Zeke Bratkowski Talks About the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game

Zeke vs. the Colts

This upcoming Sunday, on August 7, the Green Bay Packers will take on the Indianapolis Colts in the Hall of Fame game.

The Packers and Colts have a history that dates back to 1953, when the Colts were still in Baltimore and had first joined the NFL. The Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

The two teams have met 42 times in the regular season, with the Colts holding a 21-20-1 edge. When the team was the Baltimore Colts, the Packers led the series 17-16-1.

In their preseason history, the Colts hold a 5-4 edge over the Packers.

The two teams have only met once in the postseason. It was after the 1965 season, when the Colts, who were then in the NFL’s Western Conference, played the Packers at Lambeau Field in the Western Conference Championship Game on December 26.

Both teams had finished the 1965 with identical 10-3-1 records. A playoff game would be needed to see who would play the Cleveland Browns in the 1965 NFL title game. The Browns were the defending NFL champs as well.

The 1965 season was a very interesting season for both the Packers and right guard Jerry Kramer. No. 64 talked with me about that season back in November of 2015.

The Colts came into the game with big issues at the quarterback position, as both starter Johnny Unitas (knee) and backup Gary Cuozzo (dislocated shoulder) were unable to play due to injuries. That meant that halfback Tom Matte would have to play at quarterback.

Matte had played quarterback at Ohio State in college, but was more of a running quarterback, as opposed to utilizing the passing game a lot.

Coming into the game, the Packers looked to have a big advantage at quarterback, as Matte would be up against Bart Starr, who had already won two NFL passing titles at that time, plus had led the Packers to two NFL titles.

But that advantage was soon wiped away on the very first scrimmage play of the game, when linebacker Don Shinnick recovered a Bill Anderson fumble and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.

Starr tried to make a tackle near the end zone on the play and hurt his ribs in the process. No. 15 was forced to leave the game due to the injury, although he still came into the game to hold on extra points and field goals.

Bart being helped off the field by Jerry

I had an opportunity recently to talk to the man who came into the game in relief of Starr at quarterback. That would be Zeke Bratkowski. No. 12 knew he would be going up against an outstanding defense.

The Colts were ranked 4th in the NFL in total defense in 1965. Baltimore’s offense had it’s hands full too, as Green Bay was ranked No. 1 in total defense in the NFL.

“The Colts had a great defense,” Bratkowski said. “That was their calling card in many ways. I was just putting my warmup jacket on when Bart was injured. I just got my helmet and didn’t throw a pass to warm up before I entered the game.

“I did complete a pass on my first throw. The game was a great memory for me. In fact, somebody called me from Green Bay for a radio show and he told me that the drive I had in overtime against the Colts was just as big as Bart’s drive against the Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl” game. That it was in the same magnitude. I thought that was a nice compliment.”

The Packers put up 362 yards of total offense in the playoff game versus the Colts, with 248 yards coming via the air from Bratkowski, the former Georgia Bulldog star.

Meanwhile, the Colts were held to just 175 total yards behind Matte at quarterback. In fact, Matte only threw for 40 yards passing.

Still, the game was a struggle for the Packers. Green Bay was down 10-0 at halftime. The Packers certainly weren’t helped by the turnover margin in the game, that’s for sure. Green Bay turned the ball over four times, as opposed to just once for Baltimore.

But Bratkowski and the Packers scrapped back. In the third quarter, Bratkowski hit wide receiver Carroll Dale with a 33-yard reception that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Paul Hornung. That made the score 10-7.

Earlier in the game, the Packers were stopped near the goal line on four downs in a similar situation, so the touchdown by No. 5 was huge.

The Packers were still down 10-7 late in the game when Bratkowski led the Packers from their own 28 to the Baltimore 15, before kicker Don Chandler attempted a 22-yard field goal. The referees said the kick was good, tying the game, while the Colts were complaining to anyone who would listen that the kick was no good and wide right.

That kick led the NFL to raise the height of the goal posts the following season.

There has been quite a debate on whether that kick was good or not, but one person was sure that it was good. That would be Bratkowski.

“The field goal was good,” Bratkowski said. “The reason I say that is Bart and I were both holders. If he was hurt and couldn’t hold on kicks, I would hold. In practice, the quarterback who wasn’t holding would be under the goal posts catching the kicks, just like in that game.

“But with those short goal posts, unless you were under them, you couldn’t tell if a kick was good or not. And that’s were the officials were when they said the kick was good.”

In overtime, the Colts had a chance to win, but Lou Michaels missed a 47-yard field goal that was hampered by a bad snap.

Taking over at their own 20, the Packers were led down the field by Bratkowski, who completed key passes to both Anderson (19 yards) and Dale (18 yards). The Packers got as far as the Baltimore 18, before Chandler lined up for his 25-yard field goal attempt. This time, there was absolutely no doubt about the field goal, as the kick was good and the Packers were 13-10 overtime winners.

Don Chandler game-winner

“Carroll [Dale] made a few key catches in the game,” Bratkowski said. “That included one in the game-winning drive in overtime which took us into field goal range.”

Dale ended up with three receptions for 63 yards, while the tight end Anderson led the way with eight catches for 78 yards.

Bratkowski reflected on his passing performance in that game, as the running game of the Packers only produced 112 yards rushing.

“We were throwing that ball a lot,” Bratkowski said. “You know, the biggest problem that I had, was that I had to be well aware of the situation. I mean, I’m not going in there to lose this game.

“I knew I had to go in there to win the game. You tend to play a little conservative when you don’t want to lose the game. But as the game wore on, we took advantage in some situations with big passing plays.”

Bratkowski talked about the 1965 Packers. A team which would win the first of three consecutive NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls), a feat that has never been matched in the modern history of the NFL.

“Coach Lombardi always used to tell us that we may not have the best players, but we have the best team,” Bratkowski said. “And it was true. I don’t know about the best players, but we had a lot of good athletes. People who could do a lot of different things and who believed in the team concept.”

In my many conversations with Kramer, he often would tell me that there wasn’t a big difference between Starr and Bratkowski when they played quarterback. Both were successful because both were well prepared to do their job.

No. 12 did his job well too. During his career with the Packers, Bratkowski completed 220 of 416 passes for 3,147 yards and 21 TDs.

When I told Bratkowski about Kramer’s comments about his quarterbacking skills compared to Starr’s, the former Chicago Bear and Los Angeles Ram was honored.

“I appreciate you saying that,” Bratkowski said. “A lot of the guys would get on me and tease me about that a little bit, but it was a teasing compliment. I really appreciated that. I never gloated about that situation, because it was really a team effort.”

9 thoughts on “Zeke Bratkowski Talks About the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game

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