Will History Repeat for Packers-Lions?

This isn’t the first time the Green Bay Packers have taken an unbeaten record into a Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Detroit Lions.

On November 22, 1962, exactly one year to the day  before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the Packers came into Tiger Stadium sporting a 10-0 record.

The dream of an undefeated season ended that day for the Pack as the Lions, then 8-2, sacked Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr 10 times and roared off with a 26-14 win. The victory avenged a last minute, 9-7 loss in Green Bay earlier in the season.

“To this day, I don’t know if I have ever been in a locker room quite like that one,” Dick LeBeau told the Detroit News. “It was a group of men who came together with a singleness of purpose that they were going to win a game that day.”

A Lions defensive back and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who has coached in the NFL for 39 years, including in six Super Bowls.

On Turkey Day in 1962, Detroit’s Milt Plum connected with Gail Cogdill for a pair of touchdown passes, then defensive end Sam Williams rumbled six yards with a Starr  fumble to give the Lions a  huge lead  in the second quarter. When Starr was tackled in the end zone by Roger Brown for a safety, the Lions led 23-0.

Plum added a 47-yard field goal in the third quarter before the Packers made the score respectable with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Thanksgiving Day Massacre
Detroit’s domination of the game that came to be referred to as “The Thanksgiving Day Massacre” was more complete than the score indicated. The Lions outgained the Packers, 304 yards to 122. The usually unstoppable Green Bay running attack was held to just 73 yards on 27 attempts, and the passing attack netted 49 yards.

The game, played in 37-degree temperatures in the Motor City, featured 10 turnovers, three fumbles and two interceptions by each team.

“It’s a known fact that the Detroit defense is good,” summed up Lombardi. “They completely overpowered us in the first half…My club wasn’t flat. We were ready. They just overwhelmed us.”

It was the only NFL game that day, and it drew 30 million viewers, at the time the largest television audience ever for CBS.

The Packers went on to win their final three games — beating the Rams twice and the 49ers — to finish 13-1. Green Bay then won its second straight NFL championship under Vince Lombardi with a 16-7 win over the New York Giants on a cold, blustery December day at Yankee Stadium.

Detroit, which also lost to the Giants and the Bear, finished 11-3, second in the NFL’s Western Conference.

Steelers Are Super, But Packers Are NFL’s Best

Originally posted on February 2, 2009 by Sportslifer

SportsLifer Rewind: I posted this blog two years ago, after the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl by beating the Arizona Cardinals. Who knew that Super Bowl XLV would pit the Steelers against the Packers.

Not to rain on Pittsburgh’s parade (hey, we all love a parade), but to claim the Steelers are the best team in NFL history is a bit over the top.

Granted, the Steelers have now win six Super Bowls, more than any other franchise — the Cowboys and the 49ers have each won five. So if you want to give Pittsburgh the nod as the best team in the Super Bowl era, well who’s to argue. No disputing the fact that they are a model franchise, classy and competitive.

DSCN2434 But the best all-time? Not. That’s like claiming the team that has won the most World Series since baseball adopted its playoff format in 1969 is the best ever. (That team happens to be the Yankees with six (now seven) championships, but they won 20 more before 1969).

The Steelers were formed in 1933, and were NFL doormats for more than 40 years, never winning so much as a conference championship. Five years after shifting to the AFC Central in 1970, the Steelers won their first Super Bowl.

You can’t ignore history.

Packers Have Most Titles
So who is the best? Counting three Super Bowls, the Green Bay Packers have won 12 NFL, including the first two Super Bowls, since the formation of the NFL in 1920, the  Packers have actually won 12 titles.

Green Bay is the only NFL team to win three straight championships (1929-31) and (1965-67), the latter including the first two Super Bowls.

The Chicago Bears also supersede the Steelers with nine NFL titles, including Super Bowl XX. And the New York Giants have seven championships, including three Super Bowls.

The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers rank behind the Steelers with five Super Bowl wins apiece

Another team that’s sometimes forgotten in the haze of football history is the Cleveland Browns. The Browns won four straight championships in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) before that league was disbanded in 1950. The Browns then proceeded to make six straight appearances in the NFL championship game, winning in 1950, 1954 and 1955.

Cleveland won another championship in 1964, but has never been to the Super Bowl.

Cleaning out the Notebook
Among the dozen or more “experts” in the booth for Super Bowl XLIII, it’s hard to believe NBC would include Matt Millen. Yes, the same Matt Millen, the general manager who set the Detroit Lions back years. Heck, I wouldn’t trust this guy to pick my fantasy football team.

Jennifer Hudson’s emotional rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was moving, best since Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV.

DSCN2429 Lots of fans, even football fanatics, were looking forward to the halftime show as much as the game. Bruce Springsteen didn’t disappoint. He never does. That’s why he’s the Boss.

Finally, why didn’t the refs review Kurt Warner’s last play? Fumble or incomplete pass? Close call. But at the very least the play deserved review.

According to the NFL head of officials, the play was reviewed and upheld. For what, 20 seconds?

Rules state that if Warner’s arm is moving in a forward motion with the ball still in his hand when it comes out, the play should be ruled an incomplete pass, not a fumble.

Oh, and one more thing.

After the play, the Steelers were called for a personal foul, so if the play had been reversed, and with the 15-yard penalty yardage marked off, the Cardinals would have had the ball on the Pittsburgh 30 with about seven seconds remaining.

Certainly time enough for a miracle.

Bears-Packers Last Playoff After Pearl Harbor

Packers end Hal Van Every hands the ball to an official after scoring  in the third quarter of a 33-14 loss to the Bears in the Western Division playoff game in 1941.

In their long, storied and successful histories, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have combined for 21 championships and faced one another 181 times — but only once in the playoffs.

That game was played exactly one week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on a cold, Sunday afternoon at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on December 14, 1941, nearly 70 years ago. It marked the first playoff game to determine a divisional champion in NFL history.

The George Halas-coached Bears, the famed Monsters of the Midway, were heavy favorites to win their second straight NFL title in 1941, coming off a record 73-0 win over the Washington Redskins in the 1940 NFL Championship game.

The Bears were led by Hall of Famers Sid Luckman at quarterback and George McAfee at running back. The great receiver Don Hutson and Clark Hinkle starred for the Pack, along with quarterback Ceci Isbell, below, being clotheslined by defense end George Wilson of the Bears in the playoff game.

The  Bears and Packers wound up tied for the NFL West Division title that year, both with 10-1 records, necessitating the playoff.

The Bears beat the Pack, 25-17, in the opening game of the season at Green Bay. The Pack got payback several weeks later when they held on for a 16-14 win in Chicago.

The Bears had played the previous Sunday, December 7, when the news about Pearl Harbor broke. They needed to beat their Windy City rivals the Cardinals at Comiskey Park that day to grab a share of the West Division title with idle Green Bay and force the playoff. And they did, 34-24.

Day of Infamy
Three scheduled NFL games were played the day the Japanese first attacked Pearl Harbor. Public address announcers in Chicago, and at New York’s Polo Grounds — where the Giants lost 21-7 to the Brooklyn Dodgers — interrupted their commentary to tell all servicemen to report to their units.  But without transistor radios — much less smartphones — many of the fans in Chicago and New York did not learn of the attack until they reached home.

At Washington’s Griffith Stadium, where the Redskins were playing the Philadelphia Eagles, the announcer paged high-ranking government and military personnel who were in attendance, but did not mention the Pearl Harbor attack.

The following Sunday, the Bears broke open the West Division playoff game against the Packers early, scoring 24 points in the second quarter, fueled by a pair of rushing touchdowns by fullback Norm Standlee. They went on to win the West, 33-14, in front of 43,424.

And on December 21, the Bears hosted the Giants at Wrigley Field with the NFL championship on the line. The Giants had finished the season 8-3, but didn’t face either the Bears or Packers that year.

Bears Win Title
In the championship game, the Giants tied the score early in the third quarter on a Ward Cuff field goal, but the Bears then proceeded on a 28-0 run — again with a pair of Standlee touchdowns — to win going away, 37-9.

In 1942 the Bears, chasing their third straight championship, finished the regular season unbeaten at 11-0. But the Washington Redskins got revenge in the championship game with a 14-6 upset victory.

When the Bears and Packers square off Sunday for the NFC title, it will mark their latest meeting in a rivalry that extends back to 1921. Chicago leads the all-time series 92-83-6.

Oh, btw, the Steelers and Jets have also squared off once previously in the playoffs. Pittsburgh beat New York, 20-17, on a Jeff Reed field goal in overtime in the 2005 playoffs. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year.

Dandy Don Meredith Was Almost a Super Star

Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford brought the NFL into the American living room with ABC’s Monday Night Football.

Don Meredith was a Monday Night Football original — Howard Cosell’s foil, full of homespun humor with his game-ending signature call:  “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

But Dandy Don was also a proven quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys in the 60s, one who came agonizingly close to representing the National Football League in the first two Super Bowls.

If not for some simple twists of fate, the Cowboys — and not the Green Bay Packers — might have been remembered as the original Super Bowl winners. Think about it — instead of the Vince Lombardi Trophy Super Bowl winners might instead cherish the Tom Landry Trophy. And Don Meredith, not Bart Starr, could have been a Super Bowl MVP quarterback.

In 1967, the Packers and Cowboys squared off in two nail-biting NFL Championship games played almost exactly a year apart — January 1 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and New Year’s Eve in the frigid cold of Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

The 1966 NFL title game went right down to the wire before the Packers defeated the Cowboys, 34-27. Trailing 34-20, Meredith hit Frank Clarke on a 68-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left to bring Dallas close.

The Cowboys then stopped Green Bay and drove as far as the Packers two-yard line late in the game before Meredith, under heavy pressure and looking for Bob Hayes, was intercepted in the end zone by Packer defensive back Tom Brown.

The Packers advanced to the very first Super Bowl, where they defeated the American Football League representative, the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10.

The Ice Bowl
Some 364 days later, the Cowboys and Packers met once again for the NFL Championship ion the coldest New Year’s Eve in the history of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The official game-time temperature at the Ice Bowl in Green Bay was −13°F, with a wind chill around −48°F.

It was so cold that the officials were unable to use their whistles after the opening kick-off. As the referee blew his metal whistle to signal the start of play, it froze to his lips. For the rest of the game, the officials used voice commands and calls to end plays and officiate the game.

At one point during the game, announcer Frank Gifford, who years later would hook up with Meredith and Cosell in the ABC booth, said, “I’m going to take a bite of my coffee.”

That day the Packers jumped out to a 14-0 advantage, but the Cowboys rallied to take  a 17-14 lead on a 50-yard option pass from halfback Dan Reeves to Lance Rentzel on the first play of the fourth quarter.

With less than five minutes remaining, Green Bay embarked on a 68-yard drive that ended when Starr sneaked into the end zone from a yard out with just 16 seconds remaining for a 21-17 win the gave the Packers their third straight NFL championship.

Super Bowl II was all Green Bay as the Packers smothered the Oakland Raiders, 33-14. For the Cowboys, defeat was devastating.

Meredith, drafted out of Southern Methodist University by the Chicago Bears and then traded to expansionist Dallas Cowboys for future draft picks in 1960. A three-time Pro Bowler, Dandy Don finished with 135 touchdown passes in this career, and retired following the 1968 season, never having made it to the Super Bowl.

Farewell, Camelot: Tribute to Ted Kennedy

During his moving eulogy, Ted Kennedy, Jr., surprised the guests attending his father’s funeral — and millions more on national television — with the revelation that Senator Ted Kennedy had once been recruited by the Green Bay Packers.

Senator Ted Kennedy played touch football on the lawn of the family compound in on Cape Cod, and college football at Harvard University. He was an accomplished sailor and an avid fan of the Red Sox who threw out the first ball at Fenway Park at Boston’s home opener this season.

Ted Kennedy was a sportsman, a beloved family patriarch and a legislator — a voice and a vote for the everyday American. He was a man with flaws, certainly, a man forced to live up to the impossible legacy left by his brothers.

Yet Kennedy exceeded those lofty expectations, through his efforts on Capital Hill for civil rights, people with disabilities, health care, and so many other causes that benefitted the people of this country.

For those of us old enough to remember, Ted Kennedy’s final tribute was a tearful reminder of a November weekend in 1963 and a Saturday in June five years later when the nation paid last respects to his brothers, first John and then Bobby, their untimely deaths the result of assassins’ bullets.

And then there is the forgotten brother, Joe Kennedy, who gave his life for his country flying a dangerous mission in World War II.

Unlike his brothers, Ted Kennedy lived a full life and ultimately achieved the promise of the Kennedy name.

Farewell, Camelot. May you rest in peace, Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

1958: One Golden Year

Fifty years ago, two events changed the landscape of professional sports in America forever.

In 1958, the Dodgers and the Giants left New York behind, kicking off baseball’s presence on the West Coast and ushering in an era of expansion in baseball and eventually other sports. Shock waves were felt from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and from New York to San Francisco.

Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, frustrated in his attempts to get a new ballpark to replace Ebbets Field, decided to pick up and head West, taking owner Horace Stoneham and the Giants with him.

Fifty years later, Brooklyn has not forgotten. When O’Malley was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in July, some boos were heard throughout the Cooperstown crowd. Walter O’Malley may just be the most reviled figure in New York sports history.

Brooklyn native and the radio voice of the Dodgers Charley Steiner once observed: “Walter O’Malley was the guy in the black hat who led the wagon train out of town.”

Later that year, the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts staged a dramatic overtime game in Yankee Stadium that symbolized the rise of the NFL and the establishment of professional football as America’s leading pastime.

The Colts prevailed behind Johnny Unitas, 23-17, in what remains to this day the only overtime championship game in NFL history. A nationally televised NBC audience was captivated by the drama, capped by Alan Ameche’s winning touchdown, shown at right.

Some refer to it as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” It may not have been the greatest….but it may have been the most important game NFL history, for it signalled the rise and popularity of the sport in the national psyche.

Year of Dynasties

1958 was also a year of dynasties, past, present and future.

The Colts won the NFL championship that year, and would repeat in 1959, again knocking off the Giants.

But the real dynasty was rising in Green Bay, where Vince Lombardi, who left the Giants as an assistant coach following the 1958 playoff, led the Packers to a 7-5 record in 1959. A year later the Packers were in the NFL championship game; two years later they were NFL champions, starting a run of five NFL crowns in seven seasons, including the first two Super Bowls ever played.

In baseball, the New York Yankees, in the midst of winning 14 American League pennants and nine World Series in 16 years, rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Milwaukee Braves and win the World Series.

The Braves had beaten the Yankees in seven games in 1957, only to have the Yankees return the favor in 1958, to the delight of Casey Stengel, above, here with Braves manager Fred Haney following the seventh game.

Although the St. Louis Hawks won their only NBA title in 1958. defeating the Celtics in six games, Boston was on the verge of a major roll that started the following year. Beginning in 1959, the Celtics won eight straight NBA titles and 10 of 11 championships overall, a standard unapproached in professional sports history.

Finally, in 1958, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup for the third straight year, en route to an NHL record five straight titles. Les Habitants have won 23 championships; only the Yankees with 26 have more.

Brett the Jet Faces Weight of History

Are the Jets a better team with Brett Favre at quarterback? Of course. But let’s not start printing Super Bowl tickets just yet.

In Green Bay, Favre had history on his side. Winning history. Not so with the Jets.

The Jets have gone this route before, with mixed results. They’ve had a history of picking up veteran QBs, admittedly none as good as Broadway Brett.

But Boomer Esiason, Vinny Testaverde, and Neil O’Donnell weren’t exactly slouches.

Esiason, who finished he career with 247 touchdown passes, arrived in New York in 1993, five years after he was NFL MVP in leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Boomer played three years with the Jets, and the team was 15-27 in games he started. They failed to make the playoffs in any of those three seasons.

Fresh off a Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys, O’Donnell left the Steelers to sign as a free agent with the Jets in 1996. He played two seasons in New York, and the Jets failed to make the playoffs either time

Testaverde, the number one overall pick by Tampa Bay in 1987, arrived in New York in 1998. The free agent pickup was an instant success.

Testaverde, who threw 275 touchdowns during the course of his 21-year career and ranks sixth all time in pass attempts, completions and yardage, led the Jets to the AFC championship game in 1998, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Vinny and the Jets. That’s the furthest the Jets have advanced in the playoffs since the 1968 team, led by Joe Namath, won Super Bowl III.

Testaverde guided the Jets to another playoff berth in 2001 only to get knocked out in the first round by the Oakland Raiders.

Even the franchise’s quarterbacking standard-bearer, the Hall of Famer Namath, made the playoffs just twice in 12 seasons in New York (1965-76).

It’s been 40 years since the Jets first, last and only visit to the Super Bowl. That’s a long time.

The Ring-Leaders: Champions of Championships

Do the math. The Boston Celtics have won 16 NBA titles, the Los Angeles (nee Minneapolis) Lakers 14. When the 62nd NBA Finals are completed in a few weeks, the Celtics and the Lakers will have combined for 31 titles, exactly half of the 62 championships. This is their 11th meeting in the finals, another NBA record.

What about the other sports?. Who are the champions of championships?

It starts with the New York Yankees, the king of champions. The Yankees have won 26 World Series, the most in any of the North American team sports. That’s more than double the number of championships won by the St. Louis Cardinals (10) and Philadelphia-Oakland A’s (9).

In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers have each won five Super Bowls. The Green Packers have won nine total NFL titles and the Chicago Bears 7 since the first NFL championship game in 1933.

In hockey, the Montreal Canadiens, Les Habitants, are far away the ring-leaders with 23 Stanley Cups. The Habs are followed by the Toronto Arenas-St. Pats-Maple Leafs with 13 and the Detroit Red Wings with 11, including this year’s Stanley Cup.

UCLA has won 11 NCAA basketball championships and Kentucky seven since the advent of the NCAA tournament in 1939. Kentucky also won a national championship in 1933.

Notre Dame is the king of college football with 13 national championships, including nine since the polls were first instituted in 1936. In the so-called “early years” of college football (1869-1935), Yale won 18 championships and Princeton 17. All told, Alabama and USC have each won 10 total football championships, seven apiece since 1936.