown pass, as No. 31 avoided two tacklers. The result? A 21-20 victory by the Packers.

The Packers won their third straight NFL title in 1967, plus won Super Bowl II. During the regular season, the Packers played the Browns again, this time at Milwaukee County Stadium.

The game has become very memorable in Green Bay lore, due to the performance of rookie kick returner Travis Williams. Williams returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that day in the first quarter. The first was 87 yards and the second one was 85 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the “Roadrunner” rushed for 43 yards in just four carries, as the Packers blew out the Browns 55-7.

Another rookie on the Packers, quarterback Don Horn, got his first meaningful playing time that season in the fourth quarter.

Horn related a story to me about that game, which shows the class and dignity of his head coach.

“It’s late in the fourth quarter and I drove the team 50 or 60 yards to the Cleveland seven-yard line,” Horn said. “There’s two minutes to go and we were up at the time 55-7. So I’m think we are going to score. All of a sudden Forrest Gregg comes back into the game, as by then all the backups were in the game. So that was sort of odd.

“So I’m thinking to myself that Forrest brought in a play for me to run and we are going to score. But instead, Forrest grabs me and pulls me aside and says, ‘The old man told me to tell you NOT to score.’ So I ran the clock out just like Coach Lombardi wanted.

“After the game ended, Vince was one of the first guys to see me. He grabbed me and he said, ‘Donald (as he pointed over to head coach Blanton Collier of the Browns), you see that gentleman over there? 55 is bad enough. I’m not going put 62 on him. That man is a gentleman. Do you understand, son?’ And I replied, yes sir. Lombardi then says, ‘Okay. Good.’

From 1968 through 1989, the Packers only made two playoff appearances (1972 and 1982 and had one divisional title (1972), while the Browns were regulars in the postseason, with 11 appearances (1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989), won eight divisional titles (1968, 1969, 1971, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1989) and played in four conference title games (1968, 1969, 1988 and 1989).

In that period, the Packers and Browns met five times. The Packers surprisingly beat the Browns in three of those games.

Since 1989, the Browns have only made two postseason appearances (1994 and 2002), plus have seen the original franchise move to Baltimore and become the Ravens after the 1995 season.

Since 1993, the Packers have become a regular in the NFL postseason, as the team has played in 39 playoff games since that year, winning 21 of those games. Green Bay has also won two Super Bowls, one after the 1996 season, and one after the 2010 season.

The Browns have yet to play in one Super Bowl.

The Packers met the Browns in Cleveland in 1995 after Modell announced that the team was moving to Baltimore. Green Bay won that contest 31-20.

Brett vs. the Browns in 1995

The Browns got a new team in Cleveland in 1999, but except for a few bright moments like the one and only postseason appearance in 2004, the team has been one of the NFL’s worst teams since then.

In my opinion, a lot of that has come from the terrible ownership which has controlled the Browns since their new inception. Both the Lerner family and now current owner Jimmy Haslam have sunk the organization to depths that the great fans in Cleveland certainly don’t deserve.

It’s been especially brutal under Haslam’s “leadership”, as the team has gone 20-72 since he became owner in 2012, which includes this season’s mark of 0-12.

It’s also important to note that Mike Holmgren played a large role with both teams over the years.

While Holmgren coached the Packers from 1992 thorough 1998 (75-37 record), the team went to the postseason six times, won three divisional titles, played in three NFC title games and won twice and played in two Super Bowls and won once (Super Bowl XXXI).

After coaching the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, the Browns named Holmgren as their team president in 2009. Under his guidance, the Browns did not fare very well, as the team went 19-45.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of the Browns over the past quarter century, both before the team moved and after the new team arrived, is the play at the quarterback position, not to mention the game of musical chairs the Browns have played at quarterback.

From 1992 through 1995, the Browns had seven different starting quarterbacks in that period, led by Vinny Testaverde with 31 starts and Bernie Kosar with 14 starts.

Since 1999, the Browns have had 30 different starting quarterbacks.

Compare that with the Packers, who have seen Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers get the bulk of their starts over the past 25 years. Favre started 253 straight regular season games for the Packers from 1992 through 2007.

Rodgers has started in 141 games since then. In the games when Rodgers was injured (concussion or broken collarbone) or rested, the Packers have started only four other quarterbacks (Matt Flynn, Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Brett Hundley).

The Browns overall regular season record over that time is 94-206. The Packers overall regular season record over that time is 260-151-1.

The Packers and Browns have met four times in the 21st century, with the Packers winning three of those four games.

That puts the Packers in the lead in all-time series with an 11-7 advantage.

It still seems very strange that two teams with as rich a history as both the Packers and Browns have had throughout their time in the NFL, have only met 18 times in the regular season and just once in the postseason.

The 2017 Packers are trying to get back to the postseason for the ninth straight time, while the Browns would love to just sniff the postseason at this point.