The 1967 season was a special one in the legacy of Vince Lombardi and his Green Bay Packers. That season tuned out to be the last season that Lombardi would coach the Packers, plus it was also the year that the Packers won their third straight NFL title, as well as their second straight Super Bowl.
The three straight NFL championships has never been duplicated in any era since the postseason playoff system started in the NFL in 1933. Overall, the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years under Lombardi (including Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II), culminating in the glorious season of 1967.
That season was masterfully chronicled by right guard Jerry Kramer of the Packers, as he would recite his thoughts into a tape recorder and then submit those words to Dick Schaap, who edited the words into the final version of the classic book, Instant Replay.
I described how that wonderful book was put together in a piece I wrote last summer.
But before the season began, the NFL held it’s annual draft on March 14, 1967. That draft was 50 years ago last month. How time flies. In those days, the draft lasted 17 rounds.
If you thought 17 rounds seems long compared to the current NFL practice of seven rounds, you should look back when Kramer was drafted in 1958. Then the NFL draft was 30 rounds. Yes, you read that right. 30 rounds! Anyway, that particular draft was the best one the Packers ever had. I documented that in a recent story.
But the 1967 draft brought some very talented players to Green Bay as well. In the first round of that draft, the Packers selected center/guard Bob Hyland of Boston College with the ninth overall pick of the draft.
Lombardi (who was also general manger) acquired that pick from the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for defensive tackle Lloyd Voss and tight end/defensive end Tony Jeter.
The Packers also had another selection in the first round in 1967, which was their own pick, and the Packers selected quarterback Don Horn of San Diego State with pick No. 25 in the first round.
In all, the Packers had six players from that draft make the team in 1967. They were Hyland and Horn obviously, as well as linebacker Jim Flanigan of Pittsburgh (second round), cornerback John Rowser of Michigan (third round), running back/kick returner Travis Williams of Arizona State (fourth round) and wide receiver Claudis James of Jackson State (14th round).
Two other draft picks were put on the taxi squad (like the current day practice squad) that season. They were wide receiver Dave Dunaway of Duke (second round) and center Jay Bachman of Cincinnati (fifth round).
Another rookie who was part of that draft class was cornerback Mike Bass, who was selected in 12th round out of Michigan. Lombardi ended up selling Bass to the Detroit Lions that training camp.
Bass ended up having a very nice career with the Washington Redskins (Lombardi coached him in 1969) for several years when he was named to the Pro Bowl twice and was named All-Pro once. Bass had 30 interceptions in his career, with three returned for touchdowns.
The Packers did have a rookie free agent make the team as well. That would be tight end/linebacker Dick Capp of Boston College, who actually was drafted originally in the AFL draft in 1966 by the Boston Patriots.
I had the opportunity to talk with both Hyland and Horn last week to talk about being part of that 1967 draft class of the Packers, plus how special that rookie season was for both of them.
Neither Hyland or Horn had any inkling that the Packers would be the team to select them.
“I didn’t expect to be selected by the Packers,” Hyland said. “I had indications from the Cowboys, the 49ers, the Bears and the Steelers though.
“Also, the previous weekend of the draft, I went to Baltimore, as the Colts had the first pick in the draft and they wanted to interview me and Bubba Smith. They decided on Bubba. But on draft day, I didn’t know if I was going to be picked first or a bit later.”
Horn didn’t expect the Packers to be drafting him either.
“I expected to be drafted in round one because I was told that I was going to be picked in that round by two or three teams if I was still available,” Horn said. “The Lions said that. The Raiders said that. The Chargers said that as well.”
Both players were surprised when they got a call from Vince Lombardi of the Packers.
“At BC (Boston College) they are pretty serious about getting to class,” Hyland said. “I had a 9:00 class and afterwards I went back to where I lived. I had three roommates and we lived in an old mansion on campus.
“We actually had a phone which was kind of unusual back in those days, but between the four of us we could afford it. That was the phone number that I gave the NFL to contact me. They told me to get near a phone by 10:00, which I did.
“About 10 minutes later I got a call from Coach Lombardi. I was thrilled. I really had no idea. I was a Giants fan as a kid and I was very aware of Coach Lombardi. I followed the NFL very closely. You couldn’t help but to be a Green Bay Packer fan as your second favorite team compared to your hometown team.
“I was really excited about the possibility going out to Green Bay and being with a championship team.”
Horn had to wait awhile until he got his call from Coach Lombardi, as he sat in the public relation director’s office at San Diego State listening to the draft on the radio.
“So we’re listening to the draft and I hear that the Lions selected Mel Farr with their pick in the first round,” Horn said. “And I’m thinking that those guys [the Lions] didn’t tell the truth about picking me.
“So as we getting near the end of the first round, I’m kind of ticked because all these teams who said they were going to pick me, didn’t. All of a sudden the phone rings and I believe it was Coach Lombardi’s secretary, and she said, ‘Is this Donald Horn?’ And I said yes. She then told me to please hold for Coach Lombardi.
“At first I thought someone was playing a trick on me. Then Lombardi and his distinctive voice gets on the phone. He says, ‘Donald, this is Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. The Kansas City Chiefs are picking right now. We are considering making you our next draft choice. Do you have any reservations about playing for the Packers?’ I said no sir.
“Then Coach asked if I had signed any contracts with other leagues like the Canadian Football League. Again, I said no sir. Lombardi then said he would get back to me in about 15 minutes. About 15 minutes later, I get the call and Lombardi says, ‘Don, you are now a Green Bay Packer.’
“I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was 10 feet tall. It was like walking on water!”
When the veterans and the rookies got together for training camp in the summer of ’67, they were met with important message from their coach.
I also talked to Kramer last week and he related this story to me.
“The biggest thing was the first day of training camp when we had our first meeting,” Kramer said. “Coach Lombardi talked about winning our third consecutive title. He told us that no one has ever done that before and that it will set us apart from everyone else who ever played in the NFL.
“He told us that we had to have a great deal of discipline, perseverance, tenacity, pride, character, all the things that we needed to do to win that third straight title. He told us everyone would be looking to knock us off.
“That was an important message for us. That was to be our focus. Veterans and rookies alike.”
For the rookies, training camp under Lombardi was something they had never experienced before. Certainly Horn didn’t.
“I never experienced anything like we went through in training camp that summer,” Horn said. “Never. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe he worked people that hard. In college, it was pretty easy.
“We didn’t do anything near what we did in Green Bay to get in shape or work out. Or have the dedication to work out like Vince did. Those two-a-days and those grass drills that we went through were incredible. To this day, we still talk about them. He just beat you down physically before practice with these drills. And then you were expected to practice as hard as you could. It was amazing.”
Horn talked about an incident which occurred during that training camp which brought a few chuckles from the team.
The team was running through some drills where the center and the quarterback were go through snap exchanges. It’s important to know that Hyland was about about two inches taller and about 25 pounds heavier than Ken Bowman, the other center on the Packers.
Horn talked about that dynamic played out.
“So we are at practice one day working on some drills,” Horn said. “Bob had a pretty tall stance snapping the ball, compared to Ken. And it takes awhile for a quarterback to get used to a new center. Especially if he was as big as Bob was. So, it’s two-a-days and Bart’s taking some snaps from Bob. And he fumbles a snap. Then Zeke [Bratkowski] stepped in and muffs a couple of snaps from Bob. I come in and do the same thing.
“So Vince and the other coaches start yelling at Bob and all the quarterbacks. Finally Lombardi says, ‘Let me show you how to do this!’ So Vince goes over under Bob and by now Bob is pretty nervous and he’s shaking. So Vince calls the signal and Hyland snaps the ball to Vince and the football jams his fingers and Lombardi starts cursing in pain. We were all laughing pretty good under our breath.”
It wasn’t always that way for Hyland. In fact, Lombardi went out of his way to compliment the play of Hyland many times in training camp.
Lombardi got so comfortable with Hyland playing center, that the White Plains, New York native started six games at center in the regular season for the Packers, starting with the Week 9 game versus the Cleveland Browns at old County Stadium in Milwaukee.
The rookie class certainly made a mark in that game. Hyland started at center for the first time. Horn played quarterback for half of the fourth quarter in a 55-7 blowout win by the Pack. That was Horn’s first meaningful playing time that season.
But the rookie who made the biggest splash that day was Travis Williams. Williams returned two kickoff for touchdowns that day in the first quarter. The first was 87 yards and the second one was 85 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the “Roadrunner” rushed for 43 yards in just four carries.
Horn told me a story about how the game ended which will tell you a lot about the class and dignity of Lombardi.
“It’s late in the fourth quarter and I drove the team 50 or 60 yards to the Cleveland seven-yard line,” Horn said. “There’s two minutes to go and we were up at the time 55-7. So I’m think we are going to score. All of a sudden Forrest Gregg comes back into the game, as by then all the backups were in the game. So that was sort of odd.
“So I’m thinking to myself that Forrest brought in a play for me to run and we are going to score. But instead, Forrest grabs me and pulls me aside and says, ‘The old man told me to tell you NOT to score.’ So I ran the clock out just like Coach Lombardi wanted.
“After the game ended, Vince was one of the first guys to see me. He grabbed me and he said, ‘Donald (as he pointed over to head coach Blanton Collier of the Browns), you see that gentleman over there? 55 is bad enough. I’m not going put 62 on him. That man is a gentleman. Do you understand, son?’ And I replied, yes sir. Lombardi then says, ‘Okay. Good.’
Over the remainder of the season, Hyland remained the starter at center for the Packers. No. 50 talked about how the veterans of the offensive line supported him during that time.
“They took me right under their wing,” Hyland said. “Especially when I became a starter. I remember Bob Skoronski asking me to go out to dinner with them a couple of times. The offensive linemen stuck together quite a bit. They wanted me to feel part of the group. Which they did
“I just had a lot of respect for every one of the guys on the offensive line. They were outstanding people. Kenny and I had a difficult situation of course. He was a good player. Coach Lombardi was more in my favor then. Maybe because I was bigger and I could handle guys who played right over me better than Ken could.
“It was a tough thing for Kenny. He earned his way to the first position and then all of a sudden I stepped on his toes. But the one thing was that we all wanted to win. That was the most important aspect. I think we were all able to deal with what ever our personal setbacks might have been for the greater good of the team to help win a championship.”
Another example of that situation was when left guard Gale Gillingham became the starter at left guard after Fuzzy Thurston hurt his knee in a scrimmage early in training camp. Thurston never regained his starting job back from the talented Gillingham.
Kramer talk about how Thurston handled that situation.
“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.”
The rookie who really took off starting in Week 7, was Williams. Against the St. Louis Cardinals that week, No. 23 ran his first kickoff return for a touchdown that year. He then returned the two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Browns, plus had another one, for 104 yards, versus the Los Angeles Rams in Week 13.
All told, Williams returned 18 kickoffs for 739 yards and four touchdowns. His kickoff return average of 41.1 yards is still a NFL record.
Williams also received some playing time at halfback, as starter Elijah Pitts was lost for the year with a torn Achilles tendon against the Baltimore Colts in Week 8. In that same game, starting fullback Jim Grabowski was also lost for the year with a knee injury.
Williams rushed for 188 yards (5.4 average) during the ’67 season and scored one touchdown.
Williams also had a receiving touchdown, which he caught from Horn in the last week of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field. It was Horn’s first career touchdown pass as a matter of fact.
The Packers ended the 1967 regular season with a 9-4-1 record and were NFL Central Division champs. Their first matchup in the postseason would be against the 11-1-2 and Coastal Division champion Rams at County Stadium in Milwaukee.
In that game, Bowman surprisingly started the game at center. Hyland talked about how that went down.
“Against the Rams, Coach Lombardi started Kenny Bowman and then put me in after the first series,” Hyland said. “I had a good game. I guess Lombardi’s theory was to take the pressure off the kid and don’t let him know what’s in store for him until after the first series.
“Kenny was obviously disappointed, but I was thrilled to be part of a big win.”
A big win it was, as the Packers whipped the Rams 28-7. The star of the game was Williams. He didn’t return a kickoff for a score, but he did rush for two touchdowns and had 88 yards rushing.
Kramer talked about the first touchdown run by Williams.
“I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] very vividly on one play,” Kramer said. “It’s still crystal clear in my mind. Travis is going outside right on the play. And I’m blocking on Merlin and I’m trying to get outside position on him. And he’s starting to move and I’m chasing him.
“All of a sudden, I see Travis about even with us, but near the sideline and I knew that he was gone.”
Gone he was, as Williams scampered 46 yards for a score.
The next week was the legendary “Ice Bowl” game at Lambeau Field, as the Packers hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game on New Year’s Eve.
Bowman got the start a center in that game, while Williams rushed for just 13 yards, as Donny Anderson received most of the playing time at halfback.
Which brings up another point. Lombardi was a bit of a “hunch” coach. He started players based on hunches at times, not because of how a player had been performing recently.
For instance, Hyland played well against the Rams in the playoffs, but Lombardi still started Bowman against the Cowboys the next week. Lombardi also did that with his running back tandems in the postseason that year.
Against the Rams, Lombardi primarily played Williams at halfback and Chuck Mercein at fullback. Against the Cowboys, Anderson played primarily at halfback, while Mercein received most of the playing time at fullback.
But in Super Bowl II versus the Oakland Raiders, Anderson again was in most of the time at halfback, while Ben Wilson got the start at fullback that game and led the Packers in rushing that day with 65 yards.
And this was after Mercein played very well against the Rams and the Cowboys.
Back to the “Ice Bowl” now. The game was an epic battle that was played in brutal conditions, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.
Green Bay was down 17-14 late into the fourth quarter. The Packers got the ball back at their own 32-yard line with just 4:50 remaining in the game. Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.
Trudge they did. The game down down to this: there were just 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the Dallas 1-yard line. Starr conferred with Lombardi on the sideline and called the 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. But Starr decided he was going to keep the ball because of the slippery conditions near the goal line.
The decision to call the wedge play under these settings was first suggested by Kramer earlier in the week.
“I saw that Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films. I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And Coach Lombardi said, ‘What?’ And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says, ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh.’
On the legendary play, Pugh stayed high just like Kramer expected and No. 64 cleared the way for Starr to sneak across the goal line for the game-winning score.
Kramer talked about that block.
“I put my face into the chest of Pugh. That is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the safest and the surest way to make a block. I felt great personal responsibility to the team on that block. When I came off the ball, I was on fire.”
Kramer also talked about the contribution of Bowman at center on that play.
“I’ve analyzed that play a lot. “Bow” was there, there is no question about that,” Kramer said. “But when Jethro got up like I expected and then I got into him, the rest was a forgone conclusion. Jethro was then out of position and also out of the play. The play was over for him then.”
When Starr scored on that historic quarterback sneak, Lombardi raised his arms to signal touchdown. The first player to congratulate Lombardi after that touchdown was Horn.
Two weeks later, the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 to win Super Bowl II and to cement their third NFL title in a row. A feat that has never been reproduced.
Hyland reflected on how it felt to be part of such a mythical team as a rookie.
“From the standpoint of Coach Lombardi, I think it had to be his greatest year as a coach,” Hyland said. “He had to pull every trick he could out of the hat to put a good team on the field every week.
“Bringing in Chuck Mercein. Bringing Ben Wilson. Guys like that. Those guys did a great job and I think it’s a tribute to Coach Lombardi that he just inspired people to play way over their heads.
“I think it was a real interesting story that year. Jerry captured the situation very well in Instant Replay. With a lot of the behind the scenes going on and a lot of people have read the book many times simply because it was such a great year for the Packers.”
Speaking of Instant Replay, Horn told me a very interesting story about that book.
“Jerry gave me one of the first editions that he autographed for me,” Horn said. “Jerry personalized for me and I had the book for a couple of years. Then my mother came to visit my wife and I and asked to borrow the book because she wanted to read it.
“So I give her Instant Replay. This is around 1970. A few weeks later, my mother calls and said that she lost the book at an airport. She felt really bad. I told her not to worry, that I’ll get another one and get Jerry to sign it.
“Well, about 15 to 20 years later, I’m playing in the Vince Lombardi golf tournament up there in Menomonee Falls and this couple walks up to me and hands me Instant Replay. The man says, ‘Mr. Horn, I think this belongs to you.’ And sure enough it was the same book Jerry had signed for me back in 1968. Somebody in their family had found the book at General Mitchell Field and kept all those years until they had a chance to return it to me.”
Talk about a very fortunate set of circumstances.
Which was how the season played out in 1967 for the Green Packers and their rookie class for that season.
But the Packers created their own fortune that year. They did it the same way that Lombardi taught them. Through preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.
Those principles led to a third straight NFL title and a second straight Super Bowl win.
Not to mention a treasure chest full of great memories for both Hyland and Horn.