Friday, November 23, 2007
After a wonderful win over the Detroit Lions yesterday, we’re very thankful for the Packers’ unexpected 10-1 record — their best record since this week 45 years ago. At that time, however, they ran into problems in their Thanksgiving Day contest with the Lions, as this article from the Detroit News recalls:
DETROIT (Nov. 22) — A picture hanging outside the locker room of the Lions' practice facility in Allen Park frames a special moment in time. It depicts an overpowering display of defensive dominance on Thanksgiving Day in 1962. Bart Starr, the Packers' Hall of Fame quarterback, is surrounded by a group of charging, swarming defenders. Starr is helpless, with no protective pocket of blockers near him. Starr went down on that play and was sacked 10 more times as the Lions atoned for a loss to the Packers earlier in the season with a 26-14 victory at Tiger Stadium.
There have been other big games, and great performances, in the traditional holiday game. It began in 1934 and continues today with the Lions playing the Packers at Ford Field. The 1962 game — 45 years ago today — is the pinnacle. For one day, one game, they were superior to Vince Lombardi's Packers. It was the Packers' only loss in the '62 season, in which they went 13-1 and won a second straight NFL championship.
Roger Brown, a defensive tackle who played the first seven of 10 pro seasons with the Lions, led the defensive charge that smothered Starr. "I don't think a Sherman tank could have stopped us that day," Brown said in a telephone interview from his home in Portsmouth, Va. Brown was in on seven of the 11 sacks, including five solos. He also trapped Starr in the end zone for a safety. "They were getting the jump on us something awful," Lombardi said after the game.
In 1962, the Packers were the gods of pro football as Lombardi, the legendary coach, was building a dynasty. The Packers won the NFL championship in 1961, the first of five under Lombardi. The Lions finished second to the Packers in the Western Division for three straight years, 1960-62. By 1962, the Packers-Lions rivalry was as fierce as any. The rivalry was fueled partly by the Thanksgiving matchup. The Packers were the opponent for 13 straight years, from 1951-63. After that, the NFL began rotating opponents.
The Lions were tired of being second-best. In the fourth game of the season at Green Bay, they led 7-6 late in the fourth quarter. On a third-down play, the Lions tried a pass. The receiver, Terry Barr, slipped. Herb Adderley got an interception and a long return to set up a field goal in the last minute for a 9-7 Packers win. Seven weeks later came the rematch. The Packers were 10-0. The Lions were 8-2.
"I think we were fired up the whole month, the whole week," Brown said. "Ever since that game in Green Bay, we looked forward to Thanksgiving so we could vindicate ourselves."
The onslaught began early. On the Packers' fourth play, Alex Karras broke through on a running play to throw Tom Moore for a 3-yard loss. On the next play, Darris McCord, Joe Schmidt and Karras sacked Starr, but the play was nullified by a delay-of-game penalty. It didn't matter. Brown sacked Starr for a 15-yard loss on the next play. A short punt put the ball at the Packers 39, and three plays later, Milt Plum passed to Gail Cogdill for a touchdown. The rout was on.
Starr was sacked eight more times in the half, and the Lions had a 23-0 lead at the intermission. The Lions coasted through the second half and won easily. After the game, Schmidt, the Hall of Fame middle linebacker, seemed in awe of the performance. "I've never seen anything like it," Schmidt said. "We killed them."