Under the leadership of head coach Vince Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers won five NFL championships in seven years in the 1960s, which includes the first two Super Bowl games.
It’s often debated about which of those five title teams (1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 & 1967) was the best. To me, the 1962 team was clearly the best.
Why? The Packers led the NFL in scoring with 415 points (29.6 per game), plus also led the league in least points allowed as the Pack only allowed 148 points (10.6 per game).
The Packers also led the NFL in total offense and rushing offense, plus in total defense and passing defense as well.
Fullback Jim Taylor was the NFL MVP for the year, as he rushed for 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Quarterback Bart Starr also led the NFL in passing.
But it was the rushing game which was the calling card of the Packers. Especially when the power sweep was utilized. The Packers averaged 175.7 yards per game on the ground, plus the team had 36 rushing touchdowns.
Phil Bengtson’s defense was also very assertive, as it led the NFL with 50 turnovers, which included 31 interceptions.
On special teams, the Packers were also solid. Willie Wood was second in the NFL in punt returns, while Herb Adderley was third in the league in kickoff returns.
The Packers were 13-1 in 1962. The team started out 10-0 before having a hiccup against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. More on that game later.
But for the most part, the Packers had their way with almost all of their opponents during the course of the season. Look at some of these scores:
Packers 34, Vikings 7
Packers 49, Bears 0
Packers 48, Vikings 21
Packers 31, 49ers 13
Packers 38, Bears 7
Packers 49, Eagles 0
Packers 41, Rams 10
The 1962 season was a very important one for right guard Jerry Kramer, as he had broken his ankle midway through the 1961 season. No. 64 didn’t get the opportunity to play for the Packers when they won their first championship game under Lombardi when the Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 at City Stadium (later Lambeau Field).
Kramer talked to me recently about the 1962 season and he mentioned how he felt being injured in ’61 and how he prepared for ’62.
“I really didn’t feel like I was a part of the championship team in ’61,” Kramer said. “There’s something about a team, a tight team, that once you are no longer making a contribution, you don’t feel like you are part of things.
“You still go to the meetings. You still hang out in the locker room. But you aren’t contributing. I just felt like I wasn’t part of that tight-knit group. I missed that. That’s why I was looking forward to having a great season in ’62.”
Getting over the ankle injury was the first step.
“I wasn’t told how serious my ankle injury was,” Kramer said. “But there was some concern. I separated the bones in the ankle and the doctors had to put a pin in to hold it together. I had a significant amount of pain for about 10 days due to the pressure by the washer on the bolt they put in my ankle.
“For my rehab, I tried to run a little bit. I had a buddy who played in the Canadian Football League and he and I would chase rabbits in the desert in the Boise area. We didn’t catch any, but it helped us occupy our minds while we were running for about an hour.
“When training camp opened, my ankle was still a little stiff. I found that skipping before warmups was very helpful. Skipping helped to put more pressure on the tendons and the ligaments in the ankle. I sure got quite a few interesting looks while I was doing my skipping exercise!”
Once the physical healing of his ankle was done, Kramer knew that he had to get back to playing as well or better than he had in 1960 and 1961.
In 1960, Kramer had been named first team All-Pro by AP. In 1961, even with his ankle injury which caused him to miss half the season, Kramer was still named All-Pro by the New York Daily News.
Kramer always remembered the moment which made him want to become the best guard in the NFL.
” I can’t remember exactly when Coach Lombardi turned my motor on,” Kramer said. “But it was after a real tough practice where he chewed me out unmercifully. Coach said, ‘The concentration of a college student is five minutes. In high school, it’s three minutes and in kindergarten, it’s 30 seconds. And you don’t even have that! Where does that put you?’
“Anyway, I’m sitting in the locker room after practice feeling pretty down and dejected for about 40 minutes after that scene. Most of the guys in the locker room had cleared out by then. Coach Lombardi comes in and sees me. I’ve got me chin in my hand, my elbow on my knees and I’m just staring at the floor.
“Lombardi came by and patted me on the shoulder, messed up my hair and said, ‘Son, one of these days you are going to be the best guard in football.’
“That moment told me that Lombardi believed in me and approved of me. That was all I needed to become the best player I could be.”
Kramer went on to have his best season in 1962.
Kramer was named first team All-Pro by AP, NEA and UPI, while No. 64 was also named to his first Pro Bowl squad.
Not only was Kramer exceptional playing right guard for the Packers, but he also took over the placekicking duties of the Packers during the season after halfback Paul Hornung suffered a knee injury.
For the season, Kramer scored 65 points, which included being 9-for-11 in field goal attempts.
The only blemish on the 1962 season was the 26-14 loss to the Lions on Thanksgiving in Detroit. The Lions were the top rivals of the Packers back then. Detroit ended up finishing second to the Packers in the Western Conference for three straight years from 1960 through 1962.
In the first meeting between the Packers and Lions in the ’62 season at City Stadium, the Packers had narrowly won 9-7, as quarterback Milt Plum threw a late interception to Herb Adderley which set up a game-winning Hornung field goal.
The Lions were furious after the game. Alex Karras reportedly threw his helmet at Plum’s chest after the game. Kramer could hear all types of screaming and banging in the Detroit locker room.
But on Thanksgiving, the Lions were definitely focused on winning the game.
“We were undefeated when we went into Detroit,” Kramer said. “Detroit hated our guts. One of my best pals in college, Wayne Walker, played linebacker for the Lions. He hated that the Lions could never get over the top against us to win a championship. He’s still pissed about that.
“Before we played the Lions on Thanksgiving, Fuzzy lost his mother about three days before the game. Fuzzy decided to play, but his heart was somewhere else. The Lions just guessed and gambled correctly all day long that game.
“They did things that they had never done before. Alex [Karras] would line up just about everywhere. Over the center, over my right shoulder and anywhere he felt like he could do some damage. Add to that, the Lions were incredibly motivated.
“They got Bart about 11 times that game. On the way home to Green Bay, Fuzzy said that all wasn’t bad, because we invented a new block called the look out block. As in, ‘Look out, Bart!’
“I don’t think we even watched film of that game afterwards, as we went down the road and continued to have success.”
The Packers won their final three games of the season to finish 13-1, which was two games better than the Lions, who finished 11-3. The Packers were the Western Conference champs for the third straight year and they would be taking on the Giants again in the 1962 NFL title game, this time at Yankee Stadium.
Kramer was still doing the placekicking for the Packers at that point, besides playing at a high level at right guard.
No. 64 remembers walking into the storied stadium in the Bronx on that championship day.
“It was really a highlight for me walking into Yankee Stadium,” Kramer said. “It was an emotional experience for me. All the great fights and the World Series games that had gone on there. You had the statues of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio in center field.
“You also looked into the crowd and saw the sophisticated sports fans who were booing your ass. Then you look across the line of scrimmage and you see [Andy] Robustelli, [Jim] Katcavage, [Sam] Huff, [Dick] Lynch and that whole group, you definitely get pumped.”
That environment definitely weighed on the mind of Kramer as the game developed.
“I remember kicking my first field goal,” Kramer said. “I kind of looked across the line of scrimmage which I normally don’t do. And I see this great defensive team and my subconscious is telling me that they are going to find out about you. You shouldn’t be on the field with these guys.
“I finally told my subconscious to shut up and I focused on keeping my head down to follow through with the kick. When I looked up the football was outside the goal post, but it went through the goal post before blowing outward.
“I remember the official raising his arms to say the field goal was good and I said, ‘What the hell is he doing!’ Bart then looked at me and said, ‘Shut up and get off the field.’
Kramer had to kick that day under very difficult conditions. It was a bitingly cold day, plus the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Plus, Kramer played the entire game at right guard as well battling in the trenches.
Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.
No. 64 also recovered a fumble by Taylor to keep a drive alive.
When the Packers were up 13-7 late in the fourth quarter, Kramer knew that he had a chance to put the game away with a 30-yard field goal.
“The wind was really blowing hard that day,”Kramer said. “The wind was blowing so hard that at halftime our benches on the sideline were blown 10 yards onto the field. That wind was really swirling that day.
“The ball was being moved pretty well by the wind. On that last field goal, I aimed 10 yards outside the goal post because of the wind. At first, the kick was heading to where I aimed before the wind caught it and brought it back in and split the uprights.
“It was a great relief to me that I had guessed right, because if I missed the Giants still had a chance to win the game.
“After I made the kick, the guys were jumping on me and pounding me on the back knowing that we probably had clinched the game then. I got to feel like a running back or a quarterback for a moment or two and it was a wonderful feeling.”
After the victory by the Packers, middle linebacker Ray Nitschke was named the game’s MVP, as he had been tenacious with his tackling on defense and also recovered two fumbles.
Kramer certainly could have received that honor as well, based on the way he played that day. As it was, the coaches and the players presented No. 64 with a game ball because of the great performance he had in that year’s championship game.
“It was just a wonderful experience to be in that setting that day,” Kramer said. “Yankee Stadium was one of the great sports venues in the world. And to not only be on the field in that storied place, but also to have played a big role in the victory for our team in a championship game was very rewarding.”