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.”

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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 vs. Dallas Cowboys: A Historical Perspective

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

The Green Bay Packers joined the NFL in 1921, while the Dallas Cowboys joined the league in 1960. Since that time, the teams have met 28 times in the regular season, with the Packers holding a 15-13 edge.

The two teams have also met eight times in the postseason, with each team winning four times.

Overall, the Packers have won 13 NFL titles, including four Super Bowls, one of which was won at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium). The Cowboys have won five Super Bowls overall.

When the two teams meet on Sunday at AT&T Field, it will be the 15th time that the Packers have played Dallas on the road in the regular season. The Packers were 2-1 at the Cotton Bowl, 2-7 at Texas Stadium and now are currently 2-0 at AT&T Stadium.

The Packers are also 2-4 in the postseason in the Big D area. With the latest game being the 2016 NFC title game, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay to a stirring 34-31 victory.

In Wisconsin, the Packers defeated the Cowboys in their inaugural year 41-7 at then City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) and are now 7-2 overall versus the Boys in Green Bay during the regular season.

The Packers and Cowboys also played five games at County Stadium in Milwaukee in the regular season, with the Cowboys holding a 3-2 edge.

The Packers have also won two postseason games against the Cowboys at Lambeau Field, including the legendary “Ice Bowl” game on December 31, 1967.

The two teams were destined to become quite a rivalry, as Vince Lombardi was head coach of the Packers when the Cowboys joined the NFL in 1960 and their head coach was Tom Landry.

Lombardi and Landry had coached together in New York with the Giants, as the team won the NFL title in 1956. In essence, Lombardi ran the offense for the G-Men, while Landry ran the defense during their tenure in the Big Apple.

Lombardi never lost to Landry while he coached the Packers, both in the regular season (3-0) and in the postseason (2-0).

Both postseason games were NFL title games, with the first being played at the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1967. The winner of that 1966 NFL championship game would be playing in Super Bowl I.

Bart Starr 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl

Quarterback Bart Starr was magnificent in that game, as he threw four touchdown passes (including a beautiful 51-yard pass to Carroll Dale) without throwing an interception for 304 yards. No. 15’s passer rating for that game was 143.5.

The game came down to the Cowboys being on the 2-yard line of the Packers with less than a minute to go, trailing 34-27. And on fourth down, quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys was pressured by outside linebacker Dave Robinson and with No. 89’s arms draped around him, Meredith threw an errant pass that was intercepted by safety Tom Brown of the Packers to seal the victory.

The Packers then went on to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Super I two weeks later.

The two teams met again the very next year in the 1967 NFL title game, this time in Green Bay at Lambeau Field. I have written about that classic game a number of times, including a story that has fullback Chuck Mercein, halfback Donny Anderson and right guard Jerry Kramer describing their epic final drive to win the “Ice Bowl” 21-17 with just seconds remaining.

Starr was once again the hero, as he threw two touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler in the game and then scored the game-winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak with just 13 seconds remaining in the game and with his team having zero time outs.

Two weeks later, the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II, which turned out to be Lombardi’s last game as head coach of the Packers.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

The next time the two teams met in the postseason was after the 1982 season, when Starr was the head coach of the Packers and Landry was still at the helm of the Cowboys.

Quarterback Lynn Dickey threw for 332 yards, while wide receiver James Lofton had five catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, plus had another score on a 71-yard run. Still, that wasn’t enough as the Cowboys, led by the three interceptions of Dennis Thurman, won 37-26 in a second-round NFC playoff game at Texas Stadium.

The next three postseason games would all be played at Texas Stadium in the 1990s, as Jimmy Johnson was now the head coach of the Boys after owner Jerry Jones had fired Landry after the 1988 season.

The Packers were coached by Mike Holmgren during that time.

The Cowboys were led by their triplets, quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin. The Pack was led by quarterback Brett Favre on offense and defensive end Reggie White on defense.

In 1993 (27-17) and 1994 (35-9), the Cowboys beat the Packers in NFC divisional playoff games. In 1995, the Boys beat the Packers 38-27 in the NFC title game. Dallas would end up winning the Super Bowl twice after defeating the Packers in the postseason that decade.

In all, the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the 1990s, while the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI after the 1996 season.

The Packers won Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium) after the 2010 season, when Rodgers was the game’s MVP, as the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.

Green Bay and Dallas again met in the postseason in a 2014 divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field. Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in the 26-21 victory by the Packers, but the game was marked by controversy.

That occurred when quarterback Tony Romo completed a long pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant on fourth down which took the ball to the 1-yard line of Green Bay that was later ruled a non-catch. The Packers than marched down the field and ran out the clock.

The last postseason game that the two teams played was a 2016 NFC divisional game at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys came into the game as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but the Packers behind Rodgers got off to a quick 21-3 lead.

But Dallas came roaring back behind quarterback Dak Prescott and tied the game 28- 28 with four minutes left in the game.

The Packers then took a 31-28 lead on a 56-yard Mason Crosby field goal with about 1:30 to go in the game.

Prescott then led the Cowboys to a game-tying 52-yard field goal by Dan Bailey with 35 seconds left.

Aaron vs. the Cowboys

Then, with just 12 seconds left in the game on a third-and-20 from their own 32-yard line, Rodgers completed a 35-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook to set up a game-winning 51-yard field goal by Crosby as time expired.

The last time the two teams met was in the 2017 regular season, when Rodgers once again led the Packers to a late victory, as he completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Davante Adams with 11 seconds remaining, as the Packers won 35-31.

Overall in his career versus the Cowboys, Rodgers is 4-2 against them in the regular season, as he has thrown 11 touchdown passes, compared to just one pick for 1,702 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 101.2.

No. 12 has also rushed for 162 yards on 30 carries and had two more scores.

In the postseason, Rodgers is 2-0 against the Cowboys and has thrown five touchdown passes versus one pick for 671 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 111.0.

So, what to expect on Sunday? The Packers are banged up a bit and Adams has been ruled out because of a turf toe injury. Still, the track record of Rodgers against the Cowboys has been fantastic.

Plus, the Packers have never lost in AT&T Stadium in four games, with one of them being Super Bowl XLV. That being said, every game against the Cowboys has been very close and in one of the wins, it was backup quarterback Matt Flynn who led the Packers to a victory.

Bottom line, I also expect the game on Sunday to be very close. It may come down to which team has the ball last. And if it’s Rodgers and the Packers, I like their chances.

One Forgotten Aspect on Bart Starr’s QB Sneak in the ‘Ice Bowl’

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It’s one of the most iconic plays in NFL history. I’m talking about Bart Starr’s legendary quarterback sneak in the 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, as the Green Bay Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in the final seconds of the game.

That touchdown gave the Packers their third straight NFL championship, a feat that has never been duplicated in the playoff era of the NFL dating back to 1933.

Two weeks later, the Packers won their second straight Super Bowl as well, as they defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

But it was Starr’s QB sneak that made all of that possible.

It was most definitely the signature moment in the legacy of Vince Lombardi during his time in Green Bay as head coach and general manager.

That play was set up by one of the most fabulous drives in the history of the Packers.

Here was the situation:

The Packers trailed 17-14 and had not done a thing in the second half offensively. “We had minus-nine yards in 31 plays in the second half at one point,” right guard Jerry Kramer told me.

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.

“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,” Kramer said. “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.’

I wrote about that mythical drive in December, just two days before the 50th anniversary of that historical NFL game. Kramer, halfback Donny Anderson and fullback Chuck Mercein shared their thoughts about that improbable trek across the ice.

The play which won the Packers their fifth NFL title in seven years was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

“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.’

The do-or-die situation in the game came down to the Packers having just 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the Dallas 1-yard line.

Starr called a 31 Wedge play in the huddle (the same play discussed on Thursday), which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, after conferring with Lombardi, Starr decided to keep the ball due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

Starr followed Kramer’s classic block on Pugh (with help from center Ken Bowman) and No. 15 tumbled happily into the end zone for the winning score and NFL immortality.

But history might have been different had Starr tried to cross the goal line with the football in his right arm and not his left.

I mentioned that scenario to Boyd Dowler when we talked recently and he said, “I didn’t realize that.”

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The reason why that was so important is because Chuck Howley, who was the left outside linebacker of the Cowboys, quickly dove into Starr just as he was about to get into the end zone. Howley tried to rip the football from Starr’s empty right arm. Had Starr carried the football in that arm, who knows what may have occurred?

Starr had fumbled earlier in the game during the second quarter, which led to a George Andrie touchdown after he recovered the fumble by No. 15.

The bottom line is that Starr not only called the right play (31 Wedge) and the right way to score on that play (via his sneak), but also the correct way to handle the ball as he made his way triumphantly into the end zone.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame: Both Boyd Dowler and Ron Kramer Deserve Consideration

hall of fame packer logo 2

In my most recent story, in which Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers reflected about being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of the things we talked about was the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

You see, Kramer was the last player on the first team of that half-century team of the NFL to be enshrined in Canton. The other players on the first team are 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 and Lou Groza.

Talk about an impressive list of the best of the best in NFL history!

I mentioned to Kramer that only two other players on that 50th anniversary team were still not inducted and both were teammates of his. Kramer was shocked to hear that the players are Boyd Dowler (second team) and Ron Kramer (third team).

The other players on the second team besides Dowler, are Sammy Baugh, Bronco Nagurski, Harold “Red” Grange, Forrest Gregg, Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Danny Fortman, Mel Hein, Len Ford, Ernie Stautner, Joe Schmidt, Jack Butler, Jack Christiansen and Ernie Nevers.

Not a bad group to be associated with, huh?

The other players on the third team besides (Ron) Kramer, are Norm Van Brocklin, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenney, Lenny Moore, Joe Stydahar, Dante Lavelli, Jim Parker, Alex Wojciechowicz, David “Deacon” Jones, Art Donovan, Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, Herb Adderley, Larry Wilson and Ken Strong.

Another stellar group.

After I told Jerry that Boyd and Ron were the only two out of 45 players from the 50th anniversary team of the NFL not in Canton, No. 64 talked about his two former teammates.

First, Jerry talked about the player who shared his last name.

“Ron was a 260-pound runaway truck,” Kramer said. “He was an outstanding athlete at Michigan. He high-jumped 6’4”. He threw the shot put around 60 feet. Ron was also very good in basketball, was the captain of the team and at one point was the all-time leading scorer in team history at Michigan.

“He was an All-American in football for two years running. Overall, Ron won nine letters in sports at Michigan, three each in football, basketball and track.

“Ron was also quite the character off the field. He and Paul Hornung were very close. Ron was a unique human being. He was a bit wacky at times. He loved to put a drink on his head because he had a flat spot up there, and he would dance with it up there.

Ron Kramer and Vince Lombardi in 1961 NFL title game.

“Ron also like to mess with you. He would kiss you in the ear or some silly-ass thing. Just to irritate you. He would do that just for aggravation and he would giggle and laugh.

“So when Ron died, Hornung goes to his funeral up in Detroit and Ron’s son Kurt picked up Paul at the airport. When Kurt sees Paul, he gives him a big kiss right on the lips. And Paul yells, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ And Kurt said, ‘Dad told me about three months ago that if he didn’t make it and if you came to his funeral, I was supposed to give you a big kiss on the lips and to tell you it was from dad.’

“Paul started crying like a baby after that.”

When Kramer played tight end for the Packers, they were predominately a running team and that is when the power sweep was most effective, as the tight end played a key role in the blocking scheme.

From 1960 to 1964, the Packers were ranked either first (three times) or second (twice) in rushing in the NFL.

In one of our many conversations, Jerry said of the power sweep, “Bobby, in the first three years we ran that play, we averaged I believe 8.3 yards a carry.”

Ron Kramer was one hell of a run-blocker, but was also very effective in the passing game. In his career with the Packers, which spanned seven years before he played out his option to play for his hometown Detroit Lions, No. 88 had 170 receptions for 2,594 yards and 15 touchdowns.

In the postseason, Kramer had six catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores occurred in the 1961 NFL title game, when the Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 at then City Stadium (now Lambeau Field). That was the first championship game ever played in Green Bay.

Ron Kramer was named All-Pro once and also was named to one Pro Bowl team. Plus, Kramer was also on the third team of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

Jerry then turned his attention to Dowler.

“Boyd was so precise and so mature his rookie year,” Kramer said. “He started taking care of business right out of the gate. He rarely dropped a pass. He would catch it over the middle, catch it on the sidelines and catch it wherever the hell you threw it. He was consistent throughout his career.”

I wrote a story about Dowler last year, as Kramer added some more commentary. One of the things Kramer mentioned was how Dowler was very self-assured.

“I think Boyd’s confidence was one of the big reasons why he was accepted so quickly and completely,” Kramer said. “There were no excuses from Boyd. If he screwed something up, he would be the guy to tell you. But he very seldom screwed things up and made very few mistakes.”

In his 11-year career with the Packers, Dowler had 448 receptions for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. In the postseason, Dowler also had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores.

In his rookie year in 1959, Dowler was named Rookie of the Year by UPI (United Press International). The former Colorado star was also named to two Pro Bowls in his career.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in 1961 NFL title game

In addition to that, Dowler was named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade team, plus was named to the second-team on the NFL’s 50 Anniversary team.

I had an opportunity to talk with Dowler earlier this week to talk about his being on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team and also about his chances of getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The reason I brought up the Hall of Fame, was because Rick Gosselin also noted that only Dowler and (Ron) Kramer are the only players on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team not in Canton.

Here is what Gosselin said about Dowler and Kramer in a recent podcast on the Talk of Fame Sports Network:

“Can you enshrine too many players from one franchise in the Hall of Fame? That’s the question that came up last week when those of us on the Hall of Fame selection committee enshrined the 12th member of the 1960’s Packers. That’s guard Jerry Kramer.

“That’s more than half of the starting lineup, plus the head coach from one team. A team that won five championships in a span of seven years. And went to six title games in a span of eight seasons. No team of any era, has more players in Canton than those 1960’s Packers.

“They have indeed been rewarded for their success. Should the committee now draw the line there with the Lombardi Packers? Well, ponder this. In 1969, this same Hall of Fame selection committee was commissioned to pick the greatest players in the game’s first 50 years.

“There were 45 players selected to that team. And 43 are now enshrined in Canton. Only two are not. They both played for the ’60’s Packers, split end Boyd Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer. Dowler was selected to the 1960’s All-Decade team as well and Kramer would have been had the committee selected more than one tight end.

“Yet neither of those players has ever been discussed as a finalist for the Hall of Fame. If you were chosen as one of the best players in the game’s first half-century, don’t you deserve a spin through the room as a finalist to determine if you are indeed Hall of Fame worthy.

“It took [Jerry] Kramer 45 years to get in. It took teammate Dave Robinson 34 years and Henry Jordan 21. The Hall of Fame is a process. Maybe Dowler and Ron Kramer deserve to be Hall of Famers. Maybe they don’t. But they certainly deserve a few minutes in that room to start the process and have their cases heard, regardless how many teammates have been enshrined.”

I certainly concur with Gosselin’s take there.

As I wrote about earlier in the story, the Packers did not throw the ball as often as many NFL teams, because they had such a solid run game behind the likes of Hornung and Jim Taylor. On average, quarterback Bart Starr threw the ball less than 20 times per game.

Dowler talked about one factor which set him apart from a lot of receivers in his day.

“Probably the most significant statistic that I can come up with in my career was the fact that I caught five touchdown passes in championship games,” Dowler said. “The guy who sticks out to me who is sort of similar as far as statistics are concerned is Lynn Swann. He probably got inducted because of his play in playoff or championship games.”

Dowler brings up an excellent comparison.

In terms of regular season numbers in his career, Dowler had 448 catches for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns, while Swann had 336 catches for 5,462 and 51 touchdowns.

In the postseason, Dowler had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores in 10 games. One of those games was Super Bowl I, when No. 86 missed almost the entire game due to a shoulder injury.

After that injury, Dowler was replaced by Max McGee, who went on to have the best game of his career, as he had seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Swann had 48 catches for 907 yards and nine touchdowns in 16 postseason games.

Dowler continued the comparison between himself and Swann.

“Swann and John Stallworth on the other side, are both in the Hall of Fame,” Dowler said. “Stallworth put up better numbers than Swann. The only argument I can make for myself is that I always seemed to come up with big plays in our championship games.

“The rest of the story in terms of my production was pretty much being consistent. I led the team in catches seven times.

“The other thing that I’ve noticed, is that on our team in the Hall of Fame, there are now three offensive linemen…Jerry, Forrest Gregg and Jim Ringo, two running backs…Jimmy and Paul, and one quarterback…Bart of course.

“But there is no tight end and no wide receiver. I’ve never looked it up or figured it out, but how many quarterbacks are in the Hall of Fame without having one of their receivers in there as well?”

Very few, as a matter of fact. Here is the list of modern-day quarterbacks who are in Canton and who also have had at least one of his receivers/tight ends also in the Hall of Fame.

  • Troy Aikman
  • George Blanda
  • Terry Bradshaw
  • John Elway
  • Dan Fouts
  • Otto Graham
  • Bob Griese
  • Sonny Jurgenson
  • Jim Kelly
  • Joe Montana
  • Joe Namath
  • Ken Stabler
  • Roger Staubach
  • Johnny Unitas
  • Norm Van Brocklin
  • Bob Waterfield
  • Steve Young

Talking about the postseason games he played in, Dowler made a great point.

“We won a lot of championship games,” Dowler said. “In those championship games, there were a lot of big plays made by receivers and tight ends. We kind of flew under the radar.”

Bart looking downfield in the Ice Bowl

Dowler is correct in that assertion. In 10 postseason games as a quarterback, Starr threw 15 touchdown passes, compared to just three picks for 1,753 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.8, which is the best in the history of the league.

No. 15 didn’t do all that by himself, as he got some help from his receivers like Dowler as well.

Talking about being a bit unnoticed, Dowler said he is fine with that, even with his Hall of Fame snub.

“I don’t really have a problem with that,” Dowler said. “I’m real happy with the fact that we won five world championships. I never thought throughout my career or since, that I’ve never been nominated. It really doesn’t surprise me. And it doesn’t upset me.

“That’s just the way it is and that’s the way our team was put together. I was happy that they kept putting out there in the huddle for 11 years.”

Talking again about his play in the postseason, Dowler reminisced about the 1967 postseason.

“The highlight for me was the two touchdown catches in the “Ice Bowl” and I got another score in the Super Bowl, the second Super Bowl,” Dowler said.

“I always seemed to come up with something against Dallas. I always seemed to come up with big plays against the Cowboys. I can’t really explain why.  We just kind of operated that way.

“We never went into a game thinking that I was going to get the ball a lot this week. We just never did that. We just went along and Bart ran plays on how the game developed. We didn’t game-plan those things or that I was going to catch two scores in the “Ice Bowl” game.”

The second touchdown pass that Dowler caught in the “Ice Bowl”, was one of the favorite calls for Starr throughout his years in Green Bay. It was third and short and on a play-action fake, Starr hit Dowler on 43-yard post pattern.

Dowler talked about the way Starr liked to use play-action on third and short and also about that particular play.

“It almost always worked,” Dowler said, talking about the play-action calls by Starr. “On the long touchdown pass from Bart in the “Ice Bowl”, I kind of went, ‘oh oh’, because he was throwing into the wind. But I was pretty sure I could get to it and the wind held it up just a little.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

“On that play, I was a little bit off the line like I was going to block and my eyes met Mel Renfro about the time we got even. He was still facing the line of scrimmage and I was pretty sure I could get by him, even though he was pretty fast, as he was a world-class sprinter. Renfro was an awful good football player and had a lot of speed, but it was the play-call that got me open.”

Getting back to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I mentioned to Dowler the comments of Gosselin, talking about that fact that he and (Ron) Kramer are not be enshrined in  Canton, even with being on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

That, plus the fact that Gosselin has submitted what he calls his “amnesty proposal” which will allow several seniors to get inducted in the 100th anniversary of the NFL, as opposed to the one or two per year as it stands now. That proposal is being considered by David Baker, the President/Executive Director of the Hall of Fame.

“If a guy [Rick Gosselin] is going to take the ball and run with it for a bunch of old guys for the 100th year of the NFL, that’s fine by me,” Dowler said. “If he wants to put me in that mix, I’m all for it. I’m not going to discourage him from doing that. I think that’s a great idea.”

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 “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.”

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.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame: Jerry is Rooting for Jerry

jerry-at-lambeau-vs-the-jets-in-2014

On Saturday February 4, the day before Super Bowl LI in Houston, we will find out who the Pro Football Hall of Fame will name to their Class of 2017.

One of the people who might get named to the upcoming class is the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones. Jones is one of two contributor nominees for the Class of 2017. One person who will be rooting for Jones to get a bust in Canton is former Green Bay Packers great Jerry Kramer.

Kramer himself should have been inducted decades ago into the Hall of Fame and until that situation is rectified, there will always be a credibility issue at that venue.

That being said, I talked to Kramer recently and he told me about a brief meeting he had with Jones in Dallas in the early 1990s that he still regrets.

Kramer was at a function in Dallas when the Packers were playing the Cowboys in the NFC playoffs, which the Packers did for three straight years (1993-1995) in Big D.

Anyway, apparently Jones saw Kramer and went to him to say hello and Kramer just kept walking.

Kramer explained how his mindset was working then.

“I had a couple interviews last week where I said some nice things about Jerry,” Kramer said. “I said I thought Jerry was a great owner and has done some great things for the NFL since he has owned the Cowboys.

“I was explaining my ignorance and attitude at that point in time in those interviews. Trying to explain that I was still competing and still fighting against the Cowboys instead of behaving myself like I should have.”

Kramer had reason to be in the competing mode, as he played in two of the most famous NFL title games in NFL history versus the Cowboys in 1966 and 1967.

The 1967 game was especially legendary, as it is better known as the “Ice Bowl” game. It was in this game in which Kramer executed the most famous block in NFL history.

The game was played under brutal conditions, 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 situation came down to this: just 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the Dallas 1-yard line and the Packers trailing the Cowboys 17-14.

Quarterback Bart Starr called a 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, after conferring with coach Vince Lombardi on the sideline, Starr decided to keep the ball due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

That play selection 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. 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 classic block on Pugh (who was high just as Kramer expected) and No. 15 happily tumbled into the end zone for the winning touchdown.

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Those memories stayed strong in the mind of Kramer as he visited Dallas in the 1990s while the Packers took on the Cowboys for the right to move on in the playoffs.

Still, in retrospect, Kramer wishes that he would have been more receptive to Jones in their brief encounter.

Jones has a couple of things in common with Kramer. Besides being named Jerry, Jones also played guard at the University of Arkansas when the Razorbacks won the national title in 1964.

Not only did Jones play guard, but he was also a co-captain and was named All-Southwest Conference because of his play.

While it’s not known for sure, I would wager a bet that one of the players Jones looked up to in the NFL while he was playing guard in college was Kramer. After all, Kramer was considered the best right guard in the NFL at the time and ended up on the All-Decade team of the 1960s, not to mention the NFL 50th anniversary team.

While Arkansas and Jones won the national title in ’64, Green Bay and Kramer won five NFL titles in the 1960s, which included the first two Super Bowls.

And it was the Cowboys under head coach Tom Landry who the Packers under head coach Vince Lombardi defeated in the 1966 and 1967 NFL title games to get to those first two Super Bowls.

Landry, who had coached the Cowboys from their infancy in 1960, was fired by Jones shortly after he purchased the Cowboys in 1989 and replaced by Jimmy Johnson, who was a teammate of Jones on that national championship team at Arkansas in 1964.

Landry had taken the Cowboys to five Super Bowls and had won two of them. Landry also led the Boys to 270 wins (regular season and postseason), which is currently the third-best mark in the history of the NFL.

Although the firing of Landry was not very popular in Dallas at the time, two straight Super Bowl wins under Johnson after the 1992 (Super Bowl XXVII) and 1993 (Super Bowl XXVIII) seasons deflected the anger in Cowboy Nation.

Two years later, the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX, this time under head coach Barry Switzer.

The Cowboys have not been back to a Super Bowl in over 20 years, but Jones has become one of the most powerful owners in the NFL.

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One of his greatest endeavors was getting a new spacious and luxurious home for the Cowboys, which is now called AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The stadium, which was built in 2009, is also called “Jerry World” by some. Back in 2009, it was called Cowboys Stadium, and it was at that venue that the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31- 25.

The Wisconsin Badgers also just won the 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic at that same stadium, when they defeated the then unbeaten Western Michigan Broncos 24-16 on January 2.

“Jerry is a hustler,” Kramer said. “He’s always been a hustler. He’s got that method and that way about him. He’s always talking about his team. To me, that’s sensational. It’s nice to have a love affair like that. It’s nice to have something that is so interesting and important for you to enjoy. Jerry is blessed to have that football team. The Cowboys have been a wonderful thing for him and he’s been a wonderful thing for the Cowboys.

“Bottom line, I’m pulling for Jerry to get into the Hall. I mean, he’s named Jerry and he also played guard. But he’s also good for the NFL, whether you are a Cowboys fan or not.”

A Scout’s Take on the Packers vs. Cowboys NFC Divisional Round Matchup

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When the No. 4 seeded Green Bay Packers take on the No. 1 seeded Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday afternoon in the NFC divisional round, it will be the eighth postseason meeting between the two iconic teams.

That ties the Cowboys with the New York Giants as the two opponents the Packers have played the most in their postseason history.

It all started on January 1, 1967, when the Packers defeated the Cowboys 34-27 in the 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl. Dallas came very close to forcing overtime as the Cowboys were at the 2-yard line of the Packers and had a first and goal situation in the final moments of the game.

But on fourth down, quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys, who was facing heavy pressure from linebacker Dave Robinson of the Packers as he rolled to his right, had his pass in the end zone intercepted by safety Tom Brown with 28 seconds to go, as the Packers escaped with a victory.

Green Bay went on to win Super Bowl I two weeks later on January 15, when they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

Coincidentally, when the Packers and Cowboys meet this Sunday afternoon, it will be on the 50th anniversary of the very first Super Bowl.

The two teams met again in the 1967 NFL title game on December 31, 1967 at Lambeau Field, which is better known as the legendary “Ice Bowl” game.

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.

It came down to this: just 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. Quarterback Bart Starr called a 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, after conferring with head coach Vince Lombardi, Starr decided to keep the ball because of the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line.

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Starr followed right guard Jerry Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh, and he found a hole behind No. 64 to get into the end zone with the winning touchdown, as the Packers won 21-17.

Two weeks later the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II.

The next time the Packers and Cowboys met in the postseason would be in the 1982 postseason, when they played in a NFC second-round playoff game at Texas Stadium on January 16, 1983.

The Packers rolled up 466 total yards in the game, but quarterback Lynn Dickey also threw three interceptions (all made by Dennis Thurman), one of which was a pick-six, as the Cowboys won 37-26.

This game set a trend in the postseason series between the two teams, as the Packers would lose three more games at Texas Stadium to the Cowboys in the 1990s.

The first occurred in the 1993 postseason in a NFC divisional round game on January 16, 1994. Led by three touchdown passes by quarterback Troy Aikman, the Cowboys beat the Packers 27-17. Brett Favre also threw for 331 yards for Green Bay and had two touchdown passes, but it wasn’t enough to beat Dallas.

The Cowboys would go on to win Super Bowl XXVII two weeks later by beating the Buffalo Bills 30-13.

The Packers and Cowboys met again the very next year in another NFC divisional game on January 8, 1995 at Texas Stadium, but Dallas got off to a quick start and never looked back, as the Boys won 35-9. Aikman threw for 337 yards and had one touchdown pass in the game.

The two teams met again a year later, but this time the stakes were higher, as it was the NFC title game, played on January 14, 1996.

The Packers led 27-24 in the fourth quarter, but two Emmitt Smith touchdowns in the fourth frame led to a 38-27 victory by Dallas over Green Bay. Smith rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns, while Favre threw three touchdown passes for the Packers.

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The Cowboys went on to win Super Bowl XXX two weeks later as they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17.

The last time the Packers and Cowboys met in the playoffs was in the 2014 postseason, when Dallas traveled to Lambeau Field. This game had plenty of controversy. The Cowboys were faced with a fourth-and-two at the Green Bay 32-yard line trailing 26-21 with just under five minutes left in the game, when quarterback Tony Romo connected with wide receiver Dez Bryant on a 31-yard pass play to place the ball at the 1-yard line of the Packers.

The play was initially ruled a catch, but after head coach Mike McCarthy of the Packers challenged the play, the pass was ruled incomplete since the replay official deemed that Bryant did not maintain possession when he hit the ground.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns in the Green Bay win.

In the seven games that the Packers and Cowboys have played in the postseason, four times the winner of the game went on to win the Super Bowl.

Although the Packers never fared well at Texas Stadium in the postseason, Green Bay has found the new home venue of the Cowboys to their liking.

The Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV at the stadium, when it was then called Cowboys Stadium. Rodgers threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the game and was named MVP.

The Packers also played at AT&T Stadium versus the Cowboys in the 2013 regular season, when backup quarterback Matt Flynn engineered a stellar comeback against Dallas, as the Packers overcame a 26-3 halftime deficit and shocked the Cowboys 37-36 in a thrilling victory.

The Cowboys became the No. 1 seed in the 2016 NFC playoffs mostly because of the play of two rookies. The rookies are quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

One of those two players will definitely be named the 2016 NFL Rookie of the Year and both are in the discussion for the 2016 NFL MVP award.

In leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the NFC East title, Prescott threw 23 touchdown passes versus just four interceptions for 3,637 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.9. Prescott also rushed for 282 yards and six more scores.

Elliott led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards and he also scored 15 touchdowns. The rookie also caught 32 passes for 363 yards and another score.

Speaking of MVP candidates, Rodgers of the Packers is certainly one. After the Packers stumbled to a 4-6 start in the 2016 regular season, Rodgers led the Packers to six straight wins and the NFC North crown.

Rodgers had another stellar season, as he threw 40 touchdown passes versus just seven picks for 4,428 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.2. Rodgers also ran for 369 yards and had four rushing touchdowns.

In the last seven games of the season, Rodgers threw 18 touchdown passes without throwing a pick for 1,788 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 120.1.

In addition to that, Rodgers was simply marvelous in the 38-13 victory over the Giants at Lambeau Field in the Wild Card playoff game last Sunday, as he threw four touchdown passes without a pick for 362 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 125.2.

The game this Sunday looks to be another classic confrontation between these two storied franchises in the NFL. I wanted to make sure that I was able to get an opinion on the game from one of the very best in his business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I was able to speak with Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show this past Wednesday.

Before Landry gave his take on the game, Duemig interjected and asked me how the Packers would be able to overcome the loss of Nelson. That was an excellent question, at least based on how sorely the team missed Nelson in 2015 when he tore his ACL in the preseason and then how Rodgers and the offense of the Packers struggled at times in the passing game throughout the season without No. 87.

I answered by saying that the Packers would be better off because of the play of Adams, who in my opinion had a breakthrough year in 2016 (75-997-12) and who now would be the No. 1 receiving option on a number of NFL teams.

Coincidentally, Rodgers was asked a similar question at his locker on Wednesday after noon.

“We’re doing a lot of different things than we were last year, a lot of things better,” Rodgers said. “I think our offensive line is playing better. Our scheme has advanced, and we’re getting more contributions from the tight end at this point, and Richard [Rodgers] and Jared [Cook] are making plays for us, and I think we’re a little deeper at receiver now with the emergence of Geronimo [Allison]. Davante [Adams] is a legit receiver in this league, and obviously Randall Cobb, who is established as well.”

It’s also important to know that the 38 points the Packers put on the Giants last week came after Nelson left the game with the rib injury. Rodgers was on fire from late in the second quarter on, as he threw for 362 yards  and four touchdowns.

Adams had eight receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown, while Cobb had five catches for 116 yards and three scores.

Landry then weighed in with his analysis of the game.

“Well, I felt going into last week, that Green Bay would win last week and Green Bay would also beat Dallas this week,” Landry said. “I felt that is was going to be Atlanta hosting Green Bay in the NFC championship game. That was the way I felt before the playoffs started.

“I would feel a little more comfortable with that, had Jordy Nelson didn’t get injured. That’s a big factor. This game to me is pretty simple. If it gets into a shootout, Green Bay is going to win it.

“They [the Packers] have the most talented quarterback in the league. No one, I mean no one, throws the ball outside the pocket better than Aaron Rodgers, ever, in the history of the game. Better than [Fran] Tarkenton. Better than anybody.

“It’s uncanny, and we talk about getting your feet under you and squared away [as a quarterback], this guy does things with his body in unsound ways that just puts it in spots that are unbelievable. He can extend plays as well as he can with his protection.

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“Last week the Giants lost a corner early, I get that, but they still had great cover ability. But you just can’t cover when this guy can run around and scramble. So if it’s a shootout, Green Bay wins.

“But it comes down to this. Dallas wants to make it a short game. To use a basketball analogy, a half court game. They want to run the football. So if they can run the football and keep Green Bay’s defense on the field, and obviously keep Aaron Rodgers off the field, than that’s a big advantage for Dallas.

“To me, it’s look at the style of the game, the flow of the game. It’s two different styles. You have one team which clearly excels one way, while the other in another way. To me, it’s real simple how you deal with that.

“If Dallas can control the football, protect it and not turn it over, and they can keep Green Bay off the field, than it’s a huge advantage and a great chance of shorten it and make it simple. Not succumb to any of the pressure and all that.

“But if they get into a matchup where it’s a shootout, I’m telling you, Green Bay, Atlanta, whoever Dallas plays, they [the Cowboys] will not win a shootout type of game. Because their defense will get exposed. They haven’t been exposed, because Dallas has been able to control the football on the offensive side.

“It’s going to be interesting to see. I like Green Bay’s chances. I liked them better with a healthy Jordy Nelson, but I still think their chances are pretty good. But again, the style is the key as to who is going to win. The style will determine [the winner].”

When the Packers hosted the Cowboys in Week 6 at Lambeau Field, the Packers had the No. 1 run defense in the NFL going into the game. But you wouldn’t have known it, based on the way Elliott ran that day. Elliott rushed for 157 yards that day (a 5.61 average) and just kept gashing the Green Bay Front 7.

I asked Landry how he thought defensive coordinator Dom Capers would try and stop the run in this game.

“Well, they have to load the front, there’s no question,” Landry said. “They are going to play some more Bear fronts. I think that they are going to be very aggressive bringing in an extra guy in the box. Particularly on early downs. Force them into the air and that’s where Dallas will have to make plays.

“I think if Dallas is going to have success throwing the football, as they can, it will be because they [the Packers] will have removed the safety out of the middle of the field. And they are going to have one on one on the outside, outside of the hashes. Plus they will be able to work the middle of the field to [Jason] Witten.

“Again, the run game will dictate it. There can be big plays by Dallas in the passing game, but that will be because the Packers are overplaying for the run. You have to stop the run. If you don’t stop the run, you have no shot. And if you can, you have to hope that maybe you can create enough pressure and force enough bad throws where you can make enough plays on the back end.

“You just can’t let them [the Cowboys] get into a rhythm in the running game. You are going to have to switch things up a little bit. But again, you are going to have to crowd the front most of the day.”

Bottom line, the game between the Packers and Cowboys looks to be a classic battle between two teams who will attempt to try and impose their will versus their opponent.

Which ever team accomplishes that goal will be playing in the 2016 NFC title game.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Boyd Dowler

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Once again, the Green Bay Packers will be hosting the New York Giants at Lambeau Field in the postseason. Sunday’s late-afternoon game will be the fourth time the G-Men have played in the historic stadium on Lombardi Avenue in win or go-home scenario.

The Packers have lost the last two times (2007 and 2011 postseason) quarterback Eli Manning and his Giants have come to Lambeau, but it was a different story when the Packers hosted the Giants for the 1961 NFL title game at the stadium which was then called City Stadium.

That game was the first time the city of Green Bay had ever hosted a championship game. In that contest, the Packers dominated the Giants and won going away 37-0. It would be the first of five NFL titles that the Packers would win under head coach Vince Lombardi.

Halfback/kicker Paul Hornung was the big star in the game, as he scored 19 points just by himself in this championship setting. Another player who played a key role in the game was wide receiver Boyd Dowler.

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Dowler caught three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown in the game. The Packers were fortunate to have Hornung and Dowler play in that championship game, as well as middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, as all three were activated as military reservists by the Department of Defense because of the escalation of the Cold War in 1961.

I wrote about that scenario in a story which talks about how the friendship between Lombardi and President John F. Kennedy helped to make sure that all three of those players were eligible to play in the NFL championship game.

The Packers won that title game and Titletown was born.

But it was just the first of five titles for the Packers under Lombardi, which included the first two Super Bowls. Dowler played a big role in a number of those games.

Besides the touchdown pass he caught in the 1961 NFL title game, Dowler also had four more pass-reception scores in the postseason, which includes two in the legendary “Ice Bowl” game versus the Dallas Cowboys on New Year’s Eve in 1967.

Two weeks after that classic game, Dowler also caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from Bart Starr in Super Bowl II, when the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

It was a different story for Dowler however in Super Bowl I. Just two weeks before that game in the 1966 NFL title game in Dallas, No. 86 had caught 16-yard touchdown pass from Starr in the third quarter, when he was upended by safety Mike Gaechter of the Cowboys a number of yards into the end zone.

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It’s been assumed that the cheap-shot by Gaechter injured the shoulder of Dowler as he crashed to the surface of the end zone. Actually, that is not the case. After talking to Dowler, I have learned that he had a calcium deposit on his right shoulder and was playing through that injury the entire 1966 season. Dowler first injured the shoulder in the 1965 season.

The flip that Dowler took after Gaechter low-cut him did not injure his shoulder. But No. 86 did further injure his shoulder blocking Johnny Robinson of the Chiefs early in Super Bowl I, which caused Dowler to miss the rest of the game and later have the shoulder operated on that offseason.

That opened the door for the entrance of Max McGee as his replacement, as No. 85 had a banner game with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Dowler was an imposing receiver at 6’5″ and 224 pounds. When No. 86 available to play, he was a clutch performer, both in the regular season and the postseason.

In his 11-year career with the Packers, Dowler had 448 receptions for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. In the postseason, Dowler also had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores.

In his rookie year in 1959, Dowler was named Rookie of the Year by UPI (United Press International). The former Colorado star was also named to two Pro Bowls in his career.

In addition to that, Dowler was named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade team, plus was named to the second team on the NFL’s 50 Anniversary team.

In 1978, Dowler was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

I had a chance to talk about Dowler with Jerry Kramer recently and he told me why he fit in so well and so quickly with the Packers.

“Boyd was a mature kid,” Kramer said. “He understood the game and what we were doing and he was just a bit ahead of most rookies. I think his father coaching him played a part in that.”

Dowler played under his dad at Cheyenne High School in Wyoming.

After high school, Dowler went to play college ball at  Colorado, where he did everything for the Buffaloes except sell programs in the stands.

Kramer talked about that scenario.

“Boyd was a very talented athlete,” Kramer said. “He led Colorado in passing, running, receiving and punting. But when you think about that, how the hell could you lead the team in both passing and receiving? You can’t throw to yourself! But Boyd told me that he played in a single-wing offense at Colorado and sometimes he threw the ball and sometimes he caught the ball.”

Dowler was strictly a receiver in Green Bay, as he never threw a pass and had just two rushes for 28 yards in his career as a Packer. But Dowler did share punting duties with McGee from 1960 through 1962, when his punting average was 43 yards a punt.

Dowler also punted once in 1969, which was his final season in Green Bay. After becoming an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Rams in 1970, Dowler became a player-coach for the Washington Redskins in 1971, when he had 26 catches for 352 yards.

Dowler stayed on as a coach for the Redskins through 1972 and then later became an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles (1973-1975), Cincinnati Bengals (1976-1979) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1980-1984).

Kramer also talked about another important attribute that Dowler had.

“I think Boyd’s confidence was one of the big reasons why he was accepted so quickly and completely,” Kramer said. “There were no excuses from Boyd. If he screwed something up, he would be the guy to tell you. But he very seldom screwed things up and made very few mistakes.”

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That confidence led to a memorable scene in Cheyenne one night that Kramer heard about from Dowler.

“There is this wonderful story about Boyd racing a quarter horse down the street in Cheyenne,” Kramer said. “Boyd was at this bar and this guy was talking about how his quarter horse could start so quick. Boyd told the guy that he could beat the horse in a short race like 50 feet.

“The guy didn’t believe Boyd, so they ended betting several hundred dollars to have a race between Boyd and the horse. So Boyd went home and got his running shoes and sure enough beat the horse in that short race in Cheyenne!”

When it came to playing big in big games, Kramer certainly could relate to that. All one has to do is look at the performances by Kramer in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 NFL title games.

No. 64 had a huge role in all of those championship victories by the Packers.

But as I mentioned earlier, Dowler quietly did the same thing in championship games as Kramer explained.

“Boyd was always there and always capable in big games,” Kramer said. “He was almost invisible. Like the two touchdowns that he had in the “Ice Bowl” game. He just did that very quietly and very professionally.

“He just scored his touchdown and handed the ball to the official. Sans a dance, he just went to the sidelines. He was just Boyd doing his job. He was always in his position and where he supposed to be.  He was also available too. He also rarely dropped a pass. If the ball was near him, he almost always caught it.”

As I related in a recent story about Fuzzy Thurston, Kramer related to me that he, Thurston and Dowler used to go out together quite often after practice. They called themselves, the Three Muskepissers.

Kramer talked about how that scenario used to go down.

“Fuzzy and Boyd would start the festivities early,” Kramer said. “I would go golfing or something and then catch up with them later. I wouldn’t start with them. I couldn’t keep up with them. So I would wait to around 6:00 and then I would track them down  and hang out with them for the rest of the evening.”

Kramer then had some final thoughts about his friend Dowler.

“Boyd not only had a great grasp of the game, but his execution was also phenomenal,” Kramer said. “I don’t believe Boyd made a mistake a year. He was always aware of the situation and he was about as steady as they come when he played with us.”