Opening Day and More

Today’s opening day game against Seattle recalls another highly anticipated opener 51 years ago on this date. Between 1958 and 1968, either the Packers or the Colts topped the Western Conference of the NFL every year but 1963 when the Bears snuck in. The Colts went to the NFL title game in 1958, 1959, 1964 and 1968, with the Packers taking the other six campaigns. The 1965 season was a particularly bitter pill for the Colts. The two teams tied for the West Crown at 10-3-1. Even though Green Bay had beaten Baltimore twice in the regular season that year, a playoff game was scheduled to determine the winner. The determined Colts had ended the season playing halfback Tom Matte at quarterback because both John Unitas and his backup Gary Cuozzo were lost to season-ending injuries.

In that playoff game held in Green Bay on December 26, the Colts knocked out Bart Starr on the first play and, behind option quarterback Tom Matte, held a 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter when a Don Chandler 22-yard field goal tied the game with 1:58 to play and forced overtime. The Colts vigorously protested the ruling that the field goal was good, but the game went into sudden death when an undisputed Chandler boot of 25 yards decided the Western title 13:39 into the extra period.

The NFL scheduled a rare Saturday night game in Milwaukee between the two Western titans to open the 1966 season, with the Colts desperate to get even. Again, it was largely a defensive struggle, but two big plays by the Packer defense blew the game open. Leading 3-0 late in the second quarter, the Colts were beginning to move the ball when Unitas was picked off by linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, and the former Texas A&M fullback bolted 52 yards for the touchdown. Just four plays later cornerback Bob Jeter jumped an out route to nab a second Unitas pass and raced 46 yards for 14-3 lead that the Packers would not relinquish.

Bart Starr lead a 79-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that culminated with Bart’s eight-yard touchdown run, and Chandler added a 15-yard field goal later in the quarter to finish the scoring at 24-3. The Packer defense limited Unitas to 105 yards passing and picked off three of his passes. The stout Colt defense played well, too, holding the Packers to 292 total yards. There was just one five-yard penalty assessed in the game.

12 weeks later, the two teams would meet again in Baltimore for another defensive slog, with the Colts trailing the Packers by two games with two to play. When Willie Davis stripped Johnny Unitas of the ball inside the Packers’ red zone in the closing minutes, Dave Robinson recovered the fumble to clinch the Western title again with a 14-10 victory. Sports Illustrated dubbed play the “Million Dollar Fumble” since it gave the Packers a clear path to the first Super Bowl.

On a personal note, September 10 is a special day for me as a dad since it was the day my beautiful first daughter was born. Happy Birthday, Juliane. You share it with former Packers Sleepy Jim Crowley, Larry Olosonoski, Tim Harris and Roosevelt Blackmon.

 

1966tlcaffey  1966pbjeter

1966tbstarr  1966playoftheyear

Custom cards in 1966 Topps and Philadelphia styles.

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