The Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons have played each other 28 times in the regular season and three times in the postseason since the two teams first met in 1966.
The Packers lead the regular season series 15-13 and also have a 2-1 edge in the postseason.
I’ll be doing a story later this week about the history between the two teams, as the Packers and Falcons will be meeting this Sunday in the NFC title game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for the right to play in Super Bowl LI.
I’ll also be doing a scouting report piece on the big game, as well as another story comparing Aaron Rodgers versus Matt Ryan and how they have fared against each other, both in the regular season and the postseason.
But this story is about the first time the two teams met in 1966.
1966 was an expansion year in the NFL and it was the first year of existence for the Falcons.
I happened to be in attendance at Milwaukee County Stadium when the two teams first met on October 23, 1966.
The Falcons of 1966 had quite a connection to the Packers. For one thing, the head coach of the Falcons was Norb Hecker, who had been a long-time assistant under Vince Lombardi in Green Bay from 1959 through 1965.
The Falcons also had a number of former Packers on their 1966 roster, which included quarterback Dennis Claridge, running back Junior Coffey, guard Dan Grimm, wide receiver Gary Barnes and wide receiver Alex Hawkins.
All five of those players had been drafted by the Packers, but Hawkins never played a down for the Packers, while Claridge, Coffey and Barnes received very limited playing time.
Grimm started a number of games for the Packers at right guard in 1964 and 1965, while Jerry Kramer was out due to intestinal issues which needed nine medical procedures to resolve.
The Packers showed little mercy on the Falcons that sunny day in Milwaukee, as Green Bay won 56-3.
Quarterback Bart Starr only played part of the game in the blowout, but his eight completions went for 220 yards (27.5 yards per completion average), plus he also threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Carroll Dale. Starr’s passer rating for that game was a whopping 131.1.
Backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski also threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to veteran wide receiver Max McGee.
Fullback Jim Taylor rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown in the game, but the thing I remember the most about the game was the first real appearance of the season by the two highly-paid rookie running backs of the Packers, Jim Grabowski and Donny Anderson.
Grabowski and Anderson were known as the “Gold Dust Twins” because of the rookie contracts each player signed in 1966.
Before the 1966 season, the NFL and AFL were battling each other in terms of signing college prospects, as well as attempting to sign players from other teams in each league.
That led to the merger of the two opposing leagues, as well as the creation of the Super Bowl.
But before the merger, the two leagues would bid against each other for college prospects and that led to Anderson receiving a reported $600,000 contract, while Grabowski reportedly received a $400,000 contract.
Anderson (Texas Tech) had been the No. 1 pick of the Packers in 1965 as a future pick. That aspect of the college draft was allowed in the NFL at the time, even if the prospect still had a year left in college (like Anderson did), while Grabowski (Illinois) was one of two first-round picks for the Packers in 1966, along with guard Gale Gillingham.
Those contracts led Taylor to play out his option after the 1966 season and then to sign with the expansion New Orleans Saints in 1967.
In fact, Taylor announced that intention of playing out his option to a reporter in the locker room after the game against the Falcons at County Stadium.
That did not sit well with Lombardi, as he and Taylor hardly spoke the rest of the 1966 season.
Taylor’s long-time running mate, halfback Paul Hornung, didn’t play in the game against the Falcons, as he was dealing with a pinched nerve issue in his shoulder which hampered him during the 1966 season.
The 1966 season was also the last year for Hornung in Green Bay, as he was first selected by the Saints in the expansion draft in 1967, but soon retired to his shoulder injury.
Grabowski led the team in rushing against the Falcons that October day, as he rushed for 52 yards on just seven carries. Anderson rushed for a touchdown in the game, plus returned a punt for 77 yards and another score.
I also recall how stifling the defense of the Packers was that day, as it seemed like quarterback Randy Johnson was under pass-pressure all day long. In fact, Atlanta quarterbacks were sacked eight times during the game, as Claridge also played in relief of Johnson.
The Packers picked off four passes in the game, including two interceptions which were returned for touchdowns. The first was by Herb Adderley on a 68-yard return, while the second was by Doug Hart on a 40-yard return for a score.
Ironically, Hecker was the defensive backs coach for the Packers under Lombardi in Green Bay.
The Falcons did win three games in their expansion year of 1966 and finished 3-11 under Hecker.
The Packers were a dominating 12-2 that season, as their two losses were by a combined four points. Green Bay went on to win their second straight NFL title that year, as well as winning the very first Super Bowl.