Halloween Eve in 1967: The Green Bay Packers Get a Return on Investment

Travis Williams vs. Cardinals

Before the NFL made Monday Night Football a weekly event for the fans of the league in 1970, the Green Bay Packers played three Monday night games in the 1960s.

The Packers beat the Detroit Lions 14-10 in 1964 on a Monday night at Tiger Stadium, plus beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-17 in 1968 at the Cotton Bowl on another Monday night.

In between those two games, there was another game on Monday night in 1967, on Halloween eve, as the Packers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 31-23 at Busch Memorial Stadium.

Bart Starr started every one of those Monday night games at quarterback, plus was also the starting QB in the inaugural season of MNF in 1970, as the Packers defeated the then San Diego Chargers 22-20 at San Diego Stadium.

The current Green Bay team plays the now Los Angeles Chargers this upcoming Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park, as Aaron Rodgers tries to lead the 7-1 Packers to their fourth road victory of the season.

The Chargers were originally the Los Angeles Chargers in 1960 when they joined the AFL, but moved to San Diego the next year and remained there through 2016. In 2020, the Chargers will play at the new L.A. Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park and share that venue with the Los Angeles Rams.

Back to the 1967 Monday night game in St. Louis now. It was a very important game for the Packers, as they realized that they now had a huge weapon returning kickoffs as Travis Williams returned the first of four touchdowns he scored via the kickoff in 1967.

The game itself was a bloody battle before the kickoff return for a touchdown by Williams.

The Cardinals, led by quarterback Jim Hart, who threw for 317 yards, had 405 total yards, compared to just 245 by the Packers.

Starr struggled in the game, only throwing for 117 yards and a touchdown. No. 15 also threw two interceptions.

Hart also threw two picks, but he also threw two touchdown passes to Dave Williams, who had six receptions for 147 yards.

Boyd Dowler was the leading receiver for the Packers, as he caught five passes for 50 yards and a score.

The Green Bay ground game was quite efficient though, as the Packers averaged over five yards per carry.

Fullback Jim Grabowski rushed for 71 yards on just 10 attempts, while halfback Elijah Pitts rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts.

As it turned out, the game was the last game that Grabowski and Pitts would finish together, as Pitts was lost for the season (Achilles tendon tear) the following week in Baltimore versus the Colts and Grabowski suffered a knee injury in that same game that would basically end his season except for just four carries later in the year.

The Packers were trailing 23-17 in the fourth quarter to the Cardinals, when Williams returned a kick from former Wisconsin Badger Jim Bakken for 93 yards and a score.

The Packers never looked back, as they added another touchdown on a pass from Starr to Dowler, as Green Bay won 31-23.

But the return was just the start of what Williams would do in 1967. Williams was part of a rookie class that included two first round picks in offensive lineman Bob Hyland and quarterback Don Horn.

In his rookie season, Williams returned 18 kickoffs for 739 yards, which averages out to 41.1 yards-per-return, which is still a NFL record. No. 23 returned four of those 18 kicks for touchdowns and almost had a fifth against the Chicago Bears.

Travis Williams Kickoff Return TD vs. Rams in LA

But it all started with that kickoff return for a touchdown against the Cardinals.

Jerry Kramer wrote about that play in his classic book, Instant Replay, which was edited by the late, great Dick Schaap.

“When the Cardinals went ahead 23-17 in the last quarter, I felt we were in real danger. But then they kicked off, and Travis Williams , playing on the kickoff return team for the first time because [Herb] Adderley had bruised his hand, took the ball and headed straight up the middle. I was on the front line, nearest the Cardinals. I hit one guy with a forearm and knocked him backwards, then took about four more steps towards another guy. Suddenly, I felt Travis breeze by me, zip, zip, zip, zip, like I was standing still. He went all the way for a touchdown, 93 yards, and we were back in the lead.”

And that play happened 52 years ago tonight, on Halloween eve.

That was quite a trick by Williams and quite a treat for the Packers.

The Packers would go on to win their third straight NFL title in 1967, a feat that has never been duplicated, as well as winning their second straight Super Bowl.

The 1967 season was also the last year Vince Lombardi roamed the sidelines as head coach of the Packers.

The legacy of Lombardi in Green Bay turned out to be a fantastic treat for Packer Nation.

Green Bay Packers: Remembering Travis Williams, aka ‘The Roadrunner’

Travis Williams Kickoff Return TD vs. Rams in LA

I was reading a story today by Rick Gosselin of the Talk of Fame Sports Network in which he names his all-time NFL special teams unit.

Now nobody studies NFL special teams units like Gosselin does. Since 1980, Gosselin has studied and ranked all the special teams units in the NFL. That has gone on now for 38 years and his rankings are must-read material.

Back in 1980, Gosselin was covering the Kansas City Chiefs. The special teams coach of the Chiefs then was Frank Gansz. It was by talking with Gansz that Gosselin learned the formula about how to rank special teams units.

Before I read the story on his all-time team, I was wondering if Travis Williams of the Green Bay Packers and later the Los Angeles Rams was on Gosselin’s 53-man unit. It turns out that he wasn’t, as the returners which Gosselin has on his team are certainly worthy of getting that honor.

The three kickoff returners Gosselin has on his team are Gale Sayers, Josh Cribbs and Mel Gray. The three punt returners are Devin Hester, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and Rick Upchurch.

Everyone of those players were consistently very good at returning kicks throughout their NFL careers, as opposed to Williams, who made a name for himself in 1967, which also happened to be his rookie year in the NFL.

In that season, Williams returned 18 kickoffs for 739 yards, which averages out to 41.1 yards-per-return, which is still a NFL record. No. 23 returned four of those 18 kicks for touchdowns and almost had a fifth against the Chicago Bears.

Travis Wiliams

Williams was never able to replicate that performance again on a consistent basis, but he did score again on returns on two occasions for the Packers in 1969, when he returned a punt for 83 yards and another kickoff for 96 yards.

Also, in 1971 when he was a member of the Rams, Williams returned another kickoff for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Besides flashing outstanding ability as a kick returner, Williams also showed that he could be a game-changer when he played running back.

Never was that more true than in the 1967 Western Conference title game, when the Packers played the Rams at Milwaukee County Stadium. The “Roadrunner” was the star of the game for the Packers.

No. 23 didn’t return a kickoff for a score, but he did rush for two touchdowns and had 88 yards rushing.

Right guard Jerry Kramer talked to me about that first TD 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 1967 season was a special one for the Packers, as the team won it’s third straight NFL championship under head coach Vince Lombardi. That feat has never been duplicated either. That season was also the last year the Packers were coached by Lombardi.

The Packers also won their second straight Super Bowl that season, which was an outstanding feat based on all the injuries the team had that season.

In 1966, quarterback Bart Starr was the NFL MVP. But for the first part of the 1967 season, Starr was affected by a number of injuries which forced him to miss two games.

In addition to that, when the season started, the Packers no longer had halfback Paul Hornung or fullback Jim Taylor as starters in the backfield. That combination was considered to be the best in the NFL for several seasons.

Hornung was claimed by the expansion New Orleans Saints when Lombardi had put him on the Green Bay expansion list. No. 5 never played with the Saints however, as he was forced to retire due to a neck/shoulder injury.

Taylor did play for the Saints that season, as he played out his option in the 1966 season and signed with the Saints in 1967.

With Hornung and Taylor no longer available, Lombardi made Elijah Pitts his starting halfback and Jim Grabowski his starting fullback. Both were having solid seasons when in Week 8 of the 1967 season against the Baltimore Colts, both Pitts and Grabowski were lost for the season with injuries.

Lombardi then added fullback Chuck Mercein to the team via waivers and Green Bay now had a one-two punch at both halfback and fullback throughout the rest of the 1967 season.

Donny Anderson and Williams shared time at halfback, while Mercein and Ben Wilson shared duties at fullback.

The result? The Packers finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967.

Travis Williams in the Ice Bowl

When the postseason came around, Lombardi utilized all of his backs, depending on the opponents.

Against the Rams, Lombardi primarily played Williams at halfback and Mercein at fullback. Against the Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl”, 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 Wilson got the start at fullback that game and led the Packers in rushing that day with 65 yards.

In 1967, Williams was part of a rookie class, which included Bob Hyland and Don Horn. I wrote a piece about that class a little over a year ago.

Williams first showed his kickoff return prowess in Week 7 of the 1967 season, when he returned a kick for 93 yards and a score against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

At the time of that kickoff return, the Packers were trailing the Cardinals 23-17 in the fourth quarter. The Packers ended up winning that game 31-23.

Two weeks later against the Cleveland Browns at Milwaukee County Stadium, Williams really put himself on the NFL map. Williams returned two kickoffs 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 in the game.

Williams returned his fourth kickoff return for a touchdown against the Rams in Week 13 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for 104 yards.

As a running back in the 1967 regular season, Williams rushed for 188 yards (5.4 yards-per-carry average) and one score, while he caught five passes for 80 yards (16 yard average) and another score.

In the postseason, Williams rushed for 137 yards (4.6 average) and had two touchdowns (both against the Rams).

As it was, Williams only showed glimpses of what he did in 1967 throughout the rest of his career in Green Bay and in the NFL.

In 1968, Williams only had a 21.4 average in returning kicks (no touchdowns) and only rushed for 63 yards the entire season.

In 1969, Williams appeared to have bounced back in fine fashion, as he had two return touchdowns and also rushed for 536 yards (4.2 average) and four scores. No. 23 also caught 27 passes for 275 yards and three more touchdowns.

But in 1970, Williams again regressed, as he had just 276 yards rushing (3.7 average) and one touchdown, plus caught just 12 passes, one of which was a score.

In 1971, new head coach and general manager Dan Devine traded Williams to the Rams, where “The Roadrunner” had his last season in the NFL because of a knee injury.

Sadly, Williams died at the young age of 45 in 1991 of heart failure after a long illness. Williams had dealt with homelessness, poverty and alcohol for a number of years leading up to his death.

Williams had battled depression due to the deaths of his wife, mother and sister in 1985.

It was a tragic end to the life of Williams, who had been the brightest of lights for the Packers in the glorious season of 1967.

It was in that season when the “Roadrunner” set a kickoff return record which has yet to be broken. That didn’t get Williams on Gosselin’s all-time NFL special teams unit, but I certainly believe that Williams deserves honorable mention for his kick returning skills.

Jerry Kramer is Near the Goal Line for the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Time to Run the 31 Wedge

Bart's Sneak III

The parallels and the similarities are striking. That is comparing the 1967 Green Bay Packers, especially their 68-yard march for the winning touchdown in the “Ice Bowl”, to Jerry Kramer’s quest for being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It’s apropos that the 50th anniversary of the “Ice Bowl” was just a month ago. That 21-17 victory by the Packers over the Dallas Cowboys with just seconds remaining in the game, was an exclamation point on the adversity that the team faced throughout the 1967 season.

That season was chronicled in magnificent fashion by Kramer and the late, great Dick Schaap in the book Instant Replay.

Kramer has also been on a long march to to receive the recognition that many believe should have happened decades ago. That would be getting a bust in Canton, like his coach Vince Lombardi did in 1971, a year after he died from colon cancer.

Kramer first became eligible to gain enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. That is 44 years ago folks. Kramer was a finalist in his first year of eligibility and was also a finalist eight other times between 1974 and 1987. But while other Packers like Jim Taylor (1976), Forrest Gregg (1977), Bart Starr (1977), Ray Nitschke (1978), Herb Adderley (1980), Willie Davis (1981), Jim Ringo (1981) and Paul Hornung (1986) were all inducted during that time period, Kramer never heard his name called.

10 years passed before Kramer was again a finalist in 1997, but this time as a senior candidate. The timing seemed perfect. The Packers were playing in Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots in New Orleans.

The Packers won that Super Bowl 35-21 over the Pats, but Kramer for some unfathomable reason was not inducted.

In that 10 year period between 1987 and 1997, two more Lombardi-era Packers were inducted into the Hall of Fame, Willie Wood (1989) and Henry Jordan (1995 as a senior).

The road to Canton was not easy for some of the Packers.

Some players made it into Canton on their first try. This would include Gregg, Starr, Nitschke and Dave Robinson (senior).

For others, it was a little more difficult. Adderley was inducted on his third try. It took four times for Taylor and Jordan (senior) to get enshrined. It took six times for Davis to get a bust, while Ringo had to wait until his seventh attempt to get into the Hall.

Then there are the two double-digit guys. Wood didn’t get into Canton until his 10th try, while Hornung had to wait until his 12th attempt.

But it was especially tough for Kramer. It was tough for all guards in the NFL as a matter of fact. From his first year in eligibility in 1974 up until 1997 when he was a senior nominee, the Hall of Fame inducted just one guard, Gene Upshaw.

This made little sense based on the honors and achievements Kramer compiled in his NFL career with the Packers.

No. 64 was a six-time AP All-Pro and also was named to three Pro Bowl squads. Kramer would have had more honors if not for injuries and medical issues that caused him to miss the better part of two-plus seasons.

Also, in 1969, Jerry was named the best player ever at the guard position in the first 50 years of the NFL, when 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, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell, Lou Groza and Kramer.

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

In addition to that, Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Looking back on the players who were named First-Team All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 134 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Kramer is one of those 11 First-Team All-Decade players who have yet to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

But Kramer now has another chance to finally be given the honor he so richly deserves, as he is once again a senior nominee finalist, which will be his 11th opportunity to be enshrined. This Saturday, on February 3, the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, No. 64 can be given the cherry on the cake regarding his NFL career when the Class of 2018 is named for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In terms of the 1967 Packers, it also was a hard road to travel. But the journey started for Kramer three years before that.

That was because of some intestinal issues that Kramer had starting in 1964. At first, the doctors thought Kramer had cancer, but after multiple medical procedures, the situation was finally resolved.

But it was not resolved as far as Lombardi was concerned. Kramer explained the situation to me in one of my many conversations with him.

Jerry holding the splinters

“I reported to camp at around 220 pounds,” Kramer said. “I nine operations that offseason, which involved removing 16 inches of my colon because of a bunch of slivers that were in there for 11 years.

“So when I went to talk with Coach Lombardi about playing, he said, ‘Jerry, we can’t count on you this year. I just want you to go home and we’ll take care of your salary and your hospital bills.’

“I told Lombardi that I really wanted to play. I knew that I had already missed most of the ’64 season and if I missed the ’65 season, I would probably never get a chance to play again.

“I told Lombardi that I would not go home and that I wanted to play. We went back and forth about this for about 35 or 40 minutes. Finally Lombardi says, ‘Okay, I’m going to put you with the defense.’

“I said, great. I always wanted to play defense anyway.”

Kramer soon found out that his task of getting in football shape would be very difficult.

“We always used to take three laps around the field to start practice. I ran a half of a lap and my lungs seized up. I just couldn’t breathe or get any air. Don Chandler came up to me and asked, ‘What’s wrong, pal?’

“I told Don that I can’t breathe. Don told me that, ‘Between the two of us, we would do what one of the players does in terms of an exercise. If you can only do a half of a lap, I’ll do the other two and half laps.’

“So Don worked out besides me for the next month and we did just that. If the team did 50 sit ups and I could only do 10, Don would do the other 40. If the team did 50 side-saddle hops and I could only do 15, Don would do the other 35.

“So Don kept me in the game and kept me from being embarrassed. That kept me from feeling like a jerk in front of a bunch of world-class athletes. So by doing that procedure with Don, I gradually was able to do more and after a month I was able to do all of the exercises.

“I gained about 15 pounds. I knew that the colostomy was reattached, the hernia was fixed and the intestines were okay. It was just going through the reconditioning which was so difficult.

“Without Don, I really doubt that I could have made it through that camp. So all the books, all the Super Bowls and all the great things that happened to me after that was because of my teammate.”

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

Lombardi knew Kramer was a tough hombre. He said so in his book, Run To Daylight, which was published in 1963. This is what Lombardi said about Kramer:

Jerry Kramer has the perfect devil-may-care attitude it takes to play this game. He not only ignores the small hurts but the large ones, too, and the evidence of his indifference is all over his body.

When Jerry was a high school kid he was sanding a lamp in the woodworking shop one Friday afternoon and a lathe took a couple of inches of flesh out of his side and he played football that night. On a duck-hunting trip he shredded his right forearm with a shotgun blast, and once, when a rotten board split under him, a sliver went into his groin. He pulled that out and two days later they found seven and a half inches of it still in there. He was in the hospital for two weeks, but three weeks later he was playing football. Then there was the night he was in a car doing 100 miles an hour and it went off the road. He was thrown out of the car. It rolled over him , hit a tree and burst into flames. He walked away from it.

At three o’clock one morning at the University of Idaho, Jerry bet somebody that he could ring the bell on the roof of one of the dorms. He threw a rope on a railing around the cupola and while dangling three stories above the ground the railing started to give. If a couple of them looking out the window hadn’t grabbed the rope he probably would have walked away from that, too. In 1960 he suffered a concussion and a detached retina in hi left eye in one of our games and had to undergo a four-and-a-half-hour operation. And in 1961 against the Minnesota Vikings he broke his left ankle and had to wear a 2-inch pin in there for four months.

“But where did you get that big scar on the back of your  neck?” someone asked him once. Because of it they call him Zipper Head.

“Where the hell did I get that?” Jerry said, and he wasn’t kidding. This typifies him. “Oh yeah, I remember now. In my sophomore year in college I couldn’t turn my head and they X-rayed it and found out I had a chipped vertebra.”

I remember our Dallas game a couple of years ago and on our 49-Sweep Jerry got two defenders and picked up a piece of a third. We were playing the 49ers later and they say Red Hickey, their coach, was screening our game and he called his staff and said, “My God! Just look at this guard!’

It took Kramer a few games to get back into the starting lineup for the Packers at right guard in 1965, but by season’s end, he was playing exceptionally well. Case in point, the 1965 NFL title game at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field versus the Cleveland Browns, the defending NFL champs.

Green Bay rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and Hornung in the game, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and left guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.

Jerry in the '65 title game

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.

That wasn’t the first time Kramer excelled in a title game. Three years earlier, the Packers played the New York Giants at frigid and windy Yankee Stadium in the 1962 NFL title game.

Besides playing at a high level at right guard, Kramer was also the placekicker for the Packers at that point due to a knee injury suffered by Hornung.

Kramer had to kick that day under very difficult conditions. It was a bitingly cold day, plus the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Plus, Kramer played the entire game at right guard as well battling in the trenches.

Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback 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.

No. 64 also recovered a fumble by Taylor to keep a drive alive.

When the Packers were up 13-7 late in the fourth quarter, Kramer knew that he had a chance to put the game away with a 30-yard field goal.

“The wind was really blowing hard that day,”Kramer said. “The wind was blowing so hard that at halftime our benches on the sideline were blown 10 yards onto the field. That wind was really swirling that day.

“The ball was being moved pretty well by the wind. On that last field goal, I aimed 10 yards outside the goal post because of the wind. At first, the kick was heading to where I aimed before the wind caught it and brought it back in and split the uprights.

“It was a great relief to me that I had guessed right, because if I missed the Giants still had a chance to win the game.

“After I made the kick, the guys were jumping on me and pounding me on the back knowing that we probably had clinched the game then. I got to feel like a running back or a quarterback for a moment or two and it was a wonderful feeling.”

After the victory by the Packers, Nitschke was named the game’s MVP, as he had been tenacious with his tackling on defense and also recovered two fumbles.

 

Jerry's game ball from 1962 NFL title game

Kramer certainly could have received that honor as well, based on the way he played that day. As it was, the coaches and the players presented No. 64 with a game ball because of the great performance he had in that year’s championship game.

Anyway, after the 1965 season, the Packers won their second straight NFL title by defeating the Cowboys 34-27 at the Cotton Bowl in the 1966 NFL title game. Two weeks later, the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the very first Super Bowl.

That set up the challenge of winning a third straight NFL title in 1967, as well as a second straight Super Bowl.

Kramer and his teammates overcame a lot during that season. Hornung and Taylor were gone. There were multiple injuries on the team. Quarterback Bart Starr missed a couple of games due to injuries. Both starting running backs, Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, were lost for the season with injuries in the eighth week of the season.

Despite all of that adversity, the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967 with players like Donny Anderson, Travis Williams, Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein filling the void.

The team also lost a couple of heartbreaking games (one to the Baltimore Colts and one to the Los Angeles Rams) in the last minute during the course of the season.

A couple of weeks after that loss to the Rams, Green Bay whipped Los Angeles 28-7 at Milwaukee County Stadium in the Western Conference Championship Game.

The week after that came the “Ice Bowl” at Lambeau Field. The Packers were down 17-14 to the Cowboys with just 4:50 remaining in the game. It was extremely cold, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero. The offense of the Packers had to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.

I wrote about that drive recently, as Kramer, along with Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein recounted that epic drive.

It didn’t look promising, as the Packers had minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that drive. But thanks to great efforts by the entire offense, especially Anderson and Mercein, the Packers were in position to win the game in the final seconds.

It came down to a third and goal play from the one-yard line with 16 seconds to go in the game and the Packers were out of timeouts.

After conferring with Lombardi on the sideline, Starr called a 31 wedge play 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.”

Bart's sneak II

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

It also meant the Packers won their third straight NFL title and two weeks later won Super Bowl II when they beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

In this NFL Films video of the No. 1 player not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is about Kramer, go to 1:38 of the video which shows Starr’s quarterback sneak behind Kramer and you will hear Vince Lombardi say, “Watch that No. 64. That’s Jerry Kramer. The best right guard in football doing his job.”

Which takes me to Saturday. Now it’s time for the 48-person selection committee to do their job and induct Kramer.

I had the opportunity earlier this week to speak with both Rick Gosselin and Pete Dougherty, both of whom are voters.

It will be Gosselin who will be doing the main presentation on Kramer’s behalf to the selection committee on Saturday, as he was part of the Seniors Selection Committee who nominated Kramer. That will be followed up by a presentation by Dougherty, who is the Green Bay representative for the Hall of Fame.

I was privy to some of what both will be presenting to the selection committee during our conversations, plus I was able to share my ideas. Both Gosselin and Dougherty are confident that Kramer will indeed be inducted as part of the Class of 2018 on Saturday.

I share their confidence, as I did an unofficial straw poll of a dozen or so voters about Kramer’s chances of getting inducted, and every one of those voters told me that they support No. 64’s enshrinement.

It would definitely be appropriate. Because just like in the “Ice Bowl”, Starr will be behind Kramer, as a recent story of mine indicates with his endorsement letter for Kramer to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Besides Starr, there are several peers of Kramer who all have a bust in Canton and also support No. 64’s enshrinement.

One of whom is Merlin Olsen, who many consider the best defensive tackle in NFL history. This is what the nine-time AP All-Pro and 14-time Pro Bowl player said about Kramer:

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

“Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”

Jerry with the 5 NFL Championship rings

So as we come close to the vote for the Class of 2018 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame by the 48-person selection committee on Saturday, just as Kramer and the Packers were close to the goal line in the “Ice Bowl”, the selection of Kramer as one of those who are inducted should be obvious. As obvious as to why Kramer thought the wedge play on Pugh would work, which it did.

So, it’s time for the 31 wedge play (the obvious call) on Saturday for the committee on behalf of Kramer. In this case, Kramer won’t be in the end zone celebrating another championship, but instead will be celebrating his place among the best of the best in the annals of pro football history.

And after the selection committee does it’s job, Kramer will later on get a knock on his Minneapolis hotel door by David Baker, the President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After Kramer opens the door, this is what he will hear from Baker, “Jerry, it is my great pleasure to tell you that you will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players, coaches and contributors to ever play this game.”

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up with “Ice Bowl” Hero Chuck Mercein

Chuck Mercein I

We are nearing the 50th anniversary of the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, when the Dallas Cowboys met the Green Bay Packers at frigid Lambeau Field on December 31, 1967.

It’s apropos that the Packers and Cowboys would meet during the 2017 NFL season, although the meeting will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington this upcoming Sunday.

It’s very possible that both teams will meet again in the postseason later on, just like they have done twice in the past three seasons. And you never know, that game could take place at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

I had an opportunity to talk with two of the stars for the Packers on that extremely cold day on New Year’s Eve in 1967, guard Jerry Kramer and fullback Chuck Mercein.

I talked with Kramer first and we talked about the 50th anniversary of the “Ice Bowl”, especially about that epic 12-play, 68-yard drive to win the game in the final seconds, 21-17.

What made that drive even more remarkable, was that up until that point, the Packers had run 31 plays for -9 yards in the second half before that incredible march of the frozen tundra started.

While we discussed the drive, Kramer talked about the many players who came up big in that drive. Obviously there was quarterback Bart Starr, halfback Donny Anderson, wide receiver Boyd Dowler, left tackle Bob Skoronski and Kramer himself.

Plus, there was also Mercein. In fact, Mercein picked up 34 of the 68 yards in that extraordinary drive just by himself.

Kramer certainly remembered how important No. 30 was for the Packers in that drive.

“Chuck was huge in that drive for us,” Kramer said. “He went to Yale and he had the intellect to prove it. Plus, Chuck was a tough kid and he was strong. In fact, he threw the shot put 61 feet one time. That was  stunning. I set a state record in high school in Idaho in the shot put with a toss of 51 feet, 10 inches. And Chuck beat that by 10 feet.

“Chuck made a number of big plays for us in that drive. Hell, Chuck came up big for us the week before in the playoff game against the Rams as well. I remember Chuck talking to Bart shortly after he missed Willie Townes on a block and Donny was tackled for a big loss. That was the first time I recall Chuck ever talking to Bart in the huddle.

“Chuck told Bart that the linebacker was going back really deep and that he would be open on a swing pass because of all the room he was given. Sure enough, Bart throws a swing pass to Chuck that gains 19 yards. That was a really key play for us in that drive.”

Later in the evening, I had an opportunity to talk with Mercein. Not only to talk about the “Ice Bowl”, but also his strange set of circumstances joining the NFL and also the Packers.

Mercein came into pro football in 1965, which was a point in time when the NFL and AFL were bidding against each other for the top players in college football.

Mercein was certainly that coming out of Yale, which is why he was named to the College All-Star squad to play against the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1965. Mercein score 10 points in that game, as he also kicked as well as playing fullback.

Mercein talked to me about the ongoing process of bidding for his services between the two leagues.

“I knew the Buffalo Bills were going to draft me in the AFL to replace Cookie Gilchrist, who was going to retire,” Mercein said. “I was already in discussions with the Bills before the NFL draft even took place.

“So when the NFL draft did take place, my phone rang right away in the first round around the eight or ninth spot in the draft, when I talked to William Ford, who owned the Detroit Lions. He told me that he wanted me to play fullback for the Lions, because Nick Pietrosante was retiring. I thought that was very fortuitous, because it looked like I would be able to play right away there.

“The first question Ford asked me was whether I had been talking to the AFL at all. Of course, I said yes. I didn’t have an agent then. None of us had agents then. I was very open and honest with him. He also asked if I had signed anything. I said no. He then asked where I was in my negotiations with the Bills.

“I was frank with him. I said that the Bills had offered me a three-year, no-cut contract, with $25,000 per year in salary and $25,000 a year in bonuses. So basically it was for three years and $150,000.

“And Ford says, ‘No, we could never pay that!’ I said that I didn’t understand his position. Ford then told me he wasn’t going to get into a bidding war with the AFL. So then I asked him what he would offer me. Ford said he could give me one year with $25,000 in salary and $25,000 in bonuses.

“I mean, I was married with a kid coming in August, so I told him him if that was his best offer, not to draft me. So, he didn’t. The Lions took Tom Nowatzke instead. Anyway, the phone didn’t ring at all again in the first round, so I was a little upset. It didn’t ring in the second round either. Finally I get a call in the third round at the the first pick of that round by the New York Giants.

“Wellington Mara (owner of the Giants) told me that Alex Webster was retiring and he wanted me to replace him. I was a bit wary at that time. So I told Mr. Mara that I had heard this before and that if he wasn’t going to compete with the offer I received from the Bills, then we should stop right there. I gave him the terms and Mara said that he would compete with that offer.

“Wow, I was excited. I then asked him one more question. I asked why the Giants took Tucker Frederickson, who also played fullback, in the first round and then wanted to take me. Mara told me that Allie Sherman (head coach of the Giants) told him that Frederickson was going to play halfback (because Frank Gifford had just retired) and that I was going to play fullback. So I said great and I thought I was all set.”

Things didn’t turn out quite the way Mercein had planned playing under Sherman in New York. For one thing, Frederickson did not play halfback for the Giants, but instead played fullback, which made Mercein his backup.

Right away Mercein had been misled by the Giants. But it was not the fault of the owner.

“That did not happen because of Wellington Mara, who was not that person. He was very honest and was a great guy. He was really wonderful to me and helped get me over to Green Bay when he recommended me to Coach Lombardi.

“It was all Sherman. I never trusted him again after that. He also wasn’t that happy with me because I went to Yale instead of a bigger program. I did have over 50 offers from from various schools, including those in the Big 10, but I liked Yale because of their standards academically and the fact that they were undefeated  my senior year in high school. Plus a good friend of mine, Mike Pyle, was on that team.”

In his rookie year with the Giants, Mercein rushed for 55 yards and scored two touchdowns, plus kicked a field goal.

In his second season with the G-Men in 1966, Mercein led the team in rushing with 327 yards, plus caught 27 passed for 152 yards. All that happened while Mercein was hurt for half of the year.

Even with the nice year Mercein had in 1966, Sherman didn’t give Mercein a fair shake in 1967 competing for playing time and instead cut the fullback at the end of training camp.

Mercein was later brought back to the Giants, but only to be used as a kicker. Sherman told Mercein that if he missed a kick he would be waived again. Mercein made an extra point on his first kicking attempt, but because the Giants were holding, it didn’t count and the next attempt was 15 yards further out. As luck would have it, Mercein missed the kick and his time with the Giants was over.

Mercein was all set to sign with the Washington Redskins after his release by the Giants, as he had played for head coach Otto Graham in the College All-Star game, but before that could happen, he received a call from Wellington Mara.

The night Mara called was the same day that both halfback Elijah Pitts and fullback Jim Grabowski were lost for the season with injuries when the Packers played the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium in Week 8.

Chuck Mercein III

“So the phone rings and it’s Wellington Mara,” Mercein said. “He told me that he had heard that I was talking to the Washington Redskins about playing with them. He was also very apologetic about what happened with me in New York. Anyway, he said if I didn’t sign anything, that he had recommended me to Vince Lombardi and that he was interested in bringing me to Green Bay. Mara told me the next call I would be getting would be from Lombardi himself.

“Sure enough five minutes later, Lombardi calls. It was quite something. It was like the voice of God on the other end of the phone, as I had so much respect for him as a coach and the Packers as a team. Lombardi was very frank about everything and he said that the Packers could really use my help. He also said that I could help the team win another championship.

“I told Coach Lombardi that I would be thrilled to join the team. After I hung up, I told my wife to unpack the car because we were going to play for the Green Bay Packers.”

The Packers were 6-1-1 when Mercein joined the team and were well on the way to winning the NFL Central division championship.

After the season-ending injuries to Pitts and Grabowski, the Packers utilized Anderson and rookie Travis Williams at halfback, while Ben Wilson and Mercein split time at fullback.

It’s amazing to know that even with the loss of Pitts and Grabowski, plus knowing that this was the first year under Lombardi that both fullback Jim Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung were no longer in Green Bay, that the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967.

Mercein was embraced by Lombardi and his teammates on the Packers when he came aboard the team.

“Right away, Lombardi welcomed me,” Mercein said. “I had to earn his trust, obviously. It wasn’t easy at first, but the players were very welcoming and it was just a wonderful time.”

By the end of the season and into the postseason, Mercein became the starting fullback. In the Western Conference Championship Game at Milwaukee County Stadium versus the Los Angeles Rams, Mercein scored on a six-yard run in the Green Bay’s 28-7 victory over the Rams.

No. 30 also helped open some holes for Williams, who received most of the playing time at halfback, as the “Roadrunner” rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

That set up the NFL title game the next Sunday at Lambeau Field versus the Cowboys. Unlike the game against the Rams, Lombardi gave most of the playing time at halfback to Anderson, instead of Williams. Mercein remained the starter at fullback.

The 1967 NFL title game was later nicknamed the “Ice Bowl” because it was extremely cold that day in Green Bay, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

If you added the wind, it was bone-chillingly cold, as there was a minus-48-degree windchill for the game.

The Packers the jumped to an early 14-0 lead as Starr threw two touchdown passes to Dowler. But fumbles by Starr and punt returner Willie Wood led to 10 points by the Cowboys and the score was only 14-10 at the half.

The Packers couldn’t do anything in the second half until their final drive, while the Cowboys were moving up and down the field. Thankfully the defense of the Packers, led by linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, kept Dallas out of the end zone in the third quarter.

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

That was the score when the Packers started their 68-yard trek down the frozen tundra of Lambeau Filed with just 4:50 remaining in the game.

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 bit, as he was shook up a little after his head hit the frozen turf hard after he was tackled.

This is when Mercein and the Packers had a hiccup in the drive. Defensive end Willie Townes 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.”

Mercein would make up for that mistake soon enough, however.

First though, Starr completed two swing passes to Anderson which gained 21 yards to the 30-yard line of the Cowboys and another first down by the Packers.

It was at that point when Mercein caught the 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.

“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 than 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.

Then on two straight dive plays, Anderson slipped both times trying to score and didn’t get in. It was now third and goal when the Packers called their final timeout with just 16 seconds to go in the game.

Bart Starr QB sneak II

I’ll let Mercein explain what happened next.

“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 Packers won the game 21- 17 on that legendary play as Starr was able to find his way into the end zone behind Kramer’s classic block on Pugh.

After the game, Mercein heard some kind words from Grabowski, who said that he couldn’t have played any better at fullback.

That victory put the Packers in Super Bowl II in Miami, where they would be facing the AFL champion Oakland Raiders.

Now one would think that Mercein would be starting again at fullback for the Packers, especially after playing so well against the Rams and Cowboys.

But shortly before the game, Mercein heard some very disappointing news from his head coach, who said Wilson would be starting at fullback instead.

“I was terribly disappointed,” Mercein said. “I didn’t understand why. I knew I was a little banged up. But Coach was a real hunch player and it was hot down there in Miami  and it was the kind of weather that Ben Wilson was used to playing in, as he had played at USC.

“Plus, Ben was fresh and he hadn’t played a lot. So it was just a hunch, but it turned out to be the right hunch as Ben had a big game.”

The Packers beat the Raiders 33-14 and Wilson led the Packers in rushing with 65 yards.

Looking back on that year with the Packers, there are a lot of fond memories for Mercein.

“The 1967 season for the Packers was a team effort,” Mercein said. “Coach Lombardi made that team what it was. He was the difference. He made us all better. He made me better. Bart better. Jerry better. Boyd better. That’s what a great coach does. He takes players and makes them better than they thought they could be.”

The 1967 Draft Class of the Green Bay Packers

Bob Hyland about to snap to Don Horn in '68 vs. Bears

Center Bob Hyland prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Don Horn, as the Green Bay Packers played the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field in 1968.

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.

Bob Hyland snapping the ball to Bart Starr.jpg

Bob Hyland snaps the ball to Bart Starr.

“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 kickoffs 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.”

Travis Williams Kickoff Return TD vs. Rams in LA

Travis Williams returns a kickoff for 104 yards and a touchdown vs. the Rams in Los Angeles.

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 basically 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.”

Don Horn with Coach Lombardi in Super Bowl II

Quarterback Don Horn stands next to head coach Vince Lombardi near the end of Super Bowl II. Jerry Kramer is behind the legendary coach.

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.