An Overshadowed Classic: The 1966 NFL Championship Game

Because of the competitive determination of the players on both sides in the face of extreme weather and the poise displayed by the Packer offense in the last minute game-winning drive, the Ice Bowl, played on New Year’s Eve 1967, is remembered deservedly as one of the greatest games in NFL history. However, 364 days before that on New Year’s Day 1967, those same two teams played an even greater championship game that also came down to a fourth down play at the goal line inside the final minute of the contest to determine the NFL champion. The 1966 NFL title game does not have a memorable nickname, but it was a fabulously exciting game that Green Bay was fortunate to win and qualify for Super Bowl I.

Green Bay got off to a fast start, taking the opening kickoff and driving 76 yards in eight plays to score on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Bart Starr to Elijah Pitts. A Mel Renfro fumble on the ensuing kickoff was recovered by rookie Jim Grabowski and returned 18 yards to put the Packers up 14-0. However, the Cowboys remained confident because their top-ranked offense had yet to get on the field. When they did, Dallas drove 65 yards in 13 plays and then, after a punt, 59 yards in five plays to tie the score just before the end of the first quarter.

On the second play of the second quarter, though, Starr found Carroll Dale deep for a 51-yard touchdown to take a 21-14 lead. The Cowboys drove to the Packer four but had to settle for an 11-yard field goal. The next Packer drive concluded with a 30-yard field goal attempt by Don Chandler that was blocked by Ralph Neely. The remaining thrusts by both teams ended with punts; Green Bay 21, Dallas 17 at the half.

Early in the third quarter, a Pitts fumble was recovered by the Warren Livingston at the Dallas 21, and the Cowboys drove 54 yards in 13 plays to pull within one on a 32-yard field goal. The Packers answered with a 74-yard drive in six plays that culminated in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Starr to Dowler and a 28-20 lead to close out the third quarter.

After punts from both teams to open the final stanza, Starr was able to move the Packers 48 yards in nine plays and score on a 28-yard strike to Max McGee. Bob Lilly then blocked Don Chandler’s extra point to keep the score within two scores in the days before two-point conversions: 34-20 with 5:20 to play. The Cowboys responded quickly with a 68-yard shot from Meredith to Frank Clarke on a play called Red Right Motion X Post. Beloit-native Clarke described the play to Peter Golenbock years later:

When Danny Reeves went into motion to the right, Packer linebacker Dave Robinson, who was on my nose, went with the motion man, so it left me uncovered. Now I take off and I have this wonderful shot at defensive back Tom Brown, I’m looking right at Tom Brown’s number, nobody to block me, nobody to mess with me, and I run down, and I make this great inside move, and he goes for it, and then I make another move toward the corner, and he recovers, but as he’s recovering, the greatest thing that could happen to an offensive receiver happened: the defensive back fell down. He tripped over his own legs trying to keep up with the offensive move.

Green Bay got the ball back leading 34-27 with 4:08 to go. An 18-yard completion to Marv Fleming was followed by plays that lost 15 yards, so the Pack had to punt the ball back from their own 31. Chandler was forced to hurry the kick and it went off the side of his foot, giving Dallas the ball at the Green Bay 47 with 2:19 to play. Meredith hit Clarke again for 21 yards on the first play. Two plays later, Clarke beat Brown again, and the safety grabbed him at the two to prevent a touchdown. The Cowboys had a first and goal at the two with 1:52 left. Reeves gained one on first down, but had his eye scratched during the tackle. Guard Jim Boeke moved before the snap on the next play pushing the Cowboys back to the six. On second down with 1:18 to go, Meredith flipped a swing pass to Reeves who, suffering from double vision, dropped it. On third down with 1:14 to go, Meredith threw low to Pettis Norman in the flat. Norman scooped up the pass, but was tapped down at the two by Tom Brown before he could scramble into the end zone. Fourth and goal from the two with 45 seconds left. Meredith rolled right, pursued immediately by Dave Robinson, and flung an air ball skyward as Robby wrapped him up. Tom Brown swallowed the interception in the end zone, and two Starr quarterback sneaks later, the game ended.

The key Cowboy error at the end was that Bob Hayes remained in the game at the goal line instead of Frank Clarke who had played those downs all year. Meredith told Texas Monthly years later:

It was my mistake for not noticing him and sending him off. It was Hayes’ mistake for not getting out of there on his own. It was Tom’s [Landry] mistake for not sending Clarke in for him.

Dallas assistant Ermal Allen told Chuck Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal that: [Robinson] made it himself. We’d never run that to the right out of a brown left formation. So he hadn’t seen it on films or been told to watch for it. He just reacted properly and probably cost us the game.

Meredith told Johnson:

[Robinson] should pinch (play to the inside) in that situation. But there he was on the outside, chasing me. I knew I wasn’t fast enough to out run him or cut to the inside so all I could do was to throw the ball.

Robinson himself told Johnson:

They had Bob Hayes in tight, and he tried to block me. I wasn’t going to let him do that, but from his pressure, I figured I should get to the outside. Then I saw Meredith with the ball, and on a rollout to my side, it’s my job to pressure him. I don’t know how I got past the blocker – it was a guard or tackle pulling – but I think I kind of slipped behind him, and that gave me a clear path to Meredith.

Dallas outgained Green Bay 418 to 367, achieved 23 first downs to the Packers’ 18 and ran for 187 yards, but Bart Starr was 19 of 28 for 304 yards and four scores to bring home the title.

1966pbstarr2  1966pvlombardi3

1966pdrobinson4  1966ptbrown4

Custom cards in 1966 Philadelphia style.

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