Once again, the Green Bay Packers will be hosting the New York Giants at Lambeau Field in the postseason. Sunday’s late-afternoon game will be the fourth time the G-Men have played in the historic stadium on Lombardi Avenue in win or go-home scenario.
The Packers have lost the last two times (2007 and 2011 postseason) quarterback Eli Manning and his Giants have come to Lambeau, but it was a different story when the Packers hosted the Giants for the 1961 NFL title game at the stadium which was then called City Stadium.
That game was the first time the city of Green Bay had ever hosted a championship game. In that contest, the Packers dominated the Giants and won going away 37-0. It would be the first of five NFL titles that the Packers would win under head coach Vince Lombardi.
Halfback/kicker Paul Hornung was the big star in the game, as he scored 19 points just by himself in this championship setting. Another player who played a key role in the game was wide receiver Boyd Dowler.
Dowler caught three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown in the game. The Packers were fortunate to have Hornung and Dowler play in that championship game, as well as middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, as all three were activated as military reservists by the Department of Defense because of the escalation of the Cold War in 1961.
I wrote about that scenario in a story which talks about how the friendship between Lombardi and President John F. Kennedy helped to make sure that all three of those players were eligible to play in the NFL championship game.
The Packers won that title game and Titletown was born.
But it was just the first of five titles for the Packers under Lombardi, which included the first two Super Bowls. Dowler played a big role in a number of those games.
Besides the touchdown pass he caught in the 1961 NFL title game, Dowler also had four more pass-reception scores in the postseason, which includes two in the legendary “Ice Bowl” game versus the Dallas Cowboys on New Year’s Eve in 1967.
Two weeks after that classic game, Dowler also caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from Bart Starr in Super Bowl II, when the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14.
It was a different story for Dowler however in Super Bowl I. Just two weeks before that game in the 1966 NFL title game in Dallas, No. 86 had caught 16-yard touchdown pass from Starr in the third quarter, when he was upended by safety Mike Gaechter of the Cowboys a number of yards into the end zone.
It’s been assumed that the cheap-shot by Gaechter injured the shoulder of Dowler as he crashed to the surface of the end zone. Actually, that is not the case. After talking to Dowler, I have learned that he had a calcium deposit on his right shoulder and was playing through that injury the entire 1966 season. Dowler first injured the shoulder in the 1965 season.
The flip that Dowler took after Gaechter low-cut him did not injure his shoulder. But No. 86 did further injure his shoulder blocking Johnny Robinson of the Chiefs early in Super Bowl I, which caused Dowler to miss the rest of the game and later have the shoulder operated on that offseason.
That opened the door for the entrance of Max McGee as his replacement, as No. 85 had a banner game with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
Dowler was an imposing receiver at 6’5″ and 224 pounds. When No. 86 available to play, he was a clutch performer, both in the regular season and the postseason.
In his 11-year career with the Packers, Dowler had 448 receptions for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. In the postseason, Dowler also had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores.
In his rookie year in 1959, Dowler was named Rookie of the Year by UPI (United Press International). The former Colorado star was also named to two Pro Bowls in his career.
In 1978, Dowler was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.
I had a chance to talk about Dowler with Jerry Kramer recently and he told me why he fit in so well and so quickly with the Packers.
“Boyd was a mature kid,” Kramer said. “He understood the game and what we were doing and he was just a bit ahead of most rookies. I think his father coaching him played a part in that.”
Dowler played under his dad at Cheyenne High School in Wyoming.
After high school, Dowler went to play college ball at Colorado, where he did everything for the Buffaloes except sell programs in the stands.
Kramer talked about that scenario.
“Boyd was a very talented athlete,” Kramer said. “He led Colorado in passing, running, receiving and punting. But when you think about that, how the hell could you lead the team in both passing and receiving? You can’t throw to yourself! But Boyd told me that he played in a single-wing offense at Colorado and sometimes he threw the ball and sometimes he caught the ball.”
Dowler was strictly a receiver in Green Bay, as he never threw a pass and had just two rushes for 28 yards in his career as a Packer. But Dowler did share punting duties with McGee from 1960 through 1962, when his punting average was 43 yards a punt.
Dowler also punted once in 1969, which was his final season in Green Bay. After becoming an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Rams in 1970, Dowler became a player-coach for the Washington Redskins in 1971, when he had 26 catches for 352 yards.
Dowler stayed on as a coach for the Redskins through 1972 and then later became an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles (1973-1975), Cincinnati Bengals (1976-1979) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1980-1984).
Kramer also talked about another important attribute that Dowler had.
“I think Boyd’s confidence was one of the big reasons why he was accepted so quickly and completely,” Kramer said. “There were no excuses from Boyd. If he screwed something up, he would be the guy to tell you. But he very seldom screwed things up and made very few mistakes.”
That confidence led to a memorable scene in Cheyenne one night that Kramer heard about from Dowler.
“There is this wonderful story about Boyd racing a quarter horse down the street in Cheyenne,” Kramer said. “Boyd was at this bar and this guy was talking about how his quarter horse could start so quick. Boyd told the guy that he could beat the horse in a short race like 50 feet.
“The guy didn’t believe Boyd, so they ended betting several hundred dollars to have a race between Boyd and the horse. So Boyd went home and got his running shoes and sure enough beat the horse in that short race in Cheyenne!”
No. 64 had a huge role in all of those championship victories by the Packers.
But as I mentioned earlier, Dowler quietly did the same thing in championship games as Kramer explained.
“Boyd was always there and always capable in big games,” Kramer said. “He was almost invisible. Like the two touchdowns that he had in the “Ice Bowl” game. He just did that very quietly and very professionally.
“He just scored his touchdown and handed the ball to the official. Sans a dance, he just went to the sidelines. He was just Boyd doing his job. He was always in his position and where he supposed to be. He was also available too. He also rarely dropped a pass. If the ball was near him, he almost always caught it.”
As I related in a recent story about Fuzzy Thurston, Kramer related to me that he, Thurston and Dowler used to go out together quite often after practice. They called themselves, the Three Muskepissers.
Kramer talked about how that scenario used to go down.
“Fuzzy and Boyd would start the festivities early,” Kramer said. “I would go golfing or something and then catch up with them later. I wouldn’t start with them. I couldn’t keep up with them. So I would wait to around 6:00 and then I would track them down and hang out with them for the rest of the evening.”
Kramer then had some final thoughts about his friend Dowler.
“Boyd not only had a great grasp of the game, but his execution was also phenomenal,” Kramer said. “I don’t believe Boyd made a mistake a year. He was always aware of the situation and he was about as steady as they come when he played with us.”