Aaron Rodgers: Comparing the 2016 Season to the 2011 and 2014 MVP Years

aaron-vs-the-eagles

There is absolutely no doubt that quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers has placed himself in the discussion about who will be the NFL MVP in 2016.

If Rodgers did indeed win the award, it would be his third MVP honor, which would tie him with former Packer Brett Favre, who won the award in three consecutive years from 1995 through 1997.

Over the past six games, no player in the NFL has performed at a higher level than Rodgers has. In those six games, Rodgers has thrown 14 touchdown passes without throwing a pick for 1,718 yards.

That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 119.2 over those six games.

The other players who are being talked about for the 2016 NFL MVP award include Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys, who are both rookies, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders and David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals.

Elliott has rushed 1,613 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016 so far for the Cowboys. Elliott has also caught 32 passes for 363 yards and another score.

Prescott has thrown 23 touchdown passes versus just four interceptions for 3,360 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 105.6. Prescott has also rushed for 273 yards and six touchdowns.

Brady has thrown 25 touchdown passes versus just two picks for 3,278 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 110.7.

Ryan has thrown 34 touchdown passes versus seven interceptions for 4,613 yards. That adds up to a NFL-leading passer rating of 115.5.

Carr broke his fibula in Week 16 against the Indianapolis Colts, but up until that point was having a great year. Carr had thrown 28 touchdown passes versus six picks for 3,937 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 96.7.

Johnson has rushed for 1,233 yards and 16 touchdowns, plus has caught 77 passes for 841 yards and four more scores.

Pete Dougherty of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin wrote an article last week about the MVP chances of Rodgers.

This piece by Dougherty was written before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, when No. 12 threw four touchdown passes without throwing an interception for 347 yards. That added up to a passer rating of 136.6.

But before the game, Dougherty wrote that Mike Freeman, NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report, consulted five unnamed general managers in the league for their MVP choice.

Guess what? All five chose Rodgers. I certainly don’t think that their votes would change after the performance of Rodgers versus the Vikings, that’s for sure.

In the story, Dougherty also talked to a NFL scout who has been watching tape of Rodgers over the past several weeks.

“He’s awakened,” the scout said. “He’s a dangerous (expletive). I’m watching going, Okaaaaaay, big boy, that’s what he’s supposed to be doing. And he’s doing it without a run offense. ‘Holy (expletive), look at that.’ All the guys in the room watching it, you can hear them go, ‘Holy (expletive).’”

If Rodgers has another big game against the Lions this Sunday night on national television, and history tells us that he probably will, then Rodgers will most definitely help his cause with the Associated Press’ 50-person panel of local and national media members votes for the NFL’s official MVP.

If one compares the 2016 season thus far for Rodgers against his two MVP years of 2011 and 2014, the statistics are very similar.

In 2011, Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes versus just six interceptions for 4,643 yards. That added up to the best single-season passer rating of all time, 122.5.

Rodgers also ran for 257 yards and three touchdowns.

In 2014, Rodgers threw 38 touchdown passes versus five picks for 4,381 yards. That added up to a passer rating of 112.2.

No. 12 also rushed for 269 yards and two scores.

So far this season, Rodgers has thrown 36 touchdown passes versus seven interceptions for 4,128 yards. No. 12’s passer rating is currently 102.7.

Rodgers has already surpassed his rushing totals and touchdown numbers in his MVP years so far, as he has run for 327 yards and four scores in 2016.

Now let’s say Rodgers throws four more touchdown passes without a pick on Sunday night for over 300 yards. And this is not out of the question, as the secondary of the Lions was torched on Monday night by Prescott of the Cowboys, as he threw three touchdown passes.

The secondary of the Lions really missed Darius Slay (hamstring) in the game against the Cowboys. Slay is certainly the best cornerback on the Lions and perhaps the best CB in the NFC North. Slay has had hamstring issues throughout the 2016 season and was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice for the Lions.

If Rodgers performs as I believe he might, that would put Rodgers at 40 touchdown passes versus seven picks for over 4,400 yards. The passer rating of Rodgers would probably be in the 106 range.

Those numbers would be very comparable to the MVP years Rodgers had in both 2011 and 2014.

Would this late surge get Rodgers his third MVP? That’s hard to say. It wouldn’t hurt, that’s for sure.

Plus, Rodgers has already done something that no other quarterback in NFL history has ever done.

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It’s something I wrote about earlier this month. Rodgers is the only quarterback in NFL history to have a four to one ratio in terms of throwing touchdown passes versus interceptions.

Rodgers is currently at a 4.07 ratio, as he has thrown 293 career touchdown passes versus just 72 picks.

In fact, no quarterback in NFL history is even at a three to one ratio, although Brady is the closest at 2.98, as Brady has thrown 453 career touchdown passes versus 152 interceptions.

So while it’s still up in the air (pun intended) as to whether Rodgers can win his third NFL MVP award, his recent play in a stretch of six games is without question the best performance by any player in the NFL this season.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is the King of the Castle in the NFC North

aaron-vs-detroit-in-2015

Since Aaron Rodgers became the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers in 2008, the team has won the NFC North four times and gone to the postseason seven straight times.

If the Packers beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday night at Ford Field, it will be five NFC North titles and eight straight trips to the playoffs.

All I know is that the Lions should expect another great performance by Rodgers on national television (NBC) Sunday evening.

Rodgers almost always plays well versus the Lions. The same thing holds true for the other members of the NFC North…the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.

In his career against those three teams, Rodgers is 38- 13. In those 51 games, Rodgers has thrown 107 touchdown passes versus just 21 interceptions for 12,728 yards. That adds to to a cumulative passer rating of 108.6.

Not bad, huh?

If you just look at his touchdown pass to interception ratio in his career versus NFC North opponents, Rodgers has been humming along at a five to one clip. That is truly mind-blowing.

Against the Lions, Rodgers is exactly at a five to one ratio, as he has thrown 30 touchdown passes versus just six picks for 3,758 yards. No. 12’s career passer rating against the Lions is 108.0.

Rodgers is also 12-3 in his career against Detroit.

Rodgers doesn’t just hurt the Lions, Vikings and Bears…oh my…with just his arm either. He can scamper for yardage via the run about as good as any quarterback in the NFL.

Versus Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota, Rodgers has run for 697 yards and seven touchdowns in his career. Even with a bad calf last Sunday against the Vikings at Lambeau Field, Rodgers ran six yards for a touchdown, while making a nice move near the goal line as he dove into the end zone.

Rodgers has been playing out of his mind the latter part of the 2016 season, which also includes the stretch of three games against NFC North opponents to end the season.

Starting with the game against Washington in Week 11, when the Packers lost on Sunday night, Rodgers has thrown 14 touchdown passes without throwing a pick. In those six games, No. 12 has had a passer rating of over 100 in five of those contests.

The only game in which Rodgers did not have a passer rating of over 100, was the frigid game against da Bears at Soldier Field, when his rating was just 87.0. That being said, had wide receiver Davante Adams not dropped two sure touchdown passes in that game, Rodgers would have had a passer rating of over 100 yet again.

Plus, it was Rodgers who threw a 60-yard bomb to wide receiver Jordy Nelson with less than a minute to go on third down, which set up the game-winning field goal by Mason Crosby in the 30-27 victory by the Packers.

Sunday night will be the first visit to Ford Field by Rodgers and the Packers since the Miracle in Motown game on December 3, 2015.

The Packers were down 23-21 with just seconds remaining to the Lions when Rodgers and the Packers were saved by a facemask penalty against Detroit’s Devin Taylor on what would have been the final play of the game.

The penalty allowed one more opportunity for Rodgers to lead the Packers to a miraculous finish.

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 went way up into the air and traveled close to 70 yards.

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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 Rodgers to Rodgers combination had secured a 27-23 victory over the Lions on that phenomenal  61-yard touchdown pass.

More NFC North lore for Rodgers as well.

This Sunday night will be the fourth straight year the Packers will be playing for the NFC North title in Week 17.

In 2013, the 7-7-1 Packers played the 8-7 Bears at Soldier Field in Week 17. The winner would win the NFC North.

Rodgers was finally cleared to play against the Bears in that game, after ironically breaking his collarbone against Chicago in Week 8 that season, which caused him to miss seven games.

Although Rodgers appeared to be a bit rusty due to his layoff, No. 12 threw for 315 yards with two touchdown passes versus two picks.

But the second touchdown he threw in that game was one that will live on in Green Bay lore. With 46 seconds to go in the game and with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27, Rodgers and the Packers faced a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, Rodgers first avoided being sacked by current Packer Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to wide receiver Randall Cobb.

rodgers-to-cobb-in-2013-vs-da-bears

In 2014 against the Lions at Lambeau Field, it was once again a winner-take-all game for the NFC North crown.

Rodgers had hurt his calf the week before against the Tampa Bay Bucs at Raymond James Stadium and was really limited in terms of mobility.

Both the Packers and the Lions were 11-4 going into the game. Things started out well enough, as Rodgers had the fans at Lambeau cheering wildly for one fleeting moment and then sitting in hushed silence quickly thereafter.

That’s what happened when Rodgers threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Cobb with three minutes and 55 seconds left in the first half to take a 14-0 lead over the Lions.

But even before the pass was in Cobb’s hands, Rodgers crumpled to the turf. No. 12 didn‘t get up either. He clutched at his left calf writhing in pain. Rodgers had to be helped off the field by the training staff and moments later was driven to the locker room in a cart.

Things didn‘t get much better after that. It didn‘t help matters when the Lions came right back and scored a touchdown just before halftime.

When the Packers came out for the second half, there was no sign of Rodgers. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn was warming up and it was Flynn who took the snaps on the first series of the second half. The series went nowhere after Flynn was sacked on third down.

Just a moment later, the crowd roared as Rodgers gingerly walked out of the tunnel and toward the bench of the Packers.

The urgency of the game quickly changed as well, as the Lions quickly came back to score another touchdown and the game was tied 14-14.

But Rodgers, even with his limited mobility, led the Packers on a 60-yard touchdown drive which ended with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Cobb to give the Packers a 21-14 lead.

Then in the fourth quarter, Rodgers finished another drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown which put the Packers up by two scores. The sneak happened in the south end zone—the same place where Bart Starr scored on his legendary sneak in the “Ice Bowl” game.

This game certainly added to the Rodgers’ legend, as the Packers ended up winning 30-20.

Last season, the Packers once again played for the NFC North title versus the Vikings in Week 17 at Lambeau Field. Both teams went into the game with 10-5 records.

Rodgers was under constant pass-pressure in the game, as the team started Josh Sitton at left tackle due to the ankle injury suffered by David Bakhtiari two weeks earlier.

Rodgers was sacked five times in the game, but he did throw for 291 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, but Green Bay lost 20-13.

This sets up the fourth straight year that Rodgers and the Packers can win the NFC North versus a NFC North opponent. That is very apropos.

And based on the track record of Rodgers versus the NFC North in general and also his history against the Lions, the legacy of Rodgers in the NFC North looks to grow even more legendary.

The Green Bay Packers Played in the 1960 NFL Title Game on a Monday

packers-eagles-1960-nfl-title-game

Just like it did this year in 2016, Christmas day fell on a Sunday in 1960. Back then, the NFL decided that they did not want to have their league championship game played on a traditional religious and family holiday. So, the NFL had the game played on December 26th instead.

That meant that the 8-4 Green Bay Packers, the champions of the Western Conference, would be taking on the 10-2 Philadelphia Eagles, the champions of the Eastern Conference, for the 1960 NFL title at Franklin Field in Philadelphia on a Monday afternoon.

It seems a little strange now. But the NFL never allowed games to be played on Christmas day until 1971. On that day, the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs played in one of two divisional playoff games and played in a classic game, which turned out to be the longest postseason game ever in NFL history.

But since 1989 and including the two games which were played yesterday, the NFL has had 17 games played on Christmas day.

But back in 1960, when the Packers were coached by Vince Lombardi and the Eagles were coached by Buck Shaw, the title game was played the day after Christmas.

This would be the first and only time that the Packers and Eagles would play each other in a NFL championship game, plus both teams hadn’t been in a NFL title game in several years.

The last time the Packers had played in a NFL championship was 1944, when they defeated the New York Giants 14-7 at the Polo Grounds in New York City.

The Eagles hadn’t been in a NFL title game since 1949, when they defeated the Los Angeles Rams 14-0 in at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In the title game between the Packers and Eagles, Green Bay clearly outplayed Philadelphia, as the Packers had 401 total yards, compared to just 296 total yards for the Eagles.

Still, the Packers didn’t take advantage of their chances to score a few times. For instance, Green Bay didn’t get any points on a couple of their drives into Philadelphia territory, as the Green Bay went for it on fourth down twice and were stopped each time.

Plus, Paul Hornung missed a short-field goal late in the second quarter which would come back to haunt the Packers later.

The running game of the Packers was especially effective, as Green  Bay rushed for 223 yards, led by Jim Taylor, who had 105 yards rushing. Hornung also chipped in 61 yards toting the rock.

Quarterback Bart Starr threw for 178 yards and threw a touchdown pass to Max McGee in the fourth quarter to give the Packers a 13-10 lead.  No. 15 did not throw a pick in the game.

But the lead was short-lived as a 58-yard kickoff return by Ted Dean set up a five-yard touchdown run by Dean to give the Eagles a 17-13 lead.

Dean led the Eagles in rushing that day with 54 yards, while quarterback Norm Van Brocklin thew for 204 yards and had one touchdown pass and one interception.

After the Eagles took their four-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Packers drove deep into Philadelphia territory, but needed a touchdown to win, as opposed to a field goal. On the final play of the game, Taylor caught a 14-yard pass from Starr, but was tackled at the 8 by linebacker Chuck Bednarik as time expired.

After the game, Lombardi was very proud of the effort of his players, as legendary right guard Jerry Kramer explained to me.

“After the game, Coach Lombardi stood up on a equipment box and addressed the team,” Kramer said. “He said he was very proud of the way we played. He told us that we were going to be in a number of NFL championship games in the future and that we would never lose again. And he was right.”

The following year the Packers won their first of five NFL titles that the team would win under Lombardi, which included the first two Super Bowls.

After losing that first postseason game against the Eagles, the Packers won nine straight games in the postseason under Lombardi and indeed never lost again.

Jerry Kramer Talks About the NFL Blocking Rules in his Era

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Offensive linemen in the NFL will always have a difficult job, especially in protecting the quarterback in the passing game. But starting in 1978, the job became a tad easier, after the NFL implemented a rule change which allowed offensive linemen to extend their arms and use their open hands while pass-blocking.

That change also coincided with another rule change which permitted a defensive back to maintain contact with a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage, but restricted contact beyond that point.

Those rules changes made the NFL more of a passing-happy league, which has continued to this day.

Anyone who was an offensive lineman before 1978, was very restricted with their ability to block, whether in the passing game or the running game.

One of those players was the legendary right guard of the Green Bay Packers, Jerry Kramer, who played with the Pack from 1958 through 1968. I had another opportunity to talk with Kramer about that situation earlier this week.

“It was a totally different deal as opposed to today, Bob,” Kramer said. “Not only were you not allowed to use your hands, you had to have them up on your chest. If you let your hands get away from your body, even if your fists were clinched, and you didn’t reach for anything, they could call illegal use of hands.”

Just imagine having to stay that restricted while having to take on the likes of Alex Karras or Merlin Olsen at defensive tackle. Pass-blocking had to be extremely difficult.

“You really had to move in front of the guy,” Kramer said. “That’s why Fuzzy [Thurston] was so good at it. Fuzz had great feet. He had really quick feet. Plus, he had a wonderful sense of balance too. He was like a spinning top. The defender would hit him and Fuzzy would spin and counter the move.

“That’s kind of what you had to do. You had to get in front of the guy and stop him with force. You couldn’t grab him and you couldn’t hold him. And if he was on the edge, he was going to get by your ass. The only thing you could do was move your feet really well.

“You could also change things up once in awhile. You could mess with the defensive tackle. But not too much. You didn’t want to overdo it and you had to be pretty careful. I would often times, when we would be passing several times in a row, I would fire off the line of scrimmage like I’m blocking someone on a running play, and I would pop the guy really quick and then pop back into my stance.

“It would take the guy a little bit to re-start himself and orient himself to figure out what the hell we were doing. You could also put a lot of weight on your hand in the stance, and look like you were about to drive-block, and lean way forward, and have the defensive tackles submarine, thinking it was a running play.”

Kramer talked about one of the things he used to do against Charlie Krueger of the San Francisco 49ers, who was one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL at the time.

“Charlie was a great pursuit guy,” Kramer said. “You could take a step with your right foot, like you were pulling, which I did a few times with him, not a lot, he would be outside the defensive end in a heartbeat.

“Charlie would instinctively and instantly react that way to the move, thinking I was pulling, and he would be outside about six yards before he figured out that I was jerking him around and that it was really a pass play.”

There was also another defensive tackle for the 49ers that Kramer also faced at times. That would be Leo Nomellini, who was a first-team All-Pro six times and went to 10 Pro Bowls.

Nomellini would give away which way he would be going on his pass rush after careful study by Kramer.

“Leo indicated which way he would be rushing,” Kramer said. “The 49ers only used an inside or an outside charge in their 4-3 defense at the time. When Leo was going inside, he would put his right foot back.

“When he was going outside, he would put his feet parallel, because it was difficult to go to his left without getting that right foot out. So he told me through his feet, which way he was going.”

This process worked both ways. Sometimes an offensive lineman like Kramer would give out keys to what type of play would be upcoming to their opponent.

For example, Kramer’s teammate on the Packers, defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, figured out what type of play the offense would be running by studying Kramer during a practice one day.

“I was leaning towards the inside on a cutoff block,”Kramer said. “I was subconsciously leaning. And the “Culligan Man” (Kostelnik) would tell me, ‘You are leaning, Jerry. Cutoff block.’

“I wasn’t aware of it or conscience of it. But I guess I was because Kos called me on it. That helped me to be much more aware of my stance before that play was called again in the future.”

The most famous block that was ever thrown by Kramer or anyone else in NFL history came in the closing seconds of the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” at Lambeau Field.

jerrys-block-on-jethro

That block came to be because of film study by Kramer, as he explained.

“We were watching three films of the Cowboys from their previous three games,” Kramer said. “I watched Jethro Pugh in the first game and I noticed he was high on every goal line play. I saw him high in every instance of that game in that situation. I didn’t say anything though.

“I watched the second game and then the third game and then I said that we would could block Pugh on a wedge play. Coach Lombardi goes, ‘Run that back!’ So they ran it back three or four times and Coach finally goes, ‘That’s right, put in a wedge on Pugh.’

“I mean I didn’t realize when that situation would come up when we played the Cowboys. Late in the first half or in the middle of the field on a third and short play. I had no idea that it would occur with just 13 seconds remaining at the Dallas 1-yard line.

“I had no idea that would be the situation when I volunteered that information. But I saw something that in the scheme of things was a very small piece of information. But as it turned out, it was a big piece of information.”

Indeed it was.

On the legendary play, quarterback Bart Starr called a “31 Wedge” play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. But after conferring with Coach Lombardi, Starr decided that it would be better if he kept the ball due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

When Starr started on his quarterback sneak, Pugh was high just as Kramer had expected, and No. 64 put his head into the chest of Pugh and moved him aside with late help from center Ken Bowman.

The result? Starr happily followed Kramer’s block into the end zone and into NFL immortality. The Packers had a 21-17 win and that play turned out to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy in Green Bay, which included five NFL titles in seven years, plus the first two Super Bowls.

On that famous block, Kramer used his head and his shoulders to block Pugh. Not his hands, like offensive linemen can do in the current NFL, as long as they are kept inside.

It was like that on all running plays. And the Packers were a run-first team under Lombardi. The power sweep was the staple play of the Packers. When Kramer and Thurston pulled on that play, they were not allowed to use their hands in any way.

So, how did one block his opponent in the open field on the power sweep?

“You just had to run over the defender,” Kramer said. “You would run them the hell over. Sometimes you could get a forearm in there a bit. But generally, you just ran through them.”

The blocking rules and limitations for offensive linemen back in the era when Kramer played, is yet another reason why it’s so ridiculous that No. 64 still doesn’t have a bust in Canton.

There is no doubt that the Pro Football Hall of Fame has a credibility problem regarding the omission of Kramer from that hallowed place.

I wrote about that situation three months ago. This is the beginning of that piece:

In 1969, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team. The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Jerry Kramer.

Why Kramer is still not in Canton has created a credibility problem for the Hall of Fame. One of the voters for admission into that hallowed place has told me that a number of times while we conversed. That would be Rick Gosselin.

Gosselin writes for the Dallas Morning News and sits on two committees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are the seniors committee, as well as the contributors committee.

Gosselin said this about the Kramer omission issue in one of his chats with his readers:

“I think Jerry Kramer is the biggest oversight in Canton — if only for the fact that the Hall of Fame selection committee voted him the best guard in the first 50 years of the NFL. Yet he’s gone before that committee something like 10 times and can’t get the votes for induction. It becomes a credibility issue. If you’re going to tell us a player is the best at his position in the first 50 years of the game then not stand behind that selection when it comes time to hand out busts…why even pick an all-half century team?”

Indeed, Rick. Indeed. The fact that Kramer is still not in Canton is not only a slap in the face to No. 64, but also to the panel who named that 50th anniversary team. A panel that named that prestigious team just six years after the Pro Football Hall of Fame was created in 1963.

When you add to that Kramer was also on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s, plus was first-team All-Pro five times and went to the Pro Bowl three times, the fact that Kramer has not been inducted up to this point is just bewildering and ludicrous.

As is the fact that Kramer performed fantastically at crunch time or in championship games. I already mentioned Kramer’s block in the 1967 title game, but he also was key figure in the 1962 and 1965 NFL championship games.

In the 1962 NFL title game versus the New York Giants at very cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Kramer doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Kramer booted three field goals on a very difficult day to kick, as  some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest.

Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy 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.

In the 1965 NFL title game versus the Cleveland Browns at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field, Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line had a sensational day.

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Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung led a rushing attack that gained 204 yards, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage past the line of scrimmage.

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” made his way into the end zone.

And all of this was done without Kramer being allowed to extend his arms or use his open hands.

In an ironic twist, the seniors committee members for the Pro Football Hall of Fame need to extend it’s arms and open it’s hands in August of 2017 by naming Kramer as one of the two senior nominees for the Class of 2018.

And then on the Saturday before Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Kramer can finally get his rightful induction into Canton by all the voters for the Hall of Fame.

When that happens, we can all extend our arms and use our hands to clap and cheer for one of the best offensive linemen to have ever played in the NFL…Gerald Louis Kramer.

History Will Be a Big Factor in the Packers-Bears Matchup in Chicago

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When the 7-6 Green Bay Packers face the 3-10 Chicago Bears at frigid Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon, there will be a lot on the line.

The Packers need a win to continue their run at becoming either the NFC North champion, or at the very least, a NFC Wild Card team.

In fact, if the Packers do win versus da Bears, and the Detroit Lions lose on the road against the New York Giants, Green Bay will control it’s destiny in terms of winning the NFC North in 2016.

But there are other aspects to this game which are very important. The history between these two storied franchises is at the top of the list.

The Packers have been in the NFL since 1921 and have won 13 NFL titles  and four Super Bowls.

The Bears have been in the NFL since 1920 and have won nine NFL titles and one Super Bowl.

No team in NFL history has won more NFL championships than either the Packers or Bears.

Since the two teams first started playing each other in the regular season starting in 1921, the Bears have won 93 games, while the Packers have won 92. Six games ended up in a tie.

The two teams have also met in the postseason twice, with each team winning once. The last time that happened was the 2010 NFC title game in Chicago, when the Packers won 21-14. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV after that win at Soldier Field.

Just to illustrate how close this series between these Midwest rivals has been, just look at the point totals in this series which encompasses 193 games (regular season and postseason).

The Packers have scored 3,305 points, while the Bears have scored 3,304 points. It doesn’t get much closer than that.

And if the Packers do beat the Bears on Sunday afternoon, the series between the two teams will be tied to the first time since 1933, when it was knotted up at 11-11-4.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States way back then.

From 1921 through 1949, the Packers and founder/head coach Curly Lambeau took on the Bears and founder/head coach George Halas, but only went 18-32-4 in the regular season and also 0-1 in the postseason.

During that period, the Packers and Bears were considered the cream of the crop in the NFL, as Green Bay won six NFL titles, while Chicago won five.

When Vince Lombardi was the head coach of the Packers from 1959 through 1967, Green Bay won 13 of 18 games against Halas and the Bears. The Packers also won five NFL titles and two Super Bowls during that time, while the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

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The Packers fell behind in the series between the two teams mostly because of their play in three decades…the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s. The Packers were just 39-79-2 in the ’50s, 57-82-5 in the ’70s and 65-84-3 in the ’80s.

The Bears really dominated the series when Mike Ditka was head coach of the Bears from 1982 through 1992, as the Bears won 13 of 18 games.

The Packers have been able to narrow the margin with the Bears over the past two and a half decades thanks to the quarterback play of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Favre was 22-10 versus the Bears in his career in Green Bay, while Rodgers has been even better than that. No. 12 is 13-4 against Chicago (plus is 1-0 in the NFC title game).

Rodgers has been magnificent for the most part when he plays the Bears. In the 17 regular season games he has played versus Chicago, No. 12 has thrown 38 touchdown passes, compared to just nine interceptions for 4,165 yards.

That adds up to a stellar career passer rating against the Bears of 106.8.

In the first game against Chicago this year at Lambeau Field, Rodgers completed 39-0f-56 passes for three touchdown and no picks for 326 yards, as the Packers won 26-10.

Rodgers has had many great moments against the Bears, with his win at Soldier Field in the 2010 NFC title game being on top of this list, but two other games also come to mind.

In a game at Lambeau Field in 2014, Rodgers threw six touchdown passes without a pick for 315 yards as the Packers won 55-14. That added up to an astonishing passer rating of 145.8.

But the final game of the 2013 season at Soldier Field had to have the most dramatic moment regarding the play of Rodgers against the Bears.

First, let’s look back on what had transpired before the game. Rodgers had missed seven games due to a broken collarbone he had suffered against Chicago in a Week 9 game in Green Bay, when the Packers lost 27-20.

Thanks to the play of backup quarterback Matt Flynn, the Packers had a chance to win the NFC North in Week 17 when they took on the Bears. It was a winner take all game. The winner would win the NFC North.

Rodgers was cleared to play against the Bears that game. Although Rodgers appeared to be a bit rusty due to his layoff, No. 12 threw for 315 yards with two touchdown passes versus two picks.

But the second touchdown he threw in that game was one that will live on in Green Bay lore. With 46 seconds to go in the game and with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27, Rodgers and the Packers faced a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, Rodgers first avoided being sacked by current Packer Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then he delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Randall Cobb. The Packers won the game and also won the NFC North.

Rodgers will not be 100 percent when he faces the Bears on Sunday, as he suffered a calf strain early in the game last Sunday at Lambeau Field, when the Packers whipped the Seattle Seahawks 38-10.

The healing process for Rodgers won’t be helped by the weather conditions at Soldier Field on Sunday, as it looks to be one of the coldest home games the Bears have ever played in Chicago.

The Bears have been keeping weather records of their home games since 1963. The coldest home game the Bears have played up to this point was against the Packers…and Rodgers.

It was late in the 2008 season, when the game-time temperature at Soldier Field was just 2°. Currently, the expected temperature (per The Weather Channel) at Soldier Field tomorrow is going to be 7°, with wind gusts off Lake Michigan expected to be up to 16 miles per hour.

Speaking of Soldier Field, the Packers have actually played the Bears more in Chicago at Wrigley Field. That was where the Bears played until 1971.

The Packers first played at Soldier Field (which opened in 1924) in 1937, playing the College All-Stars in a game they lost 6-0. The Packers played seven more games versus the All-Stars over the years, concluding with a game in 1968. The Packers finished 6-2 in those games, with the last loss coming in 1963.

In terms of the game on Sunday, the Packers are riding a three-game winning streak. In those three games, the Packers have steadily improved in all facets of the game…offense, defense and special teams.

Currently, the Packers are ranked 12th in the NFL in total offense and 13th in total defense. The Bears on the other hand, are ranked 17th in total offense and eighth in total defense.

Even though the Packers will be starting Rodgers at quarterback, even somewhat hampered with the calf injury, and the Bears will be starting their third-string quarterback, Matt Barkley, the Packers should not take for granted that this game is definitely going in the win column.

One never knows what will happen when these two teams meet.

Last season was a good example. The Packers beat the Bears 31-23 in the season opener in Chicago and then faced the Bears on Thanksgiving night at Lambeau Field.

There was a lot on the line in that game too. For one, a victory for the Packers in that game would have evened the overall series between the teams, just like the opportunity Green Bay has on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Secondly, although the Packers didn’t know it then, but a win would have given the team an 11-5 record, which would have given Green Bay their fifth consecutive NFC North title, as they would have won the tie-breaker between them and the 11-5 Minnesota Vikings.

This was also only the second time Green Bay had ever hosted a Thanksgiving game. The first time was way back in 1923, when the Packers defeated the Hammond Pros 19-0 at Bellevue Park in Green Bay.

Finally, the Thanksgiving night game was the occasion when the Packers honored Brett Favre by unveiling his No. 4 on the facade at Lambeau. A number of Packers greats were on hand for the ceremony at halftime, including Bart Starr.

But even with all that as a backdrop, the Packers lost 17-13.

rodgers-celebrates-at-soldier-field

Bottom line, a victory on Sunday would solidify the chances of the Packers making the postseason in 2016, especially if the Lions also lose to the Giants.

That would mean a victory next week versus the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field and a win in Week 17 at Ford Field against the Lions would mean another NFC North title for Mike McCarthy and his Packers.

It would mean the sixth NFC North title for the Packers under McCarthy in his 11 years in Green Bay, as well as the team’s ninth appearance in the postseason during that time, which would also include a run of eight straight times participating in the NFL playoffs.

Yes, a lot is on the line this Sunday when the Packers face the Bears at Soldier Field.

And history will be a major component in the backdrop of this game in a series which dates back 95 years.

Aaron Rodgers Has Gone Where No NFL Quarterback Has Gone Before

rodgers-vs-the-seahawks

It’s official. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers now has 289 touchdown passes in his career, compared to just 72 interceptions. What those numbers now mean is that Rodgers now has jumped over the four to one ratio in terms of touchdown passes versus interceptions.

Rodgers is now at a 4.01 ratio.  That is truly remarkable and unheard of. Why? Because no quarterback in NFL history, based on 1,500 passing attempts, has reached even a three to one ratio.

I wrote about the excellent TD pass to pick ratio of Rodgers four years ago when I was writing for Bleacher Report, but at that point Rodgers was the only NFL QB to ever be at a three to one ratio.

Now Rodgers has eclipsed that mark and has gone to another stratosphere.

In addition to that, Rodgers has the highest passer rating in the history of the NFL with a mark of 103.8. Rodgers is the only quarterback to be currently over the 100 mark. Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks once was, but now sits at 99.0.

Let’s compare the passer rating, plus the touchdown to interception ratio of Rodgers versus some other quarterbacks who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and also some who will definitely get to Canton someday.

Aaron Rodgers

Passer Rating: 103.8

Touchdown Passes: 289

Interceptions: 72

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 4.01

Tom Brady

Passer Rating: 97.1

Touchdown Passes: 450

Interceptions: 152

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 2.96

Steve Young

Passer Rating: 96.8

Touchdown Passes: 232

Interceptions: 107

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 2.16

Peyton Manning

Passer Rating: 96.5

Touchdown Passes: 539

Interceptions: 251

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 2.15

Drew Brees

Passer Rating: 96.2

Touchdown Passes: 458

Interceptions: 219

TD Pass to Interception Ratio:  2.09

Philip Rivers

Passer Rating: 95.0

Touchdown Passes: 308

Interceptions: 152

TD Pass to Interception Ratio:  2.03

Ben Roethlisberger

Passer Rating: 94.0

Touchdown Passes: 297

Interceptions: 158

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 1.88

Kurt Warner

Passer Rating: 93.7

Touchdown Passes: 208

Interceptions: 128

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 1.62

Joe Montana

Passer Rating: 92.3

Touchdown Passes: 273

Interceptions: 139

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 1.96

Otto Graham

Passer Rating: 86.6

Touchdown Passes: 174

Interceptions: 135

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 1.29

Dan Marino

Passer Rating: 86.4

Touchdown Passes: 420

Interceptions: 252

TD pass to Interception Ratio: 1.66

brett-in-1996

Brett Favre

Passer Rating: 86.0

Touchdown Passes: 508

Interceptions: 336

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 1.51

I’m not comparing Rodgers to any Hall of Fame quarterback who had a career passer rating below 85. This would include Jim Kelly (84.4), Roger Staubach (83.4), Sonny Jurgenson (82.6), Len Dawson (82.6), Troy Aikman (81.6), Warren Moon (80.9), Bart Starr (80.5), Fran Tarkenton (80.4), Dan Fouts (80.2), John Elway (79.9) and Johnny Unitas (78.2).

Now let’s also compare Rodgers to some current quarterbacks who certainly have a chance to get a bust in Canton some day.

Russell Wilson

Passer Rating: 99.0

Touchdown Passes: 119

Interceptions: 44

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 2.70

Tony Romo

Passer Rating: 97.1

Touchdown Passes: 247

Interceptions: 117

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 2.11

Matt Ryan

Passer Rating: 92.8

Touchdown Passes: 232

Interceptions: 114

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 2.04

Matthew Stafford

Passer Rating: 87.1

Touchdown Passes: 185

Interceptions: 105

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 2.04

Cam Newton

Passer Rating: 87.0

Touchdown Passes: 132

Interceptions: 73

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 1.81

Andrew Luck

Passer Rating: 86.8

Touchdown Passes: 126

Interceptions: 65

TD Pass to Interception Ratio: 1.94

rodgers-and-brady

So far in his career, Rodgers was won the NFL MVP award twice, in 2011 and 2014. His performance in 2016, especially as of late, has suddenly put Rodgers in the discussion of winning a third MVP.

Through 13 games this season, Rodgers has thrown 32 touchdown passes versus seven picks for 3,529 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 101.1.

Just in the past four games, No. 12 has thrown 10 TD passes without throwing an interception for 1,119 yards. His cumulative passer rating over those four games is 122.85.

Early this season there was some concern about the supposed declining play of Rodgers, as he had gone 14 straight games (including the postseason) without reaching the 100 mark in terms of a passer rating.

In fact, the passer rating for Rodgers was just 92.7 for the 2015 season, after having six consecutive years of being over 100 in that category.

But even with the decline in the passer rating last season, Rodgers still was magnificent in terms of his touchdown pass to interception ratio, as he threw 31 TD passes versus just eight picks.

Rodgers has quashed all the declining play talk in 2016, as he has gone over the 100 passer rating plateau seven times already this season in terms of his passer rating.

Rodgers also holds the single-best passer rating for a season, when he had a 122.5 mark in 2011.

In addition, Rodgers and the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, when No. 12 was named the MVP of that game. Rodgers is ranked fifth all-time with a career postseason passer rating of 98.2.

Rodgers has thrown 27 touchdown passes versus eight interceptions for 3,454 yards in the postseason. That adds up to a 3.38 TD pass to pick ratio.

Starr leads the way with a mark of 104.8 in the postseason in terms of a career passer rating. Starr threw 15 touchdown passes versus just three picks in the postseason, when he led the Packers to five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

That adds up to an astonishing five to one ratio in terms of touchdown passes versus picks for Starr in the postseason.

Bottom line, Rodgers has reached a realm in passing the football in the NFL that many thought was impossible to achieve.

Just think about it again. Rodgers has now thrown four touchdown passes for every interception he has thrown in his NFL career.

Plus, he is the only QB in NFL history currently with a career passer rating of over 100.

Those are two truly exceptional achievements.

Only Wilson has had a passer rating above the 100 mark in his career at one point, while no one, not even Brady, has ever reached even the three to one ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions his NFL career, based on 1,500 passing attempts.

Now Rodgers has gone to another level by having a four to one TD to interception ratio in his NFL career.

That puts Rodgers on Mount Olympus looking down at all the other great quarterbacks who have ever played in the NFL.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Fuzzy Thurston

jerry-and-fuzzy-iii

Photo by Jack Robbins

The 6-6 Green Bay Packers will definitely be facing their toughest test of the 2016 season this upcoming Sunday when they face the 8-3-1 Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field.

A loss pretty much erases any hope of winning the NFC North this year, plus it would severely hurt the team’s chances of becoming a NFC Wild Card team as well.

But with two consecutive solid wins under their belt, the Packers should feel positive about themselves. And also about their chances of winning.

One former Packer great who always kept a positive outlook on life and in football was the late, great Fuzzy Thurston.

The second anniversary of Thurston’s passing is quickly coming up, as he tragically died of liver cancer on December 14, 2014 at the age of 80.

I had a chance to talk about Thurston on Wednesday with the other half of that excellent offensive guard duo the Packers had in the 1960s. That would be Jerry Kramer.

With Christmas soon approaching and thinking about Thurston’s positive attitude, Kramer talked about the resolute mindset of Thurston, as well as relating a joke which applied to No. 63’s sunny disposition.

“Well, Fuzz was just a very pleasant fellow to be with,” Kramer said. “He didn’t have bad moods. He didn’t get angry. Now he did frustrated at times on the field and would yell a little. But he was generally very positive on and off the field.

“I’ve told this story before and it’s an old joke, but it applies to Fuzzy at Christmas time. Well, one time Fuzzy got a box of horse manure for Christmas. And Fuzzy jumped up and was smiling from ear to ear down as he yelled, ‘Yippee! Wow! Great! Look at this!’ And people are telling him, ‘What the hell is wrong with you, that’s horse manure!’

“And Fuzzy says without batting an eye, ‘Well, with all that horse manure, there has to be a pony around here somewhere!’

“And that was Fuzzy. Fuzz would always find a bright side. A positive side.”

Thurston had a reason to smile and be happy. He would also tell anyone who would listen, “There are two good reasons the Packers are world champions. Jerry Kramer is one of them, and you’re looking at the other one.”

The awards Thurston and Kramer received during that time certainly endorse that statement.

Back in the day when Thurston and Kramer played, awards were given out by a number of media outlets. This included The Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), The Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) and The New York Daily News (NY).

Thurston was First-Team All-Pro at left guard in both 1961 (AP, UPI, NEA and NY) and 1962 (UPI), plus was named Second-Team All-Pro in 1963 (UPI), 1964 (NY) and 1966 (NY).

Kramer was named First-Team All-Pro at right guard in 1960 (AP), 1962 (AP, NEA and UPI), 1963 (AP, NEA, UPI and NY), 1966 (AP, UPI, FW and NY) and 1967 (AP, UPI and NY), plus was named Second-Team All-Pro in 1961 (NY) and 1968 (AP).

That’s a combined 12 All-Pro honors. Five for Thurston and seven for Kramer.

Kramer also went to just three Pro Bowls, while Thurston never went to any. That seems quite odd to me, based on their excellent play.

Meanwhile, the Packers as a team under the coaching of Vince Lombardi, won five NFL titles in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls.

During that time, the Packers became—and still are—the only team in NFL modern history to win three straight NFL titles, when they won it all from 1965 through 1967.

kramer-and-thurston

Photo by Jack Robbins

Kramer came to the Packers in the 1958 NFL draft out of the University of Idaho. No. 64 was part of a draft class which also brought Dan Currie, Jim Taylor and Ray Nitschke to Green Bay.

Thurston’s journey to Green Bay was a little bumpier. The Altoona, Wisconsin native went college at Valparaiso (Indiana) on a basketball scholarship.

In his junior year at Valpo, he decided to play on the football team. It was an excellent choice. Thurston became a two-time All-American in 1954 and 1955 as an offensive lineman.

Fuzzy was drafted in 1956 by the Philadelphia Eagles. He was cut by the team on its final cut and then went into the Army.

Thurston ended up with the Baltimore Colts in 1958 and was a backup offensive guard on their 1958 NFL title team.

In 1959, the Packers hired Lombardi to be their head coach and general manager. One of the first moves Lombardi made was to trade linebacker Marv Matuszak to the Colts for Thurston.

And in Lombardi’s first season in Green Bay, Kramer was the starter at right guard, while Thurston was the starter at left guard. They were joined by Jim Ringo at center and Forrest Gregg at right tackle, while Bob Skoronski and Norm Masters split time at left tackle.

Lombardi felt that an excellent ground game was the key to the success of his teams in Green Bay and that the signature play for the team was going to be the power sweep.

To illustrate how effective the running game was in Green Bay, just look at how quickly the running game improved.

In 1958, the Packers finished 1-10-1 and were 10th in the NFL in rushing.

In 1959, Lombardi’s first year in Green Bay, the Packers improved to third in the NFL in rushing. In 1960, the Packers were second in the league and made it to the NFL title game.

Then in both 1961 and 1962, the Packers finished first in the NFL in toting the rock and also won their first two NFL championships under Lombardi.

As mentioned earlier, the power sweep was the bread and butter play for the Packers. But it took some time for that play to jell.

“It took awhile, Bob,” Kramer said. “It took some time for the players to really synchronize together on that play. That sweep was really a complex play. And if 11 guys didn’t do their job, it didn’t go. Let’s say the sweep was going to the right. It all started with Jim Ringo. He had a great ability to make an onside cut-off block on the defensive tackle over me.

“Or if he couldn’t do that, he would make a call where Forrest would slide down and go after the tackle and Jim would go get the middle linebacker. It all depended on how the defense lined up.  Jim had a great way of reading which way to block on that play.

“So if Jim made the onside cut-off block on the tackle, Forrest had to engage the defensive end for a moment or two before he went after the middle linebacker.

“If that happened and Forrest was able to get that done correctly, then the onside running back back would be able to block the defensive end effectively. Then the tight end, Ron Kramer, had the job of occupying the outside linebacker. Meanwhile Fuzzy and I would pull to the right and try to adjust to the blocks in front of us before we would throw our blocks.

“It took awhile for everyone to get comfortable regarding their assignment. Plus, it also took a certain amount of control for the backs not to run past Fuzzy and I on the play. Some of the younger backs like Elijah Pitts, would run past our blocks at first. Elijah still might gain seven yards or so, but had he waited on us, he might have gained 15 or 20 yards.

Paul [Hornung] ran that play as good as it could get. He not only had a rhythm and understood the blocking, but he would help set the defensive back up. For instance, if I was maybe three or four yards away from blocking the defense back, Paul knew that the guy was on an island and he would fake inside or outside and that would draw the player in that direction. At that point it was all over and it made the play even more successful.

“Paul was really special when we ran that play. He was very instinctive. Jimmy [Taylor] got pretty good running the play, but he would just as soon run over everybody. Jimmy was always looking to punish the defensive back. That was not always a great idea when you are trying to gain as many yards as possible.

“Still, we averaged around 8.4 yards per carry the first three seasons that we ran that play.”

the-power-sweep

A major reason for the success of that particular play was the blocking of the two guards, Thurston and Kramer.

Never was that more apparent than the 1965 NFL title game at Lambeau Field versus the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns and their great running back Jim Brown.

Although the running game of the Packers had struggled almost the entire year in 1965, the Packers could not be stopped on this snowy and muddy day on the frozen tundra.

Green Bay rumbled for 204 yards behind Taylor and  Hornung, as the Packers won 23-12.

Meanwhile, Brown, who was the NFL’s leading rusher that year with 1,544 yards, was held to just 50 yards by the stingy Green Bay defense.

The power sweep was especially effective for the Pack, as Kramer and  Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders left and right, as the Packers kept getting 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.

Kramer talked about the great success he and Thurston had blocking.

“Fuzz never made a mistake,” Kramer recalled. “We never ran into each other in the eight or nine years that we played together. He was bright and was aware about what needed to be done on a given play.

“Fuzzy also had a lot of heart. He wasn’t the strongest guy in the world, but he gave it everything he had. Fuzz had a lot of energy and he also had a lot of pride. He was going to do his part in helping the team out, no matter what it took.

“He was a great mate. We were like a balanced team of horses. You see pictures of us today, Bob, and you can see us planting our foot at the same precise instant. There is a great picture of the sweep where Hornung plants his right foot, I plant my right foot and Fuzzy plants his left foot. It happened almost precisely at the same instant heading up field.

“We just ran that damn play time and time again at practice. It got to be second nature. But early on in Coach Lombardi’s tenure, when somebody would screw up on the play in practice, we would hear Coach yell out, ‘Run it again! Run it again!’

“Then as time went on and when somebody made a mistake on the play in practice, we wouldn’t wait for Lombardi to yell. One of us would scream, ‘Run it again! Run it again!’

In 1967, Thurston hurt his knee during a scrimmage in training camp. No. 63 was replaced by the talented Gale Gillingham and Thurston never got his job back. But Fuzzy never sulked and he did what he could do to make Gillingham the best player he could be.

“Fuzzy sat besides Gilly for the rest of the ’67 season, ” Kramer said. “He coached Gilly. They sat together in every film session. Fuzzy gave him the benefit of everything he had learned about the defensive tackle that Gilly would be facing that given week.

“Fuzzy told Gilly what he liked to do against that tackle and told Gilly that he should think about doing the same thing. Basically, Fuzzy was Gilly’s personal coach.”

After the 1967 season after the team’s second straight Super Bowl win and the team’s third straight NFL title, Thurston was approached by Lombardi after an awards banquet.

“It was the 1,000 Yard Club banquet in Appleton. It was the dinner when Alex Karras and I exchanged some pleasantries. Anyway, Fuzzy was there and he ran into Coach Lombardi. Coach stopped and said, ‘Fuzzy, when are you going to announce your retirement?’ And Fuzz says, ‘Hmm, right away I guess, Coach.’

Shortly after the conversation with Lombardi, Thurston retired from football. Eight years later, in 1975, Thurston was enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame along with Lombardi, Kramer, Hornung, Taylor, Don Chandler, Ron Kramer, Willie Davis, Max McGee and Henry Jordan.

Besides being a great teammate on the field and in the film room, Thurston was certainly a great friend off the field as well, as Kramer explained.

“Fuzzy didn’t fish much and he didn’t bow hunt,” Kramer said. “He didn’t do some of the things I would do with Doug [Hart] and some of the other guys in terms of hunting or fishing. But if I wanted a beer, Fuzzy was the first one in line that I would call.

“He and I and Boyd Dowler used to go out on Monday nights once in awhile. We called ourselves the Three Muskepissers, instead of the Musketeers. Our wives would come looking for us and they we go to a place and find out that we weren’t there yet or that we had just left.

“We would go to a number of different bars and just socialize. We didn’t get in any trouble. We were just relaxing and having some laughs. It was pleasant to be with Boyd and Fuzzy. They were good company!”

Thurston was good company even when things seemed the bleakest. In 1962, the Packers were 10-0 and were going to be facing the 8-2 Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

“Before we played the Lions on Thanksgiving, Fuzzy lost his mother about three days before the game,” Kramer said. “Fuzzy decided to play, but his heart was somewhere else. The Lions just guessed and gambled correctly all day long that game.”

It was that kind of day for Thurston and his Packer teammates, as the Lions whipped the Packers 26-14. The score looked much closer than the game actually was, as the Packers scored 14 points in the fourth quarter after being down 26-0.

The Packers had just 122 total yards and quarterback Bart Starr was sacked 10 times for 93 yards.

But even with all of that, Thurston found some humor in the painful lesson he and his teammates had experienced.

“We are going home on the plane,” Kramer recalled. “And Fuzz says, ‘You know Jerry, at least the whole day wasn’t a loss.’ And I go, “What the hell are you talking about?” And Fuzzy goes, ‘You and I introduced a new block. You know, the look out block. Because every time Bart would go back to pass we would go, “Look out!”

“We giggled about that a little bit. I mean we were feeling lower than whale crap then, but Fuzz was making a joke and being positive. He was still Fuzz. He wasn’t sulking or sucking his thumb. He was just Fuzz.

“He was just that way no matter where you saw him. He always had a big smile and he was always happy to see you. Fuzzy was just a genuine pleasant guy to be around.”

After the debacle in Detroit in 1962, the Packers won the last three games of the regular season to finish 13-1 and then went on to win the 1962 NFL title game 16-7 over the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium.

The ground game and Kramer’s placekicking were the difference in the game.

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Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) on a day when there were the wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour.  Plus, Kramer, Thurston and the rest of the offensive line helped lead the way for 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.

When Kramer kicked the game-winning field goal late in the title contest, Thurston, No. 63, jumped into the air and signaled for all to see that the kick was good.

It was an apropos gesture for Thurston, because to him, life was also good, even when he was dealing with tough times in business and in health.

“Fuzzy was always positive,” Kramer told me shortly after Thurston had passed away almost two years ago. “He was just consistently up. And he insisted that we all have a good time whether you wanted to or not. You were going to have fun. He would take that upon himself whether it was one or 40. Fuzzy would be the spark.”

Wisconsin Football: The Bowl History of the Badgers

The Wisconsin Badgers have played in 27 bowl games in their storied history and their record in those games is 13-14.

The Badgers first started playing football in 1889 and have an all-time record of 684–489–53. (.583)

Wisconsin has also won 14 Big Ten titles since they joined that conference in 1896.

The 10-3 and B1G West Champion Badgers will be playing in their 28th bowl game on January 2, 2017 when they will be facing the 13-0 and MAC Champion Western Michigan Broncos in the 2016 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

This will be the first time that Wisconsin has ever played in the Cotton Bowl. However, another team from Wisconsin, Marquette University in Milwaukee, played in the first ever Cotton Bowl game versus the TCU Horned Frogs in 1937 and lost 16-6. That was when Marquette still had a football program and were called the Golden Avalanche.

The football program was discontinued by Marquette in December 1960.

This will be the third time the Badgers have played a bowl game in Texas. Wisconsin also played in the 2000 Sun Bowl in El Paso and the 2002 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

The two states where the Badgers have played most of their bowl games are California and Florida.

In California, the Badgers have played in nine Rose Bowl games in Pasadena (1953, 1960, 1963, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2011, 2012 and 2013) and also the 2015 Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

The record of the Badgers in those 10 bowl games is 4-6.

Wisconsin has also played 10 bowl games in the state of Florida. The Badgers have played in the Hall of Fame Bowl once (1995), the Outback Bowl four times (1998, 2005, 2008 and 2015), the Capital One Bowl three times (2006, 2007 and 2014) and the Champs Sports Bowl twice (2008 and 2009).

The Hall of Fame Bowl became the Outback Bowl and all of those games were played in Tampa, either at old Tampa Stadium (Houlihan’s Stadium) or Raymond James Stadium.

The other Florida bowl games were all played at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

The Badgers are 5-5 in the 10 Florida bowl games in which they have played.

I have gone to six of the bowl games that the Badgers played in the Sunshine State. It started in 1995 at the Hall of Fame Bowl when Barry Alvarez and the Badgers took on the Duke Blue Devils.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cosgrove is now the defensive coordinator at New Mexico under head coach Bob Davie. The 8-4 Lobos, who were also Co-Champs of the Mountain Division of Mountain West Conference, will be going to their second consecutive bowl game for the first time since 2007.

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

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

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

It should also be noted, that before 1975, only the Big 10 champion was eligible for a bowl bid. That team always went to the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin had a number of teams which would have gone to bowl games if they were allowed to at the time.

The 1942 team (8-1-1) comes to mind, along with six teams in the 1950s which were all in the AP Top 25 poll.

The most famous bowl game the Badgers ever played in was the 1963 Rose Bowl. The Badgers were ranked No. 2 in the country before that game, while their opponent, the USC Trojans, were ranked No. 1.

Wisconsin was down 42-14 early in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Ron Vander Kelen led a stirring comeback. The Badgers scored 23 straight points to pull within 42-37, but Wisconsin ran out of time.

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.

Besides playing multiple bowl games in California, Florida and Texas, the Badgers have played one game in New Jersey (Garden State Bowl), one in Louisiana (Independence Bowl), one in Alabama (Hall of Fame Classic Bowl), one in Arizona (Copper Bowl) and one in Tennessee (Music City Bowl).

In terms of the opponents who the Badgers have played most often in bowl games, Wisconsin has played Auburn, UCLA and USC three times each.

The Badgers have also played Georgia, Stanford and Tennessee twice in bowl games.

Second-year head coach Paul Chryst (20-6) and his Badgers beat the USC Trojans 23-21 in the 2015 Holiday Bowl last December 30. It was the first time the Badgers had ever beaten the Trojans (regular season or bowl game).

paul-chryst-at-the-holiday-bowl

Until last year’s win, Wisconsin had lost six games against the Trojans, which included two losses in the Rose Bowl (1952 and 1963). I wrote a story about Wisconsin’s bowl history versus USC last year.

At the Cotton Bowl, Chryst and his Badgers will be going for their second straight bowl win without a loss. A victory over Western Michigan by the Badgers will give the Broncos their first lost of the season, plus would even up the record of Wisconsin in bowl games at 14-14.

Here is a complete rundown of the 27 bowl games that the Badgers have played in.

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

A Scout’s Take on the B1G Championship Game Between Wisconsin and Penn State

wisconsin-vs-penn-state

If an individual placed a bet in Las Vegas before the start of the Big Ten football season and wagered that the Wisconsin Badgers and Penn State Nittany Lions would be playing each other in the B1G Championship Game, than that person sure made a pretty penny.

Most experts felt that Penn State would most likely finish fourth in the East division of the Big Ten, behind Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Likewise, the Badgers, mostly due to their very difficult conference schedule, were also supposed to be a middle of the pack team in the West division.

But on Saturday night, it will indeed be the Badgers and Nittany Lions playing each other for the B1G title.

Wisconsin finished 7-2 in the West, a game ahead of Nebraska and Iowa, while Penn State finished 8-1 in the East, which tied them with Ohio State, but because the Lions beat the Buckeyes in the regular season, the tie-breaker went to Penn State.

The winner will either play in the Rose Bowl or possibly be in the College Football Playoff.

The loser will still most likely play in a top-notch bowl game, like the Orange or Cotton Bowl.

The 10-2 Badgers are ranked sixth in the AP poll, fifth in the Coaches poll and sixth in the CFP rankings.

The 10-2 Nittany Lions are slotted eighth in all of the rankings.

This week the Big Ten conference recognized what the Wisconsin and Penn State accomplished this season, as the honors for coaches and players were announced.

Paul Chryst of the Badgers was named the Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year, as voted on by coaches, while James Franklin of the Lions earned the Dave McClain Coach of the Year, as chosen by a select media panel.

Penn State’s Saquon Barkley earned Graham-George Offensive Player and Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year honors.

Barkley was also named to the Coaches First Team 2016 All-Big Team at running back, along with Wisconsin’s Corey Clement.

Left tackle Ryan Ramczyk of the Badgers was also named to the First Team.

Quarterback Trace McSorley of Penn State was named to the Second Team, as was guard Beau Benzschawel and tight end Troy Fumagalli of Wisconsin.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker T.J. Watt of the Badgers was named First Team, while linebacker Vince Biegel and cornerback Sojourn Shelton of Wisconsin made the Second Team. Defensive lineman Connor Sheehy made the Third Team.

Defensive lineman Garrett Sickels of Penn State was named to the Second Team, while defensive lineman Evan Schwan, linebacker Jason Cabinda and defensive back Marcus Allen of the Nittany Lions all made the Third Team.

Kicker Tyler Davis of Penn State was also named First Team.

Both Wisconsin and Penn State had several players get Honorable Mention designation.

Linebacker Jack Cichy, offensive lineman Michael Dieter, defensive back D’Cota Dixon, linebacker T.J. Edwards, defensive lineman Alec James, defensive back Leo Musso, defensive lineman Chikwe Obasih, wide receiver Jazz Peavy and defensive back Derrick Tindal all received that honor for the Badgers.

Meanwhile, linebacker Brandon Bell, offensive lineman Brian Gaia, tight end Mike Gesicki, punter Blake Gillikin, wide receiver Chris Godwin, defensive lineman Parker Cothren and defensive back John Reid all received the same designation.

Penn State has a more explosive offense than Wisconsin, but the defense of the Badgers will be the best one the Nittany Lions have seen since they played Michigan and lost 49-10.

Wisconsin is ranked seventh in total defense in the country, which includes being ranked third in rushing defense and 22nd in passing defense.

Penn State has some big weapons on offense. One is Barkley, who rushed for 1,219 yards and 15 touchdowns. Barkley also caught 21 passes for 321 yards and two more scores.

Barkley injured his ankle last week against Michigan State and had to leave the game. His status for the B1G title game is unknown, although Franklin says that he expects Barkley to play.

McSorley and the passing game of Penn State can also be dangerous for opposing defenses. McSorley threw 21 touchdown passes versus just five interceptions for 2,976 yards.

The biggest knock on McSorley is his accuracy, as he has completed just 56.3 percent of his passes.

The two big receiving threats for the Lions are Godwin (47-762-9) and Gesicki (44-610-3).

t-j-watt-and-vince-biegel

T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel

The Wisconsin defense is led by their great set of linebackers, namely Watt and Biegel, who are bookend outside linebackers who rush the quarterback very effectively and who also play the run well.

On offense for the Badgers, quarterback Alex Hornibrook (8-7-1,243) had to leave the game against Minnesota last week due to a concussion, but Bart Houston (5-3-912) stepped in and played well.

Expect to see both play in the B1G title game, which has been the norm for the past several games.

The offense of the Badgers is keyed by the running game. Clement has rushed for 1,140 yards and 13 touchdowns, while he gets assistance from both Dare Ogunbowale, who has rushed for 458 yards and three scores and also Bradrick Shaw, who has run for 395 yards and five touchdowns.

Peavy is also dangerous running the ball on jet sweeps and end arounds, as he has rushed for 263 yards and a score.

In terms of receiving threats for the Badgers, they would be Peavy (39-582-5), Fumagalli (38-467-1) and Robert Wheelwright (33-436-1).

Ogunbowale is also a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, as he has 18 catches for 152 yards and one score.

But it won’t be easy for the Badgers, as the Penn State defense has steadily improved all season long and are now ranked 20th in total defense.

Bottom line, this should be a heck of a game and as always, I wanted to get some input from NFL scout Chris Landry about the how he sees this contest playing out.

I didn’t have an opportunity to talk with Landry this week like I usually do, but I did check out his review about the B1G Championship Game on his fine website.

This is how Landry sees the game:

The winner will be the Big Ten champion. We don’t know is if the winner will get a spot in the College Football Playoff. At the very least, the winner will end up in the Rose Bowl and the loser will probably be in a New Year’s Six bowl of some sort – but that’s not guaranteed.

The Nittany Lions have been amazing at blowing up in the second halves of games, but it’s taking a while to get the engine revved up, down 12-10 at halftime to Michigan State, up only 9-0 on Rutgers at the break, tied at 14 against Indiana, tied at 17 against Purdue and down 12-7 to Ohio State. Get down by any appreciable stretch against Wisconsin, and get ready for Badger stallball being taken to a whole other level.

Penn State doesn’t convert third downs – Wisconsin’t D is third in the nation in third down stop percentage.

Penn State doesn’t really grind out the clock – Wisconsin is No. 1 in the nation in time of possession.

But what Penn State does do really, really well is explode in the second half, with QB Trace McSorley able to crank up the deep ball while defenses spend all their time worrying about Saquon Barkley.

Wisconsin’s secondary excels against midrange passing games – picking off Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner four times in the second half and rarely allowing yards after the catch on a regular basis all season long. However, the Badger D can be hit by the long ball.

That’s how they lost to Michigan – one big deep play – and Purdue kept it mildly interesting for a little while with some big passes, but for the most part, there haven’t been too many teams on the schedule who can take the top off a defense. Penn State has to get vertical and it can’t be afraid of making a few mistakes here and there. Eventually, the deep ball will pay off.

But Wisconsin will have to throw, too, and it’ll have to do it with Bart Houston. The starter at the beginning of the year, he threw for 205 yards and two picks against LSU and 231 yards and two touchdowns against Akron, and then the offense stopped working against Georgia State, and the Alex Hornibrook two quarterback system kicked into overdrive.

But Hornibrook is expected to an option – after getting blasted against the Gophers. No matter who’s at quarterback, the third down passing game has to work considering the Penn State run defense has gotten better and better over the course of the season, allowing fewer than 100 yards three times in the last five games and no more than 170 over the last seven.

But that doesn’t mean the Badgers aren’t going to try. Combine the three-headed running back monster of Corey Clement, Dare Ogbunowale – especially on third downs – and Bradrick Shaw along with the speed of Jazz Peavy on jet sweeps and crossing patterns, and Wisconsin is able to wear down defenses.

Penn State has been a different team over the second half of the season, scoring 39 points or more in each of its last five games, winning all of them in a blowout, coming off of clutch performances against Minnesota and Ohio State, pulling games out of the fire they should’ve lost.

But they also go destroyed by Michigan 49-10, and how? They couldn’t handle the Wolverine running game, and couldn’t deal with the defensive line that held them to just 70 rushing yards.

The same thing that worked for Michigan back in September 24th will work in Indianapolis. Penn State might be a far different team now, but Wisconsin has gotten better and better as the season has rolled on, too.

The Badger will win a grinder, and then they’ll have to hope and pray it was enough to impress the folks in Grapevine.

————————-Wisconsin 27, Penn State 24————————