When Jerry Kramer Knew Bart Starr Would Keep the Ball on his QB Sneak in the ‘Ice Bowl’

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

Looking back on the 100 years of history in the NFL, the play is considered one of the most iconic plays in league annals. I’m talking about Bart Starr and his surprising quarterback sneak in the closing seconds of the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers at frigid Lambeau Field.

With just 16 seconds remaining in the game and with his team having no timeouts, Starr followed the classic block by right guard Jerry Kramer on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, as he shuffled to the right of Kramer’s block  and tumbled happily into the end zone, as the Packers defeated the Cowboys 21-17 to win their third straight NFL title.

Before we dissect that play and talk about the many interesting nuances about that call, let’s first look at the arctic conditions the NFL title game was being played under.

The weather in Green Bay on December 30, 1967 was fairly mild as the Cowboys worked out for a while at Lambeau Field the day before the game. The field was soft and although it was cold (high 20s and low 30s), it was not bitterly cold.

That all changed on December 31, 1967, as one never knows what will happen in the region where the Fox River connects to the bay off Lake Michigan in the winter.

Yes, when the NFL title game started between the Cowboys and Packers began, the temperature was -13°. If you added in the wind throughout the game, the temperature plummeted to -50°.

Nice weather if you are a polar bear. But not if you are a professional football player. Making matters worse, as the game wore on, the field became an ice skating rink.

In the game, the Packers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, thanks to two Starr touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler.

The Packers also had a fantastic chance to increase their lead, when cornerback Herb Adderley picked off a pass from quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys and took it to the 32 yard line of the Cowboys in the second quarter. But the Packers squandered that opportunity and didn’t score.

The momentum of the game changed late in that second quarter. Starr fumbled as he was hit by defensive end Willie Townes of the Cowboys going back to pass, and the other defensive end, former Marquette star George Andrie, scooped up the ball in rumbled in for a touchdown from seven yards out with a little over four minutes to go before halftime.

Then with less than two minutes to go in the first half, Willie Wood fumbled a punt from Danny Villanueva at the 17 yard line of the Packers. That led to a 21-yard field goal by Villanueva to make the score 14-10 at halftime.

In the second half, the offense of the  Packers was being throttled the defense of the Cowboys.

Things were so bad, that the Packers had had minus-nine yards in 31 plays in the second half at one point.

Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Cowboys took a 17-14 lead when wide receiver Lance Rentzel caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from halfback Dan Reeves.

That was the score when the Packers got the ball back on their own 32 yard line with just 4:50 left in the game.

Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across the arctic-like football field to win the game.

I wrote a story about that ensuing drive, as Kramer, halfback Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein provided the commentary.

Here is part of that article:

“I don’t think we ever considered the possibility of losing,” Kramer said. “We didn’t really acknowledge the fact that we didn’t gain any yardage in 31 plays prior to that. We knew where we were when we got in the final huddle. We knew what we had to do.

“I asked Bart about that years later, about what made him think we could go 68 yards and score a touchdown after we had made minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that. Bart said, ‘Jerry, I came into the huddle and started to say something. Then I looked in your eyes, I looked at Forrest’s eyes and everyone else in the huddle, and I knew I didn’t have to say anything. So all I said was, ‘Let’s go.’

Kramer said there was calm in that huddle.

“Even at that point of the game there wasn’t any panic with us,” No. 64 said. “There was a sense of urgency however. We still believed that we could do it.

“The beautiful part of that was the contribution by so many different players in that drive. Players like Chuck Mercein, Boyd Dowler and Donny Anderson.”

Anderson concurred with Kramer about what needed to be on that drive.

“I recall that there was no nonsense at all on that drive,” Anderson said. “It represented the discipline that Lombardi had taught us. We knew that we had to execute and we were determined to get the job done.”

The drive started with Starr completing a swing pass to Anderson which gained six yards. On the next play, Mercein ran the ball for seven more yards off tackle to the 45-yard line and near the sideline of the Packers.

Chuck Mercein II

Mercein vividly recalled that moment.

“I remember that play well, as it was the our initial first down of the drive,” Mercein said. “That was a big confidence booster for me and the team. Because at that point, none of us had done anything in the second half. I’ll never forget because I kind of got shoved out of bounds right in front of the Green Bay bench. I could hear Coach Lombardi yell, ‘Atta boy, Chuck!’ That really brought my spirits up. It was wonderful.”

On the next play, Starr completed his only pass to a wide receiver in the drive, as Dowler caught a pass that gained 13 yards and another first down. Dowler ended up having to leave the game for a few plays, as he was shook up a little after his head hit the frozen turf hard after he was tackled.

Even though Dowler only caught one pass in that drive, it was his two early touchdown receptions from Starr which put the Packers in position to win the game on that drive.

After the Dowler catch, this is when Mercein and the Packers had a hiccup in the drive. Townes made another big play, as he broke through and tackled Anderson for a nine-yard loss.

Mercein explained what happened on the play.

“It was the Green Bay sweep and my responsibility was to block the defensive end there,” Mercein said. “I expected Townes to be on my outside shoulder, but he rushed inside instead, and I only was able to brush him with my left shoulder. I didn’t give him a good enough pop and he was able to get through and put us in a big hole.

I felt particularly bad about that because of my bad execution. It was the lowlight of the drive for me.”

That loss put the Packers in a second and 19 hole, but two swing passes to Anderson netted 22 yards and the Packers had a big first down. If you look at those receptions on film, you see some pretty nifty footwork by Anderson. Not easily done on a truly frozen tundra.

Anderson explained.

“I recall that I had to balance myself,” Anderson said. “Not to run like a sprinter, but to balance yourself. Be a little more flat-footed. I also figured that a quicker guy might be better off under those conditions than a heavier guy.”

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

It was at that point when Mercein caught a 19-yard swing pass from Starr after first conferring with No. 15.

“Sure enough, I was open just like I expected and Bart flipped the pass to me that got caught up in the wind a bit and I caught it over my outside shoulder, ” Mercein said. “I was able to outrun linebacker Dave Edwards and took the pass to the 11-yard line, plus was able to get out of bounds.”

The next play was a running play, known as a give play to Mercein.

“Bart saved that give play for the right exact time,” Mercein said. “Bart later said it was the best play call he ever made.”

On the give play, left guard Gale Gillingham pulls to the right, which then opens up a hole as defensive tackle Bob Lilly followed Gillingham down the line. Still, left tackle Bob Skoronski had to seal off defensive end George Andrie to make the play work.

“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed,” Kramer said. “It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’

Mercein vividly recalls that run.

“The hole was great and I can still see that hole,” Mercein said. “I can still hear myself clomping down on the ice with the noise of my cleats hitting the ice. It was very loud. Forrest Gregg was coming down from the right tackle spot and if I could have cut, I think I could have scored.”

As it was, the Packers had a second and two from the three-yard line of the Cowboys. Anderson then took a hand off from Starr and to many it appeared that Anderson scored on the play. But the referee instead placed the ball about 18 inches from the goal line and it was first and goal.

“After the run, I’m laying across the goal line with my waist and the ball,” Anderson said. “Cornell Green of the Cowboys yelled that I scored, while Jethro Pugh told him to be quiet. The ref then picks up the ball and puts it 18 inches back from the goal line.

“Later on as we saw film of the game, Coach Lombardi said to me, ‘Young man, I think they took one away from you there.’

After two two unsuccessful running attempts by Anderson to score after that, as he slipped both times, the Packers called their final timeout. There were 16 seconds to go in the game.

This brings us to a key point of the game just before Starr carried the ball on his own on the quarterback sneak. Kramer has maintained that he knew Starr was going to carry the football.

No. 64 even wrote about that in his classic book, Instant Replay. Kramer wrote, “In the huddle, Bart said, ‘Thirty-one wedge and I’ll carry the ball.’

The problem is that no one else in the huddle heard that from Starr. And I’ve talked to Anderson, Mercein, Dowler and Carroll Dale. They all heard Starr call the 31 wedge play, but nothing about him carrying the football by himself.

That being said, I believe I have pinpointed when Starr told Kramer he was going to carry the ball himself.

If you have ever seen A Football Life – Vince Lombardi from NFL Films, Starr and Kramer talk about what happened after No. 15 called his final timeout of the game just before the sneak.

Kramer: “We take our final timeout and Bart asked me if I could make a block.”

Starr: “Can you get your footing for one more wedge play?”

Kramer: “Yeah, I think so.”

I believe it was at this moment that Starr told Kramer, and no other player on the field, that he was going to carry the ball.

Starr then went to the sideline and told Coach Lombardi that the wedge play was still the right call, but that he would carry the ball himself because the backs were slipping.

Lombardi concurred and replied, “Then run it and let’s get the hell out of here.”

I have mentioned this possible scenario to Kramer and he thought that my take was very plausible.

I can understand the confusion about the play from Kramer’s perspective. For one thing, the crucial wedge play itself was derived from film study by Kramer.

Kramer was watching film on the Cowboys and specifically regarding how they lined up in short-yardage situations.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films,” Kramer said. “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.’

And little did Kramer know that the play of the game would come down to his block and the play he suggested. That’s a hell of a lot of pressure.

So when Starr called the play, first by conferring with Kramer himself, what went through the mind of No. 64?

“Responsibility. I mean I had suggested the play on Thursday. It seemed like the play was squarely on my shoulders,” Kramer said. “I knew I had to perform. I knew that to be successful as a blocker that I had to keep my head up and my eyes open.

“And also put my face into the chest of the defensive tackle [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.”

Bottom line, one can see how there might have been a little uncertainty from Kramer regarding how Starr called the 31 wedge play knowing the magnitude of the moment.

Speaking of the 31 wedge play, if run the way it is supposed to, it simply means that the 3-back (fullback) goes to the 1-hole (between the center and the right guard).

Which bring us to center Ken Bowman and the role he played on this block.

“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.”

IMAG0498

Plus, Starr did not go in between Bowman and Kramer like the play was designed. Instead, Starr shuffled to Kramer’s right and into a hole between No. 64 and right tackle Forrest Gregg.

And as I have I written about in another article, Starr’s intuitive sense of transferring the ball from his right arm to his left on the game-winning sneak was very timely and extremely important. Especially when one sees linebacker Chuck Howley ripping at Starr’s empty right arm as he crosses the goal line.

Yes, there certainly were a number of significant details about why Starr’s quarterback sneak was successful in the “Ice Bowl” game and is now considered the greatest play in the over 100-year history of the Packers.

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer, Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein Recount the Final Drive in the ‘Ice Bowl’

Bart Starr QB sneak II

This upcoming Sunday, which is New Year’s Eve, is the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous games in NFL history. I’m talking about the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game.

It’s very apropos that the 2017 Packers will be playing this Sunday, but the NFL schedule makers got it wrong when they scheduled the Packers to play in the indoor warmth of Ford Field against the Detroit Lions, as opposed to taking on an opponent at Lambeau Field.

The forecast for this Sunday in Green Bay calls for a frigid day, as the temperature may climb to 10°, with an expected low of -13°. That’s pretty cold. But that’s still nothing like the weather conditions experienced on New Year’s Eve in Green Bay in 1967.

One never knows what will happen in the region where the Fox River connects to the bay off Lake Michigan this time of year. And on December 31, 1967, the region was given the coldest and most frigid day since they first started documenting weather conditions in Green Bay.

For the NFL title game between the Cowboys and Packers, it was shocking to find out that the game-time temperature was -13°. If you add in the wind throughout the game, the temperature plummeted to -50°.

Nice weather if you are a polar bear. But not if you are a professional football player.

The players were shocked by the weather conditions, because just the day before the game, the temperature was in the high 20s and low 30s under sunny conditions with little or no wind.

But then Sunday came.

On Friday night, NFL Network will be documenting the “Ice Bowl” in one of their Timeline specials at 9:00 ET.

I thought I would document the game as well, but mostly focus on the epic 68-yard drive that the Packers went on across the frozen tundra with less than five minutes to go in the game.

Thankfully, I have been able to talk with three of most important participants in that drive to recount what happened in those final moments of that chilling championship contest.

Those players are right guard Jerry Kramer, halfback Donny Anderson and fullback Chuck Mercein.

But before I get to that legendary drive, let’s look at what happened to set up that momentous drive which the Packers executed.

The Packers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, thanks to two Bart Starr touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

The Packers also had a fantastic chance to increase their lead, when cornerback Herb Adderley picked off a pass from quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys and took it to the 32 yard line of the Cowboys in the second quarter. But the Packers squandered that opportunity and didn’t score.

Things went from bad to worse in a hurry for the Packers late in that second quarter. Starr fumbled as he was hit by defensive end Willie Townes of the Cowboys going back to pass, and the other defensive end, former Marquette star George Andrie, scooped up the ball in rumbled in for a touchdown from seven yards out with a little over four minutes to go before halftime.

Then with less than two minutes to go in the first half, Willie Wood fumbled a punt from Danny Villanueva at the 17 yard line of the Packers. That led to a 21-yard field goal by Villanueva to make the score 14-10 at halftime.

The Packers truly struggled offensively in the second half.

“We had minus-nine yards in 31 plays in the second half at one point,” Kramer said.

Then the Cowboys ended up taking a 17-14 lead when wide receiver Lance Rentzel caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from halfback Dan Reeves on the first play of the fourth quarter.

That remained the score when the Packers got the ball back on their own 32 yard line with just 4:50 left in the game.

Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across the arctic-like football field to win the game.

It didn’t seem likely, not with the way the offense had performed in the second half.

Kramer described his mindset and that of his teammates at that moment.

“I don’t think we ever considered the possibility of losing,” Kramer said. “We didn’t really acknowledge the fact that we didn’t gain any yardage in 31 plays prior to that. We knew where we were when we got in the final huddle. We knew what we had to do.

“I asked Bart about that years later, about what made him think we could go 68 yards and score a touchdown after we had made minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that. Bart said, ‘Jerry, I came into the huddle and started to say something. Then I looked in your eyes, I looked at Forrest’s eyes and everyone else in the huddle, and I knew I didn’t have to say anything. So all I said was, ‘Let’s go.’

Kramer said there was calm in that huddle.

“Even at that point of the game there wasn’t any panic with us,” No. 64 said. “There was a sense of urgency however. We still believed that we could do it.

“The beautiful part of that was the contribution by so many different players in that drive. Players like Chuck Mercein, Boyd Dowler and Donny Anderson.”

Anderson concurred with Kramer about what needed to be on that drive.

“I recall that there was no nonsense at all on that drive,” Anderson said. “It represented the discipline that Lombardi had taught us. We knew that we had to execute and we were determined to get the job done.”

The drive started with Starr completing a swing pass to Anderson which gained six yards. On the next play, Mercein ran the ball for seven more yards off tackle to the 45-yard line and near the sideline of the Packers.

Chuck Mercein II

Mercein vividly recalled that moment.

“I remember that play well, as it was the our initial first down of the drive,” Mercein said. “That was a big confidence booster for me and the team. Because at that point, none of us had done anything in the second half. I’ll never forget because I kind of got shoved out of bounds right in front of the Green Bay bench. I could hear Coach Lombardi yell, ‘Atta boy, Chuck!’ That really brought my spirits up. It was wonderful.”

On the next play, Starr completed his only pass to a wide receiver in the drive, as Dowler caught a pass that gained 13 yards and another first down. Dowler ended up having to leave the game for a few plays, as he was shook up a little after his head hit the frozen turf hard after he was tackled.

Even though Dowler only caught one pass in that drive, it was his two early touchdown receptions from Starr which put the Packers in position to win the game on that drive.

After the Dowler catch, this is when Mercein and the Packers had a hiccup in the drive. Townes made another big play, as he broke through and tackled Anderson for a nine-yard loss.

Mercein explained what happened on the play.

“It was the Green Bay sweep and my responsibility was to block the defensive end there,” Mercein said. “I expected Townes to be on my outside shoulder, but he rushed inside instead, and I only was able to brush him with my left shoulder. I didn’t give him a good enough pop and he was able to get through and put us in a big hole.

I felt particularly bad about that because of my bad execution. It was the lowlight of the drive for me.”

That loss put the Packers in a second and 19 hole, but two swing passes to Anderson netted 22 yards and the Packers had a big first down. If you look at those receptions on film, you see some pretty nifty footwork by Anderson. Not easily done on a truly frozen tundra.

Anderson explained.

“I recall that I had to balance myself,” Anderson said. “Not to run like a sprinter, but to balance yourself. Be a little more flat-footed. I also figured that a quicker guy might be better off under those conditions than a heavier guy.”

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

It was at that point when Mercein caught a 19-yard swing pass from Starr after first conferring with No. 15.

“Sure enough, I was open just like I expected and Bart flipped the pass to me that got caught up in the wind a bit and I caught it over my outside shoulder, ” Mercein said. “I was able to outrun linebacker Dave Edwards and took the pass to the 11-yard line, plus was able to get out of bounds.”

The next play was a running play, known as a give play to Mercein.

“Bart saved that give play for the right exact time,” Mercein said. “Bart later said it was the best play call he ever made.”

On the give play, left guard Gale Gillingham pulls to the right, which then opens up a hole as defensive tackle Bob Lilly followed Gillingham down the line. Still, left tackle Bob Skoronski had to seal off defensive end George Andrie to make the play work.

“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed,” Kramer said. “It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’

Mercein vividly recalls that run.

“The hole was great and I can still see that hole,” Mercein said. “I can still hear myself clomping down on the ice with the noise of my cleats hitting the ice. It was very loud. Forrest Gregg was coming down from the right tackle spot and if I could have cut, I think I could have scored.”

As it was, the Packers had a second and two from the three-yard line of the Cowboys. Anderson then took a hand off from Starr and to many it appeared that Anderson scored on the play. But the referee instead placed the ball about 18 inches from the goal line and it was first and goal.

“After the run, I’m laying across the goal line with my waist and the ball,” Anderson said. “Cornell Green of the Cowboys yelled that I scored, while Jethro Pugh told him to be quiet. The ref then picks up the ball and puts it 18 inches back from the goal line.

“Later on as we saw film of the game, Coach Lombardi said to me, ‘Young man, I think they took one away from you there.’

After two two unsuccessful running attempts by Anderson to score after that, as he slipped both times, the Packers called their final timeout. There were 16 seconds to go in the game.

After conferring with Lombardi on the sideline, Starr called a 31-Wedge in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, unknown to anyone in the huddle, Starr decided to keep the ball himself due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

That wedge play was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films,” Kramer said. “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.’

So after Starr called the play with just seconds to go in the game, what was going through Kramer’s mind?

“Responsibility. I mean I had suggested the play on Thursday. It seemed like the play was squarely on my shoulders,” Kramer said. “I knew I had to perform. I knew that to be successful as a blocker that I had to keep my head up and my eyes open.

“And also put my face into the chest of the defensive tackle [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.”

Starr followed Kramer’s textbook block on Pugh and happily scored the game-winning touchdown.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photograph by John Biever

Center Ken Bowman also helped to move Pugh out of the way so Starr could score.

“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.”

What did Kramer feel when he saw Starr laying in the end zone after his game-winning quarterback sneak?

“I turned around after the play and looked for Bart,” Kramer said. “And I saw him laying fairly close to me across the goal line, and I had an incredible sigh of relief. It was just a wonderful moment to see Bart in the end zone.”

Mercein talked about what was going through his mind when Starr called the wedge play in the huddle.

“Bart came into the huddle and called a 31 wedge play,” Mercein said. “We had put that play in earlier in the week when Jerry [Kramer] suggested it to Coach Lombardi because Jethro Pugh played high on short-yardage plays.

“We didn’t have many goal line plays. We definitely didn’t have a quarterback sneak. Anyway, when Bart made the call, I was excited. It was brown right, 31 wedge. The 3-back, me, gets the ball and goes to the 1-hole, which is in between the center and the guard.

“I take off thinking I’m going to get the ball and after one and a half steps or less, I see Bart was keeping the ball. Now I’m thinking that I can’t run into him because that would be assisting him and be a penalty. But I can’t really stop, so I go flying over the top of Bart with my hands in the air, not because I’m signalling touchdown, but to let the refs know that I wasn’t assisting Bart.”

The Starr touchdown occurred with just 13 seconds left in the game, which  gave the Packers a 21-17 victory. After the game, Kramer’s block was shown over and over again on instant replay. Because of that, Kramer made that the title of the book he and Dick Schaap had been working on during the 1967 season.

I wrote about how Instant Replay was put together in one of my many discussions with Kramer.

After that thrilling win, which was the signature moment in the legacy of the Packers under Lombardi, the players were ecstatic.

“After that game, I was interviewed by Tom Brookshier,” Kramer said. “There had been a negative article about Coach Lombardi that had come out recently from Esquire magazine. The article compared him to Mussolini and a pigeon walking around with his chest thrown out. It was just a hatchet job.

“Tommy asked me about Coach Lombardi. I had made up my mind previously to talk about him, as I heard that Coach’s mother was really upset with the article. She even cried over it.

“So when Tommy asked me about the coach and mentioned the criticism, I said, ‘People don’t understand Coach Lombardi. They don’t know him. But we know him. We understand him. And we love him. And this is one beautiful man.’

“And that still fits today. I still feel that same way.”

A few minutes later Brookshier was interviewing Lombardi himself. They were both looking at the block Kramer made on Starr’s game-winning sneak. Kramer recalls watching that interview.

“Tom says, ‘Here we see Jerry Kramer make a block on Jethro Pugh for Bart Starr’s touchdown.’ So Coach is watching the replay and he yells, ‘Way to go, Jerry! Way to go!’

“He said that with that incredible smile on his face, and he just enjoyed the hell out of it. And so did I.”

Vince at the Ice Bowl

Both Anderson and Mercein also got well deserved praise after the game as well.

In the locker room after the game, Lombardi told Anderson, “Donny, you became a man today!”

Mercein also heard some kind words from Jim Grabowski, who was the starter at fullback for the Packers before he hurt his knee midway through the 1967 season. Grabowski told Mercein after the game that he couldn’t have played any better at fullback.

In that 12-play drive, Mercein accounted for 34 of the 68 yards that the Packers traveled in that epic final journey to victory.

Anderson caught three passes for 28 yards in that drive and picked up 22 of those yards after he was tackled for a nine-yard loss by Townes.  Plus, No. 44 looked to have scored the winning touchdown at one point on his first down run from the three-yard line.

Kramer, along with Skoronski, Gillingham, Bowman and Gregg, did a yeoman’s job on the final drive with their blocking, both in the running game and the passing game.

When it was all said and done, it was No. 64’s classic block on Pugh which opened a lane for Starr to squeeze through and score the winning touchdown. That moment became the signature play of the Lombardi era. Not to mention the most famous block in NFL history.

It’s appropriate that Starr’s sneak was the signature play of the Packers under Lombardi, because it occurred on the signature drive of Green Bay with Lombardi as their head coach.

So many players were responsible for that drive. Starr, Dowler, Skoronski, Gillingham, Bowman and Gregg all certainly played a big part in the success of that victorious excursion. As did flanker Carroll Dale and tight end Marv Fleming.

But the drive probably doesn’t succeed without the work done by Kramer, Anderson and Mercein.

The victory by the Packers gave the team their third straight NFL title in the modern era, a feat that has never been duplicated by the way. Two weeks later, the Packers won their second straight Super Bowl.

But that 33-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II wouldn’t have happened without the intestinal fortitude shown by the Packers on that final heroic drive against the Cowboys on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up with No. 44, Donny Anderson

Donny Anderson in Super Bowl I

The 2017 NFL draft is a little more than a week away. We have seen many changes in the draft over the years, but one of the more interesting times in the history of the draft was when the NFL and the AFL were competing against each other for players in the 1960s.

Which takes us back to 1965 and 1966, just prior to the merger of the two leagues.

In 1965, the NFL allowed teams to draft a future player, who still could continue to play one final year of college football before he entered the league. Such was the case of running back Donny Anderson, as the Green Bay Packers drafted the Texas Tech star with the seventh overall pick of the first round in 1965.

Head coach and general manager Vince Lombardi had acquired that pick along with linebacker Lee Roy Caffey from the Eagles, when he traded center Jim Ringo and fullback Earl Gros to Philadelphia in 1964.

The 1965 NFL draft was held on November 28, 1964.

The AFL had two drafts in 1965. One was the regular draft, as quarterback Joe Namath of Alabama was the first overall selection of that draft by the New York Jets, while the other was a “redshirt” draft, which was similar to selecting a future pick in the NFL. In the “redshirt” draft, the Houston Oilers selected Anderson with the very first pick in that particular draft.

That situation set up a fascinating period in which the Packers and Oilers bid for the services of Anderson.

I had an opportunity to talk with Anderson last week and this is what he recalled about that period.

“I remember seeing Bud Adams (owner of the Oilers) in his office,” Anderson said. “He had a big huge desk and a black couch. And he’s sitting behind his desk and he says, ‘Son, nobody is going to sign you, so just relax and this will be over pretty soon and you’ll be a Houston Oiler.’

Somebody very close to Anderson also wanted Donny to become an Oiler. That would be his father Jack.

Jack Anderson worked at Phillips Petroleum and while Donny was playing football his senior year at Texas Tech, Adams would fly Jack to all of Donny’s games.

In terms of negotiating with the Packers, Pat Peppler was the main source of contact for Anderson initially. Peppler was the director of player personnel for the Packers then.

It was a difficult decision about where to play for Anderson, as he wrestled with his final judgement for a number of months.

But he got some helpful advice on a flight when he talked with Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne.

“One thing that will make the difference in all of this,” Layne said. “Take the money.”

That was important to know, as the Oilers were offering a number of things, which included a couple of service stations, a $235,000 home and a $35,000 swimming pool, while the Packers were offering just cash.

Anderson was accompanied at the various meetings by his brother Larry, who working to become a CPA.

As the negotiations were winding down, Anderson focused on the football part of the situation for both teams.

“With the Packers, I started looking at players like Jerry Kramer, Forrest Gregg and Bart Starr, plus the fact that Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor were older,” Anderson said. “I thought I had a chance to play there.

“I mean I probably would have started at running back at Houston my rookie year, but they didn’t have a lot of quality players, even though they were a good football team.”

Towards the end of this ordeal, Anderson was feeling family pressure, especially from his dad.

“I know you are doing well,” Jack Anderson told his son. “Everyone is going to love you in Houston, you’re a Texas guy and you went to Texas Tech. I know you’ll do the right thing.”

The Packers flew Anderson in to meet with Lombardi late in the 1965 season, when the Packers played the Colts in Baltimore on December 12. The Packers won that game 42-27 under foggy conditions, as Hornung scored five touchdowns in the contest.

“I met with Vince Lombardi for the first time then,” Anderson said. “I was sitting in his suite watching television. And I started thinking about what my father used to tell me about looking people in the eye. I was obviously a little intimidated and I was looking at the television, and Vince told Pat Peppler, who was also in the room, to turn off the TV because I wasn’t looking at him.

“He caught me there, so I started looking right at him. Lombardi asked me what I was think about doing. I told him that I’m going to try and play, but I told him that Houston’s bid was sizably larger than the Packers and that I was trying to evaluate all aspects of what to do.”

It’s important to know that Anderson was also offered a nice contract by the New York Mets in baseball, while he was going back and forth between the Oilers and Packers about where to play in pro football.

When Anderson finished, Lombardi said, “I’m glad that you are thinking about playing for us. We want you to become a Green Bay Packer.”

That wasn’t the first time Anderson and Lombardi talked however. Anderson recalled when the Packers drafted him on Thanksgiving weekend in 1964. Anderson was at his home in Stennitt, Texas when he received a phone call.

“So the phone rings and I hear, ‘This is the Green Bay Packers, can I speak to Donny Anderson?’ I said hello. And about this time Vince Lombardi’s voice came on and he said, ‘This is Vince Lombardi. What do you think about the Green Bay Packers?’ I said that I love them. And Lombardi said, ‘I hope so, because we just drafted you in the first round.’

At the end, Anderson made a request to the Packers.

“I told Pat [Peppler] that I wanted to get my brother Larry a car and also my mother a car,” Anderson said. “I also wanted a 1965 Buick Riviera, which was a nice sports car back then.”

“So Pat tells Lombardi that and Vince started screaming stuff like, ‘What kind of kid is this! He doesn’t need three cars. You can only drive one at at time.’ But Pat went to bat for me and said, ‘Coach, Donny is really a nice kid. He’s giving one of the cars to his mom. The other one is going to his brother who he is very close to and who is helping him in the negotiations.’ Vince finally agreed with Pat that I was trying to help my family.

“The bottom line was that Houston kept adding things in the deal, but they just couldn’t come up with the money, which goes back to the Bobby Layne advice. When my brother and I evaluated the situation, the Packers gave me the best offer because of the money. But that wasn’t the main reason I went to Green Bay.

“The main reason I went to Green Bay was because I wanted to be with the World Champions. I saw the Packers beat the Browns in the 1965 title game in the snow in Green Bay while I was in Los Angeles, as I was getting ready to fly out for the Hula Bowl in Hawaii.

“So I had to tell my father about my decision. He says, ‘Let’s get this thing over with. Tell Bud you are going to sign with him.’ And that’s when I told him that I had made my decision and I was going to Green Bay. After that, my dad pouted for about two weeks.”

When it was all said and done, Anderson had agreed to a $600,000 contract, which topped the $400,000 contract that Namath had signed with the Jets the year before.

Jim Grabowski and Donny Anderson in 1966

In addition to the money they paid Anderson, the Packers also signed fullback Jim Grabowski to a $400,000 deal, as the former Illinois star was one of two first-round picks by the team in 1966, along with guard Gale Gillingham of Minnesota.

Anderson and Grabowski were known as the “Gold Dust Twins” because of the rookie contracts each player signed.

The money paid out to Anderson and Grabowski did not bother a lot of the veterans on the Packers in 1966.

I talked with Jerry Kramer about that situation recently and he gave me his recollection of things then.

“There was kind of a feeling that Donny was going to replace Hornung and Grabo was going to replace Taylor,” Kramer said. “That we had found their replacements. It was incredibly unrealistic to think you could replace two players like that.

“Donny and Grabo got put into a really difficult situation. Plus, they were also making big money. That’s one of the reasons Jimmy Taylor went to New Orleans. Jimmy was upset over the money. But he was really the only guy on the team that I’m aware of who was upset over their money.

“They both had really great attitudes. They both worked their asses off. They tried to make a contribution to the team and tried to help us win. They did everything you could ask of them. They were really great kids. I had no complaints.

“You just have to be mature enough to say what in the hell would you do if you were in a bargaining position like they were. You wouldn’t say, ‘I can’t take the kind of money.’ Hell no. You would do the same thing. I became a big fan of Donny and Grabo and I enjoyed the hell out of both of them.”

While Taylor wasn’t happy with the money situation and never offered much advice to Grabowski, Hornung was very helpful to Anderson.

“Hornung was the opposite of Taylor,” Anderson said. “Paul didn’t play much in ’66, as Elijah [Pitts] was the starter then. Paul would come to me and work with me on pass plays and the coverage of linebackers on those plays. He also helped me with the power sweep.

Fuzzy [Thurston] and Jerry were very helpful there as well. I’m not bragging, but I just had so much more speed than they did. I had to learn how to slow down on the sweep and get behind my blocks.

“Hornung was really good about teaching me about things like that. He always treated me wonderfully. Fuzzy, Jerry, Max [McGee] and others all did the same thing with me and I was able to mingle with them off the field.”

Anderson didn’t play a lot during his rookie year, as he rushed for just 104 yards and two touchdowns, plus had eight catches for 105 yards and another score. No. 44 also returned 23 kickoffs (23.2 average) and six punts (20.7 average), including one touchdown.

Grabowski meanwhile, rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown and had four receptions for 13 yards.

Both Anderson and Grabowski each saw a lot of playing time in Week 7, when the Packers faced the expansion Atlanta Falcons and won handily 56-3.

I wrote about that game earlier this year.

Grabowski led the team in rushing against the Falcons that October day at Milwaukee County Stadium, 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.

Donny Anderson vs. the Falcons

It was after that game that Taylor announced his intention of playing out his option that year to a reporter in the locker room. Those comments did not sit well with Lombardi, as he and Taylor hardly spoke the rest of the 1966 season.

In 1966, the Packers repeated as NFL champions again after defeating the Dallas Cowboys 34-27 in the NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl.

But the journey was not over just yet for the Packers that season, as the NFL and AFL agreed to merge in the summer of 1966. That merger led to a game which is now known as the Super Bowl.

In Super Bowl I, the Packers faced the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. Late in the game, with the Packers holding a 35-10 lead that they would not relinquish, both Anderson and Grabowski were put into the game.

It was at that point one of the more memorable plays of the game took place. But before we get to that play, we need to set up the story.

Before the game, cornerback Fred “The Hammer” Williamson of the Chiefs bragged to anyone who would listen about how he would “hammer” the wide receivers of the Packers in the head with his forearm during the game.

So as Williamson tried to tackle Anderson on a sweep play, No. 44’s knee came up and hit Williamson in the helmet and knocked him out.

Kramer recalls what happened on the Green Bay sideline.

“That was a highlight,” Kramer said. “I remember Willie Wood yelling, ‘The Hammer is down. The Hammer got it.’ We asked Fuzzy about the play later to see if he hit Williamson. Fuzzy said no, than added, ‘Donny must have hit him with his purse.’

The 1967 season would be one of the more memorable ones in the history of the Green Bay franchise. The Packers would be going for their third straight NFL championship, which was something Lombardi stressed immediately at training camp.

There would be a new rookie draft class for the Packers that season and it was the first draft class since the NFL and AFL had merged. I wrote about that particular draft class last week.

Plus there was the fact that both Taylor and Hornung were both gone. Taylor had signed with the Saints after playing out his option, while Hornung was picked up by the Saints in the expansion draft. Hornung never played with New Orleans and instead retired due to a pinched nerve injury in his shoulder.

As the 1967 season started, Grabowski became the starting fullback, while Pitts was the starter at halfback, with Anderson as his key backup. Anderson also took over the punting duties that season for the Packers, as Don Chandler became strictly a placekicker.

The Packers were an injury-ravaged team in ’67, as Starr had a number of injury issues, plus in Week 8 against the Colts in Baltimore, Pitts (torn Achilles) was lost for the season, while Grabowski (knee) basically was.

Before their season ended, Grabowski had 466 yards rushing, while Pitts had 247.

Even with those injuries, the Packers still had an outstanding running game that season, as Anderson and rookie Travis Williams filled the void at halfback, while Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein took over at fullback.

The Packers finished second in the NFL in rushing that year, as Anderson chipped in with 402 yards rushing (and six touchdowns), while Wilson had 453 yards toting the rock. Williams added 188 yards and Mercein rushed for 56 more after he was signed to the team at midseason after the injury to Grabowski.

Anderson also hauled in 22 receptions and had three more scores via the pass. No. 44’s nine total touchdowns led the team.

Still, Anderson caught the wrath of Lombardi during the season after a game against the Bears. Anderson scored a touchdown in that game, but was also accidentally kicked in the head by linebacker Dick Butkus on the play and knocked a bit woozy. Anderson stayed in the game however, but he was slow in reacting and was dazed for two quarters afterward.

Anderson didn’t say anything about the head kick by Butkus, so Lombardi had no idea about that situation as he was reviewing film of the game the week after the game.

“Lombardi started off the meeting by going right after me,” Anderson said. “He said, ‘Where’s Anderson? Turn the lights on, Red [Cochran].’ Then he looks at me and says, ‘You were God-awful. I can tell that you don’t want to be a football player. If we had known that you were mentally incompetent, we would have never drafted you in the first round.’

“Coach goes on and on and just keeps beating me up. Finally he says, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. I know you don’t want to be a football player, but I’m going to make you a football player.’ And I said, yes sir. Then he says, ‘I want you to grab a piece of paper and a pencil and when I say something, I want you to write it down!’ And again I said, yes sir.

“So I was writing stuff down during the rest of the film session. Then after the film session, a bunch of us, including Jerry Kramer, were heading into the meeting room, when Lombardi said, ‘Red, get me a cup of coffee with cream.’ Without missing a beat, Jerry says, ‘Donny, did you write that down?’

“Vince started laughing at that, although it wasn’t very funny to me. But Jerry knew Vince after all those years of playing for him. Then Jerry comes up to me and says, ‘Donny, I’ve been there, buddy. I know exactly what’s going on. Just hang in there and you’ll become a better player.’

The Packers finished 9-4-1 in the regular season and won the NFL Central Division. In the postseason, the Packers first had to meet the champs of the Coastal Division of the NFL, the Los Angeles Rams, who finished 11-1-2 in 1967.

One of those victories came against the Packers in Week 13 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, when the Rams came from behind to beat the Packers 27-24.

The winning touchdown in the final seconds of the game was set up when Anderson had his punt blocked by Tony Guillory of the Rams.

This is how Kramer described that defeat in his classic book Instant Replay:

I was ready to fall down when the game ended. I contained Merlin pretty well, but I was beat from head to toe. I played about as hard as I ever played in my life, and I took an incredible physical pounding in the middle of the line. So did everyone else; everybody gave 100 percent. Coach Lombardi told me I played a great game, but I was down, blue, disappointed, dejected, everything. I never came so close to tears on a football field.

The site of the playoff game between Green Bay and Los Angeles was at County Stadium in Milwaukee. I wrote about that game in an earlier story.

The Packers turned the tables on the Rams in Milwaukee and thoroughly dominated the game after a rough start in the first quarter. Green Bay won 28-7 and the stars of the game were Williams, who rushed for 88 yards and two scores, while defensive tackle Henry Jordan had 3.5 sacks of quarterback Roman Gabriel of the Rams.

That set up a legendary matchup between the Packers and the Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game.

Not only was that game one of the best games in NFL history and definitely the greatest game in the history of the Packers, it was also very memorable to Anderson.

For one thing, Anderson’s family was there, including his dad.

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

Anderson came up big in that classic game, especially on that legendary last drive of the Packers. The Packers were down 17-14 with just 4:50 remaining in the game and had to drive 68 yards for a score.

Before we go into that drive, let’s explain what the conditions were that day at Lambeau Field. The game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero, plus if you added the wind, it was bone-chillingly cold, as there was a minus-48-degree windchill for the game.

The field was also frozen and it was like playing on an ice rink, as opposed to a football field.

Adding to the drama of that last drive, was the fact that the Packers had minus-nine yards in 31 plays thus far in the second half of the game.

Anderson talked about that 68-yard trudge across the ice at Lambeau.

“I recall that there was no nonsense at all on that drive,” Anderson said. “It represented the discipline that Lombardi had taught us. We knew that we had to execute and we were determined to get the job done.”

Anderson had a number of key plays on that 12-play drive, which included catching three passes for 28 yards. Two of those receptions came after Anderson was tackled for a nine-yard loss by defensive end Willie Townes after Mercein missed a block on a sweep play.

That loss put the Packers in a second and 19 hole, but two swing passes to Anderson netted 22 yards and the Packers had a big first down. If you look at those receptions on film, you see some pretty nifty footwork by Anderson. Not easily done on a truly frozen tundra.

Anderson explained.

“I recall that I had to balance myself,” Anderson said. “Not to run like a sprinter, but to balance yourself. Be a little more flat-footed. I also figured that a quicker guy might be better off under those conditions than a heavier guy.”

After Anderson made the two key catches to get a first down at the Dallas 30, Mercein caught another swing pass for 19 yards and then on the next play scampered down to the 3-yard line of the Cowboys on a give play.

Kramer explained what all had to happen on that play to make it successful, as the Packers were gambling that defensive tackle Bob Lilly would follow Gillingham, as he was pulling on the play.

Lilly did follow Gillingham and that opened a hole in the defensive line of the Cowboys, but a key block still needed to be made.

“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed,” Kramer said. “It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’

After that play, Starr handed the ball to Anderson, who not only got a first down on his run, but looked to many like he had scored.

“After the run, I’m laying across the goal line with my waist and the ball,” Anderson said. “Cornell Green of the Cowboys yelled that I scored, while Jethro Pugh told him to be quiet. The ref then picks up the ball and puts it 18 inches back from the goal line.

“Later on as we saw film of the game, Coach Lombardi said to me, ‘Young man, I think they took one away from you there.’

After two two unsuccessful running attempts by Anderson to score after that, as he slipped both times, the Packers called their final timeout. There were 16 seconds to go in the game.

After conferring with Lombardi on the sideline, Starr called a 31-Wedge in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, unknown to anyone in the huddle, Starr decided to keep the ball himself due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

That wedge play was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films,” Kramer said. “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.’

Starr followed Kramer’s textbook block on Pugh and happily scored the game-winning touchdown.

After the game, the Packers were obviously ecstatic, after winning their third NFL championship in a row.

Lombardi also said something which meant a lot to Anderson after the game. In the locker room, Lombardi told Anderson, “Donny, you became a man today!”

Donny Anderson in Super Bowl II

Two weeks later, Anderson rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown, plus had two catches for 18 yards for the Packers in the 33-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II.

In all, Anderson rushed for 3,165 yards in six years in Green Bay, plus scored 41 rushing touchdowns. No. 44 also caught 125 passes for 1,725 yards and six more scores. Additionally, Anderson was named to the Pro Bowl in 1968.

Plus, Anderson became a prolific punter due to his exceptional hang-time, which kept returns to a minimum.

In 1983, Anderson was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

Looking back on his time in Green Bay, Anderson said it all comes back to playing for Lombardi.

“Coach Lombardi loved his players,” Anderson said. “Coach wanted them to be great and he helped to make them better players. That was his philosophy and it worked.”