Remembering Zeke Bratkowski: A Gracious, Kind and Cordial Gentleman

Zeke and Coach Lombardi in Baltimore

Next to the hundreds of conversations that I have had over the years with Jerry Kramer, the former Green Bay Packer who I talked to the most was Zeke Bratkowski.

Like Jerry, Zeke always had time for me. He was never short with me and was always very nice. Zeke was the epitome of being a gracious, kind and cordial gentleman. And also like Jerry, our conversations would run close to an hour.

We talked about a number of subjects and not just football either, seeing as we both called Florida home and the hurricane season can get interesting.

In terms of football, we talked about Bratkowski growing up in Illinois, being an All-American at Georgia, being drafted by the Chicago Bears and being coached by George Halas, being in the Air Force with Max McGee when his NFL career was interrupted for a couple of years, being traded to the Los Angeles Rams, being signed as a free agent by the Packers in 1963 and being the best backup quarterback in the NFL behind starter Bart Starr under the tutelage of head coach Vince Lombardi.

The relationship with Starr led to a life-long friendship. That over 50-year bond often saw the two of them and their wives getting together for the rest of their lives.

Zeke passed away yesterday at the age of 88, less than six months after his good buddy Bart passed on.

I can see Starr and Bratkowski on the spiritual practice field now with their former teammates like Henry Jordan, Ron Kostelnik, Dave “Hawg” Hanner, Lionel Aldridge, Ray Nitschke, Lee Roy Caffey, Dan Currie, Jesse Whittenton and Hank Gremminger facing them on defense.

On offense they are marching down the field with the likes of McGee, Ron Kramer, Jim Ringo, Fuzzy Thurston, Forrest Gregg, Gale Gillingham, Bob Skoronski, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams and Jim Taylor.

I also see both Bart and Zeke holding for Don Chandler while he attempts extra points and field goals.

And yes, the whole time Coach Lombardi will be shouting out his emphatic verbiage for the players as the practice takes place.

After practice, Max and Fuzzy will be cracking jokes in the locker room, as per usual.

Finally, I see both Bart and Zeke in the quarterback’s meeting room with Coach Lombardi as they study the next opponent for the Packers. That was always an enlightening and enjoyable time.

Yes, Zeke and I talked about his former teammates who passed on, especially his best friend Bart, as well as his Air Force and golfing buddy Max.

We also talked about the two icons he played under in the NFL, Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi.

When it came to the Packers of recent years, Zeke definitely followed the team. We talked about Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Mike McCarthy, Matt LaFleur, Ted Thompson, Brian Gutekunst and Mark Murphy.

Zeke and Bart

We also talked about the time he was an assistant coach under Starr in 1979 and the team came very close to drafting Joe Montana.

Zeke loved being a Packer, both as a player and a coach. He certainly appreciated the magnificent fan base known as Packer Nation.

When he backed up Starr, he led the Packers to a number of wins after No. 15 was injured. Nothing was more important than the victory he led the Packers to in the 1965 NFL Western Conference title game.

That was when No. 12 brought Green Bay back from a 10-0 deficit to the Baltimore Colts at Lambeau Field, as the Packers won 13-10 in overtime.

Bratkowski only started three games under Lombardi in Green Bay and was 2-1 in those three games.

But in 1966, the year Starr was named NFL MVP, Bratkowski came in to relieve an injured Starr to beat da Bears and Halas at Lambeau and also to beat the Colts in Baltimore to win the Western Conference title.

Zeke and the O-Line in Baltimore

Bratkowski was honored for his play with the Packers by being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1989.

Yes, I’m going to miss talking to Zeke. I still will talk with Jerry and with Don Horn and Boyd Dowler, who I also have friendships with. The one thing I know from talking to guys like Zeke, Jerry, Don, Boyd and others like Willie Davis, Dave Robinson, Chuck Mercein, Donny Anderson, Jim Grabowski, Carroll Dale, Doug Hart and Bob Hyland, is that their demeanor certainly stemmed from their time with Coach Lombardi.

He taught them to be the best they could be on the field, as well as the best they could be off the field.

Coach Lombardi would be proud of every one of those gentlemen and what they all accomplished.

But most of all, he would be proud of how well they treat other people.

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Nobody is a better example in that regard than Zeke Bratkowski.

God bless you, Zeke. Rest in peace, my friend.

The Fantastic Blocking Sequence That Jerry Kramer Didn’t Remember

Jerry on a knee

When it came to making some great blocks in his Pro Football Hall of Fame career, Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers had many. The two most obvious ones occurred in the postseason.

One was in the 1965 NFL title game in Green Bay, when the Packers hosted the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns. The block occurred in the third quarter when Kramer swept left and first hit the middle linebacker with a block and then went outside to get a cornerback. Halfback Paul Hornung utilized Kramer’s blocks perfectly as he scored his last championship touchdown on a 13-yard run, as the Packers ended up winning 23-12.

The other one is maybe the most famous block in NFL history, as the Packers hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game. Kramer put a classic wedge block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, which allowed Bart Starr to shuffle right of No. 64 and score the winning touchdown with 13 seconds left on a quarterback sneak from one yard out, as Green Bay prevailed 21-17.

Earlier in the 1967 season, Kramer had one of the five best blocks of his career, at least according to the former Idaho Vandal star. The block (actually a number of blocks on one play) came against the Chicago Bears in the second game of the season at Lambeau Field.

Kramer knew all about the rivalry with da Bears, as head coach Vince Lombardi always had his team up versus head coach George Halas and his Monsters of the Midway.

Lombardi was always thinking the Halas had some spies watching the Packers practice.

“We would be practicing and Coach would see a lineman on a power pole a couple of blocks away doing electrical work,” Kramer said. “And Coach would go, ‘There’s one of Halas’ spies! Somebody go down there and check out that guy!’

Lombardi also had other ways to help hinder any spy tactics of Halas.

“At practice, Bart would wear No. 75 at times,” Kramer said chuckling. “We would change our numbers and everyone would wear a different number to confuse the spies of the Bears. Like Halas was going to think an offensive tackle is playing quarterback for us.”

Lombardi was always primed to play the Bears and he let his team know about as well.

“We were practicing on day before playing the Bears and Coach Lombardi brought us together,” Kramer said. “Coach said, ‘You guys go out and kick the Bears’ ass. And I’ll go out and kick old man Halas’ ass too.’

So when the Packers hosted the Bears on September 24, 1967, odds were that it would end up being a very physical game, which is exactly the way it turned out to be.

The Packers ended up winning 13-10, but it wasn’t easy. The team rushed for 233 yards, led by fullback Jim Grabowski, who rushed for 111 yards on 32 carries. No. 33 also had a rushing touchdown.

But Starr was obviously playing hurt, which was evidenced by the five interceptions he threw. This came a week after No. 15 threw four picks against the Detroit Lions in the season opener.

The game was so physical that Kramer didn’t even finish out the first half, as he suffered a concussion in the second quarter and was replaced by his old running mate, Fuzzy Thurston.

No. 63 had lost his starting left guard spot to second-year lineman Gale Gillingham after he had suffered a knee injury in an early scrimmage in training camp.

Kramer didn’t recall much about the game, except remembering seeing two or three Bears being carried off the field in the second half.

When Kramer came back to see the film of the game two days later with his teammates under the supervision and prodding by his head coach, he recalled Lombardi coming up to him just before the film study began.

Jerry Kramer Closeup

Lombardi said, “Boy, you came out there on one block and knocked the halfback down and went on and knocked the end down. You were just great. One of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen.”

Kramer had no memory of the play. The first time he saw it was watching film. I talked with Kramer recently and he gave me a rundown of that play.

“I was pulling and got the halfback first,” Kramer said. “I kept heading upfield and and was able to hit two other defensive players before I ended up hitting the left defensive end who was pursuing across the field.

“The block on the defensive end happened about 10 yards downfield. He was coming across the field and I was coming up the field. So his body position was not a position of strength. So as he ran toward me and in front of me, he tried to engage me. His position was very bad for that.

“I ended up knocking him about five yards through the air.”

It’s no wonder that Coach Lombardi was so impressed.

Green Bay Packers: Why Lavvie Dilweg Deserves to be Considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

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Anyone who knows the history of the NFL has heard the names of people like George Halas, Curly Lambeau, Harold “Red” Grange, Jim Thorpe and Ernie Nevers. All of them were part of the NFL All-Decade team of the 1920s.

Yes, Halas and Lambeau were very good football players besides being icons as a head coaches.

That group of players who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame were joined by Guy Chamberlin, Ed Healey, Wilbur “Pete” Henry, Cal Hubbard, Steve Owen, Walt Kiesling, Mike Michalske, George Trafton, Jimmy Conzelman, John “Paddy” Driscoll and Joe Guyon.

They were also named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 1920s.

Almost that entire team has a bust of themselves in Canton. All except for two players. One is LaVern “Lavvie” Dilweg (first-team selection) of the Green Bay Packers, and the other is Hunk Anderson (second-team selection) of the Chicago Bears (who played only four years in the NFL).

Dilweg was considered the best two-way end of his day. Yes, many players played both offense and defense back in the day in the NFL. That continued into the 1950s.

When Dilweg played, the ground game was basically the way the game was played in the NFL. Yes, there were many, many instances of “three yards and a cloud of dust” back in the early days of the NFL.

But that style of play served Dilweg well, as he was considered a ferocious blocker, as well as the best receiving end of his day.

His stats aren’t overwhelming by today’s standards, but they were considered the best in the years he played. Dilweg had 123 receptions for 2,069 yards (16.3 yards-per-catch average) and 12 touchdown receptions.

In fact, even though the ball wasn’t thrown often in the NFL back then in what they call the pre-modern era, Dilweg had better numbers than Halas, Chamberlin, Bill Hewitt, Red Badgro, Ray Flaherty and Wayne Millner.

Everyone of those players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Dilweg for some reason is not.

The only pre-modern player who Dilweg didn’t outperform at offensive end was a fellow who came to Green Bay the year after Dilweg retired. That would be Don Hutson, who joined the Packers in 1935. Hutson obliterated receiving records once he came into the NFL.

Dilweg started his NFL career with the Milwaukee Badgers in 1926 after graduating from Marquette University with a law degree, and then finished his career with the Packers from 1927 through 1934.

During that time, Dilweg played on three consecutive NFL title teams (1929, 1930 & 1931), plus was named All-Pro six times. There was no Pro Bowl back then.

Of all the players who played offensive end in the NFL, the six times that Dilweg was named All-Pro was the second-best mark in the NFL from 1920 through 1960. Only Hutson topped him with 10 All-Pro honors.

Lavvie Dilweg

Besides being a stud on offense, Dilweg was just as good on defense. No. 22 had 27 career interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Besides making big plays via the pick, Dilweg was also a fierce tackler.

Grange, who was also known as “The Galloping Ghost” said of Dilweg, “I have always said Dilweg is the greatest end who ever brought me down.’’

After his career with the Packers and the NFL was over, Dilweg became a very successful attorney, as well as becoming a Congressman in the U.S House of Representatives for Wisconsin’s 8th district for two years.

Dilweg’s grandson Anthony played quarterback for the Packers for two seasons in 1989 and 1990.

Dilweg died in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1968 at the age of 64.

Dilweg became a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1970 and now needs to join another prestigious Hall of Fame.

It would be fitting that Dilweg is named to 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, as it is expected that several seniors will be inducted that year, as the NFL celebrates it’s centennial season.

Dilweg was one of the big stars in the NFL almost 100 years ago and he deserves a bust among the best of the best in Canton along with the great players of his day.

I know you wouldn’t get an argument from Red Grange.

Starr, Favre and Rodgers Have Been Instrumental in the Packers Series Lead vs. the Bears

Bart, Brett and Aaron(1)

Before Brett Favre arrived in Green Bay in 1992, the series between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, which first started in 1921, was lopsided.

The Bears held a commanding 79-58-6 series lead over the Packers going into the 1992 season.

That was the record then, even with Vince Lombardi as head coach of the Packers, when he was going up against George Halas from 1959 through 1967. During his tenure, Lombardi’s Packers were 13-5 versus “Papa Bear” and da Bears.

The Packers also won five NFL championships under Lombardi, which included the first two Super Bowls. Halas and his Bears also won a NFL title in that era, as Chicago won it all in 1963.

The Lombardi era certainly helped the Packers to gain some ground in the series against the Bears.

The MVP of Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II was Bart Starr. Starr had some great moments against the Bears and was 12-3 against Chicago with Lombardi as his head coach. In all, No. 15 was 15-5 in his career versus da Bears as a starter.

And it was against the Bears that Starr showed Lombardi and his teammates in 1960 (when Starr was splitting time with Lamar McHan at QB) that he was the man to lead them to greatness at quarterback.

Jerry Kramer related that story to me in one of our many conversations.

“We were playing the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. “Bill George was their middle linebacker at the time. On a deep pass attempt, George thought he would try to intimidate Bart.

“Bill took about a five-yard run and he gave Bart a forearm right in the mouth. George timed it perfectly and put Bart right on his behind. He also cut Bart badly, from his lip all the way to his nose. After that, George said, ‘That ought to take care of you Starr, you pu**y.’ Bart snapped right back at George and said, ‘F— you, Bill George, we’re coming after you.’

“My jaw dropped after that exchange, as I was shocked. Meanwhile Bart was bleeding profusely. I told Bart that he better go to the sideline and get sewn up. Bart replied, ‘Shut up and get in the huddle.’

“Bart took us down the field in seven or eight plays and we scored. That series of plays really solidified Bart as our leader and we never looked back.”

Bart vs. da Bears

In all, Starr was also the NFL MVP in 1966, plus was 94-57-6 as a starting quarterback with the Packers. In addition to that, No. 15 was an amazing 9-1 in the postseason, which included five NFL championships (including three titles in a row) and victories in the first two Super Bowls.

Still, before the arrival of Favre, the Packers chances of ever catching the Bears in their series seemed very remote. But in 16 years in Green Bay, Favre had a 22-10 record against Chicago.

Overall, Favre had a fantastic career in Green Bay, as he had 160 wins over 16 seasons, with 96 of those wins occurring at Lambeau Field (.762 winning percentage).

The former Southern Miss gunslinger also started 253 straight games (275 including the postseason) for the Pack in his career, plus Green Bay won the NFC Central/North seven times.

Favre also threw 442 touchdown passes for 61,655 yards while he was a Packer and also won three straight NFL MVP awards in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

And like it was with Starr, the Packers were regulars in the postseason under Favre, as the Packers went there 11 times under Favre.

The biggest prize of them all was the victory in Super Bowl XXXI.

Favre’s most memorable win against the Bears had to be on Halloween night at Soldier Field in 1994. That was the night that the Bears were retiring the jerseys of both Dick Butkus (No.51) and Gale Sayers (No. 40), plus both Green Bay and Chicago were wearing their throwback jerseys.

It was a scary night weather-wise, as the temperature was in the low 40s on a very windy and rainy night. It was raining sideways for awhile as a matter of fact. Favre didn’t have his best night throwing in those conditions, even with his strong arm, but he did throw for 82 yards and one touchdown, without throwing a pick.

It was Favre’s legs that made the difference in the game though, as he rushed for 58 yards on just two carries, including a memorable 36-yard touchdown scamper. The Packers as a team ran for 223 yards, which was very Lombardi-like.

But in his career, Favre always seemed to throw well against Chicago. In 1995, playing with a heavily-wrapped ankle, Favre threw five touchdown passes against the Bears in a 35-28 win at Lambeau Field.

In 1993 at Soldier Field, Favre threw for 402 yards, which was the first and only time he threw for 400 yards in his Green Bay career. It was also at Soldier Field in 1995, when Favre completed a 99-yard touchdown pass to Robert Brooks in a 27-24 victory.

Brett vs. da Bears

Aaron Rodgers took over for Favre in 2008 and he has truly been a Bear-killer, as he has a 16-4 record against Chicago in the regular season, plus beat da Bears at Soldier Field in the 2010 NFC title game.

The numbers that Rodgers has put up against Chicago have just been amazing. In 20 regular season games against the Bears, Rodgers has thrown 45 touchdown passes versus just nine interceptions for 4,882 yards. That adds up to a very robust passer rating of 108.3.

The first game of the 2018 season against Chicago on Sunday night at Lambeau Field added more to his legend against the Monsters of the Midway. In that game, Rodgers suffered a knee sprain that saw the quarterback leave the field on a cart in the second quarter.

But No. 12 returned in the second half, basically playing on one leg. And what a performance he put on! The Packers were down 20-3 , when Rodgers brought the Packers back.

Rodgers threw three touchdown passes without a pick in a stirring comeback as the Packers won 24-23.

As great as that game was for Rodgers, he has beaten the Bears in even more dramatic fashion.

Like in the season finale in 2013 at Soldier Field, when the winner of that game would be NFC North champs.

Rodgers had missed seven games due that year to a broken collarbone, which ironically occurred when the Packers played the Bears at Lambeau Field in Week 9.

In that game, Rodgers appeared to be a bit rusty due to his layoff, but No. 12 still threw for 315 yards with two touchdown passes versus two picks.

But the second touchdown he threw in that game was one that will live on in Green Bay lore. With 46 seconds to go in the game and with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27, Rodgers and the Packers faced a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, Rodgers first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to wide receiver Randall Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

In his career, Rodgers has followed in Favre’s footsteps quite well, as he is on his way to breaking some of the tremendous records that No. 4 set in Green Bay.

Rodgers is 98-55-1 as a starter, plus has thrown 336 touchdown passes versus just 79 picks for 42,202 yards. No QB in NFL history has ever thrown for a 4-1 ratio for TD passes vs. picks like Rodgers has. Add to that, Rodgers is the highest rated passer in NFL history, with a 103.4 mark.

Rodgers has also won the NFL MVP award twice (2011 and 2014).

And like Starr and Favre, Rodgers has led his team to the playoffs several times, as he has done it nine times, including eight seasons in a row.

In fact, like Starr did twice, Rodgers was the MVP of Super Bowl XLV, as the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25.

Rodgers can perhaps make it to the postseason for the 10th time this year, but the Packers will need to win their last three games of the year, starting with Sunday’s game against the Bears.

The Packers will also need some good fortune to get in if they do that, but the odds have gotten better as of late.

The Packers need the Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins to lose one of their last three games to pass all three of those teams in the Wild Card race. That has a decent chance of happening, perhaps even this weekend.

The Eagles have to go out to Los Angeles to play the Rams, while the Panthers will host the New Orleans Saints and finally the Redskins have to travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars.

If those three teams lose just one game, then the Packers would need one more set of odd circumstances to occur. They need the Minnesota Vikings to lose two out of their last three games.

The Vikings have lost three out of their last four games, with their lone victory coming against the Packers in Minneapolis. So, you just never know.

But all of that will be a moot point, unless the Packers can take care of the Bears.

The good news is that the Green Bay offense looked much more in rhythm last Sunday under new head coach Joe Philbin than it did under Mike McCarthy most of this season.

That needs to happen again this Sunday at Soldier Field, plus the defense and special teams need to do their jobs as well.

Bottom line, based on the track record of Rodgers against Chicago, I wouldn’t bet against No. 12 in pulling off another dramatic win.

The Green Bay Packers and Jerry Kramer Have a Couple of Big Weekends Upcoming

Jerry in 2017 at Alumni Day

Both the Green Bay Packers and Jerry Kramer have a couple of big weekends coming up.

The Packers are preparing to open their 2018 NFL season (the 100th anniversary of the Packers being formed) on Sunday night at Lambeau Field versus the Chicago Bears and their newly acquired pass rusher Khalil Mack.

The following week the Pack will host the defending NFC North champions, the Minnesota Vikings.

The upcoming game against da Bears also marks the annual alumni weekend, as Kramer and many of his former teammates, as well as other former Green Bay players will be on hand.

And when the Packers play the Vikings the following week at Lambeau, Kramer will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, as well as seeing his name unveiled on the facade, along with the other 24 Packers enshrined in Canton.

The Packers and Bears have been playing each other since 1921 when the NFL was called the American Professional Football Association. When Green Bay defeated Chicago 35-14 last September at Lambeau Field, that victory put the Packers ahead in the series against their long-time rivals for the first time in 85 years.

The series now stands with the Packers holding an edge with a 95-93-6 mark. Kramer knows all about this heated rivalry, as No. 64 talked about that story line in a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.

It was an era when Vince Lombardi coached the Packers and George Halas coached the Bears. In the nine years that the two coached against each other, the Packers held a 13-5 edge in the series.

During that period, the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years under Lombardi, which included three NFL championships in a row (which has never been duplicated in the playoff era of the NFL), as well as winning the first two Super Bowl games.

Da Bears won the 1963 NFL title under Halas.

Lombardi was always primed to play the Bears and he let his team know about as well.

“We were practicing on day before playing the Bears and Coach Lombardi brought us together,” Kramer said. “Coach said, ‘You guys go out and kick the Bears’ ass. And I’ll go out and kick old man Halas’ ass too.’

One of Kramer’s teammates who will be at the alumni weekend get-together is Zeke Bratkowski. The former Georgia Bulldog was the backup to Bart Starr for the Packers in the 1960s, but he started his NFL career with the Bears in the 1950s.

Bratkowski had the honor of playing under both Halas and Lombardi and Zeke talked about that scenario in a story I wrote last summer.

Besides Kramer and Bratkowski, there will be several other former Packers who played under Lombardi at the alumni function this weekend. The list includes Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Boyd Dowler, Dave Robinson, Marv Fleming, Doug Hart, Don Horn, Carroll Dale and Donny Anderson.

Dale and Anderson are the featured alumni this weekend and they will be signing autographs and visiting with fans on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 11 to noon in the Lambeau Field Atrium.

Other former Packers who are expected to attend are LeRoy Butler, John Brockington, Lynn Dickey, Paul Coffman, Jan Stenerud, Johnnie Gray, Ezra Johnson, Mark Lee, Al Matthews, Karl Swanke, David Whitehurst, Gerry Ellis, Gary Ellerson, Tiger Greene, Ron Hallstrom, Perry Kemp, Don Majkowski, Ron Pitts, Blaise Winter, Vince Workman, Don Beebe, Bucky Brooks, Mark Chmura, Earl Dotson, William Henderson, Ryan Longwell, Bryce Paup, Bill Schroeder, Frank Winters, Nick Barnett, Kevin Barry, Colin Cole, Brad Jones, Aaron Kampman, Buddy Aydelette, Craig Nall and Jason Spitz.

At halftime on Sunday night, the Packers will be introducing all of those players.

I talked to Kramer earlier this week and he talked about how great it is to see his former teammates. Plus, this will be the first time he has seen most of them since he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jerry with his Gold Jacket hugging his bust.

“It’s always great seeing the fellas,” Kramer said. “But I’m going to bust my ass to make sure that they know I haven’t changed. I want to show that I’m the same guy I have always been the past 40 years.”

From my perspective, having known Kramer for several years now, I can honestly say that Jerry has not changed one iota since he was inducted among the best of the best in Canton.

The game itself will be a big test for the Packers against the Bears, who are definitely a team on the rise. Chicago added a defensive force with the addition of Mack.

Mack and company will be trying to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense, which will not be an easy task, based on the way Rodgers has historically played versus Chicago.

In his career against da Bears, Rodgers is 15-4 in the regular season. In those 19 games, No. 12 has thrown 42 touchdown passes, compared to just nine interceptions for 4,596 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 107.2.

Rodgers and the Packers also beat the Bears 21-14 in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field.

The defense of the Packers, which is now headed by new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, will be trying to force some mistakes by second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

When the Packers go up against the Vikings, Rodgers will definitely keep his eye peeled for linebacker Anthony Barr, as it was Barr who broke the collarbone of Rodgers last season when he took No. 12 down hard to the ground after Rodgers had thrown the ball.

And as good as Rodgers is against the Bears, he is almost equally as good against the Vikings historically. In 19 regular season games, Rodgers is 12-7 against the Vikes, plus has thrown 39 touchdown passes compared to just six picks for 4,571 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 111.7.

And like he did against da Bears, Rodgers has defeated the Vikings in the postseason as well, as the Green Bay beat Minnesota 24-10 in a 2012 NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field.

I like Rodgers and the Packers to go 2-0 after their games against da Bears and the Vikings.

Aaron Rodgers 2018.jpg

At halftime of the Vikings game, Kramer will have his cherry on top of the sundae moment, as he receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, as well as seeing his name unveiled on the facade at Lambeau Field in front of the great fans he played in front of for 11 seasons.

Kramer will see his name unveiled along side of the coach who made this all possible, Lombardi, along with several of his Hall of Fame teammates, which include Taylor, Starr, Hornung, Robinson, Forrest Gregg,  Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Willie Wood and Henry Jordan.

“That is going to awesome,” Kramer said. “I’ll never forget the reaction of Jim Ringo when he saw his name on the facade. It was back in 1984, when I was writing Distant Replay with Dick Schaap. We had an alumni get-together at Lambeau and Ringo was there.

“A bunch of us went to Fuzzy’s [Thurston] bar, Shenanigans. Then at the game, we were introduced and had some photos taken of us. Jim was a little unsteady at the time and I helped him down the ramp heading to the field before we were introduced.

“We got about three-quarters down the ramp and then Jim saw his name on the facade. And Jim goes, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!’ He just kept repeating that over and over. Jim was just stunned and awestruck by that honor.

“I have a feeling that I’ll have similar emotions.”

1957 Was a Very Special Year for the State of Wisconsin

Milwaukee Braves Lambeau logo

Back in 1957, in both the United States and in the state of Wisconsin, things were quite different than they are today. For example, a gallon of gas cost just 24 cents. You could buy a brand new car in a price range of $1,800 to $3,400. The average cost of a new home was around $20,000. You could rent an apartment for $90 per month.

And with Wisconsin being the dairy state in the country, products in that genre were quite inexpensive based on today’s prices. A dozen eggs cost just 55 cents. A gallon of milk cost just $1.00. Butter was just 75 cents per pound. American cheese cost around 55 cents per pound.

And seeing that Wisconsin also loves it’s beer, it’s important to know the beer prices at the time. You could go into a tavern and a have a glass of beer for just 10 cents. You also could buy a six-pack of beer for less than a dollar.

Yes, things were quite different in 1957 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States. The man who would follow Eisenhower as President, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book called Profiles in Courage.

I bring up Kennedy for two reasons.

One, JFK played a big part in the Green Bay Packers winning the 1961 NFL title, due to his friendship with Vince Lombardi.

Secondly, I was born on JFK’s birthday, which is May 29. I was born on that day in…you guessed it…1957.

That year was very special in the hearts of sports fans in Wisconsin.

In Green Bay, the Packers were going through a very tough time. The team was losing on a consistent basis and hadn’t had a winning season since 1947.

Plus, the NFL was seriously looking at moving the Packers out of Green Bay due to the antiquated stadium that the team was playing in, which was old City Stadium, which had been built in 1925 and was also used by Green Bay East High School. The capacity for the stadium was just 25,000.

That is why the Packers also started playing some of their games in Milwaukee starting in 1933, which had larger venues (State Fair Park, Marquette Stadium and Milwaukee County Stadium) for the Packers to utilize.

And unless the Packers built a new stadium in Green Bay, the team was likely going to move to Milwaukee permanently or to some other location.

But in April of 1956, in a 2-to-1 vote in a municipal referendum, a new stadium was financed by the way of a bond issue. The original cost of the new stadium was $960,000 and was to be shared equally by the Packers Corporation and the city of Green Bay.

City Stadium Dedication Program

The stadium was located in southwest Green Bay and surrounded on three sides by the village of Ashwaubenon. Work started on the stadium in February of 1957 and the stadium was christened as new City Stadium on September 29, 1957, as the Packers opened their season against the rival Chicago Bears and their founder and head coach George Halas.

It’s also important to note, that Halas himself campaigned for the new stadium in Green Bay before the vote in April of 1956.

The Packers beat da Bears at their new stadium 21-17 in front of 32,132 fans, as Vice President Richard Nixon was in attendance, along with NFL Commissioner Bert Bell.

But even with the new stadium, which would later be re-named Lambeau Field in 1965, in honor of one of the founders of the team and their first head coach, Curly Lambeau, the team went 3-9 in 1957.

In fact, after the season-opening win against the Bears, the Packers did not win again at home, either in the new stadium or in Milwaukee, where the Packers still played three home games per season.

One of the teams which visited new City Stadium were the New York Giants, who were the defending NFL champions in 1957. The offensive coordinator for the G-Men then was none other than Lombardi, and it was he who would take Green Bay back to greatness in 1959, when he was named head coach and general manager of the Packers.

In that case, Halas availed himself to Green Bay once again, as both he and Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns were staunch supporters of Lombardi getting the new head coaching gig in Green Bay.

Also in 1957, thanks to the scouting prowess of Jack Vainisi, the Packers drafted Paul Hornung out of Notre Dame with the first pick in the 1957 NFL draft. The “Golden Boy” had won the Heisman trophy with the Fighting Irish in 1956 and may have been the catalyst for Lombardi coming to Green Bay. That is certainly what legendary right guard Jerry Kramer believes.

Hornung played a big role in the success of the Lombardi Packers, that is for sure.

Back to new City Stadium, now Lambeau Field. The stadium has seen three NFL titles (1961, 1965 and 1967) won by the Packers over the years.

The 1967 NFL championship game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, is considered among the best games in NFL history. Who can forget Bart Starr scoring the game-winning touchdown behind a classic block by Kramer with just 13 seconds remaining?

New City Stadium, now Lambeau Field, has seen many renovations over the years and is now considered the crown jewel in the NFL in terms of having a great game-time experience.

Between the actual stadium, the Atrium, the Packers Hall of Fame and the new Titletown district, the stadium has become a year-round place to visit. The current capacity of Lambeau Field is now 81,441.

Lambeau Field is now the longest continuously occupied stadium in the NFL by a large margin. The next closest is Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, which opened in 1972, which is 15 years later than when new City Stadium opened.

Lambeau Field in 2017

Besides Green Bay getting a new stadium in 1957, there was a lot of excitement at Milwaukee County Stadium, where the Milwaukee Braves played.

The city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin were very passionate about the Braves and had led MLB in attendance ever since the Braves moved to Milwaukee from Boston in 1953. In fact, the Braves were No. 1 in attendance from 1953 through 1958.

  • 1953- 1,826,397
  • 1954- 2,131,388
  • 1955- 2,005,836
  • 1956- 2,046,331
  • 1957- 2,215,404
  • 1958- 1,971,101

As you can see by the figures above, the attendance in 1957 really blossomed. The Braves had finished just one game out from winning the National League pennant in 1956, as the Brooklyn Dodgers took the crown instead. The Braves were in first place for 126 days during the 1956 season and Milwaukee and Wisconsin knew that the Braves were ripe for winning the NL pennant and perhaps the World Series in 1957.

Everything did indeed fall into place for the Braves in 1957, as the team went 95-59 and won the National League pennant and advanced to the World Series to face the New York Yankees.

The Braves were managed by Fred Haney and their general manager was John Quinn.

1957 Milwaukee Braves

The 1957 Milwaukee Braves

The starting pitching was led by Warren Spahn, who had a 21-11 record and an ERA of 2.69. No. 21 also had 18 complete games. “Bullet” Bob Buhl was 18-7 and had an ERA of 2.74 and had 14 complete games. Lew Burdette was 17-9 and had an ERA of 3.72 and he also completed 14 games. No. 33 would later have one of the greatest World Series performances in history.

Saves were not considered to be a big part of the game back in 1957, but in the late innings, the Braves usually brought in Don McMahon, who was 2-3, had eight saves, finished 19 other games and had an ERA of 1.54. McMahon struck out 46 hitters in 46.1 innings.

In closing out games, the Braves also used Ernie Johnson, who was 7-3, had four saves, finished 16 other games and had an ERA of 3.54.

In terms of how the pitching was ranked in the National League, the Braves were second in ERA (3.47) and first in complete games (60).

The offense of the Braves was led by NL MVP Hank Aaron, as the right fielder hit 44 homers, drove in 132 runs and had a batting average of .322. Aaron was helped by slugging third baseman Eddie Mathews, who hit 32 homers, drove in 94 runs and hit .292.

Both Aaron and Mathews were National League All Stars in 1957 and they were joined by Spahn, Burdette, shortstop Johnny Logan (10-49-.273) and second baseman Red Schoendienst (6-32-.310).

Schoendienst came to the Braves via a trade earlier in the 1957 season, when Milwaukee acquired him from the New York Giants.

Other players chipped in offensively, as left fielder Wes Covington had 21 homers, 65 RBIs and a .284 average, while catcher Del Crandall had 15 homers, 46 RBIs and hit .253.

Because of a knee injury to Billy Bruton, time was split in center field, as both Bruton (5-30-.278) and Andy Pafko (8-27-.277) each saw playing time there.

At first base, Frank Torre (5-40-.272) and Joe Adcock (12-38-.287), platooned at the position.

One of the biggest things which helped the team in the second half of the 1957 was the call up of Bob “Hurricane” Hazel, who also received some playing time in the outfield as a left-handed hitter. Hazel hit seven homers and drove in 27 runs and hit .403 in 41 games.

The Braves were led in the World Series by a number of players, but especially the performance of Burdette. Burdette pitched 24 consecutive scoreless innings, won three games, pitched two shutouts (Game 5 and Game 7) and had an ERA of .067.

Lew Burdette in the 1957 World Series

Lew Burdette in the 1957 World Series

Aaron hit .393 in the World Series and hit three homers and drove in seven runs.

It took seven games for the Braves to beat the Yankees in the World Series.

  • Game 1- Yankees 3, Braves 1 at Yankee Stadium
  • Game 2- Braves 4, Yankees 2 at Yankee Stadium
  • Game 3- Yankees 12, Braves 3 at Milwaukee County Stadium
  • Game 4- Braves 7, Yankees 5 (10 innings) at Milwaukee County Stadium
  • Game 5- Braves 1, Yankees 0 at Milwaukee County Stadium
  • Game 6- Yankees 3, Braves 2 at Yankee Stadium
  • Game 7- Braves 5, Yankees 0 at Yankee Stadium

But when it was all said and done, the Braves had won their first World Series since 1914, when they were still in Boston.

The Braves and Yankees would face each other in the 1958 World Series again, but this time the Yankees won it, as they came back from a three games to one deficit and beat the Braves four games to three.

Burdette did go 20-10 and had an ERA of 291 in 1958, but he did not fare as well in the 1958 World Series, as he was 1-2 with an ERA of 5.64.

Aaron had another fabulous season in 1958, as Hammerin’ Hank hit 30 homers and drove in 95 runs, plus hit .326. No. 44 also hit .333 in the 1958 World Series, but didn’t hit a homer and only drove it two runs.

Still, the 1957 season was the crowning achievement for the Braves in Milwaukee. And even though the team left for Atlanta after the 1965 season, Milwaukee fans will never forget players like Aaron, Mathews, Spahn and Burdette.

In his time in Milwaukee as a Brave, Aaron hit 398 homers, drove in 1,305 runs and hit a cumulative .319.

Meanwhile, Mathews hit 452 homers, drove in 1,271 runs and hit a cumulative .277 in his 13 years in Milwaukee.

Mathews and Aaron

Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron

In his 13 years in Milwaukee, Spahn was 234-138, which included winning over 20 games per season nine times. No. 21 had a cumulative ERA of 2.88. Spahnie also had 232 complete games.

Burdette meanwhile, was 173-109 in 11 years in Milwaukee with an cumulative ERA of 3.28. The Nitro, West Virginia native also had 146 complete games in Beertown plus had 17 saves.

Warren Spahn II

Warren Spahn

But all in all, 1957 was truly a special year in Wisconsin, as the Packers had a stadium built for then which is now considered the ultimate shrine in the NFL, while the Braves did something that has yet to be achieved again in Milwaukee, although the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers came close. That is, winning a World Series title.

When people talk about classic cars, you always hear about the ’57 Chevy Bel-Air. When people in Wisconsin talk about memorable years in the history of sports in the Badger state, 1957 should be one of the years that should be right near the top.

I know 1957 will always be a special year for me, because that’s when my journey through life began.

Packers vs. Bears: Green Bay Can Jump Ahead in the Series for the First Time in 85 Years

Packers-Bears Helmets

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have been playing against each other since 1921 when the NFL was called the American Professional Football Association. Since the two teams have been battling each other, in a series which goes back almost 100 years, the teams are tied with 93 wins apiece, with six ties.

Just to show you how even this series has been, the Packers have scored 3,300 points in 192 games, while the Bears have scored 3,284.

When the Packers beat da Bears 30-27 last December at Soldier Field, Green Bay was able to even the series between the two clubs for the first time since 1933.

And with a win on Thursday night at Lambeau Field vs. Chicago, the Packers can hold an edge in the series for the first time since 1932, when they held an 11-10-4 mark over the Bears.

That’s 85 long years ago, folks. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was just elected to his first of four terms as President of the United States that year.

In terms of where each stands in NFL lore, the Packers have been in the NFL since 1921 and have won 13 NFL titles and four Super Bowls.

The Bears have been in the NFL since 1920 and have won nine NFL titles and one Super Bowl.

No team in NFL history has won more NFL championships than either the Packers or Bears.

Just looking back on the history between the two teams, it all started with George Halas (with the then Chicago Staleys) and Curly Lambeau. Each were founding members of their respective clubs, not to mention also being the head coach.

From 1921 through 1949, when the Packers and Lambeau took on the Bears and Halas, Green Bay went 18-32-4 in the regular season versus Chicago and also 0-1 in the postseason.

During that period, the Packers and Bears were considered the cream of the crop in the NFL, as Green Bay won six NFL titles, while Chicago won five.

When Vince Lombardi was the head coach and general manager of the Packers from 1959 through 1967, Green Bay won 13 of 18 games against Halas and the Bears. The Packers also won five NFL titles and two Super Bowls during that time, while the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

The quarterback for the Packers in the Lombardi years was Bart Starr. No. 15 was 12-2 versus Chicago in that period.

Bart vs. da Bears

Jerry Kramer told me a great story about the game when Starr showed the Packers that he was truly the quarterback to lead the team under Lombardi. And the game was against the Bears.

“We were playing the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. “Bill George was their middle linebacker at the time. On a deep pass attempt, George thought he would try to intimidate Bart.

“Bill took about a five-yard run and he gave Bart a forearm right in the mouth. George timed it perfectly and put Bart right on his behind. He also cut Bart badly, from his lip all the way to his nose. After that, George said, ‘That ought to take care of you Starr, you pu**y.’ Bart snapped right back at George and said, ‘F— you, Bill George, we’re coming after you.’

“My jaw dropped after that exchange, as I was shocked. Meanwhile Bart was bleeding profusely. I told Bart that he better go to the sideline and get sewn up. Bart replied, ‘Shut up and get in the huddle.’

“Bart took us down the field in seven or eight plays and we scored. That series of plays really solidified Bart as our leader and we never looked back.”

In terms of the overall series, the Packers fell behind the Bears mostly because of their play in three decades…the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s. The Packers were just 39-79-2 in the ’50s, 57-82-5 in the ’70s and 65-84-3 in the ’80s.

The Bears really dominated the series when Mike Ditka was head coach of the Bears from 1982 through 1992, as the Bears won 13 of 18 games. Da Bears won Super Bowl XXV during that period.

The Packers have been able to tie the series with the Bears over the past quarter century thanks to the quarterback play of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have won two Super Bowls in that time, one with Favre leading the team (Super Bowl XXXI) and one with Rodgers leading the team (Super Bowl XLV).

Mike Holmgren was the head coach of the Packers when the team won Super Bowl XXXI, while current head coach Mike McCarthy was on the sideline when the Pack won Super Bowl XLV.

Favre was 22-10 versus the Bears in his career in Green Bay, while Rodgers has been even better than that. No. 12 is 14-4 against Chicago (plus is 1-0 in the NFC title game).

Rodgers has been magnificent for the most part when he plays the Bears. In the 18 regular season games he has played versus Chicago, No. 12 has thrown 38 touchdown passes, compared to just nine interceptions for 4,417 yards.

Rodgers celebrates at Soldier Field

That adds up to a stellar career passer rating against the Bears of 105.7.

So far in three games in the 2017 NFL season, Rodgers has thrown six touchdown passes versus three interceptions for 967 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 93.1, which would be great for just about any other QB in the NFL, but not Rodgers.

Why? That mark is 10 points less than his career passer rating of 103.8, which just happens to be the best rating in NFL history.

But when it comes to playing the Bears, Rodgers always seems to be on his A game. Yes, there will be some issues with a very banged up offensive line playing in front of No. 12 on Thursday night.

But if history is a blueprint for the future, expect a big night for Rodgers on Thursday. The frosting on the cake would be a Green Bay victory which would put the Packers ahead in the series with the Bears for the first time since 1932.

That would be two years before Starr was born. 37 years before Favre was born. And 51 years before Rodgers was born.

Together, the three greatest quarterbacks in the history of the Packers have gone 48-16 versus the Bears.

A win on Thursday night would take that mark to 49-16 and Rodgers would improve his individual record to 15-4.

Expect that to happen.

Zeke Bratkowski Talks About Playing for Both George Halas and Vince Lombardi

Halas and Lombardi

Zeke Bratkowski played quarterback in the NFL for 15 years. In 10 of those years, Bratkowski was coached by either George Halas or Vince Lombardi. Talk about playing under two of the greatest coaching icons in NFL history.

I had an opportunity to speak with Bratkowski recently, and he talked about playing under these two head coaching giants.

“Both Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi were very similar in their style of discipline,” Bratkowski said. “They were both very demanding and were coaches of repetition.”

Bratkowski originally played under Halas, as the Chicago Bears drafted the former Georgia Bulldog star as a junior in the second round in 1953 as a “future pick”, which was allowed in that era. Bratkowski played his senior year and joined the Bears in 1954.

Bratkowski talked about the start of his NFL career and how Halas helped him.

“In my rookie year, the Bears also had Ed Brown and George Blanda at quarterback,” Bratkowski said. “I learned a lot from Coach Halas. He told the whole team that year when we were 4-4, that if we win the last four games, we could win the conference.

“Coach gave me the chance to start those four games and we won them all. But unfortunately Detroit, who we beat on the last week of the season, won the conference when the kicker from Philadelphia missed an extra point against them the week before. So basically one point kept us out of the championship game.”

Bratkowski’s career in the NFL was put on hold in 1955 and 1956, as he served in the Air Force. While Bratkowski was serving his country, the Bears played in the 1956 NFL title game against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium. The offensive coordinator for the G-Men was none other than Vince Lombardi, as New York won 47-7.

While in the Air Force, Bratkowski continued to play football and one of his teammates was wide receiver Max McGee of the Green Bay Packers.

“We went to the championship game when I was at the Air Force and Max was on our team,” Bratkowski said. “We also had Jim Dooley playing wide receiver. Jim eventually became head coach of the Bears. But both Max and Jim caught a lot of balls, as we threw a lot.

“Max and I were in the same squadron as pilots and we flew together. We were in the original drone squadron.”

When Bratkowski came back in 1957, it took awhile to become as proficient as he was before he left for the Air Force.

“When I came back in ’57, Coach Halas had me doing a lot of film study,” Bratkowski said. “I lived in Danville, Illinois which is about 110 miles south of Chicago. Coach had me doing film studies of all the games that the team had played while I was gone. I had to fill out this big form that he had created for me.

“So I would be in Chicago from Monday through Friday doing that exercise. The train out of Chicago went right into Danville, so it was an easy ride. Anyway, I had a lot of catching up to do, even though I was in great shape. But it took awhile for me to catch up to Ed [Brown] and George [Blanda] again.

“But Coach Halas helped me catch up. He set up a regimen for me to be better prepared. I would take notes and Coach Halas would answer my questions. He also watched film with me and would help out there as well.”

Zeke with da Bears

Bratkowski spent four more years with the Bears before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1961. In his five years with the Bears, Bratkowski was 11-5 as a starter, so it was a bit odd that he was shipped out to Los Angeles.

As a Ram, Bratkowski started 11 games in 1961 and then split time with rookie quarterback Roman Gabriel in 1962 and part of 1963 before he was placed on waivers.

It was at that point that Lombardi, then the general manager and head coach of the Packers, picked up Bratkowski on waivers and he became the backup to starting quarterback Bart Starr.

Lombardi used a similar film study routine for his quarterbacks, similar to what Halas did. Brakowski talked to me about that routine in a previous story I did about being in the QB’s meeting room with Lombardi.

This is a portion of that piece:

“We had to be there at 8:00 am to meet with Coach Lombardi,” Bratkowski said. “Then, we didn’t have quarterback coaches. But back then, the quarterback meetings were with Coach Lombardi. It was all him.

“He always started the meetings with the defensive frequencies of the upcoming team we would be facing. We would take notes on the fronts that they ran and also how they would cover.

“Coach was an excellent teacher. He was a great coach, but he was even a better teacher. He was obviously a great motivator, but he also explained how and why certain plays would work.”

Bratkowski talked about one of Lombardi’s techniques for teaching.

“All of his information was on cards,” Bratkowski said. “He didn’t show the cards to us, but he talked about what was on the card. We took notes. That is what we did consistently. Every game we had a notebook, that we ourselves had made.

“We had perforated notebooks where you could take that sheet and use it for the next time you played an opponent. Like Detroit for instance. Then we could see if our information matched up the second time or if they had changed their tendencies.”

In the five years Bratkowski played under Lombardi, No. 12 only started three games, winning two of them. But he came in for an injured Starr on a number of occasions and Bratkowski often brought home a victory.

One of those games was in the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game. Starr was injured on the first play of scrimmage for the Packers versus the Baltimore Colts in that game at Lambeau Field, but Bratkowski led the Packers to a 13-10 overtime win, as he threw for 248 yards against one of the top defenses in the NFL.

The next season, in 1966, Bratkowski had to come in another game when Starr was injured and this time it was against Halas and the Bears at Lambeau Field. Bratkowski threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers beat da Bears 13-6.

“I enjoyed that victory more than most,” Bratkowski said.

Bratkowski also came in relief of Starr in the second-to-last game of the season against the Colts in Baltimore in 1966. Once again, Bratkowski led the Packers to a win, as Green Bay scored a fourth quarter touchdown in a 14-10 victory, which also clinched the Western Conference title.

Zeke playing the Colts in Baltimore

Bratkowski then talked about the close friendship that Halas and Lombardi had.

“Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi were good friends,” Bratkowski said. “At least until they played each other. But they had great respect for one another. They had the same character. Both of them were devout Christians.

“When I was with Coach Halas, he would go to mass every morning in Chicago. Likewise, Coach Lombardi did the same thing in Green Bay. Both were very conscious of their character and their team’s character.

“We had some pretty good games when they coached against each other.”

Lombardi and his Packers were 13-5 against Halas and his Bears from 1959 through 1967. During that period, the Packers won five NFL titles, which included the first two Super Bowls, while the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

Halas, along with Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns, were largely responsible for the the Packers hiring Lombardi in 1959, as both gave big endorsements for the former offensive assistant of the Giants.

In his 15-year career in the NFL, Bratkowski had threw for 10,345 yards and 65 touchdowns. He later became an assistant coach in the NFL for a number of teams for 26 years, which included both the Bears and Packers. The lessons he learned under both Halas and Lombardi as a player came with him when he became a coach.

“It was a honor for me to play under both Coach Halas and Coach Lombardi,” Bratkowski said. “I learned a lot from each of them. Both were very disciplined and so were their teams. They had us doing the same play over and over again until it became second nature. Those practice habits helped us when we played the real games.

“Bottom line, we were always prepared.”

History Will Be a Big Factor in the Packers-Bears Matchup in Chicago

rodgers-to-cobb-in-2013-vs-da-bears

When the 7-6 Green Bay Packers face the 3-10 Chicago Bears at frigid Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon, there will be a lot on the line.

The Packers need a win to continue their run at becoming either the NFC North champion, or at the very least, a NFC Wild Card team.

In fact, if the Packers do win versus da Bears, and the Detroit Lions lose on the road against the New York Giants, Green Bay will control it’s destiny in terms of winning the NFC North in 2016.

But there are other aspects to this game which are very important. The history between these two storied franchises is at the top of the list.

The Packers have been in the NFL since 1921 and have won 13 NFL titles  and four Super Bowls.

The Bears have been in the NFL since 1920 and have won nine NFL titles and one Super Bowl.

No team in NFL history has won more NFL championships than either the Packers or Bears.

Since the two teams first started playing each other in the regular season starting in 1921, the Bears have won 93 games, while the Packers have won 92. Six games ended up in a tie.

The two teams have also met in the postseason twice, with each team winning once. The last time that happened was the 2010 NFC title game in Chicago, when the Packers won 21-14. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV after that win at Soldier Field.

Just to illustrate how close this series between these Midwest rivals has been, just look at the point totals in this series which encompasses 193 games (regular season and postseason).

The Packers have scored 3,305 points, while the Bears have scored 3,304 points. It doesn’t get much closer than that.

And if the Packers do beat the Bears on Sunday afternoon, the series between the two teams will be tied to the first time since 1933, when it was knotted up at 11-11-4.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States way back then.

From 1921 through 1949, the Packers and founder/head coach Curly Lambeau took on the Bears and founder/head coach George Halas, but only went 18-32-4 in the regular season and also 0-1 in the postseason.

During that period, the Packers and Bears were considered the cream of the crop in the NFL, as Green Bay won six NFL titles, while Chicago won five.

When Vince Lombardi was the head coach of the Packers from 1959 through 1967, Green Bay won 13 of 18 games against Halas and the Bears. The Packers also won five NFL titles and two Super Bowls during that time, while the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

halas-and-lombardi

The Packers fell behind in the series between the two teams mostly because of their play in three decades…the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s. The Packers were just 39-79-2 in the ’50s, 57-82-5 in the ’70s and 65-84-3 in the ’80s.

The Bears really dominated the series when Mike Ditka was head coach of the Bears from 1982 through 1992, as the Bears won 13 of 18 games.

The Packers have been able to narrow the margin with the Bears over the past two and a half decades thanks to the quarterback play of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Favre was 22-10 versus the Bears in his career in Green Bay, while Rodgers has been even better than that. No. 12 is 13-4 against Chicago (plus is 1-0 in the NFC title game).

Rodgers has been magnificent for the most part when he plays the Bears. In the 17 regular season games he has played versus Chicago, No. 12 has thrown 38 touchdown passes, compared to just nine interceptions for 4,165 yards.

That adds up to a stellar career passer rating against the Bears of 106.8.

In the first game against Chicago this year at Lambeau Field, Rodgers completed 39-0f-56 passes for three touchdown and no picks for 326 yards, as the Packers won 26-10.

Rodgers has had many great moments against the Bears, with his win at Soldier Field in the 2010 NFC title game being on top of this list, but two other games also come to mind.

In a game at Lambeau Field in 2014, Rodgers threw six touchdown passes without a pick for 315 yards as the Packers won 55-14. That added up to an astonishing passer rating of 145.8.

But the final game of the 2013 season at Soldier Field had to have the most dramatic moment regarding the play of Rodgers against the Bears.

First, let’s look back on what had transpired before the game. Rodgers had missed seven games due to a broken collarbone he had suffered against Chicago in a Week 9 game in Green Bay, when the Packers lost 27-20.

Thanks to the play of backup quarterback Matt Flynn, the Packers had a chance to win the NFC North in Week 17 when they took on the Bears. It was a winner take all game. The winner would win the NFC North.

Rodgers was cleared to play against the Bears that game. Although Rodgers appeared to be a bit rusty due to his layoff, No. 12 threw for 315 yards with two touchdown passes versus two picks.

But the second touchdown he threw in that game was one that will live on in Green Bay lore. With 46 seconds to go in the game and with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27, Rodgers and the Packers faced a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, Rodgers first avoided being sacked by current Packer Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then he delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Randall Cobb. The Packers won the game and also won the NFC North.

Rodgers will not be 100 percent when he faces the Bears on Sunday, as he suffered a calf strain early in the game last Sunday at Lambeau Field, when the Packers whipped the Seattle Seahawks 38-10.

The healing process for Rodgers won’t be helped by the weather conditions at Soldier Field on Sunday, as it looks to be one of the coldest home games the Bears have ever played in Chicago.

The Bears have been keeping weather records of their home games since 1963. The coldest home game the Bears have played up to this point was against the Packers…and Rodgers.

It was late in the 2008 season, when the game-time temperature at Soldier Field was just 2°. Currently, the expected temperature (per The Weather Channel) at Soldier Field tomorrow is going to be 7°, with wind gusts off Lake Michigan expected to be up to 16 miles per hour.

Speaking of Soldier Field, the Packers have actually played the Bears more in Chicago at Wrigley Field. That was where the Bears played until 1971.

The Packers first played at Soldier Field (which opened in 1924) in 1937, playing the College All-Stars in a game they lost 6-0. The Packers played seven more games versus the All-Stars over the years, concluding with a game in 1968. The Packers finished 6-2 in those games, with the last loss coming in 1963.

In terms of the game on Sunday, the Packers are riding a three-game winning streak. In those three games, the Packers have steadily improved in all facets of the game…offense, defense and special teams.

Currently, the Packers are ranked 12th in the NFL in total offense and 13th in total defense. The Bears on the other hand, are ranked 17th in total offense and eighth in total defense.

Even though the Packers will be starting Rodgers at quarterback, even somewhat hampered with the calf injury, and the Bears will be starting their third-string quarterback, Matt Barkley, the Packers should not take for granted that this game is definitely going in the win column.

One never knows what will happen when these two teams meet.

Last season was a good example. The Packers beat the Bears 31-23 in the season opener in Chicago and then faced the Bears on Thanksgiving night at Lambeau Field.

There was a lot on the line in that game too. For one, a victory for the Packers in that game would have evened the overall series between the teams, just like the opportunity Green Bay has on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Secondly, although the Packers didn’t know it then, but a win would have given the team an 11-5 record, which would have given Green Bay their fifth consecutive NFC North title, as they would have won the tie-breaker between them and the 11-5 Minnesota Vikings.

This was also only the second time Green Bay had ever hosted a Thanksgiving game. The first time was way back in 1923, when the Packers defeated the Hammond Pros 19-0 at Bellevue Park in Green Bay.

Finally, the Thanksgiving night game was the occasion when the Packers honored Brett Favre by unveiling his No. 4 on the facade at Lambeau. A number of Packers greats were on hand for the ceremony at halftime, including Bart Starr.

But even with all that as a backdrop, the Packers lost 17-13.

rodgers-celebrates-at-soldier-field

Bottom line, a victory on Sunday would solidify the chances of the Packers making the postseason in 2016, especially if the Lions also lose to the Giants.

That would mean a victory next week versus the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field and a win in Week 17 at Ford Field against the Lions would mean another NFC North title for Mike McCarthy and his Packers.

It would mean the sixth NFC North title for the Packers under McCarthy in his 11 years in Green Bay, as well as the team’s ninth appearance in the postseason during that time, which would also include a run of eight straight times participating in the NFL playoffs.

Yes, a lot is on the line this Sunday when the Packers face the Bears at Soldier Field.

And history will be a major component in the backdrop of this game in a series which dates back 95 years.

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer Talks About Playing da Bears

halas-and-lombardi-ii

George Halas and Vince Lombardi

Playing the Chicago Bears was always special for Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. Not just because the storied rivalry started way back in 1921, but because Lombardi was personally endorsed by George Halas for the head coaching job in Green Bay.

So it was very apropos that Lombardi’s first game as head coach was against the Bears at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) on September 27, 1959.

The Packers rallied from a 6-0 fourth-quarter deficit in that game and won the contest 9-6. Lombardi was carried off the field by his players after the victory. That was a habit which was duplicated at least four more times in Lombardi’s tenure.

The last time that occurred was after the 33-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II, when Forrest Gregg and Jerry Kramer hoisted up Lombardi in his final game as head coach of the Pack.

I talked with Kramer on Wednesday and he related a couple of instances about how Lombardi was focused on Halas when a game against the Bears was approaching.

For example, Lombardi was always worried that Halas would use spies to check out the practices of the Packers.

“We would be practicing and Coach would see a lineman on a power pole a couple of blocks away doing electrical work,” Kramer said. “And Coach would go, ‘There’s one of Halas’ spies! Somebody go down there and check out that guy!’

Lombardi also had other ways to help hinder any spy tactics of Halas.

“At practice, Bart would wear No. 75 at times,” Kramer said chuckling. “We would change our numbers and everyone would wear a different number to confuse the spies of the Bears. Like Halas was going to think an offensive tackle is playing quarterback for us.”

Lombardi was always primed to play the Bears and he let his team know about as well.

“We were practicing on day before playing the Bears and Coach Lombardi brought us together,” Kramer said. “Coach said, ‘You guys go out and kick the Bears’ ass. And I’ll go out and kick old man Halas’ ass too.’

Kramer also remembered a quote from Halas talking about when the Bears played the Packers.

“Coach Halas said, ‘We knew what they [the Packers] were going to do. We knew where they were going to do it and we knew when they were going to do it. We just couldn’t do anything about it.”

Even with all the various techniques Lombardi would use to stop the flow of information to Bears about the Packers, Halas still had a way to get vital data regarding his rival to the north.

“When I played in the Pro Bowl after the 1967 season, Coach Halas was coaching the team and we we late coming in from Florida after our Super Bowl win,” Kramer said. “There were nine of us and Coach Halas had a bus saved for us to go to practice.

“So I get on the bus and Coach Halas is sitting right behind the driver and he hands me a playbook. I go back about four seats on the opposite side of the bus near the aisle. So I start looking at the playbook and I see the first play is red right 49, which is our play, our code, our number system and our blocking.

“So I flip the page and I see red right 48, 46, 44, 42, 40 and so on. I look up at Coach Halas looking stunned with my mouth hanging open and he’s checking out at my reaction. “Halas said, ‘Jerry, we didn’t want you Green Bay boys to get behind so we just put in your offense.’

“The old fart had it exactly right. The numbers, the colors, the blocking assignments and the variations of the blocking assignments. He knew exactly what our playbook was.”

But even with all that, Lombardi and his Packers had a 13-5 record in the nine years he coached in Green Bay over Halas and his Bears.

The Packers also won five NFL titles in seven years in the 1960s, plus won the first two Super Bowls, while Halas and the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

The quarterback of those five championship teams of the Packers and the MVP of both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II, was Bart Starr.

In an earlier conversation that I had with Kramer, he talked about a game which let the team know that Starr was truly their leader.

bart-vs-da-bears

“We were playing the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. “Bill George was their middle linebacker at the time. On a deep pass attempt, George thought he would try to intimidate Bart.

“Bill took about a five-yard run and he gave Bart a forearm right in the mouth. George timed it perfectly and put Bart right on his behind. He also cut Bart badly, from his lip all the way to his nose. After that, George said, ‘That ought to take care of you Starr, you pu**y.’ Bart snapped right back at George and said, ‘F— you, Bill George, we’re coming after you.’

“My jaw dropped after that exchange, as I was shocked. Meanwhile Bart was bleeding profusely. I told Bart that he better go to the sideline and get sewn up. Bart replied, ‘Shut up and get in the huddle.’

“Bart took us down the field in seven or eight plays and we scored. That series of plays really solidified Bart as our leader and we never looked back.”

It’s that type toughness and resiliency that the current 3-2 Green Bay team needs to have as they get set to play the 1-5 Bears on Thursday night at Lambeau Field on national television.

The Packers did not play well at all this past Sunday, when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 30-16 at Lambeau Field.

Kramer was at the game, as he sat in a box with Brett Favre, Frank Winters, Antonio Freeman and LeRoy Butler.

“The Packers were chaotic and inconsistent,” Kramer said. “It was not a good showing at all.”

Going into the game against the Bears, the Packers have a number of issues. For one, the the team is dealing with a number of injuries. Which includes their top two running backs, as Eddie Lacy (ankle) and James Starks (knee) won’t be available to play and will be out for several weeks.

In fact, Lacy will be out until at least Week 15, after he was placed on injured reserve after it was determined he needs surgery on his ankle.

The Packers traded a 2018 conditional seventh-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for running back Knile Davis on Tuesday. Also, rookie running back Don Jackson was promoted from the practice squad to replace the roster spot of Lacy.

Kramer knows all about not being able to play with your best running backs. In 1967, the Packers went into the season for the first time in a decade without Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor in the backfield, as Hornung retired and Taylor moved on as a free agent.

In addition to that, both starting running backs, Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, suffered season-ending injuries in Week 8 versus the Baltimore Colts.

travis-williams

Running back Travis Williams tries to elude linebacker Dick Butkus

The Packers didn’t flinch, as backs like Donny Anderson, Travis Williams, Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein filled in and helped the Packers finish second in the NFL in rushing that season.

Another problem that the current Packers are having is that the passing offense of the team is not in sync. Aaron Rodgers has been in a year-long slump, at least based on the superlative passing numbers he put up from 2009 through 2014.

The receivers are having trouble getting open, even with the return of Jordy Nelson, and when they are open, Rodgers is missing them at times.

Again, Kramer has dealt with this before, as the offense of the Lombardi Packers had to transform itself over the years.

From 1960 through 1964, the Packers relied on the running game to be the focal point of their offense. In those five years, the Packers were either first or second in the league in rushing.

But in 1965, the running game started having some issues. The Packers were just 10th in the NFL in rushing that season. Ironically, the running game came alive when the team needed it the most that season.

The Packers would be playing for the 1965 NFL title versus the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.

And although the running game of the Packers had struggled almost the entire year, the Packers could not be stopped on this snowy and muddy day on the frozen tundra.

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

The Packers won three straight NFL titles starting that season. In 1965 and 1966, the Packers became more of a passing offense. Starr was magnificent, as he threw 30 touchdown passes versus 12 interceptions in those two years.

Starr was also named the NFL MVP in 1966.

In 1967, Starr had a number of injuries which affected his play. Because of that, Lombardi leaned more on the running game again and another NFL title was the result.

The current Packers need to change their offensive tendencies like Lombardi did back in the day. Instead of running simply isolation pass patterns, perhaps they can try a few bunch-formation pass patterns, which usually allows receivers to get open a bit more easily.

Plus, go back to the basics of the west coast offense. Use quick-hitting pass patterns like slants and short curls.

The bottom line, the Packers have to find a way to get through all their issues and injuries and beat their most hated rival. With a win, the Packers be within a game of tying the all-time series between the two teams.

Right now the Packers are 91-93-6 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason versus the Bears. By winning on Thursday night and again in Week 15 in Chicago at Soldier Field, the Packers will even up the series for the first time since 1933, when the two teams were knotted at 11-11-4.

The Packers have been the dominant team in the past quarter century when the two teams played. A lot of that has been due to great quarterback play. In the 24 years that Favre and Rodgers have been under center for the team, the Packers have a 34-14 record versus da Bears.

Rodgers has been phenomenal for the most part in his career against Chicago. Not only did he beat them in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field, but he’s 12-4 in the regular season as well.

In those 16 games, Rodgers has thrown 35 touchdown passes versus just nine picks for 3,839 yards. That adds up to a very robust passer rating of 107.3.

The Packers need more of the same from Rodgers on Thursday night. Head coach Mike McCarthy can help by changing his offensive scheme a bit, as his offensive inclinations are being diagnosed by the opponents.

The struggles of Rodgers and the offense over the past year or so validate that point.

Kramer knows what the Packers need to do versus da Bears.

“Just do what Coach Lombardi always instructed us to do to meet our challenges,” Kramer said. “Coach told us that we had to be tenacious, we had to be committed and that we had to be disciplined.

“We listened and followed his directions and we focused on the job at hand. That led us to all those championships, including the three straight NFL titles.”

The job at hand for the current Packers is beating the Bears on Thursday night. Not just winning, but also improving all facets of the football team with their play.