Memory Fails Me

Here’s an interesting discrepancy that illustrates the limitations of oral history. On October 17, 1965, the Packers played the Lions in Detroit and trailed 21-3 at halftime. On September 13, 2009, center Ken Bowman recalled to Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal, “I think [Lombardi] knew he’d overworked us because we were down at halftime and we just played miserably. I don’t think anybody had any legs. Everybody came in at halftime figuring he was going to just start chewing butt and he sat down and said, ‘Gentlemen, last night I was reading my Bible—and Paul, you ought to pick up that book because there’s a lot of good stuff in there—and I was reading St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and St. Paul says this, ‘ There are many runners that run the race, but there is only one that runs to win.’ And, gentlemen, St. Paul says, ‘Therefore run to win,’ and that has been the tradition of the Green Bay Packers from its very inception under Curly Lambeau.’ Then he started building with that big, booming voice and he (reached) a crescendo. By the time he was done, you had Nitschke trying to take the door off without opening it when we were on our way out. As luck would have it, emotion carried the day and we beat them. They didn’t score another point and we scored four times.”

Was Bowman remembering that Lions game or a passage from guard Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay? In the December third entry in Instant Replay, Kramer ascribes that same “Run to Win” speech as occurring in the pregame locker room of the 1967 divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Center Bill Curry has his own recollection in his excellent book, Ten Men You Meet in the Huddle. He also references the October 17, 1965 Lions’ game, but in his memory, Lombardi left the players to stew over their poor first half performance and did not even appear in the locker room till the last minute of the intermission. At which point, he gathered their attention and gave a seven-word pep talk, “Men, we are the Green Bay Packers.”

All great stories, but what actually happened? Kramer’s version seems likely since it was relayed in a diary at the time, but Lombardi may have used the Run to Win theme before. I seem to recall, Kramer telling the story to NFL Films and indicating that Run to Win was new to that playoff game, but who knows?

(Three 1965 Philadelphia custom cards…Curry is colorized)



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