Reflections on the First Ever Holiday Bowl

Holiday Bowl Program

The Wisconsin Badgers will be facing the USC Trojans in the Holiday Bowl this upcoming Wednesday, December 30. Earlier this month, I wrote stories about the bowl history of the Badgers and also their bowl history with USC.

The Badgers have played in 26 bowl games in their history, which includes nine Rose Bowl appearances. But their upcoming appearance in the Holiday Bowl will be the first time the Badgers have played a bowl game in California that wasn’t the Rose Bowl.

The initial Holiday Bowl was played in 1978. I remember it quite well. It was a matchup between the Navy Midshipmen and the BYU Cougars.

The quarterback for Navy was Bob Leszczynski. Bob just happened to be a former classmate and teammate of mine at Messmer High School in Milwaukee.

I was able to chat with Bob earlier this week and get some of his memories from his playing days at Navy.

In his senior year at Messmer, Leszczynski was named Wisconsin High School Football Player of the Year. Bob was in good company, as the previous year the award went to John Anderson of Waukesha South High School, and who later starred at the University of Michigan and later the Green Bay Packers.

In college, Leszczynski decided to go to Navy. As a freshman, he was the quarterback of the B squad which would practice against the defense of Navy, which just happened to be the No. 1 unit in the country. It was excellent training for the young quarterback.

Midway through his sophomore year, Leszczynski got an opportunity to start at quarterback. His second start came against Notre Dame at old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.


Leszczynski had a big game in the 27-21 loss to the Fighting Irish. “I had the game of my life,” Leszczynski said. “I threw for almost 300 yards and we almost beat them. It came down to me throwing a Hail Mary pass from around the 50 which ended up getting picked off.”

After that game, Leszczynski led Navy to three consecutive wins to end the 1976 season. One of those wins came against the biggest rival of the Midshipmen, Army.

In 1977, Leszczynski and Navy finished with a 5-6 record, but better things were definitely ahead for the Midshipmen in 1978.

“We were pretty confidant going into our senior year,” Leszczynski said. “We had guys like [wide receiver] Phil McConkey and a great group of juniors and sophomores on our team. So we thought we could be pretty good.”

The team bolted out to a 7-0 record to open the season and at one point were ranked No. 7 in the country, before losing three straight games. But the Midshipmen bounced back to beat Army once again before their matchup with BYU in the Holiday Bowl.

That appearance in the Holiday Bowl was just the sixth bowl appearance for Navy in their history and their first in 15 years.

Bob L. in Holiday Bowl

Leszczynski got off to a great start when he threw a long touchdown pass which unfortunately was called back due to a holding penalty.

BYU alternated two very good quarterbacks in the game. They were Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon, both of whom were first round draft picks in the NFL.

As the game wore on, BYU had a 16-3 lead midway through the third period. But then Navy stormed back to score the final 20 points of the game.

It started with a 4-yard touchdown run by Kevin Tolbert late in the third period.

In the fourth quarter, kicker Bob Tata of Navy kicked two field goals, but the decisive play of the game was a 65-yard touchdown pass from Leszczynski to McConkey.

Leszczynski talked about the 20- point swing. “We got our offense turned around,” Leszczynski said. “We started moving the ball and we scored late in the third period. Then we got a big turnover at around our 35 fairly early in the fourth quarter. On the very first play after that,  Coach [George] Welsh called a bomb to McConkey.

“I just dropped back to pass and threw it up there for McConkey to grab and he jumped up over the defender and made a great catch.”

You can see that great play, along with other highlights of the game in the video below which also talks about the origin of the Holiday Bowl.

The end result was a 23-16 win for Navy in the first ever Holiday Bowl. Leszczynski’s 65-yard touchdown pass to McConkey was a bowl record which stood for 18 years.

Leszczynski had a great career at Navy. He was 17-11 as a starter (including the Holiday Bowl win and two wins versus Army), plus is still second all-time in the Navy record book for career touchdown passes with 26.

Currently, Leszczynski is an agent at Aflac, plus is the quarterbacks coach at Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin, a position he’s held for six years.

Homestead won the Division II state football title in 2015. The Highlanders also won the state title in 2012.

Bottom line, the memories of that first Holiday Bowl will always stay with Leszczynski. He talked about the 30-year reunion his team had seven years ago.

“We dressed around 70 players for the Holiday Bowl,” Leszczynski said. “And at the 30-year reunion, with guys who now lived all over the world and all over the country, we had over 60 players from that game show up to the reunion.

“It was great seeing all the guys that I hadn’t seen in 30 years. The turnout was incredible. And so were the memories.”

Green Bay Packers: The Debacle in the Desert

There is no real simple answer as to why the Green Bay Packers were royally throttled 38-8 on Sunday by the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

But if you peel back the onion deep enough, it all comes back to one thing. That would be inconsistent, ineffective, inadequate and at times inept play by the offensive line of the Packers.

Listen, I know there have been a ton of injuries on the line. We will get to that point a bit later.

A little over a month ago NFL scout Chris Landry talked about all the problems the Packers were having on offense on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

“You know, it’s a few things,” Landry said. “But it really stems from this. In the early part of the season, they were running the football fairly well.

“They’re not playing well up front. They are not running the football well. Against Denver, they were really exposed. And Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have time to make plays.

“The receivers are having a hard time getting off press-coverage. So, they are really out of sorts on offense. And it starts from up front. And if they can’t run the football any better, they are going to have a hard time because they are struggling to hold up under pressure.

“Listen, Aaron can extend plays, but guys aren’t getting open and making plays for him. And he’s starting to miss things and see things and it’s just not working.

“They’ve got to settle down and it’s got to start with from up front. I’ve kind of looked at it and thought maybe it’s time that Mike [McCarthy] looks at play-calling again.

“Listen, they miss Jordy Nelson. But it’s not all about Jordy Nelson. They were a little more effective in the first few games where didn’t have him in either, and Mike’s not ready to do that yet (call plays again).

“But they are going to have to start scheming people (receivers) open a little bit. Really, it’s a long-winded answer, but really it’s the offensive line which is the biggest culprit.

“If they can’t run the football any better, they are going to be in trouble. Listen, they’ve got a shot, because they’ve got Aaron Rodgers. They’ve got the ability to make some plays, but at this point it really is an issue up front.

“They have to figure that out, because I do think they are a team which is potentially dangerous. But right now, they are only dangerous to themselves.”

Landry said those things prior to the first game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis.

Since then, the Packers have begun to run the ball very well at times and Mike McCarthy is again calling plays for the Packers.

But in games where the Packers can’t run the football consistently, like in Arizona yesterday, the offensive line is just not getting it done protecting Aaron Rodgers when he goes back to pass.

Nothing was ever worse than the job the line did on Sunday. Rodgers was hit 12 times, sacked eight times and fumbled three times (two of which were returned for touchdowns).

Yes, I know left tackle David Bakhtiari didn’t play. I also know that right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed most of the second half with an ankle injury.

In addition to that, left guard Josh Sitton (back), center Corey Linsley (ankle) and right guard T.J. Lang (shoulder) are all playing hurt.

With Bakhtiari and Bulaga out of the lineup, Rodgers was facing an onslaught of pass pressure from the edges as both left tackle Don Barclay and right tackle Josh Walker were blocking like they were swinging gates.

That all goes back to general manager Ted Thompson and the lack of quality depth he has put together for the offensive line, most notably at offensive tackle.

The Packers have adequate depth at center (JC Tretter) and at guard, but it’s a different story at tackle.

I have always liked Barclay, but there is a reason why he wasn’t drafted after he had played left tackle at West Virginia. No. 67 just doesn’t have the foot speed necessary to take on edge rushers at the offensive tackle position in the NFL.

That’s why the Packers moved him to guard initially, because he is a much better fit there. But due to injuries, Barclay moved to right tackle, where he started 18 games in 2012 and 2013.

Barclay is a better-than-average run blocker, but his pass blocking is very suspect, especially taking on edge rushers. That has been quite apparent over the course of his NFL career.

Josh Walker held up pretty well playing offensive tackle this preseason for the Packers, but that was against second and third string competition.

When he had to play right tackle on Sunday against Dwight Freeney  of the Cardinals, he put together an embarrassing performance.

It got so bad that the Packers had to put in Tretter to play right tackle.

Any of you who have followed me throughout the years at places like Packer Report and Bleacher Report, know that I spend a lot of time evaluating various NFL draft prospects.

I’ve been doing draft articles and mock drafts for over a decade now. I’ve had a pretty good track record as well. A lot of my insight comes from the many conversations I’ve had with Landry.

In my final mock draft I did for the Packers for the 2015 NFL draft while I was still at Bleacher Report, I correctly named two of the players (Quinten Rollins and Jake Ryan) that the Packers ended up drafting.

But I also had the Packers taking an offensive tackle fairly early in the draft. I did that in all of my mock drafts before the actual 2015 NFL draft.

To me, Bulaga was too injury prone going into this season. When healthy, No. 75 is one of the best right tackles in the NFL, but he seems to be hurt a lot. In fact, in his six-year career with the Packers, Bulaga has missed 28 games due to various injuries.

Up until this year, Bakhtiari had been relatively healthy, having never missed a game in two years. But No. 69 has been struggling with knee issues since training camp and now has an ankle injury which caused him to miss the game versus the Cardinals.

I believe selecting an offensive tackle early in the 2016 NFL draft should be a priority for the Packers.

The Packers have a number of other issues, but the lack of depth at the offensive tackle position is glaring.

Finally, I realize that the Packers are having all sorts of problems on offense that can’t just be blamed on the offensive line.

Rodgers is missing on his passes far too often this season. The receivers have been struggling to get open, plus have dropped way too many passes. The running game has been either a hit or a miss, plus the backs have fumbled too many times.

The ineffectiveness of the offense has led to the defense being on the field far too often.

Bottom line, the Packers have less than a week to figure out all of their issues going into their matchup versus the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

The winner wins the NFC North. Either way, both teams will be in the NFC playoffs.

But that situation won’t last for long, at least based on the way the Packers played yesterday.

No matter what happens, Thompson and his scouting staff will have a lot of work to do this offseason to address a number of positions on the team.

Offensive tackle has to be one of the first priorities.

Green Bay Packers: Huge Clash in Arizona on Sunday

When the 10-4 Green Bay Packers take on the 12-2 Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday afternoon, there will be huge playoff implications involved.

As I wrote in a recent article, the Packers still have a chance to take the No. 2 seed from the Cardinals. That is very important, as the No. 2 seed would get a bye the first week of the postseason.

And for a team that is as beat up as the Packers have been recently, that week off would be a tremendous help to the team to get their walking wounded better able to play.

Now the Packers have already assured themselves a spot in the postseason for the seventh consecutive year, which is a team record.

But they still have not clinched the NFC North title yet, which would happen if the Packers win this week and the Minnesota Vikings lose to the New York Giants on Sunday night.

Even if the Packers lose this week, they can still win the NFC North by beating the Vikings at Lambeau Field next Sunday.

But the Packers should have bigger aspirations. A win this week against the Cardinals and a win next week versus the Vikings would mean the Packers would finish with a 12-4 record.

If Arizona lost again next week to the red hot Seattle Seahawks at home, then they would also be 12-4.

Both the Packers and Cardinals would be 9-3 in the NFC, but the Packers would win the tiebreaker because of their victory against the Cardinals.

So, the game on Sunday is a big one for the Packers, to say the least.

Like many football games, the play of the quarterbacks on each team could play a big factor as to wins or losses the game.

Both teams have very good signal callers. Both Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Carson Palmer of the Cardinals were both named to the Pro Bowl earlier this week.

In terms of how they compare to each other this season, Palmer has the edge on Rodgers in a number of stats.

Let’s take a look at the comparison:

Touchdown Passes

Palmer: 32

Rodgers: 29


Palmer: 9

Rodgers: 6

Passing Yards

Palmer: 4,277

Rodgers: 3,379

Passer Rating

Palmer: 106.7

Rodgers: 95.2

Completion Percentage

Palmer: 64.3

Rodgers: 60.8

Yards Per Completion

Palmer: 8.8

Rodgers: 6.8

Pass Completions Over 20-Plus Yards

Palmer: 62

Rodgers: 49

Pass Completions Over 40-Plus Yards

Palmer: 13

Rodgers: 6

So as you can see, Palmer is having an NFL MVP type of season. In fact, I would rank Palmer right up there with Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers as being one of the three favorites to win the NFL MVP award in 2015.

An award Rodgers won in 2011 and 2014.

Now there are reasons why both Palmer and Rodgers have put up the stat lines they have accumulated thus far.

Palmer has received better pass protection, as he’s been sacked just 23 times thus far in 2015. Rodgers has been sacked 33 times in comparison and hit a lot more often than that.

Palmer is also part of the No. 1 offense in the NFL, as they are ranked third in passing and sixth in rushing.

Meanwhile, Rodgers has been leading an offense which has struggled to find it’s identity so far this season.

The Packers are ranked 21st in the NFL in total offense. The Packers are ninth in the league in running the ball and just 26th in passing the ball.

It got to the point where head coach Mike McCarthy took over play calling duties again from Tom Clements prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys a couple of weeks ago.

Up until this season, McCarthy had always called the plays since he became head coach of the Packers in 2006. The Packers were in the top 10 in offense every one of those nine years except one.

Another reason that Palmer has put up such fantastic numbers in 2015 is the set of wide receivers he gets to throw to.

For instance, look at Larry Fitzgerald. The 32 year-old veteran has put together one of his finest seasons in 2015, as he was also named to play in the Pro Bowl.

Fitzgerald has 99 receptions for 1,131 yards and seven touchdowns. No. 11 is joined by John Brown (58-933-6) and Michael Floyd (45-722-6) to give the Cardinals a great trio of receiving weapons for Palmer to throw to.

The Packers have struggled putting up big numbers at the wide out position. A big reason why was the season-ending knee injury suffered by Jordy Nelson in the preseason.

The receivers for the Packers have often times had issues getting off the line of scrimmage, plus have had problems getting open and also running precise pass patterns.

That has caused timing issues between Rodgers and the receivers. Between that and the pass protection problems that Rodgers has had at times, one can see why his completion percentage is down five points in 2015 compared to his career average.

Randall Cobb is the leading receiver for the Packers currently with 70 catches for 777 yards and six touchdowns.

Davante Adams has struggled so far in 2015, due to ankle issues, untimely drops and overall very inconsistent play. Currently, Adams has 43 receptions for 387 yards and just one touchdown.

James Jones helped to fill the void of losing Nelson somewhat when he re-signed with the Packers just prior to the regular season opener. Jones has 41 catches for 742 yards and eight touchdowns. No. 89 also has a sparkling 18.1 yards-per-reception average.

The Packers do have a receiver who knows how to get open and also runs impeccable pass patterns. That would be Jared Abbrederis, the former Wisconsin Badger. No. 84 is starting to get some opportunities now as well.

The second-year receiver has just eight catches for 106 yards, but expect to see those numbers get a lot bigger over the next two games.

Both the Packers and the Cardinals can run the ball effectively at times, so both defenses have to be on their toes at all times.

The Cardinals come into the game with the No. 7 defense in the NFL, while the Packers are ranked 17th.

The Packers and Rodgers caught a huge break when defensive back Tyrann Mathieu suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Mathieu was named to the Pro Bowl this year as well, and he had played exceptionally well both as a safety and as a slot-corner. Before he hurt his knee, the “Honey Badger” had 89 tackles, one sack, 17 passes defended, five interceptions (one for a TD) and one forced fumble.

The loss of Mathieu is a huge one for the Cardinals. The secondary is still talented, especially with Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson usually lining up against the best receiver on the opposing team, but Mathieu did it all for the Cards in the secondary.

We shall see if Rodgers and the Packers can exploit that loss.

The Packers could also have a huge hole in the secondary if cornerback Sam Shields can’t play due to a concussion. Shields missed the game last week against the Oakland Raiders due to the concussion and is yet to practice this week.

The Packers will practice one more time this week on Saturday before their game on Sunday, as the players are off on Friday because of Christmas.

Most experts are giving the edge to the Cardinals in this game. In his scouting report story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bob McGinn talked to three NFL personnel men and all expected the Cardinals to win.

Bottom line, the Packers have a very difficult task on Sunday in trying to beat the Cardinals. Not many people are giving Green Bay a chance to win.

The stats so far in 2015 certainly say the Packers should lose.

That being said, this game could end up being a statement game for the Packers. A game that will show the rest of the NFL world what to expect in the postseason.

The Packers have not fared well in big games so far this year.

But that could all change on Sunday afternoon in Arizona, where a sizable throng of Packer fans will be in attendance.

Curly Lambeau’s Time in Green Bay and His Exodus to the Chicago Cardinals

Bob's latest 117

The Green Bay Packers play at Lambeau Field. There is a reason why the legendary stadium is named after Earl Louis “Curly” Lambeau.

Lambeau first showed his football prowess at Green Bay East High School, where he graduated in 1917.

After high school, Lambeau went to Notre Dame, where he started as a freshman at fullback on Knute Rockne’s first team in South Bend. Shortly after the season ended, Lambeau fell ill with tonsillitis and dropped out of school.

Back in Green Bay, Lambeau found work at the Indian Packing Company (later the Acme Packing Company). Then in 1919, Lambeau, along with George Whitney Calhoun, an editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, founded the Packers.

In 1919 and 1920, the Packers played on a semipro basis with the packing company as a sponsor.

In 1921, the Packers (backed by the Acme Packing Company) joined the American Professional Football Association, which became the National Football League in 1922.

Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, as the team won 209 games (a .656 winning percentage) and six NFL championships. Lambeau also only had one losing season in all those years leading up until 1948.

Besides being a the head coach, Lambeau was also a player through 1929.  He rushed for eight scores and also caught three touchdown passes in his career. In addition to that, Lambeau also threw 24 touchdown passes.

The multi-talented Lambeau was also a kicker (19 extra points and six field goals) and he scored a total of 110 points as a Packer. He also led the Packers in interceptions twice and returned one of those picks for a touchdown.

Lambeau is the only player in team history to wear No. 1 with the Packers, when he wore that number in 1925 and 1926. He also wore No. 14  in 1927, No. 42 in 1928 and finally No. 20 in 1929.

Lambeau had a number of very talented players who excelled on the field under his guidance. Six of those players were later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were Cal Hubbard, Mike Michalske, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Arnie Herber, Don Hutson and Tony Canadeo.

Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau

Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau

Things started to unravel for Lambeau and the Packers after World War II ended. Hutson retired after the 1945 season and that was a huge loss for the team. The Packers and the rest of the NFL were also competing with All-American Football Conference for players.

That meant that draft picks and veterans cost a lot more to bring in.

Add to that, Lambeau ticked off members of the executive committee by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.

There were a number of people who were not that enamored with Lambeau anyway, as he spent his offseasons in California. The word in Green Bay was that “Lambeau’s gone Hollywood”, especially among committee members.

Then the team 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 Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there.  The Cardinals had won the NFL championship in 1947 and had played in the NFL title game in 1948, and next to the Chicago Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.

Needless to say, people in Green Bay were not real happy when Lambeau joined forces with the Cardinals. Sort of like the feeling Packer Nation had when Brett Favre went to play for the Minnesota Vikings.

Lambeau did not fare well with the Cardinals, as in two seasons there, his teams were just 7-15.

In 1952, Lambeau became the coach of the Washington Redskins. In two seasons in the nation’s capital, his teams went 10-13-1.

Only once did a team coached by Lambeau get to play the Packers after he left Green Bay.

The game was played at old Marquette Stadium in Milwaukee in 1952, when the Packers beat Lambeau and the Redskins 35-20.

In 1963, Lambeau became a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Lambeau died of a heart attack on June 1, 1965 at the age of 67. Shortly thereafter, City Stadium was renamed Lambeau Field on September 11, 1965.

Yes, if not for Curly Lambeau, the Green Bay Packers and their storied history, would never have taken place.

Lots of Interesting Connections Between the Packers and Raiders

Vince and Jerry II

When the 9-4 Green Bay Packers play the 6-7 Oakland Raiders on Sunday afternoon at Coliseum, it will be the 13th meeting between the two teams.

The two teams have played 11 times in the regular season, where the Packers lead the series 6-5, and once in the Super Bowl, where the Packers won Super Bowl II.

The Packers have also won the last six games in a row. In fact, the last time the Raiders beat the Packers was almost 30 years ago, when the then Los Angeles Raiders beat the Packers 20-0 in the season opener in 1987 at Lambeau Field.

One thing is for sure, the two teams certainly have some interesting connections.

Super Bowl II was the last game Vince Lombardi ever coached for the Packers.  The Packers were up only 16-7 at halftime, when Jerry Kramer described the scene in his classic book Instant Replay.

“A few of us veterans got together— Forrest [Gregg] and ‘Ski’ [Bob Skoronski] and Henry [Jordan] and me and a few others—and we decided we’d play the last thirty minutes for the old man.  We didn’t want to let him down in his last game.”

The Packers did play the second half for the old man as Green Bay rolled to a 33-14 victory.

One of the best players on the Raiders in Super Bowl II was a defensive end by the name of Ben Davidson.  Davidson had become was of the AFL’s most feared defensive players and was an AFL All-Star from 1966-1968.  In fact, Davidson sacked Bart Starr in that particular Super Bowl.

Davidson started out his professional football career with the Packers in 1961, the first Lombardi team to win a NFL title.  Davidson was just a reserve lineman then, but he did play in every game of that season for the Packers.  The was Davidson’s one and only year in Green Bay, but at least he was able to experience a NFL championship.

The second time the Packers and the Raiders met was in September of 1972.  That was the year that the Dan Devine-coached Packers won the NFC Central crown for only the second time, and it wouldn’t be until 1995 that the Pack won the division again.

In that 1972 game, Raiders safety Jack Tatum scooped up a ball fumbled by Packer running back MacArthur Lane and raced 104 yards for a record touchdown.

It is still the all-time record in terms of fumble recovery yardage, although it was equaled by cornerback Aeneas Williams in a game against the Redskins in 2000, when he was with the Cardinals.  The Packers ended up losing that day to the Raiders, 20-14.

The next big game in terms of Packers-Raiders history was December 26, 1993 at Lambeau Field.  The Packers won that game 28-0, when the temperature was 0 degrees.  It was the third coldest game ever in Green Bay, only surpassed by the “Ice Bowl” in 1967 and the NFC Championship Game between the Packers and Giants in 2008.

But the play that makes the game memorable was the first ever Lambeau leap.

Safety LeRoy Butler forced a fumble that defensive end Reggie White recovered at the Raiders 35 yard line.  After returning the fumble 10 yards, White lateraled to Butler, who returned it the remaining 25 yards for a touchdown.  After the score, Butler jumped into the crowd in the south bleachers for the first leap, which is now a tradition.

 The opening game of 1999 at Lambeau Field was the next great moment of Packers-Raiders history. The 1999 season was Mike McCarthy’s first coaching job in Green Bay, as he was quarterbacks coach under head coach Ray Rhodes.  Playing with a thumb injury, Brett Favre brought the Packers back with a last minute drive and Green Bay won 28-24 when Favre hit tight end Jeff Thomason with a short touchdown pass.  Favre ended up having a very emotional press conference after the game.

Brett vs. Raiders in 2003

But no time was more emotional for Favre than December 22, 2003. That was the day after Favre’s father Irv had passed away after suffering a heart attack.

Favre decided to play that night in Oakland for his father, and also for the dad who coached him in high school.  What Favre did that night was simply incredible and heart warming.  Favre threw for 399 yards and four touchdown passes in a 41-7 Green Bay victory.

Then there is the Ron Wolf connection.

The Packers were swimming in mediocrity before then President Bob Harlan made a bold move and hired Wolf to lead the football operations of the Packers on November 27, 1991.  Wolf’s background in the NFL proved to Harlan that he could acquire the talent needed to make the Packers a upper-echelon team in the NFL.

Wolf started out in the NFL under Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders in 1963 at age 25, first as a scout and then as a key member of the front office of the Raiders.  Wolf helped bring Oakland a number of talented players in the draft, including the aforementioned Tatum, along with Gene Upshaw, Art Shell and Ken Stabler.

All of those players had key roles for the Raiders as Oakland won Super Bowl XI in 1976.

Wolf left Oakland in 1975 and moved on to Florida to head football operations of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Wolf brought in some very talented athletes, drafting players like Lee Roy Selman, Doug Williams and Ricky Bell.  That group led the Bucs to the NFC title game in 1979.

However, Wolf was not around to see what developed that year, as he resigned from the Bucs in 1978 and returned to work with his mentor Davis.  Wolf stayed on with the Raiders until 1990.  Once again, Wolf was able to bring in talents such as Marcus Allen, Howie Long and Matt Millen, and the Raiders won two more Super Bowl titles in that time frame.

Wolf then spent a year with the New York Jets front office, before taking the reins in Green Bay.  Wolf’s first move was to fire then head coach Lindy Infante and to hire Mike Holmgren as his new head coach.

Wolf also brought on a guy to help out in the scouting department for the Packers.  The guy’s name was Ted Thompson.  One of Thompson’s first jobs was to review tape of a player the Packers were thinking about acquiring via a trade.  Thompson looked at the tape of the player and gave his endorsement to Wolf about trading for him.  The player’s name was Brett Favre.

Wolf obviously made the trade, and the rest they say is history.

Wolf used the draft to build the Packers during his time in Green Bay, but Wolf also used trades and free agency to get excellent talent as well.  The Favre trade was huge, but Wolf was also able to get excellent talent in the trade market by acquiring players like tight end Keith Jackson, safety Eugene Robinson and running back Ahman Green over the years.

Wolf also acquired perhaps the best free agent in NFL history when he signed White, the Minister of Defense in 1993.  Wolf used free agency quite often, and he also signed players such as safety Mike Prior, defensive end Sean Jones, wide receiver Don Beebe, defensive tackle Santana Dotson, wide receiver/kick returner Desmond Howard and wide receiver Andre Rison.

Ron Wolf

Wolf oversaw 10 drafts with the Packers, and although he hit on some pretty good talent in early rounds—linebacker Wayne Simmons, guard Aaron Taylor, cornerback Craig Newsome, safety Darren Sharper, defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, tight end Bubba Franks and offensive tackle Chad Clifton—it was Wolf’s expertise in the mid-to-late round picks that brought a boatload of talent to the team.

Wide receiver Robert Brooks, running back Edgar Bennett, tight end Mark Chmura, offensive tackle Earl Dotson, running back Dorsey Levens, fullback William Henderson, linebacker Brian Williams, wide receiver Antonio Freeman, guard Adam Timmerman, cornerback Tyrone Williams, linebacker Keith McKenzie, cornerback Mike McKenzie, wide receiver Donald Driver, defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and offensive tackle Mark Tauscher are prime examples of that efficiency.

All of this led to one of the greatest periods in the history of the Packers.

From 1992-2000, the Packers had a 92-52 record (a .639 winning percentage), won three NFC Central titles, seven straight winning seasons, six straight playoff appearances, participated in three consecutive NFC Championship games (winning two of them) and were also in two consecutive Super Bowls—with the Packers winning Super Bowl XXXI.

All of that great work led to Wolf being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

Although there have been a couple of bumps in the road, the Packers have continued that excellence since Wolf left.

Wolf was a mentor to Thompson.  When Thompson was hired by Wolf, his first job was assistant Director of Pro Personnel in 1992.  Thompson later became Director of Pro Personnel from 1993-1996 and then as Director of Player Personnel from 1997-1999, before heading to Seattle with Holmgren to become Vice President of Football Operations.

Thompson returned to Green Bay in 2005 to become Executive Vice President, General Manager and Director of Football Operations.  Although Wolf was obviously his mentor, Thompson has used a different style in getting the Packers to the promised land of lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Coincidentally, the current GM of the Raiders (since 2012), Reggie McKenzie, worked under both Wolf and Thompson in Green Bay from 1994-2011.

After one year as GM, Thompson—like Wolf—also brought in a brand new head coach in Mike McCarthy, after the Mike Sherman-led Packers went 4-12 in 2005.

Unlike Wolf, Thompson uses the draft almost exclusively to build the Packers’ roster.  Rarely does Thompson dip his toes into free agency.

Thompson gets a lot of flack for his reluctance, but in 2006, he hit the jackpot when he signed Charles Woodson—who had been with the Raiders.  In the history of free agency, the Green Bay Packers have hit gold twice, once in 1993 when White was signed, and also with Woodson.

Charles Woodson vs. Raiders in 2011

In his first stint in Oakland, Woodson had OK stats, but nothing that would make you say, “wow.”  In his first eight years with the Raiders, Woodson had 17 interceptions, with two of those picks being returned for touchdowns.

Woodson also had five and a half sacks.  The former Michigan Wolverine Heisman Trophy winner also forced 14 fumbles and recovered five of them.  Woodson also went to four Pro Bowls and played in one Super Bowl, where the Raiders lost to the Buccaneers 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Then in 2006, Woodson came to Green Bay.

In his seven-year career with the Packers, Woodson put together a brilliant resume.  Woodson picked off 38 passes, including nine for touchdowns.  Woodson also forced 15 fumbles, recovering six more.  Woodson had 11.5 sacks to boot.

Add to that: Woodson was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  Woodson was also named to four more Pro Bowls and finally won a Super Bowl ring.  Looking at those stats, I would definitely say, “wow.”

Woodson returned to Oakland in 2013 after being released by the Packers and has remained with the Raiders ever since. And he is still playing at a high level, as he has had 10 interceptions in that time, plus has forced  four more fumbles, recovered seven more (one for a touchdown) and has had three more sacks.

On Sunday he will be facing the quarterback he practiced against for seven years in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is very familiar with the region of California where the game on Sunday will be played.

This will be the second time that Rodgers will have returned to the Bay area in 2015. The Packers also played the 49ers in Santa Clara in Week 3 of this current season.

Rodgers was born and raised in the Chico, which is about 170 miles northeast of the Bay area. No. 12 played his college football at nearby Cal (Berkely) as well.

Rodgers has only started one game against the Raiders, which was during the 2011 season, when Woodson was still a member of the Packers.

Aaron vs. Raiders in 2011

The Packers won that game 46-16 at Lambeau Field. That victory gave the Packers a 13-0 start to the 2011 season. Rodgers threw for 281 yards in the game, and also tossed two touchdown passes versus one pick.

Rodgers had a 96.7 passer rating in that game.

Incidentally, Woodson had a pick in that game as well versus the Raiders.

One of the wide receivers that Rodgers threw to that day was James Jones.  Jones had two catches for 29 yards in that contest.

But from 2007-2013, Jones put up some excellent numbers in Green Bay, when he had 310 receptions for 4,305 yards and 37 touchdowns.

In 2014, Jones left the Packers via free agency and signed with the Raiders. Jones had played his college ball at nearby San Jose State. Last season, Jones put up solid numbers with Oakland, as he had 73 catches for 666 yards and six touchdowns.

Even with those numbers, the Raiders still released the veteran wide receiver earlier this year. Jones was then signed by the New York Giants this summer, but was cut at the end of training camp.

Because of the season-ending knee injury Jordy Nelson had suffered during the preseason, Jones re-signed with the Packers just prior to the season opener. So far in 2015, Jones has 35 receptions for 660 yards and seven touchdowns.

Jones also has a sparkling 18.9 yards-per-catch average, which leads the NFL.

You know Jones wants to show the Raiders on Sunday that he still has it. The same thing would certainly apply to Woodson, as he looks across the line of scrimmage at the Packers.

Bottom line, we shall see how both Rodgers and Woodson perform on Sunday afternoon in Oakland, but one thing is for sure, both will have busts in Canton at some point in the future because of their fantastic careers in the NFL.

The Packers Still Have a Shot at the No. 2 Seed in the NFC

The Green Bay Packers have a 9-4 record heading into the their Week 15 confrontation with the 6-7 Oakland Raiders at Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.

The Packers are currently the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoff picture as the NFC North division leader.

If the Packers beat the Raiders on Sunday, the team would clinch a playoff spot for the seventh consecutive year.

The first priority for the Packers right now is to ensure a playoff berth. A win on Sunday takes care of that.

The second priority is to win the NFC North division. A win in either of the next two games and a win versus the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on Week 17 would take care of that scenario.

If that happens the Packers would be no worse than the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs.

With all of that in mind, the Packers still have a real opportunity to overtake the Arizona Cardinals for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, which would also mean a bye in the first week of the postseason.

The Carolina Panthers are currently locked in as the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 13-0 record.  There is a possibility of that changing, but the Panthers would need a collapse of epic proportions for that to happen.

The Cardinals are a different story, however. They have a very tough schedule down the stretch. Their final three games of the season are against the Philadelphia Eagles on the road, the Packers at home and the Seattle Seahawks at home.

If the Cardinals lost against either the Eagles or the Seahawks, plus lost to the Packers, the door would be wide open for Green Bay to get the No. 2 seed.

The Packers would need to win all three of their remaining three games for that to happen.

If that scenario happened, both the Packers and the Cardinals would be 12-4. Both teams would also have 9-3 records in the NFC.

The tiebreaker in that scenario would be the head-to-head game between the two teams. That would go to the Packers with a victory at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Could this really happen? It’s definitely a possibility.

The Cardinals are playing extremely well right now, but face a very serious test over the next three weeks. The Eagles are not a team that one should overlook. Just look at what happened when they played the New England Patriots a couple weeks ago.

The Packers seem to be gaining their stride, especially with head coach Mike McCarthy calling the plays again on offense, like he did last week versus the Dallas Cowboys.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the combination of Eddie Lacy and James Starks at running back played very well against the Cowboys under that scenario.

As did wide receiver Randall Cobb, who had his best game in a number of weeks with eight receptions for 81 yards.

The strength of the defense for the Packers has been their secondary and that would bode well against the Cardinals, with all the receiving threats that Arizona has at wide receiver.

A good pass rush would help as well and the Packers are currently tied for seventh in the NFL in sacks. That being said, quarterback Carson Palmer of the Cardinals has only been sacked 21 times.

Still, applying good pass-pressure doesn’t have to include a sack. The key is to interrupt the timing of a passing play.

After they play the Packers, the Cardinals will have to face the hottest team in the NFL right now, which is the Seahawks.

Bottom line, the Packers need to take it one step at a time. First get in the playoffs. Then win the NFC North for the fifth consecutive year.

At that point, if the possibility still remains, getting the No. 2 seed would be huge for the Packers. It would mean a week off for all the walking wounded on the team in the postseason.

But first things first. It all starts by winning at Oakland.

History Says Eddie Lacy Will Come Up Big Against the Cowboys

If you play fantasy football, the beginning of the playoffs starts this week. And if you have Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers as one of your running backs, you probably are in a bit of a quandary as to what to do with the former Alabama Crimson Tide star.

Before last week’s game versus the Detroit Lions, Lacy was coming off two straight games where he rushed for over 100 yards.

But things changed before the game against the Lions. Why? It was learned that Lacy, along with fellow running back Alonzo Harris, had missed curfew on Wednesday night in Detroit.

That led to a demotion for Lacy in terms of being the starting running back for the Packers against the Lions last Thursday night, while Harris received the ultimate punishment by the Packers, the pink slip.

Lacy also had limited playing time  in the game, as he had just 19 snaps against the Lions. No. 27 managed only 4 yards rushing on five carries and also caught one pass for minus-3 yards.

Overall, the 2015 season has been a disappointment for Lacy, as he’s only rushed for 517 yards (4.1 average) and two touchdowns. Lacy also has 16 receptions for 129 and another score.

Lacy has also fumbled four times and lost two of those fumbles.

There are a few reasons why the current season has been a down one for No. 27. Lacy has battled through an ankle and groin injuries, plus came into training camp too heavy this year in terms of his weight.

Right now, Lacy is on a pace for a little less than 700 yards rushing this season. That is a far cry from how he performed in his rookie season of 2013 and also last year.

In 2013, Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also had 35 catches for 257 yards. Those numbers led to Lacy being named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl berth.

In 2014, Lacy had another very nice season. He rushed for 1,139 yards and 11 touchdowns, plus had 42 receptions for 427 yards and four more scores.

As the weather got colder in Green Bay in 2013 and 2014, Lacy seemed to get better.

In the last two seasons in November and December, Lacy has averaged 746 yards and nine touchdowns in those two months and has had a 4.57 yards-per-carry average.

Lacy seemed to be doing the same thing this season, as he rushed for 100 yards against the Vikings and 105 yards against the Bears in two late November games.

The situation in Detroit ended that momentum.

Still, there are reasons to be optimistic about what Lacy will do in the last quarter of the 2015 season and more specifically what he will do this upcoming Sunday, when the Packers host the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.

First, it appears that Lacy and head coach Mike McCarthy have put the circumstances of the curfew violation behind them. Lacy had an excellent practice on Tuesday, and McCarthy seemed very pleased with No. 27’s efforts, as he spoke with the media.

“I think Eddie’s been rejuvenated,” McCarthy said. “His work was good today. Checked in on him, just like I do with all of our players. I look for him to have a very good week of practice and look for him to be productive Sunday.”

McCarthy sees good things ahead for Lacy if he continues to work hard.

“If Eddie or any other player wants to jump up and grab that opportunity, it’s right in front of him,” McCarthy said.

Lacy talked to the media on Wednesday and he said that he and McCarthy had ironed out the situation with the curfew violation.

“We had a conversation internally and they know that whenever I’m out on the field I’m going to do exactly what I have to do,” Lacy said. “I’m not a guy that makes a lot of mistakes or bad things off the field either, so that’s something they know they don’t have to worry about.

“But at the same time, talking only does so much. It’s about action as well. So just proving that I could back up what we discussed and I’m trustworthy.”

Based on what Lacy has done in the past against the Cowboys, the Packers and No. 27 should feel optimistic.

In 2013, when the Packers stormed back to beat the Cowboys 37-36  in Dallas, Lacy rushed for 141 yards (6.71 average) and a touchdown. Lacy also caught four passes.

In a 2014 NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Lambeau Field versus the Cowboys, Lacy rushed for 101 yards in the 26-21 victory by the Packers.

All the elements are setting up for Lacy to have  a big game against the Cowboys.

What would I do if I had Lacy on my fantasy team this week? I would definitely start him.

Time will tell if I’m correct, but history says that I should be.

Jerry Kramer Talks About the “Ice Bowl”

Bart Starr QB Sneak in Ice Bowl

I wrote this article just prior to the 2014 NFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys while I was still with Bleacher Report. The Packers won that game at Lambeau Field, 26-21. Since it’s now December, and the Packers are hosting the Cowboys once again this week at the legendary stadium on Lombardi Avenue, I thought it would be apropos to republish this story.

When the Dallas Cowboys play the Green Bay Packers this Sunday in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Lambeau Field, there will be one very interested observer in attendance.

That observer will be former Packers great Jerry Kramer. Talk about a very apropos occasion.

Kramer knows all about playing the Cowboys in the postseason, as he played against them in two NFL Championship Games: in 1966 in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl and in 1967 at Lambeau. The Packers won both of those contests.

The second game was the legendary “Ice Bowl,” which was played on December 31, 1967. It was also the last time the Cowboys and Packers have played at Lambeau Field in the postseason.

That is, until this upcoming Sunday.

Kramer played a key role in the victory over the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl as the right guard for the Packers. The game was called the “Ice Bowl” because it was extremely cold that day in Green Bay, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

If you added the wind, it was bone-chillingly cold, as there was a minus-48-degree windchill for the game.

I had another chance to talk with Kramer recently, who shared some of his memories from that frigid contest.

One thing Kramer had going for him was that he was used to playing in cold weather.

“I grew up in that kind of weather,” Kramer said of growing up in northern Idaho. “I remember hunting for ducks one time when it 25 below zero. But in that part of the country, if you didn’t go out and do things in the winter time you would go nuts. We learned to deal with the severe cold.

“I knew enough to put thermal underwear on, and I cut them off at the knees and the elbows. And I put a dickey around my neck and chest and put gloves on. Gale Gillingham came up to me and asked if I was keeping the gloves on. I said, ‘Hell yes, I’m going to wear gloves.’

“So I got prepared for the weather and got it out of my mind and just focused on the game.”

Kramer talked about the flow of that classic game, in which the Packers jumped to an early 14-0 lead as quarterback Bart Starr threw two touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler.

“It seemed so easy in the first half. Then it became so damn difficult in the second half,” Kramer said. “At the end of the first half there were a couple of fumbles (by Starr and punt returner Willie Wood) that you don’t really count on.

“Those things can be the difference in the game.”

Those fumbles led to scores by the Cowboys which made the score 14-10 at halftime.

The second half was a real struggle for the Packers, as 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.

The Packers were not doing anything offensively, either.

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

The score remained 17-14 late into the fourth quarter. The Packers got the ball back at their own 32-yard line with just 4:50 remaining in the game. Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra 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. Bob Skoronski made a key block on the give play later in the drive.

“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed. 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 picked up eight yards on the play, and the Packers now had the ball at the 3-yard line of the Cowboys. As a matter of fact, Mercein had accounted for 34 out of the 68 yards the Packers gained in that drive.

When it was over, the situation came down to this: just 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the Dallas 1-yard line.

Starr called a 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, after conferring with coach Vince Lombardi, Starr decided to keep the ball due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

That 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. 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.”

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.”

That touchdown occurred with just 13 seconds left in the game, which the Packers won 21-17. 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.

wrote about how Instant Replay was put together after another conversation with Kramer last August.

Kramer was also able to talk about Lombardi after the game as well.

“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.”

After the game, some of the players from the Packers decided to go to the Left Guard restaurant in Appleton, which left guard Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston owned, and toast the New Year.

“That was a fun night,” Kramer recalled. “Fuzzy and I were toasting the two greatest guards in the whole world all night long.”

Kramer and his teammates had the right to celebrate long and hard. The Packers had just won their third straight NFL championship (which no other team has ever done) and were on their way to winning their second straight Super Bowl.

The 2014 version of the Packers hope to celebrate after their game on Sunday versus the Cowboys. The fact that Kramer will be on hand to watch certainly won’t hurt.

The forecast for Sunday calls for a temperature of 17 degrees for the game. We shall see.

The forecasters were saying the same thing prior to the Ice Bowl before an arctic blast from a front moved in, causing the temperature to plummet downward and downward.

One never knows what will happen in the region where the Fox River connects to the bay off Lake Michigan this time of year.

Just ask Jerry Kramer.

Wisconsin Badgers: Their Bowl History with the USC Trojans

Ron Vander Kelen

When the 9-3 Wisconsin Badgers take on the 8-5 USC Trojans in the 2015 Holiday Bowl, it will be the seventh time the two teams have met overall and the third time the squads have met in a bowl game.

The  last time the Badgers played the Trojans was in 1966. The Badgers have yet to win any of the six games they have played against the storied football school out of Southern California.

That would include the only two times the teams have met in bowl games. Those games were the 1953 Rose Bowl and the legendary 1963 Rose Bowl.

The 1953 Rose Bowl was the first bowl game that the Badgers ever played in. All told, the Badgers have now played 27 bowl games in their history.

The Badgers were 6-3-1 during the 1952 season and were 4-1-1 in the Big Ten conference. That mark gave the Badgers the Big Ten title.

The Badgers were coached by Ivy Williamson in 1952. In seven years as head coach of the Badgers, Williamson had a sparkling 41-19-4 record.

When the Badgers took on the Trojans in the 1953 Rose Bowl, they would be facing the No. 1 defense in the country.

The Badgers knew a little bit about playing defense back then, as their 1951 team had the “Hard Rocks” defense, which was also ranked No. 1 in the country.

On offense, the Badgers had a sophomore running back by the name of Alan Ameche, who led the Big Ten in rushing that year with 721 yards. No. 35 would later go on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1954.

As a whole, the Badgers offense was very good. The Badgers led the Big Ten conference in total offense (415.5 yards per game), rushing offense (256.3 yards per game) and scoring offense (26.3 points per game).

In the actual Rose Bowl, with 101,500 fans in attendance, the Badgers had 353 total yards, including 133 rushing yards by Ameche.

The Badgers were dominant on the ground during the game, as Wisconsin had 211 yards rushing compared to just 48 for USC.

Alan Ameche

But the Badgers were never able to score versus the Trojans, as they were shut out 7-0. The Badgers had two terrific opportunities to score, but a turnover ended one drive inside the red zone, while another was stopped on fake field goal attempt at the two-yard line of the Trojans.

Rose Bowl MVP Rudy Bukich of USC threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to future Green Bay Packer Al Carmichael for the winning score in the third quarter.

The 1963 Rose Bowl between the Badgers and Trojans is one of the most famous bowl games ever played.

In the 1962 regular season, the Badgers were 8-1, which included being 6-1 in the Big Ten. Besides winning the Big Ten title that year, the Badgers also beat Notre Dame 17-8 that year at Camp Randall Stadium.

Wisconsin was coached by Milt Bruhn in 1962. Bruhn had a rocky start and finish in his tenure as head coach of the Badgers, but overall his teams were a respectable 52-45-6, which included two Rose Bowl appearances.

The Badgers had a prolific offense in 1962, which was led by quarterback Ron Vander Kelen and tight end Pat Richter.

Vander Kelen led the Big Ten in passing and total offense that season. Richter led the Big Ten in receiving yardage for the second straight season in 1962.

Going into the 1963 Rose Bowl, the Badgers were ranked No. 2 in the country, while the Trojans were ranked No. 1. There were 98,696 fans there to witness this classic contest.

USC got off to quick start led by quarterback Pete Beathard and the Trojans were up 21-7 at halftime. USC increased that lead by 42-14 early in the fourth quarter.

That’s when things got real interesting.

Vander Kelen led a stirring comeback for the Badgers. Wisconsin scored 23 straight points to pull within 42-37, but time ran out for Bucky in a thrilling fourth quarter.

Pat Richter

Vander Kelen completed 17-of-21 passes in just the fourth quarter alone. For the game, Vander Kelen ended up completing 33 of 48 throws for 401 yards, while Pat Richter finished with 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown.

Vander Kelen was co-MVP for the game, along with Beathard.

Time will tell how the 2015 Badgers will do against the 2015 Trojans, but it sure would be nice if Wisconsin can finally topple Southern Cal in a football game.

Especially in a bowl game, even if it isn’t the Rose Bowl.

Green Bay Packers: Miracle in Motown

Richard Rodgers catch vs. the Lions

When it comes to having a crazy finish to a football game, the 27-23 victory by the Green Bay Packers over the Detroit Lions on Thursday night will be hard to top.

Saved by a facemask penalty against Detroit’s Devin Taylor on what would have been the final play of the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was able to get one more shot at a miraculous finish.

Rodgers did not disappoint either.

The Packers were on their own 39 yard line and Rodgers was going to need some time to launch a pass to the opposite end zone. That’s if he could get it there.

Rodgers was able elude the three-man rush, first going left, then scrambling to the right and then running up to launch his moon-rocket pass that arced way up into the air and traveled close to 70 yards.

Tight end Richard Rodgers of the Packers leaped up and caught the ball at it’s highest point in the end zone surrounded by several players from both teams.

The result? The 6’4″, 272-pound Rodgers had unbelievably secured a 61-yard touchdown pass to end the game.

“My goodness,” coach Mike McCarthy said as he talked to the media after the game. “Just before the ball was snapped, we were talking on the headphones that if anyone can get it there, Aaron can.

“What a great throw…what a great catch. A big-time play at the last possible moment of the game. We needed this.”

Richard Rodgers catch vs, the Lions II

Yes, indeed. The Packers really did need this. The team had lost four out of the last five games going into the game against the Lions.

Not only that, but in three of those four losses, the Packers had a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds of those contests.

But the Packers couldn’t deliver. At least not until Thursday night.

For awhile during the game, it looked like the Packers were going to get blown out by the Lions. Green Bay was down 20-0 midway through the third quarter.

Luck and good fortune helped the Packers on their first score. As he was running towards the end zone of the Lions, running back James Starks fumbled near the 5 on a strip by  defensive back Isa Abdul-Quddus.

The ball bounced forward into the middle of the end zone and wide receiver Randall Cobb jumped on it the ball for the touchdown.

In less than two minutes, the Packers had another opportunity for a touchdown thanks to a sack-strip by Julius Peppers on quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Lions.

Seconds later Rodgers threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams to make it 20-14.

The Lions added a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to make the score 23-14. Rodgers closed the score to 23-21 with around three minutes left in the game when he scampered 17 yards for a touchdown.

That led to the incredible finish to the game.

The Lions have had a history of losing big leads to the Packers over the years at home.

In a recent story, Jerry Kramer talked to me about the 1965 Packers. The Packers played the Lions in the fifth week of that ’65 season at old Tigers Stadium.

Similar to what happened on Thursday night, the Packers were dominated by the Lions in the first half and were down 21-3.

Kramer didn’t play in the first half of that game, as the Packers were slowly working him back into the lineup after No. 64 had gone through nine operations due to intestinal issues that offseason.

No. 64 had also missed almost all of the 1964 season because of that situation.

Jerry blocking Alex

But with Kramer back in the starting lineup, the Packers stormed back to score 28 unanswered points in the second half to register a 31-21 victory.

Then there was the 1993 Wild Card playoff game at the Silverdome. Quarterback Brett Favre threw across the field to a wide open Sterling Sharpe for a 40-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of that postseason game, as the Packers won 28-24.

In addition to all that, there is the Rodgers to Rodgers connection. Besides having the same last name, both Aaron and Richard went to the University of California.

The father of Richard Rodgers, Richard Sr., was part of the event which became to be known as “The Play”, as Cal battled it’s long-time rival Stanford in 1982.

Stanford was ahead 20-19 with four seconds to go in the game when they kicked off to Cal via a squib kick. Rodgers was part of a sequence which involved five laterals (including two by Rodgers) and covered 55 yards. Eventually Kevin Moen of the Golden Bears scored, as he ran through the Stanford band which had come onto the field.

The result? A 25-20 improbable victory.

Then there was presence of Golden Tate of the Lions in the game last night. Packer Nation surely remembers the “Fail Mary” play when Tate was then with the Seattle Seahawks.

The replacement officials ruled that Tate caught a last-second 24-yard pass from Russell Wilson, even though it appeared that the ball was actually intercepted by M.D. Jennings of the Packers.

That terrible call led to a 14-12 win by the Seahawks and also thankfully ended the replacement officials era.

Tate had to watch from the sideline on Thursday night, as Aaron Rodgers launched his 70-yard moon-shot missile to Richard Rodgers.

McCarthy noted the difference between those two plays.

“I’ll say this,” McCarthy said. “At least our guy really caught the ball.”

Aaron celebrating vs. Lions

Yes, Rodgers caught the ball. The Packers also caught a break in stealing this game from the Lions.

Even in this stirring last-second victory, it’s quite obvious that the Packers have a lot of work to do to improve things, especially on offense.

The now 8-4 Packers now have 10 days to rest and get ready for the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field on December 13.

The Packers are hoping that their offensive line will be back to full strength for that game. Going into the game against the Lions, both right guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Bryan Bulaga were inactive due to injuries.

Then center Corey Linsley went out of the game with an ankle injury. Left tackle David Bakhtiari also left the game briefly with a knee injury.

Bottom line, the Packers have some added time to get their injured players ready to play versus Dallas, plus can continue to improve the efficiency and production of their offense.

It’s a lot easier to do those things coming off a miraculous victory like the one which occurred on Thursday night in Detroit.