Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sports Illustrated: December 16, 1996

The nineteenth appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Green Bay Packers was in December of 1996, as they were headed towards the NFL Playoffs again. On the cover, quarterback Brett Favre is shown in passing form with the headline, “The Team to Beat... Why Brett Favre and the Packers are Looking Super.”

Inside, as the article opens with a two-page photo spread of Dorsey Levens leaping for yardage, the headline reads: “Back in Gear... The Packers turned it up a notch to rout the Broncos and move closer to earning the (frigid) home field advantage in the Playoffs.”

The article states: “By day’s end Lambeau seemed more daunting than it had all season. After rolling to a 41-6 win, the Packers — now 11-3 — had moved a step closer to securing home field advantage... a pressing quest given their 15-game winning streak at Lambeau. A few hours later, after San Francisco (lost) to Carolina, and the Cowboys had escaped with a victory over Arizona, Green Bay had become the conference’s clear-cut favorite to reach the Super Bowl... and Sunday’s game, viewed by many as a Super Bowl preview, sent a Pack-is-back message to NFL rivals.”

“Against all logic, Green Bay has become a garden spot for players from less successful organizations (like Andre Rison). ‘It’s like a home for the refuse of society,’ says safety Eugene Robinson, a 12-year veteran acquired in an off-season trade with Seattle. The nightlife options may be slim and the weather may be grim, but, in Rison’s words, ‘the vibe here is incredible.’ Defensive tackle Santana Dotson, who spent his first four years with Tampa Bay, says he loves playing for the Packers because ‘everyone from the front office executives to the janitor tries to get the players whatever they need to win.’ ”

Yes... these were swell times to be a Packer fan... as long as you didn’t believe in the Sports Illustrated “cover jinx.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sports Illustrated: January 15, 1996

The Packers’ eighteenth appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated came in the fourth year of the Mike Holmgren-Ron Wolf era. The event which put them there was their somewhat surprising manhandling of the 49ers 27-17 in the NFC Divisional Playoff game in San Francisco at the end of the 1995 season. Pictured on the cover is quarterback Brett Favre, with the headline: “Bring on the Cowboys... Brett Favre and the Packers Dethrone the 49ers.”

In the two-page photo spread which opens the article, SI states: “True to its word, Green Bay whipped defending champion San Francisco.” The article says, “Mike Holmgren, the Green Bay Packer coach, had spent a week assuring his players — and anyone else who would listen — that they were capable of dethroning the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in last Saturday’s NFC Divisional game.”

“Before the game, Holmgren told his team, ‘We can beat these guys, but it’s not about outsmarting them or having a better scheme... football is about kicking someone’s (butt), Football is about physically pounding the opponent. If you want to win this game, you have to beat the crap out of these guys.”

“While there were many logical explanations for the stunning outcome — beginning with Green Bay defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur’s ingenuity and extending to the offensive blueprint drawn up by Holmgren and his offensive coordinator, Sherman Lewis — the Pack also rode intangibles to this victory. ‘I’ve never been around a team quite like this,’ Holmgren said afterward. ‘I think this team is special because the players are so unselfish.’ ”

The win propelled the Packers into the national NFL consciousness as a potential force to be dealt with, after decades of ineptitude. They would go to Dallas the next week to play the Cowboys for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XXX... however, they would fall short after leading into the fourth quarter, 38-27.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sports Illustrated: September 28, 1992

The Tony Mandarich saga continues. The seventeenth appearance of the Packers on the cover of Sports Illustrated was one I’m sure the Green Bay front office never wanted to see. By the time this issue appeared on newsstands, general manager Tom Braatz (who drafted Mandarich) was gone and replaced by Ron Wolf. Head coach Lindy Infante was also gone and was replaced by Mike Holmgren, who sat at 2-2 in the standings at this time in his first season as head coach.

Mandarich appears on the cover of the magazine with the headline: “The NFL’s Incredible BUST,” a play on the cover of the last time he appeared there. “Three years after being hailed as a surefire star, Packer Tony Mandarich struggles to salvage his career.” Considering the things that were said about him in the previous posting, in four years he had become a laughingstock in the League.

“Tony the Terrible,” the headline reads as the article inside begins, “Once hyped as an outrageously talented lineman, Tony Mandarich of the Packers is still outrageous, but he’s not much of a talent.” Words from Mandarich himself: “A lot of people would have bet their bottom dollar that I would have been in the Pro Bowl three times by now,” he says, “but instead I’m known as one of the biggest busts in football... if you keep reading (in the papers) about what a bust you’ve been, after a while you start to believe it. The truth hurts.” “Now in the final year of his four-year $4.4 million contract, Mandarich is a pale, sullen, and soft 295-pounder on the brink of falling out of the game... he has lacked the strength and technique to stop pass rushers, and he candidly admits that even with hard work and a lot of luck, he’ll probably never amount to anything more than an average NFL lineman.” He was exactly right. “I have nobody to blame but myself,” he says.

After suffering a concussion in the 1992 preseason, Mandarich missed the entire season and was released on February 26, 1993. He returned to football in 1996, playing three years for the Colts (coached by his former Green Bay coach Lindy Infante), mostly as a starting guard before a shoulder injury ended his career with retirement in 1998.

Hopefully, the Packers will never fail on a high draft pick like they did with Mandarich.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sports Illustrated: April 24, 1989

While not a member of the team’s roster yet, the sixteenth appearance of the Packers on the cover of Sports Illustrated was with Tony Mandarich, right before he was selected by Green Bay with the second pick in the 1989 Draft. A shirtless Mandarich is shown on the cover with the headline, “The Incredible Bulk... the Best Offensive Line Prospect Ever.”

Inside, the article calls him “the BIG enchilada,” and shows him pushing two grocery carts filled with food to supply his “49 meals a week.” The article praises his accomplishments and his positioning himself to become the highest paid offensive lineman ever — and also discusses at length all the rumors of his steroid abuse. According to one Big Ten assistant coach, “Pro scouts come in and ask about Mandarich, I tell them (about the steroids), but they don’t care. It’s really sad he’s getting so much publicity.”

“At any rate,” the article says, “a diploma doesn’t have much to do with his career at the moment. He says he’ll play even in rustic Green Bay ‘if the price is right.’ And what’s right? Bet on $8 million for five years. Would he live year-round in Green Bay? ‘Hah! I’m back here (in Los Angeles) the day the season’s over.’ ”

Also in the article: “That afternoon as Mandarich relaxes in the condo, a telegram arrives from the Green Bay Packers. It reads: ‘Tony, please call (position coach) Charlie Davis or (GM) Tom Braatz concerning travel to Green Bay for pre-draft physical before end of week.’ ‘Yeah right!’ hoots Mandarich.”

What became of Mandarich after being selected by the Packers (who, by the way passed up Barry Sanders) will be covered in a later installment. In defense of the Packers and GM Tom Braatz, here is a small sampling of what other NFL personnel “experts” were saying at the time about Mandarich:

“He’s the best college football player I’ve ever seen... this kid is better than Anthony Munoz.”
— Tom Boisture, N.Y. Giants

“Maybe the fastest offensive tackle in history... and just maybe the best.”
— San Diego GM Steve Ortmayer

“He’s always working on his techniques, which are almost perfect anyway.”
— Dick Steinberg, New England Patriots

It goes to show that the “experts” certainly don’t know everything.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sports Illustrated: August 25, 1975

It was five years until the Packers appeared on the cover of Sports Illustated again for the fifteenth time. The occasion was the hiring of Bart Starr as head coach and the seeming optimism that brought to the Green Bay organization in the summer of 1975. Starr, of course, had been the Packers’ quarterback from 1956-1971, and was at the helm for all five of Lombardi’s world championships of the 1960’s.

Starr is pictured on the magazine’s cover, running out with several players for a preseason game in Milwaukee, with the headline, “Bart Starr Takes Charge of the Packers.” Inside, the article starts under the heading, “A Fresh Start With Bart... Optimism permeates the summer air of Green Bay. Fans are sporting buttons and bumper stickers celebrating the return of Bart Starr, Mr. Nice Guy, and hoping for a renaissance of Lombardi’s winning ways.”

The article continues, “After spending 16 years as a player of heroic stature in Green Bay, Starr has returned to the Packers as general manager and head coach, the announcement being made fittingly enough last Christmas Eve (1974). Probably no first-time head coach has ever put more on the line... no one is more aware of this than Starr himself... he is in the position of trying to persuade the fans not to expect too much too soon.”

Starr later stated, “This job at Green Bay is like undertaking a personal quest for me. I owe a tremendous amount to the Packers. I want to hear them talked about with pride. I wouldn’t be coaching professional football if it wasn’t at Green Bay. I’ve been offered several head coaching jobs for more money than I’m getting here, and on teams that might have better players, but those teams aren‘t the Packers.”

Starr admitted years later that he wasn’t prepared for the head coaching position offered him in 1975, but that he was “intrigued” by the challenge. He would last until 1983, compiling a 52-76-3 record, with one postseason trip to the Playoffs — in the strike-shortened 1982 season.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sports Illustrated: March 3, 1969

The fourteenth Sports Illustrated cover for the Packers was when former head coach and then-current general manager Vince Lombardi announced that he was taking the job of turning around the fortunes of the Washington Redskins in March of 1969. A smiling Lombardi is depicted on the cover along with the headline, “Vince Lombardi Puts a Legend on the Line.”

After only one season off the sidelines, Lombardi couldn’t stand being cooped up in the press box on Sundays and only tending to the mundane duties of the average general manager during the week. By many accounts, giving up coaching was for him a “horrible mistake.” But leaving the successful history of his Green Bay teams and the town where he was revered as “St. Vincent” meant starting over and putting his reputation in jeopardy.

As SI said, “Vince Lombardi knows full well that, however rich the idolatry may be now, his reputation as America’s leading Success Symbol and Dean of Champions is on the line in Washington. Insisting that he is spurred less by profit motives than by internal complusion, he passes off his $100,000 salary and his $500,000 worth of Redskin stock by saying ‘I don’t need the money. Money I’ve got. I need to COACH!’ ”

“Lombardi’s own version of why he quit coaching in January 1968 offers an insight into the weird and unexpected pressure a man encounters at a pinnacle of success. ‘When I quit,’ says Lombardi, ‘I knew I’d never be back coaching. I knew I wouldn’t be able to take it again. The pressures were so horrible. The pressure of losing is bad — awful... but the pressure of winning is worse — infinitely worse, because it keeps on torturing you and torturing you. At Green Bay, I was winning one championship after another (he quit after three straight). I couldn’t take it because I blamed myself after every loss. I felt I’d let them down. You know, if we’d just won every other title, or if we’d lost to Dallas in ’66 or ’67, I’d still be in Green Bay. Forever.’ ”

In 1969, Lombardi did turn the Redskins around that season to some degree, improving them from a 5-9 record in 1968 to a 7-5-2 record. But before he could accomplish more, he was stricken with cancer and died in September 1970.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sports Illustrated: December 16, 1968

The thirteenth appearance by the Green Bay Packers on the cover of Sports Illustrated came near the end of the 1968 season, after the Packers lost 16-3 to the Baltimore Colts in Lambeau Field. On the cover, running back Donny Anderson is wrapped up by “Baltimore’s Volk and Gaubatz” and the text reads, “A Dynasty Totters.” The article inside begins under the headline “Au Revoir, Packers!,” reflecting the thoughts of football fans everywhere who were tired of the Packers winning the NFL championship the previous three years in a row.

The story states that “the loss snuffed out what dim hope the Packers had to win their fourth straight championship,” and that “the Packers’ defeat by Baltimore was, in a way, a microcosm of the whole unfortunate year for Green Bay... countless words undoubtedly will be written describing the Green Bay debacle as the end of a dynasty, but this is a theory the Packers themselves do not endorse. To them, the disasters of 1968 were an interruption, not an end. All the bad luck Green Bay escaped in the nine years under Vince Lombardi seemed to descend upon the team in Phil Benston’s first season as coach, and the avalanche of injuries, bad bounces, missed field goals and untimely penalties resulted in Green Bay’s first losing season since 1959.”

“If they should fail to recapture their Lombardi years, the problem will very likely be found at quarterback. Starr, when healthy, is still one of the most capable quarterbacks in football, but at 35 he has reached the age where injuries linger, and it would be foolhardy to expect him to grow sturdier in the seasons to come.”

Bart Starr would indeed be injured often after that season and would never recapture the success of the championship years — retiring in 1971. Sports Illustrated would not feature the Packers again for many years.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sports Illustrated: October 28, 1968

The Packers appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the twelfth time in October of 1968, the year of decline after the Lombardi era. Depicted on the cover are defensive tackle Bob Brown (#78) and offensive tackle Forrest Gregg (#75) running out onto the field prior to the game with the Los Angeles Rams in Milwaukee on October 13, 1968. The Packers would lose this game 16-14 and drop to 2-3 on the season at that point, leading to the article inside in which the magazine stated that “the Packers are not dead.”

But they were “dead” as far as their string of championships were concerned. They would go on to win only four more games in that 1968 season.

Bob Brown played for Green Bay from 1966-1973, while future Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg would play two more seasons, retiring in 1970.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sports Illustrated: July 15, 1968

The Packers’ eleventh appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated came during Training Camp ’68... the first for the successor to Vince Lombardi’s head coaching position, former defensive coordinator Phil Bengston. On the cover, a close-up of eventual Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke is pictured, along with the headline: “Green Bay’s Best Team Ever,” (by Ray Nitschke). While having not had the opportunity to read the accompanying article, the headline would not fit that year’s Packers’ team, nor any of the Phil Bengston-led teams.

Bengtson’s low-key approach was in sharp contrast to the often-volatile Lombardi. With the aging of key players, this translated into mediocrity for the franchise. For the 1968 season, the optimism of the Sports Illustrated cover ended with a 6-7-1 record, good enough for only third in the NFL Central. Bengston’s Packers were 20-21-1 in his three seasons as head coach. After a 6-8 record in 1970, he was relieved of his duties, replaced by Missouri head coach Dan Devine.

Bengston resurfaced with the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, becoming the interim head coach of the Patriots in late 1972. Later, he was named the team's Director of Pro Scouting, staying through the 1974 season.

Phil Bengtson died at age 81 after a long illness at his home in San Diego on December 18, 1994.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Packerville on Break

“Packerville, U.S.A.” will be on hiatus until Monday, February 19th. See you then!

Sports Illustrated: Jan. 22, 1968

After beating the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II, the Packers graced the cover of Sports Illustrated for the tenth time. Pictured hoisting coach Vince Lombardi onto their shoulders are #64 guard Jerry Kramer, and #75 tackle Forrest Gregg — with the heading “The Super Champion: Lombardi of Green Bay.” This would prove to be Lombardi’s last game as Green Bay head coach — he announced his retirement shortly thereafter. He would remain as Green Bay’s general manager through the 1968 season and then move to Washington, D.C. to coach the Redskins in 1969.

Super Bowl II was played on January 14, 1968 in front of 75,546 fans in Miami’s “Orange Bowl.” Bart Starr again earned the game’s most valuable player award as he completed 13 of 24 passes for 202 yards and one touchdown. Don Chandler kicked four field goals, and Herb Adderley returned a Daryle Lamonica intercetion 60 yeards for a touchdown. Running back Donny Anderson and receiver Boyd Dowler also contributed touchdowns towards the Packers’ victory.

At halftime, Packers guard Jerry Kramer said to his teammates (referring to Lombardi), “Let's play the last 30 minutes for the old man.” Lombardi’s reign in Green Bay ended with six Western Conference Championships, five NFL titles, and two Super Bowl victories — a record unprecedented in NFL history.

Willie Davis, Green Bay defensive end, commented on the $15,000 earned from the Super Bowl win: “It’s kind of like putting sugar on top of ice cream.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sports Illustrated: Jan. 8, 1968

It was almost another year before the Packers graced the cover of Sports Illustrated for the ninth time. The occasion was the pre-Super Bowl II issue, in which the now infamous “Ice Bowl” NFL Championship game was covered, as well as the Raiders 40-7 rout of the Houston Oilers in the AFL Championship game. The split cover featured Packers’ running back Chuck Mercein fighting for some frozen yardage.

Under the title, “The Old Pro Goes in for Six,” the article’s subhead stated, “On a frigid field and against an ice-hard Dallas Cowboy defense, Bart Starr climaxed a last-minute drive by clawing across for the touchdown that put Green Bay in the Super Bowl.” The article goes on to state that “...marshalled into something resembling a hot streak... the Packers shook off more than two quarters of almost total ineffectiveness and in the final frozen moments toiled 68 yards in four minutes and 37 seconds to score... with only 13 seconds to play, Green Bay won 21-17 to take the National Football League championship for the third straight year.”

It was then off to Miami to face the Raiders in temperatures that were almost 100 degrees warmer than that frigid New Year’s Eve 1967 in Green Bay.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sports Illustrated: Jan. 23, 1967

Just two weeks after their previous cover appearance, the Packers made their eighth Sports Illustrated frontpiece after winning the first Super Bowl game. This historic meeting between the two champions of the National Football League and American Football League was held at the Los Angeles Coliseum on January 15, 1967. The Kansas City Chiefs were the opponents of Green Bay that day, and, much to the relief of the other NFL clubs, the Packers handled them 35-10 after a fairly close first half.

Pictured on the cover is receiver Max McGee, who got into the game after Boyd Dowler was injured on the Packers’ first series. McGee had stayed out all night prior to the game and was not expecting to play, but ended up turning in a stellar performance, catching seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Prior to the Super Bowl, he had only caught four passes all season.

The Packers earned $15,000 apiece for the victory, which was played in front of a less than full stadium — 30,000 seats remained empty.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sports Illustrated: Jan. 9, 1967

The Packers appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the seventh time in January of 1967, after their NFL Championship game victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The game was played in Dallas on New Year’s Day after the Packers won the Western Conference for the second straight year. In the 34-27 win, quarterback Bart Starr threw four touchdown passes to Elijah Pitts, Carroll Dale, Boyd Dowler, and Max McGee. The other Packers’ score was on a 18-yard fumble return by Jim Grabowski.

As Dallas was driving late for the potential game-tying score, the Packers’ safety Tom Brown intercepted a wobbly Don Meredith pass in the endzone to seal the win for Green Bay.

The Packers would then go on to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl game played in Los Angeles, CA.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sports Illustrated: Oct. 31, 1966

The sixth Packers’ appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated was in the Halloween-dated issue in the Fall of 1966. Pictured on the cover is Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr (behind #50 — center Bill Curry), along with the caption “Hot War in the West,” which refers to the NFL’s Western Conference.

The article in the magazine is about Starr and the the Western Conference teams (namely the Baltimore Colts) in “heated pursuit” of the Packers, who had just dismantled the Atlanta Falcons 56-3 the Sunday before. “The big lesson of the day was that the race in the West will turn on the quarterbacks... as everyone knows, Johnny Unitas is one of the finest quarterbacks of all time; as everyone SHOULD know, Starr is one of them, too... Starr is the perfect man for the meticulous, grinding Green Bay offense and he has just as much cool and just as much generalship as Unitas... ‘We’re different types,’ Unitas comments. ‘Bart’s an excellent quarterback, but he calls plays to control the ball, and I gamble. I throw anytime. But he’s a fine passer. Look at his statistics.’ ”

“He’s confident,” a Bear player said after the Packers beat Chicago a week ago. “You can’t ruffle him. You can’t make him mad. He’s got more confidence than almost anyone.”

Interestingly revealed in the article, which also provides an overview of Starr’s career to that point, is that Starr was drafted in the 17th round by the Packers in the 1956 Draft because, according to Starr, “Johnny Dee, the basketball coach at Alabama was... responsible for that. He was a good friend of the late (Packers scout) Jack Vainisi, and talked him into taking a chance.” That gamble turned into a good decision for the Green Bay Packers and Bart Starr.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Sports Illustrated: Aug. 22, 1966

The Packers’ fifth appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated was during the 1966 preseason, when they were gearing up to defend their “NFL Champions” title won the previous January over Cleveland. Pictured on the cover are Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, Green Bay’s powerful backfield posing on the Packers’ practice field along Oneida Street, with the Brown County Arena in the background.

That season, the Packers would again win the Western Conference title with a record of 12-2-0, and go on to meet Dallas in the first of two consecutive NFL Championship games to be played against the Cowboys — this year in Texas. After defeating Dallas 34-27, the Packers’ would go on to represent the NFL in the first “Super Bowl” in Los Angeles, beating Kansas City 35-10.

Oddly enough, the two players pictured on this cover were in their last season with the Packers. Hornung would sustain a neck injury that would curtail his playing time and eventually force his retirement, while Taylor played out his contract option (much to Lombardi’s dismay) and would sign with the expansion New Orleans Saints the following year.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sports Illustrated: Jan. 10, 1966

The fourth appearance of the Packers on the cover of Sports Illustrated came in January 1966, following their NFL Championship win over the Cleveland Browns in Green Bay. The cover photo depicts a muddy Jim Taylor slashing through the Cleveland defense for a few of his 96 total yards on the day.

While Taylor did not score during the contest, his cohort Paul Hornung scored one touchdown in addition to gaining 106 yards. Besides kicker Don Chandler’s three field goals, the other Packers’ score that day came on a 47-yard scoring strike from quarterback Bart Starr to receiver Carroll Dale.

The Packers’ defense held the league’s leading rusher — NFL Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown — to 50 yards.

The game was played (in front of 50,777 fans) in sloppy conditions after four inches of snow softened the Lambeau Field turf. The championship game was the Packers’ third in five years.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sports Illustrated: Sept. 10, 1962

The third appearance of the Packers on the cover of Sports Illustrated came in the early Fall of 1962. Fullback Jim Taylor is depicted in the clutches of a San Francisco 49er’s linebacker, while Green Bay tackle Forrest Gregg looks on from his blocking assignment.

The defending NFL-champion Packers would go on to finish the season with a record of 13-1, and some would say they were one of the best teams of all time. They were undefeated at home that season at City Stadium (it would not be renamed “Lambeau Field” until after Curly Lambeau’s death in 1965), and went on to defeat the New York Giants again for the championship in Yankee Stadium, 16-7 — carried to victory by offensive guard Jerry Kramer’s three field goals.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sports Illustrated: Dec. 18, 1961

Today’s post spotlights the second visit to the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Packers. Dan Currie, who played linebacker from 1958-1964 is shown with the caption “The Champion Packers.” As predicted earlier by SI, the Packers already had the Western Division title wrapped up by this date, and would meet the New York Giants for the NFL Championship on New Year’s Eve that year.

In a lengthy article, SI states: “The Green Bay Packers, in a sense, are doubly a championship team, for they have two corner linebackers who fit the position’s demanding specifications. The club’s success over the past two years (Won 19; Lost 7 over 1960 and 1961) has been due in no small part to Dan Currie and Bill Forrester (Note: played in Green Bay from 1953-1963), who tackle fullbacks with enthusiasm and effect, cover ends and halfbacks with some trepidation but reasonably well and, upon occasion, barrel in to commit legal mayhem upon a quarterback bent on passing.”

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sports Illustrated: Sept. 25, 1961

The first appearance of the Packers on the cover of Sports Illustrated occurred in the September 25, 1961 issue, with Bart Starr and the caption “Year of the Quarterback.” In an article briefly describing the NFL’s young QB’s, the magazine states: “... the slower but just as sure maturing of Bart Starr, now in his sixth year, makes Green Bay the favorite in the West.”

“Starr did not take over as Green Bay quarterback on a full-time basis until the close of last season (the Packers lost to the Eagles in the 1960 Championship game). ‘It takes a long time to become oriented,’ Starr says, ‘It takes years before you can recognize and diagnose a defense almost instantly. And it takes nearly that much time before you know your receivers intimately. Anything I can say about the importance of knowing every move a receiver makes would be an understatement.’ ”

“Starr is a very bright football player who learns quickly; there were some stories that he was a Phi Beta Kappa at Alabama, but they were not true. ‘My wife says I would have been if we’d gotten married sooner,’ Starr says.”

Other young quarterbacks mentioned in the article are the Eagles’ Sonny Jurgenson, the Cowboys’ Don Meredith, and the 49ers’ Billy Kilmer. In the Pro Football preview section, the Packers were described as “surprise champions of the West, who will surprise no one if they repeat as champions in 1961. This is probably the soundest team in football...”

They knew what they were talking about as the Packers beat the Giants 37-0 that year for the championship in Green Bay — the first championship game played in what became known as “Titletown.”

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Aw, That’s a Shame...

Colts 29
Bears 17

What a wonderful world. To follow the theme of the popular television commercial... Brett Favre announces he’s coming back next year on Friday, and the Bears lose the Super Bowl on Sunday... PRICELESS!

My hat’s off to Rex Grossman... the only way he’ll ever get into the Hall of Fame is by paying the price of admission.

Two in a Row

For today’s “Super Sunday” entry, we have the original account of Super Bowl II, as it appeared in the next day’s Milwaukee Journal:

Packers and Starr Winners Again
By Chuck Johnson
The Milwaukee Journal
January 14, 1968

Miami, Fla. — Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers took the measure of the American Football League's best for the second straight year in the Super Bowl game here Sunday. The victims this time were the Oakland Raiders, and the score was 33-14. A year ago, in Los Angeles, the National Football League champions beat the Kansas Chiefs, 35-10.

Quarterback Bart Starr was adjudged the most valuable player and awarded a sports car by a magazine for the second straight year. He again injured his right thumb, however, and Zeke Bratkowski finished.

Don Chandler's contribution may have been overlooked. He kicked four field goals, and the third one, from 43 yards with one second left in the first half, may have been a turning point, if a 33-14 game has a turning point.

Now the Packers were ahead by nine points instead of six, and when Starr and his mates controlled the ball almost endlessly in the third quarter — the Raiders got six plays in the period — Oakland was suddenly all through. That fact was underscored when Chandler kicked his fourth field goal with two seconds left in the period, by bouncing a 31-yard "knuckleball" on the crossbar and over.

Besides Chandler's four field goals in four attempts — the earlier ones were from 39 and 20 yards, for a 6-0 lead — the Packers scored three touchdowns, by three different routes.

First, Starr caught Oakland in the wrong defense and pitched a pass to end Boyd Dowler for a ridiculously easy 62-yard scoring play. Dowler caught the ball alone on Oakland's 40, and had little trouble outsprinting two pursuers, neither of whom was the man who was supposed to cover him.

Second, halfback Donny Anderson burst over right tackle behind devastating blocking to score standing up from the 2-yard line. Starr's pass, on third down with a yard to go, to veteran end Max McGee, gained 35 yards and his subsequent passes to end Carroll Dale and Anderson set up the score.

And third, cornerback Herb Adderley leaped in front of the Oakland receiver and intercepted Daryle Lamonica's pass and raced back 60 yards, aided by blocks by tackles Henry Jordan and Ron Kostelnik and his own evasion of Lamonica, for the touchdown that made it 33-7 and removed what little doubt remained for the capacity crowd of 75,546 in the sunny but cool (for Florida) Orange Bowl.

After each touchdown, Chandler added the extra point, giving him 15 points for the day, one more than Oakland could score.

Lamonica threw for Oakland's two touchdowns, each to end Bill Miller and each time for 23 yards. The first score put Oakland in the game, briefly at least, but John Rauch's Raiders were soon out of it again, because Roger Bird fumbled one of Anderson's high, left-footed punts, rookie Dick Capp (just put on the roster by Lombardi Friday) recovered the ball and the Packers obtained position for Chandler's third field goal.

George Blanda, who once played quarterback for the Chicago Bears, kicked the two extra points. He was short on a 47-yard field goal when the issue was still in doubt. He did not, however, get a chance to try any more field goal, after leading the AFL in scoring this season with 116 points.

As Blanda himself phrased it, "Once Chandler kicked his third one, we weren't going for field goals any more."

Each Packer won $15,000, as compared with the $7,500 which accrued to each Raider's bank account, but this was not one of Green Bay's better games. In fact, it seemed that the Packers played just about as well as they had to.

Lombardi may have had the same impression. "The way we played was typical of this team in the last year and a half," he said. "We took a 13-0 lead and went on vacation."

As it was, this was Green Bay's 18th victory since competition started against the College All-Stars in Chicago last August, as compared with four defeats and one tie. Oakland, which has scored 11 straight victories, wound up with a 16-5 record, including 13-1 in the regular season.

The Packers now have run up a 68-24 scoring edge over the AFL in the Super Bowl, but this contest was slightly different from the first one. For one thing, the Raiders seemed to prove more opposition over the full 60 minutes than the Chiefs did a year ago. For another, the statistics this time were surprisingly close.

But Green Bay did what Green Bay had to do. Starr and his mates did not give the ball away at all. The Raiders lost the ball three times — once for seven points on Adderley's interception, once for three points on Bird's fumble, and once when Pete Banaszak, the running back from Crivitz, Wis., fumbled after catching a pass. Linebacker Dave Robinson picked up that fumble and ran it back 16 yards.

The Packers didn't make anything out of Robinson's recovery, but that was about the only time they didn't convert an opportunity into something meaningful.

Lombardi's Packers now have won two Super Bowls in a row, and five NFL titles in the last seven years, including the last three straight.

They will be hard pressed for an encore. But they'll probably think of something.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Early 60’s Locker Room

Here’s another interesting photo from “the collection.” Posing in the Packers’ locker room with Head Coach Vince Lombardi are #51 Jim Ringo (Center, 1953-1963), #86 Boyd Dowler (Receiver, 1959-1969), #88 Ron Kramer (Tight End, 1957, 1959-1964), #31 Jim Taylor (Fullback, 1958-1966), and Bart Starr (Quarterback, 1956-1971).

I do not know the exact year of the photograph, but it cannot be any later than 1963, Jim Ringo’s last year with the team.

The “Starr” of Super Bowl I

The Packers’ steady field general, Bart Starr, was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl I. He completed 16 out of 23 passes for an even 250 yards (his longest completion was 37 yards), two touchdowns (both to Max McGee), and 1 interception (by Kansas City’s Right Cornerback Willie Mitchell). For his MVP honor, Starr was presented with a brand-new Chevrolet Corvette.

Super Bowl I Connection

I once had a very brief, vague connection with a non-Packer Super Bowl I player. In January of 1992, my wife and I got engaged in Kansas City, MO (it's a long story). Earlier in the evening prior to the actual engagement, we ate with her parents at the Hereford House restaurant (a famous K.C. steakhouse). At the next table was Bobby Bell, former Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker and pro football Hall of Famer.

Bell played for the Chiefs, first in the American Football League from 1963 through 1969, and then in the NFL from 1970 through 1974. Bell was an AFL All-Star for six consecutive years, 1964 through 1969, and then an NFL Pro Bowler for three straight years (1970-1972). He was on two AFL Championship teams and a World Championship team. He was named to the All-Time All-AFL Team in 1970. He was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1980, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Favre: Giving It “Another Shot”

From the Associated Press:

With subzero temperatures descending and a hated division rival playing in the Super Bowl, Green Bay Packers fans received an unexpected jolt of good news Friday. Brett Favre is back.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson said the three-time MVP called him to say he was "going to give it another shot" and return for his 17th NFL season — thus bringing his now-annual flirtation with retirement to an end far earlier than he had in the previous two offseasons.

"I am so excited about coming back," the 37-year-old quarterback said Friday on the Web site of the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss. "We have a good nucleus of young players. We were 8-8 last year, and that's encouraging."

Thompson said Favre didn't give him a specific reason why he was returning, but Thompson figured it was a sign that he is happy with the direction the team is headed. "In our conversations prior to the end of the season, I knew he was having a good time and he liked the team," Thompson said.

Favre seemed to echo those comments to the Biloxi newspaper. "My offensive line looks good, the defense played good down the stretch," Favre said. "I'm excited about playing for a talented young football team."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pitts Scores the Final TD

Running Back Elijah Pitts, #22, runs the final one yard of the drive to score Super Bowl I’s last touchdown behind the blocking of Tight End Marv Fleming, #81. Pitts rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries and scored twice, racking up 4.1 yards-per-carry average. His longest was a run of 12 yards. Pitts played for the Packers from 1961-1969 and again in 1971. He was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1979. After his playing career ended, he was an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Rams, Houston Oilers, and the Buffalo Bills, coaching in all four of the Bills' Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s.

Super Bowl I Sweep

Two future NFL Hall of Famers, #75 Forrest Gregg and #31 Jim Taylor, collaborate on a short sweep to the Kansas City 1-yard line — setting up a touchdown on the play. Taylor finished the game with 56 yards on 17 carries, a 3.3 yard-per-carry average. His longest run was a 14 yard touchdown scamper for his only score of the game.

Super Bowl I Ring & Ticket

Today’s first posting depicts a ticket to the first Super Bowl game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — along with the championship ring commemorating the victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. To put in perspective how long ago this game was played, the price on the ticket is $10.00! Today, you couldn't even buy a game program for that amount.