Wisconsin Sports Teams Have Fared Well at Yankee Stadium in the Postseason

lew burdette at yankee stadium in 1957 world series

As I was watching the Wisconsin Badgers pummel the Miami Hurricanes 35-3 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at the new Yankee Stadium in December, I got to thinking about all the great moments other Wisconsin sports teams had at the original Yankee Stadium.

The new Yankee Stadium replaced “The House That Ruth Built” in 2009. That original stadium was considered to be the cathedral of baseball while it existed from 1923 through 2008. The stadium also hosted other sporting events such as college football, as well as NFL football (the New York Giants played there from 1956-1973), plus their were also a number of great boxing matches at the venerable stadium.

In terms of great moments for a Wisconsin sports team, it all started in 1957, when the Milwaukee Braves played the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Game 1 was played at Yankee Stadium and the Braves did not get off to a great start, as Whitey Ford out-pitched Warren Spahn and the Yankees won 3-1 in front of 69,476 fans. But in Game 2, Lew Burdette got the Braves back to even in the series, as he pitched a beauty as Milwaukee won 4-2, as 65,202 fans attended.

But that performance by Burdette was just the beginning of even more excellence as the series continued.

The Braves then won two out of three games played at Milwaukee County Stadium to take a 3-2 lead in the series as it headed back to Yankee Stadium. One of those wins in Milwaukee was another great performance by Burdette in Game 5, as he shut out the Yanks 1-0 in a great pitching duel with Ford.

In Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, New York evened the series at 3-3, as the Yankees edged the Braves 3-2 in front of 61,408 fans.

That set up a winner-take-all situation in Game 7, as the Braves were putting out Burdette on the mound again versus Don Larsen. Milwaukee was led offensively by Bob Hazle, Del Crandall and Hank Aaron, who each had two hits, while Burdette was magnificent on the mound. Crandall hit the only homer of the game, as the Braves won 5-0.

Burdette had his third straight complete game win in the series and his second straight shutout.  In all, No. 33 was 3-0 in the series, pitched 24 consecutive scoreless innings, had an ERA of .067 and was named the MVP of the World Series.

On this offensive side, Aaron was fantastic in the series, as No. 44 hit .393, plus knocked out three homers and drove in seven runs. Third baseman Eddie Mathews added a homer (the game-winner in Game 4) and four RBIs.

As it has turned out, 1957 was the only year the city of Milwaukee has had a World Series champion. And that clinching victory happened at Yankee Stadium.

braves celebrate winning 1957 world series

Then there was the 1962 NFL Championship Game played at Yankee Stadium between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants. This would be the second straight year the two teams had played for the NFL title, as the Packers beat the G-Men at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) 37-0 in the 1961 NFL Championship Game, as Paul Hornung scored 19 of those points by himself.

The environment at Yankee Stadium was reminiscent of the conditions at the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better know as the “Ice Bowl”, as it was a bitterly cold day (13 degrees), plus the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour, which made things feel much colder.

Even with the blustery weather, right guard/kicker Jerry Kramer was awestruck as he walked into the storied stadium.

“It was really a highlight for me walking into Yankee Stadium,” Kramer said. “It was an emotional experience for me. All the great fights and the World Series games that had gone on there. You had the statues of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio in center field.

“You also looked into the crowd and saw the sophisticated sports fans who were booing your ass. Then you look across the line of scrimmage and you see [Andy] Robustelli, [Jim] Katcavage, [Sam] Huff, [Dick] Lynch and that whole group, you definitely get pumped.”

Kramer wasn’t the only one pumped on the Green Bay sideline. Being at Yankee Stadium was also a homecoming for head coach Vince Lombardi, as he was a New York City native and was the offensive coordiantor for the Giants from 1954-1958.

“We knew how badly coach Lombardi wanted to win that ball game,” Kramer said. “And we knew the Giants had been embarrassed the year before in Green Bay. We knew the Giants were going to be loaded for bear that day. But we also knew coach Lombardi desperately wanted a victory, and so we wanted to win for him and much as ourselves.”

Kramer was excited for another reason. No. 64 had missed the 1961 NFL title game due to a broken ankle/leg suffered midway in the 1961 season. But Kramer went on to have his best season in the NFL in 1962.

Kramer was named first team All-Pro by AP, NEA and UPI, while No. 64 was also named to his first Pro Bowl squad.

Not only was Kramer exceptional playing right guard for the Packers, but he also took over the placekicking duties of the Packers during the season after Hornung suffered a knee injury.

For the season, Kramer scored 65 points, which included being 9-for-11 in field goal attempts.

The NFL title game in the Bronx turned out to be extremely physical in arctic-like conditions. The Packers rushed for 148 yards in the game, with fullback Jimmy Taylor getting 85 of those yards, as well as the only touchdown scored by the Packers.

jim taylor in 1962 nfl title game

Taylor and middle linebacker Sam Huff of the Giants brawled all game long. Huff made it a personal mission to stop Taylor, and he hit the bruising fullback after the whistle a number of times in the game. Talking about that confrontation, Kramer said, “Huff probably would have gotten arrested for assaulting Taylor today.”

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

Kramer certainly could have received that honor as well, based on the way he played that day. Besides blocking very well and recovering a fumble by Taylor, Kramer had to kick that day under very difficult conditions, with the gusty wind hampering his efforts.

Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) in the 16-7 victory for the Packers. After the game, the coaches and the players presented No. 64 with a game ball because of the great performance he had in that year’s championship game.

jerry kramer fg

Then there was the 1981 American League Division Series between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Yankees. The 1981 season was a strike year in baseball and the season was split into halves. The Yankees won the AL East in the first half of the season, while the Brew Crew won the AL East in the second half of the season. That set up this playoff series to find out who would go on to the AL Championship Series.

1981 was the first time the Brewers had ever played in the postseason. The season was set up by a big offseason trade that saw Milwaukee acquire relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich and catcher Ted Simmons from the St, Louis Cardinals.

Fingers was awesome all season long as he was 6-3 with 28 saves, plus had a phenomenal 1.04 ERA, which led the Brewers to the second-half AL East title. That performance garnered Fingers the AL MVP award, as well as the Cy Young honor in the AL.

In the series against the Yanks, the Brewers did not play very well in the first two games at County Stadium in Milwaukee, as they were beaten 5-3 in Game 1 and then 3-0 in Game 2. That meant all the Yankees needed was just one win at Yankee Stadium to move on to the ALCS.

paul molitor in 1981 al division series at yankee stadium

But the Brewers battled back in Game 3. Randy Lerch went up against Tommy John and allowed just one run over six innings. Fingers came in to finish the game in the seventh inning, and although he allowed two runs, the Brewers won 5-3. Fingers got the victory, while Simmons (three RBIs) and Paul Molitor each had a homer.

In Game 4, Vuckovich allowed only one unearned run over five innings, as the bullpen took over after that, as Jamie Easterly, Jim Slaton, Bob McClure and Fingers finished it out, as the Brewers won 2-1. Vuckovich got the win, while Fingers got the save. Ben Oglivie and Cecil Cooper each had a RBI.

In Game 5, the Brewers started Moose Haas, who would be going up against Ron Guidry. The Brewers got off to a nice start, as they led 2-0. Gorman Thomas hit a homer and Robin Yount had three hits, but the Yankees stormed back and won 7-3.

Still, it was a great experience for the Brewers, as it set the stage for 1982, when Milwaukee advanced to the World Series under manager Harvey Kuenn, who took over for Buck Rodgers early in that season.

The Badgers had their way against the Canes at the new Yankee Stadium on this past December with running back Jonathan Taylor leading the way, as No. 23 rushed for 205 yards and a touchdown.

The game was attended by just 37,821 fans, but most were Wisconsin backers who enjoyed another great moment in the Big Apple. The bowl victory was the fifth straight for the Badgers and gave head coach Paul Chryst a perfect 4-0 record in bowl games.

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami

The Badgers are now 16-14 in their bowl history.

The bottom line is that both old Yankee Stadium and new Yankee Stadium have given the state of Wisconsin some great sports memories. The memories may continue still, as the Brewers are now in the National League and it’s entirely possible that they might match up one day in the near future with the Yankees in the World Series.

That would be apropos. Especially if the Brewers clinched the series at Yankee Stadium.

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

Don Chandler punting vs. the Colts in Baltimore

The NFL All-Decade team of the 1960s was a star-studded squad. There were also a number of Green Bay Packers on that team, which was led by legendary head coach Vince Lombardi. The Green Bay players were quarterback Bart Starr, fullback Jim Taylor, halfback Paul Hornung, flanker Boyd Dowler, offensive tackle Forrest Gregg, guard Jerry Kramer, center Jim Ringo, defensive end Willie Davis, linebacker Ray Nitschke, linebacker Dave Robinson, cornerback Herb Adderley and safety Willie Wood.

All of those players except Dowler have a bust in Canton. I recently wrote a piece about why No. 86 also deserves consideration in a place where the best of the best reside in pro football.

There was a reason why so many Packers were on that team. It’s because Green Bay ended up winning five NFL championships in seven years in the 1960s.

Another Packer was on that All-Decade team as well, although he spent five years with the New York Giants in the decade of the ’60s before spending the last three years of his career in Green Bay. I’m talking about kicker/punter Don Chandler.

Chandler was named to the 1960s team as a punter.

The former Florida Gator started his NFL in 1956 with the G-Men, as New York won the NFL title that year (with Lombardi as offensive coordinator). Being in NFL championship games became a habit for Chandler, as he ended up playing in nine of them in his 12-year career, winning four.

Overall, Chandler played in 14 NFL postseason games, with his team winning nine times.

Three of those championships came in Green Bay at the end of his career, when the Packers won three straight NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowls.

Chandler punted almost exclusively for the first six years of his career. No. 34 led the NFL in punting in 1958 and had 43.5 yards-per-punt average over his entire career. That includes a 90-yard punt Chandler had his first year with the Packers in 1965. That is still the best mark ever by a Green Bay punter.

Starting in 1962, Chandler also took over placekicking duties for the Giants. In 1963, Chandler led the NFL in scoring with 106 points. For most of that season, the battle to lead the league in scoring was between Chandler and a man he would soon become very close friends with, Jerry Kramer.

Over his entire career, Chandler made 248 extra points and 94 field goals, which added up to 530 points.

In terms of the postseason games Chandler played in, he was money. Overall, Chandler basically matched his regular season career punting average, with a 43.06 mark per punt.

Plus, Don also made 10-of-15 field goals in crunch-time games, including four in Super Bowl II, as he ended up scoring 15 points in the 33-14 win by the Packers over the Oakland Raiders.

Don Chandler in Super Bowl II

Overall, Chandler scored 54 points in the postseason with both the Giants and Packers.

The most controversial field goal Chandler ever kicked was in the 1965 Western Conference title game at Lambeau Field between the Baltimore Colts and the Packers.

The Packers were down 10-7 late in the game when backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski led the Packers from their own 28 to the Baltimore 15, before Chandler attempted a 22-yard field goal.

Bratkowski was in the game because Bart Starr had injured his ribs trying to tackle linebacker Don Shinnick after he recovered a Bill Anderson fumble on the very first scrimmage play of the game.

Starr tried to tackle Shinnick near the end zone, as the linebacker scored to put the Colts up early 7-0.

On Chandler’s late game-tying field goal, the referees said the kick was good. Meanwhile the Colts were complaining to anyone who would listen that the kick was definitely no good and wide right.

That kick led the NFL to raise the height of the goal posts the following season.

There has been quite a debate on whether that kick was good or not, but one person was sure that it was good. That would be Bratkowski.

“The field goal was good,” Bratkowski told me in one of our chats. “The reason I say that is Bart and I were both holders. If he was hurt and couldn’t hold on kicks, I would hold. In practice, the quarterback who wasn’t holding would be under the goal posts catching the kicks, just like in that game.

“But with those short goal posts, unless you were under them, you couldn’t tell if a kick was good or not. And that’s were the officials were when they said the kick was good.”

The 1965 season was also Chandler’s first in Green Bay and it was then when he made a huge difference in the life of Kramer, whose career was at the crossroads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kramer also shared that story when he made his enshrinement speech in Canton last month.

Even as consistent as Chandler was in both punting and placekicking, he only went to one Pro Bowl, which was in 1967, the last season of his NFL career.

Don Chandler hits a field goal vs. the Rams in '67

In terms of All-Pro honors, Chandler was named first-team All-Conference in 1964, 1965 and 1967 by The Sporting News.

The NFL All-Decade team for the 1950s didn’t have a punter on it, otherwise Chandler would have been an excellent candidate to be on that team as well.

In terms of kicking specialists in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are very few. There are only four placekickers. They are Lou Groza, George Blanda, Jan Stenerud (who was with the Packers from 1980 through 1983) and Morten Andersen.

There is only one punter. That would be Ray Guy.

If the Hall of Fame adds another punter, Chandler would be an excellent addition, not just because of his All-Decade status and his consistency, but also because he could placekick as well. Plus, Chandler was a dangerous runner on fake punts, as he ran for 146 yards on just 13 attempts, which equates to an 11.2 yard-per-rush average.

Chandler ran twice on fake punts when he was with the Packers and his first attempt in 1965 went for 27 yards and his second in 1966 went for 33 yards.

Chandler also caught one pass for five yards as a rookie in 1956 with the Giants and then later in the 1956 NFL title game, he caught another for 12 yards.

While I definitely feel that Chandler deserves consideration for a place in Canton, he already is in the Packers Hall of Fame, which occurred in 1975, appropriately with a number of his Green Bay teammates, including his close friend Kramer.

Sadly, Chandler passed away at the age of 76 in 2011.

He will never be forgotten by Kramer, as it was Chandler who helped No. 64 through the very difficult training camp in 1965, when it appeared Kramer’s career might be over.

“Don was the epitome of being a great teammate,” Kramer said. “He set the standard. But he was more than that for me. Don was truly a great friend.”

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 Don Chandler

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Super Bowl LI will be played on Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston. It’s hard to believe this will be the 51st Super Bowl.

The Green Bay Packers played in the first two Super Bowls and have played in five overall.

Guess who the all-time leading scorer for the Packers is in their Super Bowl play over the years? That would be kicker Don Chandler who scored 20 points in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

No. 34 kicked four field goals and eight extra points in those two games and still is the record-holder for points scored by a player on the Packers in team Super Bowl history.

Chandler first came to the Packers in 1965, as Vince Lombardi was trying to improve the kicking situation with the team. Lombardi traded a draft choice to the New York Giants for Chandler, who at that time was both a placekicker and a punter.

Chandler was drafted out of the University of Florida by the G-Men in 1956. He was strictly a punter his first six years with the Giants and then became both a punter and placekicker from 1962 through 1964 with New York.

Chandler played in six NFL title games when he played with the Giants, but only won one championship, which happened in 1956. The offensive coordinator for the Giants in 1956 was none other than Lombardi.

Chandler led the NFL in scoring in 1963 with 105 points. The placekicker for the Packers finished fourth in the league that year with 91 points. That player’s name was Jerry Kramer.

Kramer kicked that year for the Packers for two reasons. One, No. 64 had done a great job kicking for the Pack in 1962 when the regular placekicker hurt his knee. That player was Paul Hornung, who also was the team’s starting halfback.

Kramer hit nine-of-11 field goals in ’62, plus kicked three more against Chandler and the Giants at frigid and very windy (40 mph gusts) Yankee Stadium, when the Packers beat the G-Men 16-7. The 10 points that Kramer scored that day was the difference in the game.

In 1963, Hornung was suspended for gambling. That made Kramer the full-time placekicker, besides being the team’s starting right guard. Kramer had an excellent year for the Packers in ’63, not only in kicking, but by being named to the Pro Bowl for the second time and was also named first-team All-Pro for the third time in his career because of his play on the offensive line.

Kramer did falter a bit with his accuracy late in the ’63 season, so when Hornung came back to the team in 1964, he was once again the placekicker. The “Golden Boy” had a dreadful year that season kicking the ball, as he made only 12-of-38 field goals.

Kramer was not available to help out in the kicking game or in any part of the game, as 1964 was the year when Kramer started having some severe intestinal issues. Those issues cost Kramer almost the entire season, as he was in and out of hospitals during that time. Kramer ended up going through nine medical procedures before his medical situation was resolved.

That was a big reason why Lombardi traded for Chandler in 1965. He needed a kicker and a punter who would be steady for the team, just like Chandler had been for the Giants for the past three years.

It was a different story for Kramer going into the 1965 season with the Packers. No. 64’s career was definitely at the crossroads.

Kramer explained that to me awhile back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a few games, Kramer had once again become the starting right guard for the Packers. Chandler, meanwhile, was 17-out-of-26 in field goals and led the team in scoring with 88 points, plus had 42.9 punting average, which included a 90-yard punt.

Chandler, who was also a running back in college with the Gators, also scampered 27 yards on a fake punt run.

It was during the 1965 Western Division Championship Game between the Packers and Baltimore Colts at Lambeau Field when Chandler was part of one of the more controversial plays in NFL history.

The Packers were down 10-7 late in the game when backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski led the Packers from their own 28 to the Baltimore 15, before Chandler attempted a 22-yard field goal.

Bratkowski was in the game because Bart Starr had injured his ribs trying to tackle linebacker Don Shinnick after he recovered a Bill Anderson fumble on the very first scrimmage play of the game.

Starr tried to tackle Shinnick near the end zone, as the linebacker scored to put the Colts up early 7-0.

On Chandler’s late game-tying field goal, the referees said the kick was good. Meanwhile the Colts were complaining to anyone who would listen that the kick was definitely no good and wide right.

That kick led the NFL to raise the height of the goal posts the following season.

There has been quite a debate on whether that kick was good or not, but one person was sure that it was good. That would be Bratkowski.

“The field goal was good,” Bratkowski told me a few months ago. “The reason I say that is Bart and I were both holders. If he was hurt and couldn’t hold on kicks, I would hold. In practice, the quarterback who wasn’t holding would be under the goal posts catching the kicks, just like in that game.

“But with those short goal posts, unless you were under them, you couldn’t tell if a kick was good or not. And that’s were the officials were when they said the kick was good.”

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In overtime, Chandler hit a 25-yard field goal. This time, there was absolutely no doubt about the kick, and the Packers were 13-10 overtime winners.

The next week, the Packers hosted the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at Lambeau. Both Chandler and Kramer starred in the game.

Chandler kicked three field goals and two extra points, while Kramer, along with Fuzzy Thurston and the rest of the offensive line, opened huge holes for Hornung (105 yards rushing and a score) and fullback Jim Taylor (96 yards rushing) to run through.

The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and  Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders so the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone, as the Packers defeated the Browns 23-12 to win the 1965 NFL title.

In 1966, Kramer had an outstanding season, as it was named first-team All-Pro for the fourth time. Chandler struggled a bit with his field goal accuracy, but still led the team in scoring with 77 points.

Chandler also had a 40.9 punting average and once again broke off a long run on a fake punt, when he rambled down the field for 33 yards on that run.

The Packers as a team were exceptional in ’66, as the team went 12-2, with the two losses by a combined four points. The Pack went on to beat the Cowboys 34-27 in the 1966 NFL title game and two weeks later beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Super Bowl I.

Before the 1967 season, the Packers had a couple of major changes to their roster. Taylor played out his option in 1966 and joined the expansion New Orleans Saints in ’67. Plus, Lombardi put Hornung on the expansion list for the Saints to select and sure enough, they selected No. 5.

Hornung ended up retiring before he joined the Saints because of a pinched nerve issue with his shoulder.

There would be changes for Kramer and Chandler as well. Taylor had been Kramer’s roommate since their rookie year in 1958, so that meant he would be getting a new roomy.

The new roommate ended up being Chandler. Chandler also would only have one job to do in ’67 as the placekicker for the team, as Donny Anderson became the punter for the Pack that season.

Kramer talked about being Chandler’s roommate when we spoke recently.

“We clicked right away as friends,” Kramer said. “Don was a sweet man. A kind man. He had a lot of empathy. He was just a really nice man. Don proved that with all the help he gave me in training camp in ’65 when I was coming back from the intestinal issues when I missed most of the ’64 season.

“We became really good friends. We played golf together and had kicking duels. We had lunch together and we would have a kicking contest to see who would buy the chili that day.

“It was really a good relationship. We eventually got into business together when we developed apartments in Tulsa, Don’s hometown. I had an apartment in Tulsa and I was down there a lot.

“I got to know the family and the kids, the whole group. So it became a real strong friendship.”

The 1967 season was a special season for Kramer, Chandler, Lombardi and the entire Green Bay organization.

That was the year that Kramer, with help from author Dick Schaap, wrote Instant Replay.

I wrote about that book in another story I put out last summer. Here is part of what I wrote:

I do it every summer around training camp. I get out the book Instant Replay and read it. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years. It’s been a ritual for me. Why? The book is that good.

In 1967, when Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was 31 years old, he 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 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 classic 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 the team’s legendary leader, head coach Vince Lombardi. The 1967 season was Lombardi’s last year as head coach of the Packers as well.

The Packers did something that no other team has ever done in the modern era in the NFL in 1967. That is, winning a third straight NFL title, which included the team’s second straight win in the Super Bowl.

It was an epic season with deep valleys and high mountain tops.

Hornung and Taylor were gone. Starr was injured early in the year. The Packers lost both starting running backs, halfback Elijah Pitts and fullback Jim Grabowski, for the season in the same game.

There were the gut-wrenching last-second losses vs. the Colts and the Los Angeles Rams on the road.

But then there was the uplifting triumph over the Rams in the Western Conference Championship Game at Milwaukee County Stadium, when the Packers throttled the Rams 28-7.

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The following week was the legendary “Ice Bowl” game and a third-straight NFL title.

Two weeks later, the Packers won their second straight Super Bowl game, when Chandler scored 15 points in the 33-14 win by Green Bay over the Oakland Raiders.

Both Kramer and Chandler had great seasons. Kramer was once again named first-team All-Pro, plus was named to the Pro Bowl squad, while Chandler was 19-of-29 in field goals for the Packers and led the team in scoring with 96 points. Chandler was also named to his first Pro Bowl squad.

Chandler retired after that 1967 season, but he left behind a great NFL résumé.

In his 12-year career, Chandler played in nine NFL title games, winning four. Chandler ended up scoring 530 points in his career (261 with the Packers). No. 34 also had a career average of 43.5 yards per punt and punted for 28,678 yards.

Like Kramer, Chandler was also clutch with the way he performed in the postseason. In his entire career with the Giants and Packers, Chandler made 10-of 15 field goals, while in Green Bay alone, he was nine-of-12 in that statistic.

Chandler’s name will be forever linked to another outstanding achievement that Kramer also accomplished. That was being named to the 1960s All-Decade team as the team’s punter, while No. 64 received the same honor at guard.

Also on that team were a number of teammates that Chandler and Kramer had in their careers, the list included split end Del Shofner of the Giants, as well as flanker Boyd Dowler, offensive tackle Forrest Gregg, center Jim Ringo, quarterback Starr, halfback Hornung, fullback Taylor, defensive end Willie Davis, line backer Ray Nitschke, linebacker Dave Robinson, cornerback Herb Adderley and safety Willie Wood of the Packers.

Sadly, Chandler passed away at the age of 76 in 2011.

Bottom line, Chandler was an outstanding player in the kicking game, whether it was as a placekicker or a punter.

But better yet, he had something else going for him as well, as Kramer explained to me.

“Don was the epitome of being a great teammate,” Kramer said. “But he was more than that for me. Don was truly a great friend.”

A Scout’s Take on the New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers Matchup in the NFC Playoffs

aaron-vs-the-giants

There is no doubt that the marquee game of the week in the NFL on Wild Card weekend is the one which has the 11-5 New York Giants going to Lambeau Field to face the 10-6 Green Bay Packers late on Sunday afternoon.

The G-Men and the Packers are the hottest teams in the NFC right now, as Green Bay won six games in a row to close out the regular season, while New York won nine out of their last 11 games.

The NFC North champion Packers did beat the Giants by a score of 23-16 in Week 5 of the regular season at Lambeau Field, but the G-Men went on a six-game winning streak of their own after that.

Although the Giants did not win the NFC East, they did beat the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys twice in the regular season.

When it comes to meeting in the postseason, this will be the eighth time that the Packers have played each other.

The Packers defeated the Giants in the 1939, 1944, 1961 and 1962 NFL title games, while the G-Men beat the Packers in the 1938 title game and the 2007 NFC title game.

The only time the Giants and Packers played in the postseason without a championship on the line was in the 2011 playoffs, when New York defeated Green Bay at Lambeau Field in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

In both the 2007 and 2011 postseason games, it was quarterback Eli Manning who led the Giants to victory.

Overall in his career against the Packers in the regular season, Manning is 2-4. But the game on Sunday afternoon is not in the regular season. No, that’s the postseason. That’s the time of year when Manning has shined against the Packers, as he a perfect 2-0 at Lambeau Field.

Plus, after each one of those victories over the Packers, the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl and each time it was against the New England Patriots.

Rodgers is 3-1 against the Giants in the regular season, but 0-1 in the postseason. In the 2011 playoff game which matched Manning versus Rodgers, No. 10 got the best of No. 12.

Manning threw three touchdown passes versus one interception for 330 yards. That adds up to a 114.5 passer rating.

Rodgers, who was coming of a 2011 NFL MVP season, threw two touchdown passes versus one pick for 264 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 78.5. That being said, Rodgers was victimized by a number of dropped passes that day by his receivers.

Overall in the postseason, Rodgers has done quite well overall, as he is the fifth-highest ranked quarterback in NFL history with a passer rating of 98.2. In 13 starts in his career in the postseason, Rodgers has thrown 27 touchdown passes versus eight picks for 3,454 yards.

Manning is ranked 12th in that category, as he has a career passer rating of 89.3 in the postseason. In 11 games, Manning has thrown 17 touchdown passes versus eight interceptions for 2,516 yards.

at Lambeau Field on October 9, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

It goes without question that the quarterback play will be a key factor in determining who will win on Sunday afternoon. Based on the way each of the quarterbacks have performed during the 2016 regular season, the advantage has to lie with Rodgers.

Rodgers had another NFL MVP-type season, as he threw 40 touchdown passes versus just seven picks for 4,428 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.2.

Manning meanwhile, threw 26 touchdown passes versus 16 interceptions for 4,027 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 86.0.

Then there is the mobility and the running skills of Rodgers compared to Manning.

Rodgers is very elusive in the pocket, while Manning is almost like a statue at times, although he can step up in the pocket and has a quick release.

That being said, Rodgers was sacked 35 times, but most of those sacks came as No. 12 held the ball too long going through his progressions. That and his receivers just not getting open at times earlier in the season. Manning, on the other hand, was sacked just 21 times, but is also prone to throwing an interception when the pass pressure is heavy.

When it comes to running with the football, there is no comparison. Rodgers ran for 369 yards in 2016 and had four touchdowns toting the rock. Manning almost never takes off and runs with ball and had -9 yards rushing this season.

Comparing the two offenses, the Packers are ranked eighth (368.8 yards per game) in the NFL in total offense, while the Giants are ranked 25th (330.7 yards per game).

Both the Packers and Giants have struggled running the football this year.

The Packers have been hit hard by injuries at the running back position with Eddie Lacy being put on injured reserve in October with ankle injury. Green Bay has tried to fill the void with Ty Montgomery (457 yards, 5.9 average and three touchdowns), as the converted wide receiver has given the running game a boost.

The Packers rank 20th in the NFL in rushing, as they average 106.3 yards per game.

The G-Men are ranked only 29th in rushing in the NFL, although the ground game has gotten a bit better recently. Still, the Giants only average 88.2 yards per game on the ground.

As of late, New York has been using both Rashad Jennings (593 yards and three touchdowns) and Paul Perkins (456 yards) at running back.

In the passing game, both teams are much better in that aspect of the offense.

The Packers are ranked seventh in the NFL in passing offense. A lot of credit for that has to go to the offensive line’s ability to protect Rodgers. In fact, Pro Football Focus named three offensive linemen on the Packers as the best pass-blockers in the NFL at their various positions.

Those players are left tackle David Bakhtiari, right guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Rodgers has plenty of weapons in the passing game to use at his disposal as well.

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Wide receiver Jordy Nelson led the way in 2016, as No. 87 had another banner year, just a year after an ACL tear, with 97 receptions for 1,257 and 14 touchdowns.

Wide receiver Davante Adams had his best year as a pro in 2016, as he had 75 catches for 997 yards and 12 scores.

In addition to that, wide receiver Randall Cobb had 60 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns, while Montgomery chipped in with 44 catches for 348 yards.

Both Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers each had 30 catches at the tight end position and combined for three scores.

Aaron Rodgers has gone out of his way to say that the reason for the success of the passing game for the Packers over the past seven games is the presence of Cook and his seam-stretching ability down the field.

The Giants are ranked 17th in passing offense in the NFL.

The offensive line has issues on the outside with the pass-blocking, as both left tackle Ereck Flowers and right tackle Marshall Newhouse are prone to allowing pass-pressure.

In terms of weapons for Manning in the passing game, he has one of the very best receivers in the game with Odell Beckham Jr. No. 13 had 101 receptions for 1.367 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016.

Rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard had a nice first year in the NFL, as he had 65 catches for 683 yards and eight touchdowns.

The salsa dancer, Victor Cruz, chipped in at wide receiver with 39 catches for 586 yards and one score, while tight end Will Tye had 48 receptions for 395 yards and one touchdown.

Jennings and Perkins combined for 50 catches for 363 yards and one score.

While the Packers have the advantage over the Giants on offense, the G-men definitely have the advantage over the Pack on defense.

New York is ranked 10th in total defense in the NFL, while the Packers are ranked 22nd.

Both teams are solid against the run, as the Giants are ranked third in rushing defense, while the Packers are ranked eighth.

It’s in the passing game where both defenses can be exploited, but more so with the Packers.

Green Bay was ranked 31st in passing defense, as they allowed 32 touchdown passes and opposing quarterbacks to have a 95.9 passer rating.

New York was ranked 23rd in passing defense, as they allowed 15 touchdown passes and opposing quarterbacks a passer rating of 75.8.

Both teams had 17 interceptions in 2016.

The Packers strength in the secondary is at the safety position, led by Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (a combined 173 tackles and seven picks). Injuries have taken their toll on the Packers at the cornerback position and this is where most of the damage is being done.

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Losing Sam Shields (concussion) after the first game of the season has had a devastating affect on the position. Both Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have played  through groin injuries in 2016 and their play has suffered because of it.

Rollins doesn’t look like he’ll play versus the Giants due to a concussion he suffered against the Lions in Week 17. Randall was in and out of the game because of shoulder and knee issues, but he looks like he’ll be able to play against the Giants.

The Packers desperately need an effective pass-rush to help the secondary out. Not so much to sack Manning, but to get him off his spot and force bad throws or interceptions.

The Packers were tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks with 40. Nick Perry led the way with 11, while Julius Peppers had 7.5 and Clay Matthews had five.

The Giants started out very slow in rushing the passer in terms of sacks this season, but ended up tied for 14th in the NFL with 35.

Olivier Vernon led the way with 8.5 sacks, while Jason Pierre-Paul had seven. Pierre-Paul recently had hernia surgery and it doesn’t appear that he will play versus the Packers.

The secondary of the Giants is very strong, led by Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (nine combined interceptions) at the cornerback position.

Safety Landon Collins led the Giants with 125 tackles, plus had four sacks and five picks.

In terms of special teams, both teams have very solid placekickers. Mason Crosby continues to be one of the best in NFL, as No. 2 had 122 points and converted 26 out of 30 field goals, including six of eight from 40 yards or more out.

For the Giants, Robbie Gould took over for Josh Brown as placekicker after five games and has been perfect in field goal attempts, as he was 10 for 10 in 2016. As a team, the Giants were 21 out of 22 in field goals this past season.

The Giants have a clear advantage over the Packers in the punting game, as they were ranked third in the NFL in punting overall in 2016, while the Packers were ranked 30th.

Punter Brad Wing of the Giants has a big leg and has averaged 46.2 yards a punt, plus has a 40.9 net average. Wing also placed 30 punts inside the 20.

Meanwhile, punter Jacob Schrum of the Packers is hot and cold. Sometimes he hits some beauties and at other times, he hits some real ugly ducklings, like he did with his last punt in the Detroit game last Sunday night.

Schrum had a an average of 43.1 per punt and a net average of 39.1. Schrum also placed 19 punts inside the 20.

The good news for the Packers in the punting game is that they were ranked fourth in the NFL in covering punts over the 2016 season, while the G-Men were ranked were ranked 23rd.

In terms of covering kickoffs, the Packers were dead-last in that category in the NFL in 2016, as they gave up an average of 26.1 yards per return and allowed one score.

The Giants weren’t much better, as they were ranked 25th in that category in the regular season, as they allowed 22.8 yards per return.

The Packers have used a number of players for both the punt returns and kickoff returns this past season. As of late, the Packers have used both Christine Michael and Jeff Janis on kick returns, and Micah Hyde on punt returns.

The Packers were ranked 24th in kick returns and 20th in punt returns in 2016.

The Giants utilize Dwayne Harris for the most part in both punt and kickoff returns. The G-Men were tied for seventh in the NFL in kick returns and were 11th in punts returns this past season.

With NFL Wild Card weekend right around the corner, specifically the game between the Giants and Packers, I wanted to get some insight from one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I try and talk with Landry each week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, but I didn’t have the opportunity earlier this week. Still, Landry and Duemig did talk about all the Wild Card games this weekend, which included the Giants-Packers matchup.

Landry also talked about how he thinks things will unfold in the NFC playoffs.

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“These are two teams [Giants and Packers] going in who are playing well,” Landry said. “The whole key to this game and the whole key to playing the Packers, is you have to keep Aaron Rodgers contained.

“He is the best I have ever seen outside the pocket. Better than Tarkenton. Because he throws the football so accurately. He’s throwing receivers open outside the pocket, that he paralyzes your ability if you have a good pass rush, because he can extend it and the pass rush can’t get to him and the coverage can’t hold long enough, that he just beats you with enough big plays.

“If you can do that [containing Rodgers], you have a much better chance of beating them. The Giants are confident and have done it before. Eli has done it before at Lambeau. This Giants defense is really good. It can cause problems for you and this is where the matchup is most intriguing.

“I like Green Bay. I think Green Bay and Atlanta will end up in the NFC Championship Game, more than Dallas. We’ve got time to address that because we have another week before we get there. I like Green Bay at home here, but they [NFL] certainly have these matchups lined up correctly, because I think this is the best matchup of the four. And certainly the most intriguing with two hot teams.

“I can see both of these teams causing a lot of damage and going deep into the playoffs. Outside of Pittsburgh, those are the only three teams playing this week, Pittsburgh, the Giants and the Packers, who can do some damage going further past this weekend.”

Jerry Kramer Talks About Boyd Dowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Packers won that title game and Titletown was born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kramer talked about that scenario.

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

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

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

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

Kramer also talked about another important attribute that Dowler had.

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

boyd-dowler-scores-td-in-ice-bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kramer talked about how that scenario used to go down.

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

Kramer then had some final thoughts about his friend Dowler.

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

The Packers and Giants Have a Storied History With Each Other

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The Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants will be meeting for the 53rd time in their regular season history on Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Green Bay holds a 27-23-2 advantage over the G-Men in a series that began back in 1928.

The Packers and Giants have also played in the postseason seven times, with the Pack again holding the advantage with 4-3 edge over New York.

The Packers have also played seven postseason games against the Dallas Cowboys (3-4) and the San Francisco 49ers (4-3), which is the most times that the Packers have met teams in the playoffs.

In the preseason, the Packers and Giants have met on 30 occasions, which is also the most times the Packers have played an opponent in the exhibition season. The Pack leads that series 19-9-2.

When the Packers and Giants met back in 1928, Green Bay played it’s home games at old City Stadium, while New York played their home games at the Polo Grounds.

The Packers never played a postseason game at old City Stadium (1925-1956), while they did play in three NFL title games at the Polo Grounds when Curly Lambeau was head coach.

The first one was in 1936 against the then Boston Redskins, which was a year before the team moved to Washington.

Owner George Preston Marshall of the Redskins was not happy with the support the team was receiving in Boston. Because of that, Marshall decided to host the NFL title game in New York at the Polo Grounds, instead of Fenway Park, where the Redskins played their home games.

The title game in the Big Apple drew 29,545 fans.

The Packers won that championship game 21-6, mostly because of the passing of Arnie Herber. The Packers had twice as many passing yards in the game, compared to the Redskins.

In 1938, the Packers played in the NFL title game again in the Polo Grounds, but this time against the Giants.

Before this title game, the Packers had lost to the Giants 15-3 in the last game of the regular season, also at the Polo Grounds.

The 1938 NFL Championship Game was much closer, as Herber threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Carl Mulleneaux and Clarke Hinkle scored on a one-yard run.

The Giants won the game 23-17 behind two blocked punts and the play of Ed Danowski, who threw two touchdown passes.

The attendance for the title game was 48,120.

In 1939, the Packers and Giants met again to see who would win the NFL championship. But this time the game was in Wisconsin. But instead of old City Stadium in Green Bay, the game was played in West Allis (just outside of Milwaukee) at State Fair Park.

That title game drew 32,279 attendees, which included my dad and grandfather.

The Packers dominated the game after getting off to a slow start.  The Giants blocked a punt and had two interceptions early in the game, but missed three field goals and also had one of their passes picked off near the Green Bay goal line.

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Cecil Isbell carries the ball for the Packers in the 1939 NFL title game

Herber threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Milt Gantenbein in the the first quarter (the only score of the first half) and Cecil Isbell also threw a touchdown pass in the second half to Joe Laws.  Also, Ed Jankowski scored on a one-yard run.  The Packers added a couple of field goals in their 27-0 victory over the Giants.

The Green Bay defense was outstanding in the game, as they held the Giants to 164 total yards, plus picked off six passes.

In 1944, the Packers and Giants would meet once again in the NFL title game, this time at the Polo Grounds. The attendance was 46,016.

The two teams met in the regular season that year, when New York shut out Green Bay 24-0 in the second to the last game of the schedule.

The Packers played much better in the postseason, especially on defense, as the former Packer Herber threw four interceptions for the Giants, with Laws picking off three of them.

The Packers scored two touchdowns in the second quarter on runs by Ted Fritsch, and the Packers won the contest 14-7.

The next time the two teams met for the NFL title was 17 years later. The game was played at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) in Green Bay.  This was the first playoff game ever played in Green Bay.  The attendance was 39,029.

Head coach Vince Lombardi had to pull some strings to get halfback Paul Hornung a leave from the Army to play in this game.  Lombardi personally called President John F. Kennedy to make sure that Hornung would be able to play.

Why was Hornung in the Army?

The Army activated him due to the escalation of the Cold War and the building of the wall in Berlin by the Soviets. In October of 1961, the Department of Defense had activated thousands of military reservists and national guardsmen for duty, including a couple dozen players from the NFL and three very important Packers players (Hornung, Boyd Dowler and Ray Nitschke).

As noted in David Maraniss’ book When Pride Still Mattered, Lombardi was very upset by this situation.  He mentioned that the Packers were hit harder than anyone in the NFL because of the scenario.

This is when the relationship between Lombardi and Kennedy helped make Hornung available for the title game.  Lombardi was a big JFK supporter during the 1960 Presidential election.  They became friends over time.  The Packers won two NFL championships while JFK was in the White House as well.

Initially, Hornung was not granted access to go back to the Packers for the championship game.  That would have been a HUGE blow as Hornung was the NFL MVP in 1961.

Lombardi was concerned about that situation, so he placed a call to JFK to see if the President would get Hornung a pass to join the team for the big game.  Sure enough, Hornung received permission.

“Paul Hornung isn’t going to win the war on Sunday, but the football fans of this country deserve the two best teams on the field that day,” Kennedy told Lombardi a few days before the championship game against the Giants.

The Packers beat the Giants 37-0 in that game, and Hornung scored 19 points in that game just by himself.

Titletown was born that year, as local merchants coined the community nickname—Titletown USA—to describe the spirit of the little town that could.

The Packers and Giants met again the very next year for the 1962 NFL title. This time the game was played at storied Yankee Stadium. The attendance was 64,892.

Guard Jerry Kramer of the Packers played an important role in that title game.

Jerry after the game-winning kick in the '62 championship game

No. 64 was very excited to play in this game, as he did not play in the 1961 NFL title game due to a broken ankle.

The 1962 NFL title game figured to be a much tougher test against the Giants, who wanted to show their fans in New York that the game the year before was an aberration.

Kramer definitely soaked in the fantastic history of Yankee Stadium before the game began.

“Yankee Stadium was an awesome experience,” Kramer said.  “Especially for a kid from Idaho.  Just to walk into that place where you had heard fights broadcast from, where so many World Series games were played, plus to see all the statues out in center field of Gehrig, Ruth and DiMaggio.  The experience was just awesome.”

Yankee Stadium was also a homecoming for Lombardi, as he was a New York City native and was an assistant coach for the Giants from 1954-1958.

“We knew how badly coach Lombardi wanted to win that ball game,” Kramer said.  “And we knew the Giants had been embarrassed the year before in Green Bay.  We knew the Giants were going to be loaded for bear that day.  But we also knew coach Lombardi desperately wanted a victory, and so we wanted to win for him and much as ourselves.”

Besides playing right guard for the Packers that day, Kramer was also the placekicker for the Packers as well, after Hornung hurt his knee early in the 1962 season.  Kramer had been Horning’s backup at kicker since his rookie year in 1958.

The weather would not be an ally for Kramer that day while he was kicking, as the wind was gusting at up to 40 miles per hour at times.  The temperature was 13 degrees, but it seemed much colder due to the wind.

Were the conditions at the 1962 NFL title game comparable to the Ice Bowl?

“You know, they were very similar, ” Kramer said.  “Vince Lombardi Jr. and I were talking about it years later, and Vince Jr. thought the Giants game was colder than the Ice Bowl.  Vince Jr. was at both games, too.  It was just a bitter cold day.  The wind was sharp and biting.”

Because of the weather conditions, the game was mostly going to be won via the ground game and because of turnovers.  The Packers rushed for 148 yards in the game, with fullback Jim Taylor getting 85 of those yards.  Taylor also scored the only touchdown of the game for the Packers.

Kramer was three for five in field goals that windy day.  “The wind was circling in the stadium that day,” Kramer said.  “When I made my last field goal, I aimed maybe eight to 10 yards outside the goal posts.  The wind ended up bringing my kick into the center of the goal posts.  It was one of the very few times I had to play the wind that way.”

Kramer scored 10 of the 16 points the Packers scored vs. the Giants.  When he made that last field goal, the Packers now had a nine-point lead late in the game.

“It was a hell of a moment,” Kramer reflected.  “It put the game out of reach, as they would have to score twice to beat us.  It was probably the most excited I had ever been in a contest, and the guys were pounding me on the back.  I experienced a Bart Starr-like moment, of having everyone applaud me and congratulate me.”

The Packers won 16-7 that day at Yankee Stadium.  Taylor had a big day rushing, and Ray Nitschke was named MVP of the game for his two fumble recoveries and a pass deflection that was intercepted by Dan Currie.

But Kramer had a big day as well.  In fact, Kramer received the game ball from his team for his efforts.

“It was a huge moment and a wonderful experience,” Kramer said.  “The big thing was they you were able to come through.  You met the test and were able to get the job done.  And also not let the team down.”

The Packers and Giants have played twice in the postseason over the past decade and both games were played at Lambeau Field.

The first one was in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, which was played at under frigid conditions, where 72,740 were on hand to watch the game at Lambeau.

The game time temperature was minus-one.  That Ice Bowl-type weather didn’t seem to bother the Giants too much.  The Giants had 24 first downs, while the Packers only had 13.  The Giants time of possession was 40:03, compared to the Packers 22:34.  The Giants had 134 rushing yards, compared to the Packers’ 28.

Quarterback Eli Manning didn’t throw any interceptions, while Brett Favre threw two picks, including a very costly one in overtime.  Favre threw for 236 yards passing, but 90 yards of that came on one touchdown pass to Donald Driver.

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The Packers defense also allowed the Giants to come back from deficits twice.  The Packers led 10-6 at halftime, only to see the Giants regain the lead 13-10.  After the Packers took the lead again at 17-13, the Packers allowed the Giants to go ahead again, 20-17.

The Packers ended up tying the game and the contest went to overtime. Then Favre’s interception set up the game-winning 47-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes of the Giants as New York won 23-20.

The Packers and Giants also met in a 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff game, which is the only time the two teams did not meet in a title game in their seven postseason games with one another.

The Packers finished the 2011 season with a 15-1 record and had high hopes heading into the postseason.  After all, the Pack had secured home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs and the team was the odds-on favorite to win a second consecutive Vince Lombardi Trophy.

However, all of that went down with a resounding thud, as the Packers were beaten by the Giants 37-20 at Lambeau Field in shocking fashion.

There were several reasons for why the Packers lost the game vs. the G-Men.  Among them were a lack of focus, four key turnovers, eight dropped passes, giving up big plays at critical times and also the fact that Aaron Rodgers did not play like Superman as he had done almost all of the 2011 regular season when he was the NFL MVP.

Manning was clutch again versus the Packers, as he threw three touchdown passes, plus was able to convert several 3rd and long situations.

This Sunday night, Manning gets another shot at the Packers, as he is 4-3 versus Green Bay in his career, which includes the two postseason wins at Lambeau. Both of those wins later led to Super Bowl triumphs by the G-Men.

When you talk about the Packers-Giants series, you have to talk about the coaching dynamics. As mentioned, earlier Lombardi was assistant coach (offense) with the Giants from 1954 to 1958 under Jim Lee Howell.

The Giants won the NFL title in 1956.  Lombardi was also very good friends with Giants owner Wellington Mara from their college days at Fordham.

After Lombardi went on to Green Bay and had the Packers in the NFL championship game in 1960 in just his second year, the Giants and Mara tried to get him back as their next head coach.  But Dominic Olejniczak, the president of the Packers at the time, refused to let Lombardi leave.

Good thing, too, as the Packers ended up winning five NFL championships in seven years, including three straight titles from 1965-1967.  The Packers also won the first two Super Bowls under Lombardi.

The two head coaches (Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo) who Manning has played under, both had assistant coaching jobs with the Packers.

Coughlin coached under Forrest Gregg in 1986-87 when he was the receivers/passing game coach.

McAdoo coached tight ends and quarterbacks under Mike McCarthy from 2006 through 2013.

Bottom line, there has been a rich history between the Packers and Giants. Not only that, but both franchises also have storied histories in the NFL.

The Packers have won 13 NFL titles, which is more than any other team in NFL history. The Giants are third in NFL history with eight NFL titles.

The Packers Have Fared Well After the Bye Week Under Mike McCarthy

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Since Mike McCarthy became head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 2006, the team has had an 8-2 record following the bye week.

The Packers didn’t have much good fortune last year following the bye week, as they went into Denver to face the Broncos with a perfect 6-0 record. The Broncos totally dominated the Packers 29-10 in a game which was played on a Sunday night on national television.

The Packers only had 140 total yards, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked three times and hit a lot more often than that. No. 12 only had 77 yards passing in the game as he seemed to be running for his life on every passing play.

This year, the 2-1 Packers will also be playing on a Sunday night following their bye week. This time the opponent will be the 2-2 New York Giants, plus the game will be at Lambeau Field. The G-Men have been hampered by injuries on both sides of the ball and lost on the road Monday night to the 4-0 Minnesota Vikings, who lead the NFC North.

Under McCarthy, the Packers have never lost a home game following the bye week. That being said, the Giants behind quarterback Eli Manning, have won three straight games versus the Packers, which includes winning the 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff Game 37-20 at Lambeau.

The Packers came into that game with a 15-1 record, but Manning threw three touchdown passes to lead New York to victory. The G-Men went on to win Super Bowl XLVI later that postseason against the New England Patriots.

That was the second time Manning and the Giants upset the Packers in the postseason at Lambeau Field. The first time was the 2007 NFC Championship Game, when New York won in overtime 23-20. Like they did in 2011, Manning and the Giants also won the Super Bowl later that postseason, also against the Pats, who were undefeated at the time.

This is the history that the Packers will be up against when they face the Giants next Sunday night at Lambeau.

Even though the Packers are 2-1 and are coming off a 34-27 win against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau in Week 3, the Packers seemed to sleep-walk through the second half of that game and almost let the Lions back in the game after holding a 31-10 lead at the half.

The good news in that game was that Rodgers had his first over-100 passer rating (129.3) in 15 games, as he threw four touchdown passes without a pick.

Still, there are issues for the Packers on both sides of the ball, especially in pass coverage on defense. That is never a good thing when one is facing Manning and his talented receiving corp, even with Odell Beckham Jr. struggling somewhat.

On offense, the Packers are still only ranked 29th (293.7 yards per game) in the NFL, even after their output against Detroit. That includes being ranked 29th (193.3 yards per game) in passing offense and 16th (100.3 yards per game) in rushing offense.

The Giants meanwhile are ranked sixth (382.2 yards per game) in total offense. That includes being ranked fourth (288.5 yards per game) in passing offense and 19th (93.8 yards per game) in rushing offense.

On defense, the Packers lead the NFL in stopping the run, as they have only allowed 42.7 yards per game. But Green Bay’s total defense ranking is only 13th (350 yards per game) because of the issues the team is having in stopping the pass.

Currently, the Packers are ranked 29th in passing defense, as they have allowed over 300 yards per game, plus have allowed six touchdown passes. Overall, the opposing quarterbacks have had a passer rating of 105.3.

When one looks back over the first three games of this season defensively, compared to expectations going into the 2016 campaign, it’s almost as if Rod Serling has written this script.

The Packers were expected to struggle somewhat on the defensive line and excel in the secondary this season. But the opposite has happened, at least through three games.

Part of the reason the secondary has struggled has been the absence of cornerback Sam Shields for two games due to a concussion. Shields is still in concussion protocol and his status for the game against the Giants is uncertain.

The Packers will be facing a tough New York defense that has also had to overcome injuries in their secondary, as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t play against the Vikings due to a groin injury.

The G-Men are ranked 11th (346.2 yards per game) in total defense, which includes being ranked ninth (84 yards per game) in rushing defense and 18th 262.2 yards per game) in passing defense.

For the Packers to have success against that defense, the Packers have to continue to protect Rodgers in the passing game and also be productive in the running game.

The Giants have just four sacks in four games, but are tough to run against. Running back Eddie Lacy is off to a great start in 2016, as he has rushed for 214 yards in three games (71.3 average), plus has a 5.0 rushing average per carry.

Rodgers is having another fabulous season in terms of his touchdown passes vs. interceptions ratio. No. 12 has thrown seven touchdown passes compared to just one pick.

But even with those great stats, the passing yardage has been somewhat minimal, as Rodgers has thrown for just 617 yards. The passer rating for Rodgers this season now stands at 98.6.

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Manning on the other hand, has been struggling. No. 10 has thrown four touchdown passes, but has also thrown four interceptions for 1,186 yards overall. The passer rating for Manning currently sits at 87.8.

But before Packer Nation gets too comfortable about expectations regarding the game on Sunday night versus the Giants, know that Manning has sort of been kryptonite to the Packers when he plays them.

Yes, the Packers have beaten Manning three times when they have faced him in his career, but he has also beaten Green Bay four times, including two postseason games at Lambeau Field.

Rodgers and the Packers did beat Manning and the Giants 45-17 at Lambeau late in the 2010 season, which was a game the Packers needed to have to keep their playoff hopes alive for that season.

The Packers went on to win five straight games after that victory against the Giants, which included a 31-26 win in Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ironically, the Giants now essentially use the same offensive system the Packers use under head coach Ben McAdoo. McAdoo coached tight ends and quarterbacks under McCarthy from 2006 through 2013.

Bottom line, even with their success at home after a bye week under McCarthy, the Packers still have a lot of details to improve upon, both offensively and defensively.

In addition to that, the Packers will be facing an opponent in Manning who has been victorious at Lambeau Field when it was truly win or go home.

Jerry Kramer Talks About the 1962 Green Bay Packers

Jerry after the game-winning kick in the '62 championship game

Under the leadership of head coach Vince Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers won five NFL championships in seven years in the 1960s, which includes the first two Super Bowl games.

It’s often debated about which of those five title teams (1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 & 1967) was the best. To me, the 1962 team was clearly the best.

Why? The Packers led the NFL in scoring with 415 points (29.6 per game), plus also led the league in least points allowed as the Pack only allowed 148 points (10.6 per game).

The Packers also led the NFL in total offense and rushing offense, plus in total defense and passing defense as well.

Fullback Jim Taylor was the NFL MVP for the year, as he rushed for 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Quarterback Bart Starr also led the NFL in passing.

But it was the rushing game which was the calling card of the Packers. Especially when the power sweep was utilized. The Packers averaged 175.7 yards per game on the ground, plus the team had 36 rushing touchdowns.

Phil Bengtson’s defense was also very assertive, as it led the NFL with 50 turnovers, which included 31 interceptions.

On special teams, the Packers were also solid. Willie Wood was second in the NFL in punt returns, while Herb Adderley was third in the league in kickoff returns.

The Packers were 13-1 in 1962. The team started out 10-0 before having a hiccup against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. More on that game later.

But for the most part, the Packers had their way with almost all of their opponents during the course of the season. Look at some of these scores:

Packers 34, Vikings 7

Packers 49, Bears 0

Packers 48, Vikings 21

Packers 31, 49ers 13

Packers 38, Bears 7

Packers 49, Eagles 0

Packers 41, Rams 10

The 1962 season was a very important one for right guard Jerry Kramer, as he had broken his ankle midway through the 1961 season. No. 64 didn’t get the opportunity to play for the Packers when they won their first championship game under Lombardi when the Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 at City Stadium (later Lambeau Field).

Jerry's game-winning field goal in the '62 title game.

Kramer talked to me recently about the 1962 season and he mentioned how he felt being injured in ’61 and how he prepared for ’62.

“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!”

Once the physical healing of his ankle was done, Kramer knew that he had to get back to playing as well or better than he had in 1960 and 1961.

In 1960, Kramer had been named first team All-Pro by AP. In 1961, even with his ankle injury which caused him to miss half the season, Kramer was still named All-Pro by the New York Daily News.

Kramer always remembered the moment which made him want to become the best guard in the NFL.

” I can’t remember exactly when Coach Lombardi turned my motor on,” Kramer said. “But it was after a real tough practice where he chewed me out unmercifully. Coach said, ‘The concentration of a college student is five minutes. In high school, it’s three minutes and in kindergarten, it’s 30 seconds. And you don’t even have that! Where does that put you?’

“Anyway, I’m sitting in the locker room after practice feeling pretty down and dejected for about 40 minutes after that scene. Most of the guys in the locker room had cleared out by then. Coach Lombardi comes in and sees me. I’ve got me chin in my hand, my elbow on my knees and I’m just staring at the floor.

“Lombardi came by and patted me on the shoulder, messed up my hair and said, ‘Son, one of these days you are going to be the best guard in football.’

“That moment told me that Lombardi believed in me and approved of me. That was all I needed to become the best player I could be.”

Kramer went on to have his best season in 1962.

Kramer was named first team All-Pro by AP, NEA and UPI, while No. 64 was also named to his first Pro Bowl squad.

Not only was Kramer exceptional playing right guard for the Packers, but he also took over the placekicking duties of the Packers during the season after halfback Paul Hornung suffered a knee injury.

For the season, Kramer scored 65 points, which included being 9-for-11 in field goal attempts.

The only blemish on the 1962 season was the 26-14 loss to the Lions on Thanksgiving in Detroit. The Lions were the top rivals of the Packers back then. Detroit ended up finishing second to the Packers in the Western Conference for three straight years from 1960 through 1962.

In the first meeting between the Packers and Lions in the ’62 season at City Stadium, the Packers had narrowly won 9-7, as quarterback Milt Plum threw a late interception to Herb Adderley which set up a game-winning Hornung field goal.

The Lions were furious after the game. Alex Karras reportedly threw his helmet at Plum’s chest after the game. Kramer could hear all types of screaming and banging in the Detroit locker room.

But on Thanksgiving, the Lions were definitely focused on winning the game.

“We were undefeated when we went into Detroit,” Kramer said. “Detroit hated our guts. One of my best pals in college, Wayne Walker, played linebacker for the Lions. He hated that the Lions could never get over the top against us to win a championship. He’s still pissed about that.

Bart getting sacked in Detroit

“Before we played the Lions on Thanksgiving, Fuzzy lost his mother about three days before the game. Fuzzy decided to play, but his heart was somewhere else. The Lions just guessed and gambled correctly all day long that game.

“They did things that they had never done before. Alex [Karras] would line up just about everywhere. Over the center, over my right shoulder and anywhere he felt like he could do some damage. Add to that, the Lions were incredibly motivated.

“They got Bart about 11 times that game. On the way home to Green Bay, Fuzzy said that all wasn’t bad, because we invented a new block called the look out block. As in, ‘Look out, Bart!’

“I don’t think we even watched film of that game afterwards, as we went down the road and continued to have success.”

The Packers won their final three games of the season to finish 13-1, which was two games better than the Lions, who finished 11-3. The Packers were the Western Conference champs for the third straight year and they would be taking on the Giants again in the 1962 NFL title game, this time at Yankee Stadium.

Kramer was still doing the placekicking for the Packers at that point, besides playing at a high level at right guard.

No. 64 remembers walking into the storied stadium in the Bronx on that championship day.

“It was really a highlight for me walking into Yankee Stadium,” Kramer said. “It was an emotional experience for me. All the great fights and the World Series games that had gone on there. You had the statues of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio in center field.

“You also looked into the crowd and saw the sophisticated sports fans who were booing your ass. Then you look across the line of scrimmage and you see [Andy] Robustelli, [Jim] Katcavage, [Sam] Huff, [Dick] Lynch and that whole group, you definitely get pumped.”

That environment definitely weighed on the mind of Kramer as the game developed.

“I remember kicking my first field goal,” Kramer said. “I kind of looked across the line of scrimmage which I normally don’t do. And I see this great defensive team and my subconscious is telling me that they are going to find out about you. You shouldn’t be on the field with these guys.

“I finally told my subconscious to shut up and I focused on keeping my head down to follow through with the kick. When I looked up the football was outside the goal post, but it went through the goal post before blowing outward.

“I remember the official raising his arms to say the field goal was good and I said, ‘What the hell is he doing!’ Bart then looked at me and said, ‘Shut up and get off the field.’

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

Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

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

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

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

Jerry after the game-winning kick in the '62 championship game. II

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry's game ball from 1962 NFL title game

“It was just a wonderful experience to be in that setting that day,” Kramer said. “Yankee Stadium was one of the great sports venues in the world. And to not only be on the field in that storied place, but also to have played a big role in the victory for our team in a championship game was very rewarding.”

The Legacy of Vince Lombardi in the NFL

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

Vince Lombardi got his first taste of the NFL, when he became an offensive assistant under Jim Lee Howell of the New York Giants in 1954. Before then, Lombardi built his coaching resume by coaching at St. Cecilia in New Jersey for eight years (five as head coach), two years at Fordham University (his alma mater) and five years at Army under legendary head coach Red Blaik.

Lombardi was basically the offensive coordinator for the Giants under Howell, as he built the offense of the G-Men around running back Frank Gifford. In the five years Lombardi was running the offense for the Giants, the team became very successful. In 1956, the Giants won the NFL title and Gifford was the NFL MVP. In Lombardi’s last year in New York, the Giants played the Baltimore Colts in the NFL title game, but lost 23-17 in sudden-death overtime.

By then, Lombardi’s coaching talent was well known throughout the NFL and he was endorsed by both Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns and George Halas of the Chicago Bears for the head coaching job with the Green Bay Packers. A meeting between Lombardi and the Packers was arranged by Jack Vainisi, who was in charge of scouting in Green Bay, and before long, Lombardi was hired as both head coach and general manager of the Packers starting in 1959.

The Packers had finished 1-10-1 the year before Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. Plus, the 1950s as a whole had been an abysmal decade for the Packers, as the team was just 32-74-2 before Lombardi came to town in 1959.

As bad as the results were on the field, Vainisi had accumulated a lot of talent for the Packers in the NFL draft in the years prior to Lombardi’s arrival. Vainisi had drafted players like Bill Howton, Bobby Dillon, Dave Hanner, Bill Forrester, Jim Ringo, Max McGee, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ron Kramer, John Symank, Dan Currie, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

All told, Vainisi drafted six players (Ringo, Gregg, Starr, Hornung, Taylor and Nitschke) who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while two other players, Jerry Kramer and Dillon, certainly belong in Canton as well.

When Lombardi looked at the film of the offense of the Packers from 1958, one player in particular caught his eye. It was Hornung.

When I talked to Jerry Kramer about the arrival of Lombardi in Green Bay, he made a point of talking about why Lombardi was so enamored with Hornung.

“When you talk about Paul, you have to remember how critical he was in the decision that coach Lombardi made to come to Green Bay,” Kramer said. “If you think back, Bart Starr was methane. He was colorless, odorless, tasteless and virtually invisible. We didn’t know who Bart was then.

“Bart was competing with a few other guys like Babe Parilli, Joe Francis and Lamar McHan. Bart was back and forth the first couple of years after Lombardi became the coach.

“But I do remember Lombardi saying, ‘That Hornung was going to be his Gifford.’ And remember how critical the sweep was to the Lombardi offense.

Paul Hornung vs. the Colts

“As coach said quite often, ‘This is a play we will make go. This is a play we must make go. We will run it again and again and again.’

“So Hornung may have been the key to getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay.”

The power sweep was indeed the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. The early success for the Packers running that play supports Kramer’s supposition. For one thing, the power sweep averaged 8.3 yards-per-carry the first three years the Packers utilized the play.

The Packers became a force in the running game during that time, as the team averaged 178 yards a game on the ground from 1959-1961. Taylor gained 2,860 yards during that time, but Hornung was the star of the offense for many reasons those first three seasons under Lombardi.

During that same time, Hornung gained 1,949 yards rushing, plus scored a whopping 28 touchdowns on the ground. No. 5 was also the kicker for the Packers and Hornung led the NFL in scoring for three consecutive years from 1959 through 1961.

Like Gifford did in 1956, Hornung won the NFL MVP in 1961, as the Packers won their first NFL title under Lombardi, as the Packers beat the Giants 37-0 in the first NFL championship game ever played in Green Bay. Hornung scored 19 points in that game just by himself.

Winning became a habit in Green Bay under Lombardi’s leadership. In Lombardi’s first year with the Packers in 1959, the team finished 7-5, which was the first winning record for the team since 1947.

The Packers went on to an 8-4 record and the Western Conference title in 1960, but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL title game 17-13. The game ended with Taylor being tackled on the Eagles’ 10-yard line by Chuck Bednarik as time ran out. That would be the only loss that Lombardi and his Packers would ever have in the postseason.

In the regular season during his tenure in Green Bay as head coach, the Packers were 89-24-4, plus won six Western Conference titles. But it was in the postseason that Lombardi and his team really shined. After that loss to the Eagles, the Packers went on to win nine straight playoff games, which included five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls.

That included winning three straight NFL titles from 1965-67. No team in the modern era of the NFL has ever duplicated that.

Is there any doubt as to why the Super Bowl trophy is named after Lombardi?

After spending a year as just the general manager of the Packers in 1968, Lombardi left Green Bay to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1969. The team went 7-5-2 that year, which was the first winning record for the Redskins in 14 years.

Lombardi tragically died of colon cancer in 1970, at the young age of 57. A year later, Lombardi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There is no doubt that Lombardi was the best of the best in terms of being a football coach, but he was more than that. He was also a leader of men, both on and off the football field.

Just ask Kramer.

“Coach Lombardi had a tremendous impact on my life,” Kramer said. “The fundamentals that he taught us were fundamentals for life. They were about football, but also about business or anything else you wanted to achieve.

“You would use the Lombardi principles. He believed in paying the price. He believed in hard work and making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. His principles were preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.

“Those things are still helping me today.”

Vince and Jerry IV

Kramer also talked about Lombardi’s doctrine about life in general.

“Coach Lombardi use to share a philosophy about life with us,” Kramer said. “He said, ‘After the game is over, the stadium lights are out, the parking lot is empty, the fans have all gone home, the press has done their job and released their information, you are finally back in the quiet of your own room looking at the championship ring on the dresser. The only thing left after that was to have a standard of excellence in your life. Make sure that the world is a better place because you were in it.’

“The coach taught us to leave a positive impact on society,” Kramer said. “The world would be a much better place if we did that. That’s what I have tried to do all these years.”

Kramer then talked about Lombardi’s background which helped him achieve great success in the NFL.

“Coach Lombardi read ancient Greek and Latin, plus taught chemistry and algebra,” Kramer said. “He was a very bright man. In a lot of ways, he was more like a teacher, as opposed to a coach. He believed that he was a teacher, first and foremost. For him, teaching and coaching were one in the same.”

Yes, Vincent Thomas Lombardi was a great coach and a great teacher. But he had an additional attribute. He was also a great man. A man who molded great football players to be sure, but more importantly than that, he molded great people.

Jerry Kramer and so many other men who played under Lombardi are a testament to that.