Green Bay Packers: Will Clay Matthews III Come Back to Titletown?

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Well, Clay Matthews III might just prove Wolfe wrong for the second year in a row.

In 2019, even though Matthews wanted to remain in Green Bay and finish his career as a Packer, the team never gave Matthews a chance to stay in Titletown. Matthews was an unrestricted free agent and was willing to take less money to stay with the Pack, but that opportunity never materialized, as general manager Brian Gutekunst and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine thought they were set at outside linebacker with the signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency.

Plus the team also had Kyler Fackrell, who had led the team in sacks in 2018 with 10.5.

So, Matthews went home to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Matthews grew up in that region and played his college football at USC.

Matthews had a very nice year for the Rams, even though he missed three games due to a broken jaw. Still, No. 52 had 37 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles as a right outside linebacker.

And after the somewhat shocking release of Matthews by the Rams yesterday, there is a chance that Matthews could once again return to his first NFL home in Green Bay. But there will be other suitors as well, as Matthews was contacted by 14 NFL teams after his release by the Rams.

The situation has changed quite a bit for the Packers now at the linebacker position in terms of Matthews coming back to Titletown. The Packers have seen three linebackers leave the team in free agency, as Fackrell (New York Giants), Blake Martinez (New York Giants) and B.J. Goodson (Cleveland Browns) all moved on.

The Packers did sign free agent Christian Kirksey to handle one of the inside linebacker positions. But that still leaves a possible spot open for another ILB, although Oren Burks may be given an opportunity there, along with second-year ILB’s Tyler Summers and Curtis Bolton.

Matthews played very well at ILB in 2014 and 2015 when the Packers moved him there to shore up the run defense. Matthews was recognized for his efforts, as he went to the Pro Bowl in both of those seasons.

Matthews has the talent and versatility to move inside or outside depending on the situation. But it’s good to know that No. 52 has a great track record in either situation.

Matthews was originally drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by then general manager Ted Thompson. Matthews was the second of two first round picks by Green Bay that year, as the team selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 and then Matthews with pick No. 26.

Clay and B.J. as rookies

The defense of the Packers became one of the best in the NFL in 2009 with the additions of Raji and Matthews, as Green Bay was ranked No. 2 in total defense that season after being ranked No. 20 in 2008. Matthews went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, as he had 10 sacks.

In 2010, the Packers once again had a great defense, as they were ranked No. 5 in total defense. Matthews was a big reason why. Once again, No. 52 went to the Pro Bowl and was also named AP first-team All-Pro.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six overall Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason. Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Matthews has great lineage, as he is the son of Clay Matthews Jr., who I believe rightfully deserves a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Much like Jerry Kramer, when he was finally recognized in 2018.

The Matthews family has cast a large net over the NFL throughout the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 great years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. There is Clay III, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. In addition, there are Bruce’s sons, one being Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and also Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

Bottom line, time will tell, but it would be ideal if Matthews returned to Green Bay to finish his career, which is what he wanted to do all along. He fills a need, still plays fast, plus is very productive.

Let’s also not forget that the Packers were ranked just 18th in total defense least year and just 23rd in run defense, plus were embarrassed in the 2019 NFC title game trying to stop the run.

And just like he did in 2014 and 2015, Matthews can help shore up that issue at inside linebacker.

If Matthews did return, that would mean that there would be just four players on the Packers who were also on the Super Bowl XLV team. The other three are Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams.

Williams left the Packers for three years before he returned home. It’s only been one year for Matthews, but returning to his original NFL home in Green Bay would certainly be apropos.

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.

IMAG0611

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

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

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up With Carroll Dale

Carroll Dale vs. the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl

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.”

Lombardi and Dale celebrate after beating Colts in 1966

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.”

Carroll Dale II

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.

Dowler continued.

“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.

Carroll Dale in Super Bowl I

“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.

Dale explained.

“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.”

Carroll Dale in the Ice Bowl

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!”

Green Bay Packers: Matt LaFleur has the Attributes to be a Successful Head Coach

matt lafleur

I’m sure many in Packer Nation asked the same question when it was announced that the Green Bay Packers had hired Matt LaFleur to be their new head coach.

Who the hell is Matt LaFleur?

The 39 year-old LaFleur was definitely an under the radar selection by president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst of the Packers, but when one takes a closer look at the background of LaFleur and peels back the onion a bit, there is a lot to like.

First off, LaFleur has worked under some great offensive minds in the NFL. LaFleur has been an assistant under head coach Gary Kubiak of the Houston Texans, head coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan of the Atlanta Falcons, head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams before running the offense of the Tennessee Titans in 2018 as offensive coordinator under head coach Mike Vrabel.

At Houston, LaFleur was offensive quality control coach and then was the quarterbacks coach at Washington and Atlanta. In Los Angeles, his title was offensive coordinator, but McVay called the plays. When he became the OC in Tennessee, LaFleur was able to call the plays himself.

Let’s look at the success that players who have been tutored by LaFleur have done.

In 2012, while he was the QBs coach of the Redskins, quarterback Robert Griffin III was the rage of the NFL and became the Offensive Rookie of the Year, as he threw 20 touchdown passes, compared to just five picks for 3,200 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 102.4.

RGIII also ran for 815 yards and seven more scores.

In Atlanta, again as QB coach, quarterback Matt Ryan became the NFL MVP in 2016, as he threw 38 touchdown passes versus just seven picks for 4,944 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 117.1.

Ryan just carved the defense of the Packers apart during the 2016 regular season as he threw three TD passes without an interception for 288 yards and a passer rating of 129. 5, as the Falcons squeezed by the Pack 33-32. But that was nothing compared to what Ryan did to the defense of the Packers in the 2016 NFL title game.

Ryan threw four TD passes, without a pick once again, for 392 yards and a passer rating of 139.4, as the Dirty Birds blew out the Packers 44-21.

matt lafleur and matt ryan

As offensive coordinator of the Rams in 2017, his number one priority was to get second-year quarterback Jared Goff to the next level after a very tough rookie year.

In seven starts as a rookie in 2016, Goff was 0-7 as a starter and had just five TD passes versus seven interceptions for 1,089 yards. That adds up to a paltry passer rating of 63.6.

But in 2017, under the guidance of LaFleur, Goff really took off, as he was 11-4 as a starter, plus threw 28 touchdown passes versus seven picks for 3,804 yards. Goff’s passer rating improved to a very nice 100.4 level.

Not only did LaFleur get Goff on the right track, but the Rams started using the skills of talented running back Todd Gurley much better in 2017.

In 2015, Gurley was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but in 2016, things went south for the former Georgia Bulldog. In his second season, Gurley only rushed for 885 yards and his yards-per-carry average went down by over a yard and a half, as he only averaged 3.2 yards per rush.

But in 2017 under LaFleur, Gurley had a monster year, as he was named Offensive Player of the Year. Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards (4.7 average) and 13 TDs, plus caught 64 passes for 788 yards and six more scores.

In 2018, as offensive coordinator of the Titans, the offense struggled early, as quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered an elbow injury which would linger all season long.

Tennessee didn’t flash statistically under LaFleur (25th in total offense and 27th in scoring), but he figured out the best way to run his offense down the stretch. It led to five straight wins before the Titans were beaten by the Indianapolis Colts in the final game of the season, in a game which would see the winner get into the playoffs.

Knowing that he had an ailing Mariota dealing with elbow issues, LaFleur leaned on the running game for the last quarter of the 2018 season. Running back Derrick Henry became a force (and you who had him in fantasy football know this), as he rushed for 585 yards and seven touchdowns in four games to end the season.

So, based on the excellent work that LaFleur has done in both the passing and running game, not to mention the coaches he has developed under, it’s no wonder why the Packers made him their new head coach.

The Mike McCarthy tenure had run it’s course and although he and then general manager Ted Thompson had a lot of success over several years, it was time to turn the page. Which is what Murphy did after the brutal loss to the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field on December 2nd.

In addition to all that, reports say that LaFleur is inclined to keep defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and perhaps even keep other coaches as well, including Joe Philbin, who was interim head coach after the firing of McCarthy.

To me, that is good news. As was the report that quarterback Aaron Rodgers gave his blessing to the hiring of LaFleur. That is key.

When McCarthy was hired in 2006, his first priority was to get quarterback Brett Favre back to playing a MVP level again. That’s because is 2005, Favre had his worse season ever, as he threw 20 touchdown passes versus a whopping 29 interception for 3,881 yards. That added up to a very mediocre passer rating of 70.9.

Favre improved in 2006 and then really took off in his last season in Green Bay in 2007, as he threw 28 TD passes versus 15 picks for 4,155 yards. No. 4’s passer rating improved to 95.7 and the Packers made it to the NFC title game.

LaFleur has a similar situation with Rodgers, although not near as much work as McCarthy had to do with Favre.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Green Bay Packers

Most quarterbacks in the NFL would have loved to have the stats Rodgers had in 2018. No. 12 threw 25 touchdown passes versus just two picks for 4,442 yards. That added up to a passer rating of 97.6, which isn’t too far from his career passer rating mark of 103.1, which is tops in NFL history.

Still, something wasn’t right. First, there was an obvious disconnect between Rodgers and McCarthy. Plus, the completion percentage for Rodgers was just 62.3 percent, which is two points lower than his career average. Adding to that, Rodgers threw away more passes than he has ever done in his career and his accuracy was off at times. Sometimes missing low and other times high.

Some of that can be blamed on the sprained knee Rodgers suffered in the first game of the season against the Chicago Bears, but the two-time NFL MVP gutted it out and played in all 16 games.

Speaking of Green Bay quarterbacks, back in 2014, LaFleur was the QBs coach at Notre Dame. Which means he has a good read on the skills of backup quarterback DeShone Kizer, who was with the Fighting Irish then.

It’s important that LaFleur can aid in the development of Kizer and to find out whether or not he is a viable backup QB to Rodgers.

The bottom line is that I believe the hiring of LaFleur as head coach by Murphy and Gutekunst was excellent. LaFleur has proven that he can help make quarterbacks and running backs play much better.

The key now for LaFleur is to put together the best possible coaching staff he can. Keeping Pettine and possibly Philbin are two good moves in my opinion.

Adding an excellent special teams coach will also be paramount to the success of the teams LaFleur will put together in Green Bay.

But just like Vince Lombardi in 1959, Mike Holmgren in 1992 and McCarthy in 2006, I have a feeling that the hiring of LaFleur will yield similar success.

Packer Nation will get to meet LaFleur tomorrow, as he will be introduced as the new head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

 

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

Travis Williams Kickoff Return TD vs. Rams in LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travis Wiliams

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

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

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

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

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

Right guard Jerry Kramer talked to me about that first TD run by Williams.

“I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] very vividly on one play,” Kramer said. “It’s still crystal clear in my mind. Travis is going outside right on the play. And I’m blocking on Merlin and I’m trying to get outside position on him. And he’s starting to move and I’m chasing him.

“All of a sudden, I see Travis about even with us, but near the sideline and I knew that he was gone.”

Gone he was, as Williams scampered 46 yards for a score.

The 1967 season was a special one for the Packers, as the team won it’s third straight NFL championship under head coach Vince Lombardi. That feat has never been duplicated either. That season was also the last year the Packers were coached by Lombardi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travis Williams in the Ice Bowl

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

Against the Rams, Lombardi primarily played Williams at halfback and Mercein at fullback. Against the Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl”, Anderson played primarily at halfback, while Mercein received most of the playing time at fullback.

But in Super Bowl II versus the Oakland Raiders, Anderson again was in most of the time at halfback, while Wilson got the start at fullback that game and led the Packers in rushing that day with 65 yards.

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

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

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

Two weeks later against the Cleveland Browns at Milwaukee County Stadium, Williams really put himself on the NFL map. Williams returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that day in the first quarter. The first was 87 yards and the second one was 85 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the “Roadrunner” rushed for 43 yards in just four carries in the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Bay Packers: Jordy Nelson and Boyd Dowler Have Many Similarities

Boyd Dowler Jordy Nelson side by side

Jordy Nelson (left) in Super Bowl XLV and Boyd Dowler (right) in Super Bowl II.

With the Green Bay Packers recently releasing long-time great wide receiver Jordy Nelson, it got me thinking about who was comparable to No. 87 in the annals of team history. The first player who jumped into my head was Boyd Dowler.

Both players had size and speed working for them. Nelson is 6’3″, 215 pounds, while when Dowler played in the 1960s for the Packers, he went 6’5″, 225 pounds. Plus, both Nelson and Dowler had a track backgrounds.

Both Nelson and Dowler were early draft picks by the Packers. Nelson was a second-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft and was the 36th player taken overall, while Dowler was a third-round selection in the 1959 NFL draft and was the 25th player taken overall (there were only 12 teams in the NFL back then).

Nelson went to one Pro Bowl in 2014, plus was named second-team All-Pro that same season.

Dowler went to two Pro Bowls (1965 & 1967) and was named second-team All-Pro in 1967. Dowler was also named the 1959 NFL Rookie of the Year by UPI and was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s.

In terms of the Green Bay record book, both Nelson and Dowler appear prominently in the receiving records for the Packers.

In the nine years he played with the Packers (2008 through 2017), not counting the 2015 season when he tore his ACL in the preseason, Nelson had 550 receptions (third) for 7,848 yards (fifth) and 69 touchdowns (second). Nelson also had a 14.3 yards-per-catch average.

In the 11 years he played with the Packers, who were then a run-first team, Dowler had 448 catches (sixth) for 6,918 yards (sixth) and 40 touchdowns (11th). Dowler had a 15.4 yards-per-catch average.

Both Nelson and Dowler also came up big in the postseason.

In 13 games for the Packers in the playoffs, Nelson had 54 catches (first) for 668 yards and five scores (tied for third).

In 10 games with the Packers in the postseason, Dowler had 30 catches for 440 yards and five touchdowns (tied for third).

The teams Nelson played on were 7-6 in the postseason, played in three NFC title games and won Super Bowl XLV.

The teams Dowler played on were 9-1 in the postseason, won five NFL titles, including three straight (1965, 1966 & 1967), plus won Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Nelson caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLV, while Dowler caught a 62-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl II.

Jordy Nelson in Super Bowl XLV (II)

In Super Bowl XLV, not only did Nelson catch a TD pass, but he caught nine passes overall for 140 yards, which is tied for the all-time lead in team history in terms of receptions in a postseason game.

Dowler caught all five of his postseason touchdowns in championship games, either in a NFL title game or in a Super Bowl.

I had a chance earlier this week to talk with Dowler, and although he doesn’t personally know Nelson, he definitely tracked his career, even before he became a member of the Packers.

“I don’t know Jordy, but I followed him very closely,” Dowler said. “I read his bio coming out of Kansas State. He went to a small Kansas high school and what I couldn’t get over was that he wasn’t offered a scholarship. He was a walk-on at Kansas State.

“I read about what he did in high school. He was all-state in football at two positions, receiver and safety I believe. He was an all-state point guard in basketball. Plus he won the 100 meters in the Kansas high school track meet. I ran track in college (Colorado), and kids from Kansas or Kansas State were always good. It was a good track state.

“He did all those things and Kansas State didn’t offer him a scholarship. He was allowed to walk-on and he did and he earned a scholarship.

“I’ve really liked him as a player. He’s 33 years-old now. I was ready to retire about then. He’s a big guy with good speed. He was probably faster than I was.”

I mentioned to Dowler that he had a better yards-per-catch average than Nelson, but he responded with a great observation.

“Jordy did a lot of work inside the 20 or the red zone,” Dowler said.

The player who reminded Dowler of Nelson was Max McGee.

“Max was a college halfback,” Dowler said. “Max was real good run after catch. Max was pretty big, about 6’3″, about the same size as Jordy. Max went about 215 pounds (same weight as Nelson). He could run too, and he was in track as well in high school, I think maybe high jumping. Max was an awfully good athlete.”

As we talked about Nelson’s release by the Packers and he subsequent signing by the Oakland Raiders for $15 million over two years, Dowler was not shocked by the money.

“I’m not surprised,” Dowler said. “They have a former Green Bay person (GM Reggie McKenzie) in management. And I’ll bet Edgar Bennett was right there when Jordy first came out to Oakland.”

Bennett had spent most of the last 25 years in Green Bay, either as a player (five years, 1992-1996 and a member of the Super Bowl XXXI team), player development (four years, 2001-2005) or a coach (as running backs coach, wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator for 13 years, 2005-2017) .

When head coach Mike McCarthy hired Joe Philbin to become his new offensive coordinator in 2018, he left open a possibility that Bennett could return to the team in a different coaching role. Bennett declined however and instead took over as the wide receivers coach of the Raiders when he was hired by new head coach Jon Gruden, who had previously coached the Raiders from 1998-2001.

Obviously, Bennett had worked closely with Nelson in Green Bay, so that certainly had to be a plus with Nelson signing with the Raiders. Bennett had also been Nelson’s position coach for four years in Green Bay.

“The Raiders have a pretty good idea who they are getting,” Dowler said. “Plus, they are coached now by Jon Gruden (runs a similar offense that McCarthy runs in Green Bay).”

Like Nelson, Dowler did not finish his career in Green Bay as a player, as he played with the Pack from 1959 through 1969. The former Colorado Buffalo explained to me why he decided to move on.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

“After the ’68 season, after Vince [Lombardi] left, we just didn’t play the way we had played before in the ’60s,” Dowler said. “We just weren’t the same football team. We had some of the same players, but the nucleus of the team all got old at the same time. The defense was still pretty solid, but we had a lot of young guys on offense.

“We weren’t able to match up with the Colts in ’68 and the Vikings in ’69. Anyway, after we finished the ’68 season and went to camp in ’69, I just felt down deep that this team had gone through it’s great years and it was about over. In ’69, we were out of the race with like three games to go in the season.

“I kind of decided at that point that I was going to get into coaching.”

Dowler tried to hook up with his old coach in Washington, as Lombardi was now the head coach of the Redskins starting in 1969.

“I called Vince on the phone and told him what I was thinking of doing,” Dowler said. “He said, ‘I just hired Lew Carpenter as my receivers coach. If I had known you were available, I would have brought you here to Washington.’ But that wasn’t an option.

“So I called Don Shula, because he had coached me in the Pro Bowl one year. He told me, ‘I think you would be a good coach, but I just hired Howard Schnellenberger from the Rams, who was George Allen’s receivers coach.’ Shula told me that he would call George Allen and give me a recommendation.

“As soon as I got off the phone, I called George Allen myself.”

Allen quickly hired Dowler to be his receivers coach that year, but the entire coaching staff of the Rams was fired after the 1970 season. But Allen was soon hired to become the new head coach of the Redskins in 1971, as Lombardi has not been able to coach in 1970 due to the colon cancer which took his life on September 3, 1970.

Lombardi had led the Redskins to a 7-5 record in 1969, which was Washington’s first winning season in 14 years. After Lombardi’s illness and eventual death in 1970, the Redskins were coached by Bill Austin, but the team slumped to a 6-8 record. That led to the hiring of Allen, which also led to Dowler coming to Washington as well as the receivers coach.

But that role soon became that of player-coach due to injuries at the receiver position. Dowler wore the same No. 86 which he wore in Green Bay and had 26 receptions for 352 yards in 1971, as the team went 9-4-1 and made the playoffs as a wild card team.

In 1972, Dowler strictly was the receivers coach for the Redskins, as the team went 11-3 and went to the Super Bowl, where they lost 14-7 to the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

Dowler stayed in coaching for the next decade or so, as he was receivers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1973-1975, the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1976-1979, wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1980-1982 and then quarterbacks coach for the Bucs in 1983 and 1984.

Dowler later worked as a scout for the Carolina Panthers when they became an expansion team in 1995. By 1996, the team had improved to the point where they ended up playing the Packers in the 1996 NFC title game at Lambeau Field, in which the Packers won 30-13.

The bottom line is not all the players that fans of the Packers grow to love over the years stay in Green Bay to end their careers. They move on to new locales.

It’s happened with Hall of Fame players like Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Jim Ringo, James Lofton, Reggie White, Dave Robinson and of course Brett Favre.

It also happened with the legendary coaching icons of the Packers, Curly Lambeau and Lombardi.

Having a great player like Nelson move on to another team certainly is crushing to many in Packer Nation, especially since he was cut. But when the dust clears, Nelson will retire as a Packer and end up in the Packers Hall of Fame.

Just like Dowler did, when he was inducted in 1978.

Jerry Kramer Talks About the Packers Playing at Milwaukee County Stadium

Packers Sideline at County Stadium

Jerry Kramer did not have real good memories of playing games at Milwaukee County Stadium at the beginning of his career. In 1958, Kramer’s rookie year, the Packers were 0-2 at County Stadium, as the team finished a woeful 1-10-1 under head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean.

In 1959, which was the first year that Vince Lombardi became head coach (and general manager), the team also went 0-2 at the home of the Milwaukee Braves, although the team vastly improved it’s season record to 7-5.

In 1960, the Packers did split the two games the team played in Milwaukee, plus went 8-4 for the season and won the Western Conference title. But the Packers lost the 1960 NFL title game to the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-13, which turned out to be the only postseason loss in the Lombardi era in Green Bay.

The Packers only played two games in Milwaukee per season when the schedule was just 12 games. But in 1961, the NFL started a 14-game schedule, which meant that now three homes games would be played in Beertown, while the other four would be played at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) in Green Bay.

The Packers first started playing some of their home games in Milwaukee, starting in 1933. The first location was Borchert Field in 1933, followed by State Fair Park from 1934 through 1951 and then Marquette Stadium in 1952.

The Packers started playing in the then new County Stadium starting in 1953 and that continued through the 1994 season. Starting in 1995, the Packers started playing all eight of their homes games at Lambeau Field, although they still allot two games per year for Milwaukee season ticket holders.

Going back now to 1961, Kramer had another bad experience at Milwaukee County Stadium, as the Packers lost the season opener there (making the Packers 1-4 at MCS at that point under Lombardi). If that wasn’t bad enough,  Kramer broke his ankle in the next game in Milwaukee versus the Minnesota Vikings covering a kickoff.

“I remember that play pretty well,” Kramer told me recently. “I decided I was going to break the wedge. I was going to go right in the middle of it and make something happen. I don’t know if I slipped or they just knocked me on my ass, but the injury turned out to be pretty serious.

“I broke my leg below the knee and separated the bones in the ankle. It was really painful because the bones were separated. A week or so after the injury, the doctors decided to put a pin in the ankle to pull the bones back together.

“When you think of a pin, you think of something small and delicate, but this was a stone bolt. It had a screw head, a square nut on the opposite side of my leg and it had washers on it. I didn’t think about it at the time, but the washers pulled the bones back together.”

In another story that I wrote about the 1962 Packers, Kramer talked about how arduous and difficult it was to rehab from that injury, not to mention feeling like he didn’t play a big part in the NFL title that the Packers won in 1961.

“I really didn’t feel like I was a part of the championship team in ’61,” Kramer said. “There’s something about a team, a tight team, that once you are no longer making a contribution, you don’t feel like you are part of things.

“You still go to the meetings. You still hang out in the locker room. But you aren’t contributing. I just felt like I wasn’t part of that tight-knit group. I missed that. That’s why I was looking forward to having a great season in ’62.”

Getting over the ankle injury was the first step.

“I wasn’t told how serious my ankle injury was,” Kramer said. “But there was some concern. I separated the bones in the ankle and the doctors had to put a pin in to hold it together. I had a significant amount of pain for about 10 days due to the pressure by the washer on the bolt they put in my ankle.

“For my rehab, I tried to run a little bit. I had a buddy who played in the Canadian Football League and he and I would chase rabbits in the desert in the Boise area. We didn’t catch any, but it helped us occupy our minds while we were running for about an hour.

“When training camp opened, my ankle was still a little stiff. I found that skipping before warmups was very helpful. Skipping helped to put more pressure on the tendons and the ligaments in the ankle. I sure got quite a few interesting looks while I was doing my skipping exercise!”

Even though Kramer had broken his ankle, the Packers went on nine-game winning streak at County Stadium starting with that game against the Vikings.

And as it turned out, even with the Packers starting out 1-4 at County Stadium with Lombardi as their head coach, the team eventually ended up 20-6 overall under Lombardi at the stadium right off of I-94.

County Stadium II

One of those victories was the 1967 Western Conference title game versus the Los Angeles Rams. More on that game later.

Kramer talked about why playing Milwaukee became a very pleasant experience for the team.

“It really wasn’t that difficult playing in Milwaukee,” Kramer said. “It was a couple hours by bus. And we enjoyed the trips down there, as we would BS with each other, listen to music or play cards.

“And on the way home, Coach Lombardi stopped a number of times at a liquor store and would get three or four cases of beer for the team. We sure as hell appreciated that gesture.”

Kramer also talked about the accommodations in Milwaukee.

“We stayed at a nice hotel,” Kramer said. “The Pfister was an old hotel, but it was a classy hotel. That was pleasant. The whole trip was good, as people were always nice, just like in Green Bay.”

In another story I previously wrote about Emlen Tunnell, Kramer talked about a great time he and some of his teammates had at the Pfister thanks to Tunnell’s connections in the entertainment business.

“Then another time we were in Milwaukee one night and Ray Charles was performing in this hotel (the Pfister),” Kramer said. “We went in to watch him during his second session, as he had already done an early show.

Fuzzy [Thurston], myself and some other players quietly found a table near the back. Emlen saw us and he told us to follow him. Ray was sitting at the piano getting ready to start his set, while Emlen had the help get us a bunch of chairs and then put them around the piano. We were sitting six feet away from Ray having a beer while he was performing. It was a priceless moment.”

When the players went out to dinner in Milwaukee during their stay there, more times than not, the destination was Frenchy’s Restaurant on North Avenue on the east side of Milwaukee.

“We went to Frenchy’s quite a bit,” Kramer said. “It was our favorite spot.  One time a bunch of us went there and all of us had lobster, while Bob Long had a hamburger. Then we split the bill evenly. You should have seen the look on Bob’s face after that!”

From 1959 through 1967, the Packers played a lot of memorable games at County Stadium.

There was the late comeback against the Baltimore Colts early in the 1965 season, when backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Max McGee, as the Packers won 20-17.

Or the 1966 season opener, when the Packers beat the Colts again 24-3, which was highlighted by two pick 6’s, as both linebacker Lee Roy Caffey and cornerback Bob Jeter returned interceptions for touchdowns versus Johnny Unitas.

Lee Roy Caffey II

Or how about the 55-7 blowout of the Cleveland Browns in 1967, when Travis Williams of the Packers returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same quarter.

But the best victory for the Packers under Lombardi in Milwaukee had to be the 1967 Western Conference title game, which was held eight days before the legendary “Ice Bowl” game.

I also wrote about that game previously, and Kramer will never forget the pre-game pep talk by his coach.

“We really got fired up in the locker room when Coach Lombardi gave us his Run to Win speech,” Kramer said. “That got us pretty high. The ring I wear, from Super Bowl II, has Run to Win on the side of it.

“He gave us this wonderful speech of St. Paul’s epistle,  about when all the runners are running the race, only one can win, and we run, not just to be in the race, but we run to win. That got us pumped up pretty good.”

There were a number of factors as to why the Packers were 28-7 victors over the Rams that day. Kramer talked about three of them.

“I think one of the big things that we did in that game was to put Marv Fleming next to Forrest Gregg to help control the effectiveness of Deacon Jones,” Kramer said. “They just neutralized him. Bart [Starr] had a big game and so did our running game.

“I also remember that Henry Jordan had a hell of a day. Henry had 3.5 sacks and seemed to be on top of Roman Gabriel all game long.

“Plus, Travis [Williams] was the X-factor in the game. I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] and I looked outside and Travis was about even with us, but near the sideline running towards the end zone. And I knew that this play was over. He was gone.”

Williams ended up gaining 88 yards in the game and scored two touchdowns.

In the 61 years that the Packers played in Milwaukee at the various venues, the team usually played quite well in the regular season. The overall record for the Packers in Milwaukee was 105-61-3, which adds up to a .631 winning percentage.

Again, the team was 19-6 under Lombardi in the regular season at County Stadium, which was even better than that, as the team had a .760 winning percentage.

The Packers also won the 1939 NFL title game at State Fair Park by beating the New York Giants 27-0.

Vince and the boys at MCS in the playoffs vs. the Rams

And speaking of the postseason, the Packers put an exclamation point on their years of playing at County Stadium under Lombardi by beating the Rams 28-7 on December 23, 1967. Eight days later, the team won it’s third straight NFL title in the “Ice Bowl” versus the Dallas Cowboys and then won Super Bowl II a couple of weeks after that, defeating the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

You can be absolutely sure that Lombardi had some beer brought on the bus on the happy ride back to Green Bay after the Packers beat the Rams on that very memorable late December day in 1967 at Milwaukee County Stadium.

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

Chuck Mercein I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chuck Mercein III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chuck Mercein II

Mercein vividly recalled that moment.

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

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

This is when Mercein and the Packers had a hiccup in the drive. Defensive end Willie Townes broke through and tackled Anderson for a nine-yard loss.

Mercein explained what happened on the play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bart Starr QB sneak II

I’ll let Mercein explain what happened next.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Kramer Talks About the 1967 Playoff Game Versus the Los Angeles Rams

Rams-Packers program

The 1967 NFL season was a special one in the history of the Green Bay Packers. It would turn out to be the last season that Vince Lombardi would be the head coach of the team.

Up until that season, Lombardi and his Packers had won four NFL titles in six years, plus had won Super Bowl I. In addition to that, the Packers had a chance to win their third straight NFL championship, a feat which had never been accomplished in the playoff era of the NFL.

1967 was also the year when right guard Jerry Kramer of the Packers kept a diary of the season.  Kramer would recite his thoughts into a tape recorder and then submit those words to Dick Schaap, who edited the words into the final version of the classic book, Instant Replay.

Little did Kramer know that the 1967 season would be one of the most remarkable in the history of the NFL, culminating with the NFL Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys, better known as the “Ice Bowl.” No. 64 played a key role in the outcome of that game as well, as the Packers won 21-17 in the final seconds of that legendary contest.

From training camp, through the “Ice Bowl” victory, then the win in Super Bowl II, Kramer provides a fascinating perspective about the viciousness of the NFL back then, when the game was truly a mixture of blood, sweat and tears.

Kramer also offers an insightful view of Lombardi, as a man, as a coach and as a leader.

Two of the more interesting aspects of the ’67 season were the two times the Packers had to face the Los Angeles Rams. With the Rams now going back to the City of Angels in 2016, I thought it would be an apropos time to talk those contests with Kramer.

The first time the team met was late in the season, when the Packers had already clinched the NFL Central division with a 9-2-1 mark heading into the game. They would be traveling to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to take on the 9-1-2 Rams.

The Packers really had nothing to play for except pride. The Rams meanwhile, were in a heated race with the Baltimore Colts to see who would win the Coastal division. Also, the NFL did not have a wild card format at the time, so the Rams had to win the division to advance to the playoffs.

Lombardi gave the team a quick pep talk on the sideline before the game.

“Thousands of people are here in the stands,” Lombardi told the team. “There are millions of people on television and everyone looking. All this speculation to see what kind of a game the Green Bay Packers are going to play today.

“Right? I want you to be proud of your profession. It’s a great profession. You be proud of this game. You can do a great deal for football today. A great deal for all the players in the league and everything else. Now go out there and play this ball game like I know you can play it!”

This past Friday, the NFL Network had a three-hour special as Super Bowl I was replayed in it’s entirety for the first time since that epic event 49 years ago.

In that special, it was presented that the speech that Lombardi gave his team in the 1967 regular season versus the Rams, was the one he gave before Super Bowl I, which also occurred at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

I knew that wasn’t the case and I posted a comment about it on Facebook. During a conversation I had with Kramer on Tuesday, I mentioned that to him.

“I saw that,” Kramer said speaking of my comment on Facebook. “I said, ‘Bob knows his sh*t. He’s doing it again. He’s got it right.’

The Packers played a great game on that Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles on December 9, 1967.

It was a hard fought contest, which saw both teams go back and forth taking the lead. The Rams had taken a 17-10 lead in the third period when they kicked off to Travis Williams of the Packers.

Williams had already become a sensation in the NFL in returning kickoffs that season, as he had returned three kicks for touchdowns before this game against the Rams.

No. 23 took the kickoff four yards deep in the end zone and returned the kick for yet another touchdown which tied the game at 17 all.

The Rams took the lead again 20-17 in the fourth quarter on a 16-yard field goal by Bruce Gossett, before the Packers scored on a four-yard touchdown run by fullback Chuck Mercein to give the Packers a 24-20 lead.

Donny's blocked put vs. the Rams

The Packers had that lead until the very last minute when Donny Anderson had his punt blocked by Tony Guillory of the Rams. Quarterback Roman Gabriel and his offense now had the ball on the five-yard line of the Packers with just seconds to go in the game.

Gabriel then threw a touchdown pass to Bernie Casey and the Rams won 27-24, as the Packers lost in heartbreaking fashion.

In Instant Replay, this is what Kramer wrote regarding the outcome of the game:

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

Fortunately for the Packers, they had one more opportunity to play the Rams. This time it would be in the Western Conference Championship Game at Milwaukee County Stadium on December 23, just two weeks after that painful loss to the Rams.

Kramer told me that he knew the Rams would be a very tough test.

“They [the Rams] were a hell of a football team,” Kramer said. “The Fearsome Foursome was very real. There wasn’t any weakness there. They also had a good linebacking corp and good defensive backs. They had a hell of a football team.”

The game didn’t start out well for the Packers as they had a couple of turnovers in the first quarter.  The last turnover led to a score by the Rams, as Gabriel hit Casey on a 29-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead.

But the Packers weren’t phased. The team was definitely ready to play, as Lombardi had given the team another pre-game pep talk in the locker room.

Lombardi and the Packers vs. the Rams

“We really got fired up in the locker room when Coach Lombardi gave us his Run to Win speech,” Kramer said. “That got us pretty high. The ring I wear, from Super Bowl II, has Run to Win on the side of it.

“He gave us this wonderful speech of St. Paul’s epistle,  about when all the runners are running the race, only one can win, and we run, not just to be in the race, but we run to win. That got us pumped up pretty good.”

The Packers basically took control of the game emphatically in the second quarter. Kramer talked about one of the strategies that the Packers employed in the game.

“One of the best things we did for the ball game was to put Marv Fleming next to Forrest [Gregg] to double Deacon [Jones],” Kramer said. “We really spent some time on trying to neutralize him and keep him a way from his favorite target [the quarterback].

“So that worked really well. Of course Travis [Williams] was the wild card in that game. I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] and he was starting to slip away to the outside in pursuit and I look outside and Travis was about even with us, but near the sideline running towards the end zone. And I knew that this play was over. He’s gone.”

Gone he was, as Williams galloped 46 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.

The Packers added another touchdown in the second quarter, as Bart Starr threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Carroll Dale for a 14-7 lead going into halftime.

The Packers were never threatened after that. Williams ended up with 88 yards rushing and two scores, while Dale caught six passes for 109 yards and a score.

The Packers had 20 first downs to the Rams 12 in the game. Starr was only sacked once, while Gabriel was sacked five times, including 3.5 sacks by Henry Jordan.

The result was a very satisfying 28-7 victory over the Rams. That win set up the game eight days later, when the Packers played the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl game, when the Packers won their third straight NFL title.

This is what Kramer wrote regarding that great win against the Rams in Instant Replay:

I was misty-eyed myself I felt so good. I felt so proud, proud of myself and proud of my teammates and proud of my coaches. I felt like I was part of something special. I guess it’s the way a group of scientists feel when they make a big breakthrough, though, of course, we aren’t that important. It’s a feeling of being together, completely together, a singleness of purpose, accomplishing something that is very difficult to accomplish, accomplishing something that a lot of people thought you couldn’t accomplish. It sent a beautiful shiver up my back.

One of the reasons Kramer was busting with pride was due to the fact that he had competed against arguably the best defensive tackle in the history of the NFL, Merlin Olsen.

Kramer talked to me about the many times he competed against the great No. 74 of the Rams.

“I knew that Merlin was never going to let up on the field,” Kramer said. “He was never going to quit. He wasn’t going to hold you. He wasn’t going to play dirty. But he wasn’t going to take a play off either. He was coming.

“You had to gamble a little bit with Merlin. I liked to pop him every once in awhile. Like if it’s a pass play, I might come off the line of scrimmage and just whack him real quick like it’s a running play. Then I would almost bounce back into my position as a pass-blocker.

Packers-Rams playoff game in '67

“That gave me an extra second for him to figure out that it really was a pass play. I remember one time he was starting to loop around the center towards Fuzzy [Thurston}, and I came up and popped him real quick with my helmet. And he went down to one knee and then bounced back up into a running position.

“He was a load. He was strong. He was motivated. He was smart. And he may have been the best I ever played against.”

Olsen had the honors to prove it. He was named to 14 Pro Bowls and was named first team All-Pro nine times.

The respect and admiration that Kramer had for Olsen, was equally shared by No. 74 towards No. 64.

In fact, Olsen sent off this letter of endorsement for Kramer regarding induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

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

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

That might be the strongest endorsement Kramer has ever received regarding his rightful place in Canton, which has still yet to occur, even with Kramer being a finalist 10 times.

I have written about this travesty many times, including in this story.

How can a man who was on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team, be kept out of Canton? Kramer is the only member of that first-team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In addition, No. 64 was a five-time All-Pro and named to three Pro Bowls. He was also on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

But his biggest moments came on the football field in the postseason, when it truly was win or go home. The Packers kept winning and Kramer was a big reason why, especially in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 NFL title games.

Olsen wasn’t the only player who has come out to speak out on behalf of Kramer being in the Hall of Fame. So have contemporaries like Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Bob Lilly, Doug Atkins, Alan Page, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

You can see all of those endorsements and much more in this great book put together by Randy Simon.

No matter what your occupation in life is, you always want to be respected by your peers. And Kramer certainly was respected by his rivals in the NFL.

“In the wee small hours of the morning, I rather have the applause of my peers, than to not have the applause of my peers and be in the Hall,” Kramer said. “I rather have the guys I admired and I thought a lot of, think that I belong, than to be in there and have them think I didn’t.”

There is absolutely no question that Gerald Louis Kramer belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has the credentials, the championships and the respect of his peers who are already in Canton.

Merlin Olsen

In less than a week, on January 23rd, Kramer will celebrate his 80th birthday. He has waited far too long for his proper enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Here’s hoping that this injustice will be taken care of when Kramer is part of the Class of 2017 in Canton.

It s a well-deserved honor which has eluded the best guard in the history of the NFL, at least based on his inclusion on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

You know Merlin Olsen would certainly agree.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Dan Currie

Last week the Green Bay Packers had their annual alumni event for their game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.

Former Packer greats like John Anderson, John Brockington, Willie Buchanon, Leroy Butler, Al Carmichael, Paul Coffman, Fred Cone, Dan Currie, Lynn Dickey, Gerry Ellis, Ken Ellis, Antonio Freeman, Johnnie Gray, Ahman Green, Chris Jacke, Ezra Johnson, Gary Knafelc, James Lofton, Don Majkowski, Chester Marcol, John Martinkovic, Mark Murphy, Ken Ruettgers and Frank Winters were in attendance.

In addition, so were a number of players who played on the team which won Super Bowl I. This included Donny Anderson, Zeke Bratkowski, Allen Brown, Tom Brown, Bill Curry, Carroll Dale, Willie Davis, Boyd Dowler, Marv Fleming, Jim Grabowski, Forrest Gregg, Doug Hart, Dave Hathcock, Jerry Kramer, Red Mack, Dave Robinson, Jim Taylor and Steve Wright.

The Super Bowl I players will be honored on Monday night at Lambeau Field when the Packers take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

If you look at the first group of players, all of them are now in the Packers Hall of Fame due to their playing prowess on the field. So are a number of the Super Bowl I alumni, and some of those players are also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

One player who definitely should in Canton, but who isn’t, is Jerry Kramer.

Kramer was part of the 1958 draft class for the Packers. That class has to be the best draft class in the history of the Packers, as well as one of the best ever in the NFL.

Just look at that draft.

In the first round, the Packers selected Dan Currie from Michigan State.

In the second round, Green Bay took Jim Taylor from LSU.

In the third round, the Packers picked Ray Nitschke from Illinois.

In the fourth round, the Pack went with Jerry Kramer from Idaho.

Taylor and Nitschke have busts in Canton, while Kramer certainly should have one too.

Currie was a very talented player as well.

In seven years with the Packers, Currie was named first-team All-Pro once by the  Associated Press, plus was also given that same designation three other times by NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association), twice by UPI (United Press International) and once by the New York Daily News.

Currie was also named to the Pro Bowl in 1960.

In his years in Green Bay, Currie played left outside linebacker. Currie was normally grouped with Nitschke, who played middle linebacker, as well as Bill Forester, who played right outside linebacker. In 1964, which was Currie’s last year with the Packers, Forester was replaced by Lee Roy Caffey.

Currie was a very athletic linebacker and he also had a nose for the football. No. 58 had 11 career interceptions for the Packers in the regular season, plus recovered six fumbles.

Currie also picked off a pass in the 1962 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants at frigid and windy Yankee Stadium.

That was the game in which Kramer kicked three field goals and an extra point in the 16-7 win for the Packers. No. 64 also played right guard that day, as Taylor ran for 85 yards and also scored the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

After the 1964 season, Vince Lombardi traded Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

I had a chance recently to talk with Kramer about Currie.

“Dan was the number one draft choice,” Kramer said. “Out of Michigan State. He was an All-American center and an All-American linebacker as well. A great all-around football player.

“Dan had his opinions. For instance, one of the coaches were trying to tell him one time that he should have done something else on a particular play. So Dan says, ‘It’s instinct! You put me in the same position and the same thing happens, I’m going to do the same thing!’

“But Dan was a super ballplayer. He was also a proud ballplayer. Dan took care of his business.

“We called him Dapper because he always wore a coat and tie. He was always dressed well.

“Dapper could have had a career in Hollywood. He was a Clark Gable type of guy. He had a lot of fun and had a great sense of humor.”

Currie suffered a knee injury with the Packers and he was never the same ballplayer he was earlier in his career.

Kramer talked about that as well.

“Tommy McDonald was a wide receiver for Philadelphia and he probably went 5’10” and 175 pounds. He was a little ball of muscle and energy. Anyway, he cracked-back on Dapper’s knee on a running play one time.

“That tore Dan’s knee up and he was never the same after that injury.”

If one looks at Currie’s interception in the 1962 NFL title game, No. 58 had clear sailing for a pick-six. But as he was running near the sideline of the Packers, his knee gave out and he stumbled and fell after returning the interception 30 yards.

After his playing career ended, Currie eventually became a security guard at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas for 25 years.

Currie is now in an assisted living center in Las Vegas and has come across some difficult times.

It didn’t help matters when Currie was assigned a private, for-profit guardian named April Parks by the court system of Clark County.

Dan and Joanna

People who are close to Currie, like good friend Joanna Saxton, started noticing improprieties occurring after Parks became Currie’s guardian.

Saxton talked to Kramer about a number of alarming issues which were ongoing under Park’s watch as guardian.

Kramer then enlisted the help of Bob Schmidt, who is the Executive Director of the Pro Football Retired Players Association.

Schmidt also reached out to Dana Lihan, who is the Program Director for the NFL Player Care Foundation.

The situation took a dramatic turn this past Monday, when Parks had her home and office served with search warrants by the police for guardian exploitation.

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears is the KTNV reporter who has closely been following this case.

Spears has asked the court what will happen with all the people (more than 100), including Currie, who are under the guardianship of Parks, now that police have seized her files, paperwork and computer equipment.

The court hasn’t responded as of yet, but one thing is for sure, better days are ahead for Currie.

When Currie was in Green Bay last weekend, he and Saxton met with Kramer and his son Dan at the Stadium View bar on Saturday night.

Then on Sunday morning, they all had breakfast together.

Dan and the rest of the Pack

On Sunday night they all celebrated a great victory by the Packers over the Seahawks at Lambeau Field.

Once this guardianship issue is resolved for Currie, there will be another celebration.

You can be certain that Kramer will be with Currie in Las Vegas toasting that victory.