In the offseason preceding the 1965 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers made two very important acquisitions. Head coach Vince Lombardi, who was also the general manager of the team, first traded a draft pick to the New York Giants for kicker/punter Don Chandler and then also dealt linebacker Dan Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.
Both Chandler and Dale were key contributors for the Packers from 1965 through 1967, when the team won three straight NFL championships, plus the first two Super Bowl games.
Dale recalled the moment he heard about the trade, as he talked with me earlier this week.
“I was working in Bristol, Tennessee for a sporting goods company,” Dale said. “I happened to be in a small town called Galax, Virginia staying at a motel. The local coach knew what motel I was staying in called me and said that my picture was in the Roanoke paper. I asked why. He said, ‘You’ve been traded to the Green Bay Packers.’
Dale knew that his fortunes were about to change, as the Rams had never had a winning season in the five years that he had played with Los Angeles, plus was 2-7-1 versus the Packers in that time.
“We were in the same conference as the Packers when I was with the Rams,” Dale said. “We played them twice a year and were very familiar with them. I was aware that the Packers had won the NFL championship in 1961 and 1962.”
With the Packers, Dale saw a couple of familiar faces who had gotten to know while he was with the Rams.
“It just so happened that (quarterback) Zeke Bratkowski and (offensive ends coach) Tom Fears had both preceded me to Green Bay,” Dale said. “I’m sure that they put in a good word for me with Coach Lombardi.
“It was like Christmas for me when I heard the news that I was traded. I grew up in a small town and with Green Bay being the smallest town in the league, it was right down my alley.
“But because the Packers were winners and a contenders is really what counted most. I was thrilled with the opportunity.”
Dale started his NFL career in 1960 with the Rams, after being drafted out of Virginia Tech, where he was an All-American receiver and where the school has retired his No. 84 number.
From 1960 through 1964, Dale, who went 6’2″ and 200 pounds when he played, caught 149 passes for 2,663 yards (a 17.9 yards per catch average) and 17 touchdowns for the Rams.
Lombardi made the trade to acquire Dale because wide receiver Max McGee was aging and also to give quarterback Bart Starr a deep threat in the passing game.
“You know, back then in the league, when a receiver got to be 33 or 34, your career was close to being over because of your legs,” Dale said. “That was kind of the thinking until guys like Jerry Rice proved them wrong.
“The thinking was that Max had hit that age, plus the Packers had also drafted Bob Long in 1964. So in ’65, because Boyd (6’5″, 225) and Max (6’3”, 220) were bigger guys and better blockers, they played X end or split end, while Bob and I played flanker. Still, we all knew each other’s assignments in case someone got hurt.
“In terms of starting, I pulled a muscle in the front of my leg in an exhibition game. It wasn’t as bad as a hamstring pull, but you really couldn’t stride. So for a game or two I didn’t start. But then we played Detroit that year, and either Boyd or Max was hurt and I was healthy then, so I played at X end.
“I had one of my better games while I was in Green Bay against the Lions and caught a 77-yard touchdown or something and made some key blocks. So after the game on the plane ride to Green Bay, Coach Lombardi came up to me and told me I had my starting job back. I pretty much started at flanker the rest of my career in Green Bay.”
The 1965 season was a turning point for the Packers in terms of getting back to championship-style play. It certainly was for right guard Jerry Kramer, who was trying to come back after missing most of the 1964 season due to intestinal issues.
Kramer had nine medical procedures to resolve the situation, which included removing 16 inches of Kramer’s colon due to a boyhood accident in which a number of large slivers were in his intestine for 11 years.
But thanks to hard work and the assistance of Chandler during training camp, Kramer earned his starting job back at right guard, which happened ironically in the same Detroit game in which Dale got his job back.
The ’65 season started out well enough for the Packers, as they won their first six games of the season. But in the middle of the season, the offense sputtered, as the team scored just 36 points in four games.
But thanks to the fabulous defense by the Packers, the team went 2-2 in those four games. Still, when it was all said and done, the Packers were ranked 12th in total offense for the year. Fortunately, the defense was ranked 3rd, which is a big reason why the Packers finished 10-3-1 and tied the Baltimore Colts for the Western Conference crown.
For the first time since 1959, fullback Jim Taylor did not run for over 1,000 yards. Starr spread the ball around in the passing game, as Dowler led the team with 44 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns, while Dale added 20 receptions for 382 yards and two scores.
Dale came up big in the postseason however. In the Western Conference title game at Lambeau Field versus the Colts, No. 84 had three catches for 63 yards, one which set up the game-winning field goal by Chandler in OT, as the Packers won 13-10.
Dale caught all three passes from Bratkowski, as Starr injured his ribs on the very first play from scrimmage trying to make a tackle after Don Shinnick recovered a fumble by tight end Bill Anderson and scored a touchdown.
I also talked to Bratkowski this week and he gave me his thoughts on Dale.
“I knew Carroll when I was with the Rams,” Bratkowski said. “I knew the quality receiver that he was, as well the quality of person he was. He was the leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He helped to bring the speakers in.
“Carroll was a hard working, smart football player. He was very humble. Carroll was not selfish at all. He also loved to hunt. He and I would go hunting west of town to hunt grouse on Mondays.
“I can’t say enough positive things about him because he was such a great team player.”
In the 1965 NFL title game also at Lambeau Field versus the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns, Starr was able to return and once again Dale came up big.
Dale caught two passes for 60 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown. Dowler also caught five passes for 59 yards, but it was the Green Bay ground game that dominated the contest.
Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung combined for 201 yards toting the rock and No. 5 scored the last touchdown of the game as the Packers won their third NFL title under Lombardi 23-12.
I also had the opportunity to talk to Dowler this week and he talked about the arrival of Dale from the Rams prior to the ’65 season.
“When Carroll came over, I think everybody figured that he came into replace Max,” Dowler said. “Max was pretty old at the time. But Max played pretty good for a long, long time. But when Carroll came in, he got most of the playing time over Max.
“But later in the ’65 season, Coach Lombardi wanted to get Max in the game because we weren’t getting a lot of production from Marvin [Fleming]. And that’s no knock on Marvin, because he was a wonderful blocker, but not much of a receiving threat.
“So what Coach Lombardi did was put me at the tight end position, because I used to run plays from the next week’s opposing team at practice and I would be John Mackey from the Colts or Mike Ditka from the Bears.
“Coach Lombardi asked me late in the year if I wanted to play the tight end position on passing plays so we could put Max in my old spot outside. I told him that I would love it. The very first time we tried that maneuver against the Colts, I caught a third down pass for a first down and then later a touchdown pass from the tight end position. We did that quite often for the next four years at times, but it isn’t talked about a lot.”
Dowler then talked about what Dale brought to the team as a receiver.
“Max and I were kind of the same type of guy,” Dowler said. “We were big and maybe a little stronger and maneuverable over the middle of the field. Carroll was outstanding running full speed down the field and looking back for the ball. I believe Carroll’s average yards per catch is close to 20 yards a catch. Maybe 19.8.”
Dowler has a magnificent memory, as Dale’s yards per catch average is actually 19.72 yards per catch, which is best in the history of the Packers. That tells you a lot with receivers like Don Hutson and James Lofton also playing with the Packers during their Pro Football Hall of Fame careers.
“Carroll gave us more of a long ball threat than Max and I,” Dowler said. “Carroll was special. He ran under the ball and was natural at finding the football on deep passes. He had a natural and smooth stride when he ran.”
In 1966, Dale led the Packer receivers in catches with 37 for 876 yards (23.7 average) and seven touchdowns. Starr was also the NFL MVP that year, as the passing game became a bigger emphasis on offense for the Packers, as the team finished 12-2.
Later that year, when the Packers made it to the NFL championship game again versus the Dallas Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl, Dale showed off the deep threat attributes that Dowler was talking about, when he caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Starr as the Packers won 34-27.
After the victory over the Cowboys, the Packers would be facing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Packers won 35-10, as Starr was the game’s MVP and it was McGee who had the huge game at receiver taking over for an injured Dowler.
While No. 85 had seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, Dale also chipped in with four catches for 59 yards. Dale also had a touchdown pass taken off the board after a phantom illegal motion penalty was called.
“Yes, the TD was for 60-plus yards and was fairly early in the game,” Dale said. “They called motion, but when we looked at the film, we couldn’t see anyone who moved. Maybe they were trying to keep the game close.”
In 1967, the Packers did what had never been done before or never been done since. That is win three straight NFL titles in the playoff era which started in 1933.
But what a difficult ride it was. The ’67 Packers were a team without Taylor and Hornung for the first time. Plus, the guys who replaced them, fullback Jim Grabowski and halfback Elijah Pitts, were both lost for the season in the same game against Baltimore midway through the season.
Starr was also nicked up at the beginning of the year, as Bratkowski had to start at QB in both the fourth and fifth games of the season.
In addition to that, the Packers had two heartbreaking losses on the road to both the Colts and the Rams in the final seconds of those games.
Still, the Packers persevered. Two weeks after losing to the Rams in Los Angeles, the Packers met the Rams again in Milwaukee for the Western Conference title. After a bit of a slow start, Green Bay dominated, as the final score was 28-7.
Dale caught a postseason touchdown pass for the third consecutive year, as he caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Starr, plus almost had another as he was tackled just short of the end zone on a 48-yard pass reception. All in all, Dale had six catches for 109 yards and a score in the game.
Eight days later came the “Ice Bowl” game versus the Cowboys at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
The game came down to an epic drive by the Packers, as they had to drive 68 yards in 4:50 across a frozen field which resembled an ice skating rink trailing 17-14.
The Packers got off to a quick start in the game, as they went ahead on two Starr touchdown passes to Dowler. But a 14-0 lead was turned into a 17-14 deficit after a Dan Reeves option pass to Lance Rentzel on the first play of the 4th quarter.
But the Packers were able to put together the signature drive of the Lombardi era, as Starr was able to sneak behind a classic block by Kramer on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh to score the game-winning touchdown.
In the game, Dale had three catches for 44 yards.
The Packers then went on to win Super Bowl II 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Starr was once again MVP of the game. Dowler had two catches for 71 yards and a score, while Dale had four receptions for 43 yards.
McGee wasn’t quite as dynamic in Super Bowl II as he was in Super Bowl I, but he did make a fabulous 35-yard catch on a play-action pass from Starr.
Which was apropos for the Packers under Lombardi. On countless occasions, Starr completed big passing plays on third and short when the defense was expecting a run from the Green Bay vaunted running game.
“Coach Lombardi had a philosophy of taking what the defense gave us,” Dale said. “If the defense loaded up the box on a third and short, Bart had a knack for taking advantage of that with a play-action pass for big yardage or even a touchdown.
“If you look at our games, we took what they gave us. I might have a game where I catch five or six passes and score a couple of touchdowns and they might double cover me the next week. And under Lombardi, you never threw to a double covered receiver, otherwise Coach would go nuts.
“That was our philosophy. Just take a look at Super Bowl I or the “Ice Bowl”, you see Bart call the play-action 36 post play and it almost always worked. That was a great play. It just held everybody for a second when they saw the blocking coming.”
After the 1967 season, McGee retired and Dale went on to be named to three straight Pro Bowl squads from 1968 through 1970.
Dale stayed on with the Packers through the 1972 season, when Green Bay won the NFC Central title under head coach and general manager Dan Devine. Dale was one of three starters remaining from the Lombardi era teams, along with center Ken Bowman and outside linebacker Dave Robinson. There was also middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, but he was a backup to Jim Carter.
Dale talked about that ’72 team.
“Well, at least we got into the playoffs,” Dale said. “And as I mentioned earlier, Coach Lombardi would always take what they gave you, but that wasn’t the case under Coach Devine when we played the Washington Redskins in the playoffs.
“We went into Washington with a game plan that never changed. They put eight in the box and even though we had two great running backs, the ground game never got going. Eight people can outplay six or seven. I tried to get them to change things up, but nothing changed.”
I also heard from some very good sources that Bart Starr, who was the quarterbacks coach under Devine, also tried to get Devine to change things up and pass more. But it never happened and the Packers lost 16-3, as the Redskins completely shut down the Green Bay running attack.
Devine told Dale that he wanted him to return to the Packers in 1973 and continue to be a veteran leader, but Dale was ultimately cut from the team by Devine and was soon picked up by Bud Grant and the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings went on to Super Bowl VIII, but lost to the Miami Dolphins 24-7.
Dale retired after the 1973 season and what a career he had. Overall, with the Rams, Packers and Vikings, Dale had 438 receptions for 8,277 yards (18.9 average) and 52 touchdowns. In Green Bay alone, Dale had 275 catches for 5,422 yards (19.7 average) and 35 TDs.
Because of his great production on the field, Dale was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1979.
The honors didn’t end there either for Dale. He is also in Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
Looking back on the legacy he has left behind, especially about his time in Green Bay, Dale is certainly thankful.
“Well, it was a great time for me in Green Bay,” Dale said. “It was like having your first car or first bicycle. Winning that first championship in ’65 after all the losing in Los Angeles was fantastic.
“Just being part of that team was just awesome. And also to win three NFL championships in a row was really something. The memories of my time in Green Bay are truly unforgettable!”