Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving 1962

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."


mw said...

Yes. The infamous "Turkey Day Massacre" at Detroit's Tiger Stadium was the worst pounding that Green Bay's 1962 championship team took that year. Detroit's defensive tackles Alex Karras and Roger Brown, (the first 300 pound player in the NFL), and defensive ends, Darris McCord and Sam Williams were the NFL's first Fearsome Foursome, dubbed so by Detroit's press. They proved it that Thanksgiving Day. In addition to these four linemen, the Lions fielded Hall of Famers middle linebackers Joe Schmidt, and safety, Dick "Night Train" Lane as players on their superb defensive squad.

After the game was over, Jerry Kramer remarked that Detroit's defensive linemen were getting off the ball so quickly that Green Bay's offensive line had no chance to set up their blocks. This was an offensive line anchored by Hall of Famers tackle Forest Gregg, guard, Jerry Kramer, center, Jim Ringo, (who was not traded by Lombardi until the end of the 1962 season, along with All Pro offensive guard Fuzzy Thurston, and tight end, Ron Kramer.

It is sad that Alex Karras, who was All Pro through 1965, and recognized by many to be one of the great defensive tackles of his era, has not be elected to the NFL Hall of Fame. Jerry Kramer, in his book, published after his famous block in the Ice Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys, wrote that Karras was nearly imposssible to block.

In any case, Green Bay, (especially Bart Starr, who was sacked 8 times in the first half, and 11 times before Lombardi pulled him out of the game), was pounded and soundly defeated 26-14.

The Lions ended the Packers undeated season, and got some revenge for the 9-7 loss earlier that year because of a moronic pass late in the game by Milt Plum, the Lions QB, which was intercepted by Herb Adderley. Adderley's interception resulted in Green Bay's third field goal with seconds left to play. (Karras wanted to attack Plum in the locker room. He was restrained, and had to settle for throwing his helmet at Plum).

Vince Lombardi was overhead after the game grumbling, "Why do we have to play these guys every Thanksgiving?" And the next year, 1963, the Packers did not have to play in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. It did not help them. The Bears, coached by Papa Bear George Halas, won the Western Division, and the NFL title game against the NY Giants, 14-10.

To its credit, Green Bay went on in 1962 to win its last three games, ended the regular season with a record of 13-1. They won their second NFL Chmpionship under Lombardi in a brutal game against the Giants at Yankee Stadium, 16-7.

howilovetg said...

That Thanksgiving Game of 1962 was the most phenomenal game in the history of the NFL for several reasons ..The Packers led the NFL that year in Scoring 415 points averaging 29.6 a Game ..and they were 1st in Defense Allowed 148 points giving up only 10.6.pts a game Their scoring
Differential of 267 points 19.1 was the greatest ever in the NFL ..
and yet the Lions totally destroyed them that game ..
Never was a good team or great team so dominated ..People forget but the Lions That year were so close to going undefeated they lost 9-7 to the Packers in week 4 ..Then the Giants beat them by 3pts in week 6 .and were lucky as the Lions outplayed them ..YA Tittle was 9-16 and only threw for 130 yrds as Allie Sherman the Giants coach scared to death of the Lions pass rush , in the game plan commanded Tittle to throw nothing but screen passes nothing over 10 yards .Del Shofner the Giants All Pro receiver never had a single ball thrown to him that day , and the Giants only rushed for 67 yards on 35 carries .. The Lions then lost on the last week of the season to the Bears 3-0 on a 4th quarter field goal .. So they lost 3 games that year by a combined 8 points ..and all 3 they could easily have won ..Lombardi was the greatest coach ever in sport but if he wasn't around that Lion team of the early 60's might of been a dynasty and the team that everyone would talk about for ages.

MikeFMich said...

49 yrs. ago today....I don't know where that time has gone to.

Even though I went to most games that the Lions played for another 17 yrs., this one is still seared into my consciousness more than any of the others.

Maybe because it was my first football I went to, maybe it was because the domination I saw that day was about unequaled from any other game I saw.

All I know is this, I screamed until I was hoarse, and had one of the best family gatherings ever on Thanksgiving later that afternoon.

Anonymous said...

I remember this 1962 game as if it was yesterday. I've never seen a better defensive effort - before or since. 25 years later I was walking through a book store when I saw a book titled "The NFL's greatest games". I opened it to the contents page and sure enough, there it was "The Thanksgiving Day Massacre". What a fantastic game!

Anonymous said...


There was a book (I think published in 1963) about the 1962 NFL season. The book selected 1 NFL game each week, and included photos and information about that game. Because the Packers won all but one game that year (the infamous Thanksgiving loss the the Lions), they were selected for several games, including that game. I especially remember the photo from that Thanksgiving game, where (I think) Jerry Kramer is set to block (I think) Karras, but Karras is already sacking Starr. It's an iconic photo of that game, but I can't find it anywhere else. I would like to purchase the book, but cannot remember the title. Does anyone know the title, author, or anything about the book that might help me locate it?


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