In looking back on the history of the Green Bay Packers, there are a lot of similarities between the 1965 team and the 2015 team.
Let’s look at how these two teams are alike. Both teams started 6-0. Both teams went into a three-game funk after their undefeated start of the season. Both teams struggled offensively, both on the ground and in the air. Both teams had the Minnesota Vikings on their schedule in the 10th game of the season, with the game being played in Minneapolis.
If we take a closer look at the 1965 team under head coach Vince Lombardi, one can see that the season was filled with peaks and valleys.
After the team went 6-0 to start the season, the Packers scored only 23 points in their next three games. The team was fortunate to only lose two of those three games, as the Packers won their game against the Los Angeles Rams by a score of 6-3.
For the season, the Packers were ranked 12th in total offense. Remember that the NFL was a 14-team league back in 1965. The Packers were ranked 10th in rushing offense and just 11th in passing offense.
Quarterback Bart Starr did not miss a start all season, but had to leave games due to injuries on a couple of occasions.
Going into training camp in 1965, right guard Jerry Kramer just wanted a chance to play. Kramer had missed almost the entire 1964 season due to intestinal issues.
I talked to Kramer on Friday and he told me about meeting with Lombardi before training camp that season.
“I reported to camp at around 220 pounds,” Kramer said. “I nine operations that offseason, which involved removing 16 inches of my colon because of a bunch of slivers that were in there for 11 years.
“So when I went to talk with Coach Lombardi about playing, he said, ‘Jerry, we can’t count on you this year. I just want you to go home and we’ll take care of your salary and your hospital bills.’
“I told Lombardi that I really wanted to play. I knew that I had already missed most of the ’64 season and if I missed the ’65 season, I would probably never get a chance to play again.
“I told Lombardi that I would not go home and that I wanted to play. We went back and forth about this for about 35 or 40 minutes. Finally Lombardi says, ‘Okay, I’m going to put you with the defense.’
“I said, great. I always wanted to play defense anyway.”
Kramer soon found out that his task of getting in football shape would be very difficult.
“We always used to take three laps around the field to start practice. I ran a half of a lap and my lungs seized up. I just couldn’t breathe or get any air. Don Chandler came up to me and asked, ‘What’s wrong, pal?’
“I told Don that I can’t breathe. Don told me that, ‘Between the two of us, we would do what one of the players does in terms of an exercise. If you can only do a half of a lap, I’ll do the other two and half laps.’
“So Don worked out besides me for the next month and we did just that. If the team did 50 sit ups and I could only do 10, Don would do the other 40. If the team did 50 side-saddle hops and I could only do 15, Don would do the other 35.
“So Don kept me in the game and kept me from being embarrassed. That kept me from feeling like a jerk in front of a bunch of world-class athletes. So by doing that procedure with Don, I gradually was able to do more and after a month I was able to do all of the exercises.
“I gained about 15 pounds. I knew that the colostomy was reattached, the hernia was fixed and the intestines were okay. It was just going through the reconditioning which was so difficult.
“Without Don, I really doubt that I could have made it through that camp. So all the books, all the Super Bowls and all the great things that happened to me after that was because of my teammate.”
The 1965 campaign started out very well for the Packers, just like the 2015 season did for the current team in Green Bay. The team started out 6-0 and the second win of the season was against the arch rival Baltimore Colts in Milwaukee.
The Colts had won the Western Conference the year before in the NFL and it would be the first of three games that the Packers and Colts would face each other in 1965.
Kramer talked about how he worked himself into the lineup early in that season.
“That year, I played in couple of games and then was sat down a couple of games. A kid by the name of Danny Grimm took my spot when I wasn’t playing. We had a tradition there at the time about helping out the guy who played your position.
“When Fuzzy lost his job in 1967, he helped out and coached Gilly [Gale Gillingham]. Doug Hart did the same thing with Bob Jeter. I tried to do the same thing with Danny Grimm, but he told me he didn’t need any help.
“While I was out in ’64, Grimm played against Alex Karras when Alex had two pulled groin muscles. Danny didn’t know that. He told me and everyone else who would listen that he had Karras figured out and he wasn’t so tough.
“Well, Alex read what Grimm had been saying and he wasn’t happy about it. So the next time they met, which was the first half of the game in ’65, Alex tore Grimm’s helmet off one time and knocked him into the quarterback countless other times. He just had his way with the kid.
“After one of those violent encounters, Alex yelled to Grimm and said, ‘How do you like those moves ass-face?’
The Packers were down 21-3 at halftime of that game when Kramer was inserted back into the starting lineup. The Packers scored 28 unanswered points in the second half and won 31-21.
The right guard job was Kramer’s for good after that.
When the Packers went through the three-game stretch when the team only scored 23 points overall, Lombardi was beside himself with anger over the way the team was performing.
On one occasion while the team was watching film during that period, Lombardi picked up a metal folding chair and held it over tight end Marv Fleming’s head.
Kramer recounted that story.
“Coach said, ‘Marvin, I get so frustrated with you. I could just brain you!’
Kramer continued talking about the frustration level of Lombardi at that time.
“I don’t think Coach knew quite what to do,” Kramer said. “Our running game was sputtering. But he kept us working and grinding away to get better in all phases and it started clicking for us after awhile.”
In the game against the Vikings in Minneapolis after the tough three-game stretch, the Packers won in convincing fashion, 38-13.
The Packers lost the next week against the Rams, but had perhaps their best game of the season against the Colts in Baltimore the second-to last game of the year.
Hornung had 181 total yards and scored five touchdowns in the 42-27 win by the Packers. Starr threw three touchdown passes. Taylor chipped in with 105 total yards.
The Packers tied the 49ers 24-24 on the road at Kezar Stadium in the last game of the year, which set up a playoff game versus the Colts at Lambeau Field to see who would become the Western Conference champs.
The game did not start out well for the Packers, as tight end Bill Anderson fumbled the ball after catching a pass from Starr just 21 seconds into the game and linebacker Don Shinnick returned the fumble 25 yards for a score.
Starr injured his ribs on the play trying to tackle Shinnick and was forced to leave the game. The Colts had issues at quarterback as well, as halfback Tom Matte had to play the position in the game, as neither Johnny Unitas or his backup Gary Cuozzo could play.
The Packers fell behind 10-0 at halftime. Behind backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski, the Packers closed to within 10-7 at the end of the third period.
Toward the end of the game, one of the most controversial plays in NFL history took place. The Packers got within field goal range with just 1:58 left in the game and Chandler attempted a 22-yard field goal.
The referees ruled that the kick was good, although Baltimore loyalists claim the kick sailed wide right. Chandler’s kick flew high above the upright, which triggered the NFL to extend the goal posts’ height the following season.
It led to a sudden death overtime period. The Colts had a chance to win it first, but Lou Michaels missed a 47-yard field goal. Finally, Chandler nailed a no-doubt 25-yard field goal to win the game 13-10 for the Packers.
That meant the Packers would be playing in their first NFL title game in three years, this time against the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.
Although the running game of the Packers had struggled almost the entire year, the Packers could not be stopped on this snowy and muddy day on the frozen tundra.
Green Bay rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and Hornung, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders so the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.
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.
Bottom line, although it was an immense struggle at times, that 1965 Green Bay team looked within themselves and found the intestinal fortitude it took to get the job done and win the NFL championship.
Time will tell if the 2015 version of the Packers can do the same thing.