New Year’s Eve Games

Today’s season finale at Detroit is the sixth time the Packers have played a game on New Year’s Eve. The first four times were postseason contests, but with the season stretching a bit longer in more recent times, the last two have been regular season-enders. The Pack has won all five played thus far, giving fans an additional reason to celebrate the New Year in each case.

All four playoff games were played in Green Bay, starting with the 37-0 1961 championship game victory over the Giants that renamed the city Title Town. Second, of course, was the Ice Bowl, a last second 21-17 1967 NFL title victory over the Cowboys in a minus-46-degree wind chill.

Third was the 1994 16-12 Wild Card beat down of the Lions in which the defense held Barry Sanders to minus-one yard rushing in 13 carries, and Dorsey Levens and Chris Jacke scored all the points for Green Bay.

A year later, the Packers took apart Atlanta 37-20 in the Wild Card round. Jeff George threw the ball 55 times for the Falcons, but after a 65-yard TD pass to Eric Metcalf three minutes in, it was all Green Bay. The Packers led 27-10 at the half and cruised to the win with Edgar Bennett, Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman, Mark Chmura and Dorsey Levens all reaching the end zone.

The first regular season meeting came in 2006. In Mike McCarthy’s first season, the rebuilding Pack closed the year with a bang, winning their last four games to get to 8-8 for the campaign. The finale was against the 13-2 Bears, on their way to a stumbling loss in the Super Bowl against Peyton Manning’s Colts. The Bears were “led” by Rex Grossman, who gave a foreshadowing of his Super Bowl performance by going 2-13 passing with two pick-sixes in the first half against the Packers. Green Bay built a 23-0 halftime lead and won 26-7.

1994dlevens  1994cjacke

1995ebennett  1995rbrooks

1995afreeman  1995mchmura

Custom cards in altered Topps styles.

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Packers by the Numbers Update: #16

16 has been worn by 31 Packers over the past 90+ years. Originally donned by fullback Jack Harris in 1925-26, he was followed by 11 other two-way backs: Gil Skeate (1927), Don Hill (1929), Red Dunn (1929), Wayne Davenport (1931), Arnie Herber (1933), John Biola (1939), Lou Brock (1941-45), Charlie Mitchell (1946), Jim Gillette (1947), Bob Cifers (1949) and Wally Dreyer (1950). Before quarterbacks took the number in 1953, guard Joe Zeller (1932) and ends Bernie Scherer (1937) and Ab Wimberly (1950-51) also wore it.

In 1953, Babe Parilli became the first QB to wear 16. He was followed by Bart Starr (1956), Lamar McHan (1960), Scott Hunter (1971-73), Randy Johnson (1976), Dennis Sproul (1978), Randy Wright (1984-88), Craig Nall (2003-04, 207) and Scott Tolzein (2013, 2015). The number has also been worn by three wide receivers (Claudis James, 1967; Russell Copeland, 1998; and Brett Swain, 2009-10) two kickers (Tom Birney, 1980 and Dave Rayner, 2006) and two punters (Ray Stachowitz (1981-82 and Paul McJulien, 1991-92.)

Brock and Wright both wore 16 for the longest period, five years each. Dunn, Herber, Brock and Starr are all members of the Packer Hall of Fame, with Starr and Herber also inducted in Canton.

1925sjharris  1941lbrock

1947jgillette  1951bawimberly

1968tcjames41971tshunter

1978tdsproul2  1986trwright

1976fbucnall  1976rbustolzien

First five custom cards are colorized.

The Day after Christmas

The oddest thing about the first time the Packers played a game on the day after Christmas was that it was a Monday. The NFL decided not to play the 1960 championship game on Christmas Sunday, but instead moved the game to the next day in Philadelphia. The Packers were able to move the ball up and down the field easily, but cashing in for points was another story. The Pack turned the ball over on downs at the Philadelphia 5 and 25, missed a 13-yard field goal and ran out of time with the ball at the Philly 9 as the clock expired in the fourth quarter. The 17-13 loss was Vince Lombardi’s only postseason loss as a head coach, although he was on the losing side of the 1958 championship game when the Giants lost to the Colts in overtime.

Green Bay next played on the day after Christmas in 1965 in the Western Division Playoff against the Colts. They won 13-10 in overtime after a controversial field goal by Don Chandler tied the game in the closing minutes. They won the NFL title 23-12 over the Browns a week later on the day after New Year’s Day.

Since then, Green Bay has played in four regular season games on December 26. In 1982, they bombed Atlanta 38-7 with Lynn Dickey hitting James Lofton on scores of 80 and 57 yards. In 1993, they skunked the Raiders in Green Bay 28-0 in the game that Leroy Butler invented the Lambeau Leap. In 1999, the 7-7 Packers were pushed around by the Tampa Bay Bucs 29-10, assuring the Bucs of the playoffs and the Pack of a non-winning season. Most recently, in 2010, the surging Packers kept its playoff hopes alive by slamming the Giants 45-17 with Aaron Rodgers throwing for 404 yards and four touchdowns as he came back from a concussion and ended Green Bay’s two-game losing streak. The Giants’ win began a six-game winning streak that concluded with a 31-25 win over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl 45.

1982tldickey  1982tjlofton

1993lbutler  2010arodgers

Custom cards in Topps styles.

Christmas Eve Thriller

The December 24 showdown between the 10-5 Packers and the 11-4 Steelers was more crucial to Green Bay in that they were locked in a battle for the Central Division with the Lions and were able to clinch that crown for the first time in 24 years with their 24-19 victory. It was an agonizing game to watch, but is a great game to remember.

Both Brett Favre and Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O’Donnell threw for over 300 yards, although O’Donnell threw 22 more passes than Favre.  The Steelers ran 79 offensive plays to the Packers 52 and outgained the Pack by 40 yards, but trailed by five in the closing minutes when they began their last drive that concluded with a fourth and goal from the Green Bay six with 16 seconds to play. O’Donnell found a wide open Yancey Thigpen on the left side of the end zone and drilled him with the ball. The normally reliable Thigpen, who had left Packer corner Lenny McGill in the mud, bobbled the throw and then kicked it away with his knee. “Merry Christmas, Green Bay. That’s my Christmas present right there for Green Bay,” Thigpen joked after the game. And it’s still appreciated 22 year later, Yancey.

The Packers would go on to beat Atlanta at home in the wild card round, then the 49ers in San Francisco the following week before succumbing to the Cowboys in Dallas in the NFC championship game. Had they gotten past Dallas, they would have found the Steelers waiting in the Super Bowl.

1995popcorn2

Custom card in altered Topps style.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #15

Four of the first 15 jersey numbers (3, 4, 14 and 15) are retired and two others (1 and 5) seem to be unofficially retired, so again there is no update to be done for Bart Starr’s number. Let’s review:

15 was first worn by back Myrt Basing in 1925 and 1926. It was worn by six other backs in the leather helmet era: Rex Enright, Red Smith, Red Dunn, Deck Shelley, Swede Johnston and Lou Brock. Johnston wore it for four seasons from 1935-38.

It’s also be worn by four guards (Paul Minick, Ray Frankowski, Earl Bennett and Damon Tassos) a center (Paul Young), a tackle (Del Lyman) and an end (Hal Hinte) in that same era.

Babe Parilli converted it into a quarterback number in 1952-53, and backup QBs Bobby Garrett, Charlie Brackins and Paul Held in turn wore it in 1954 and 1955. Starr joined the team in 1956 and originally was issued 42 in training camp before earning 16 to start the 1956 season. He switched to 15 during that rookie season and wore it proudly for the next 16 years. Although the number has been worn by a number of quarterbacks throughout the NFL, the only other Hall of Famer to wear 15 as his primary number was halfback Steve Van Buren of the Eagles.

1925smbasing  1929rsmith

1938sjohnston2  1953bbparilli

1955bcbrackins2  1958tbstarr

All custom cards are colorized.

Jason Spitz and Others

Not only does December19 mark former Packer guard Jason Spitz’s 35th birthday, but also the birthdays of a couple of obscure defensive linemen who toiled in Green Bay: Santana Dotson and Reggie White. Since so much ink is likely to be spilled for Spitz, let’s take a look at Messrs. Dotson and White.

Signed by Ron Wolf as a free agent in 1996, Santana Dotson was the final piece in the Packers’ defensive puzzle. Teaming with Reggie White, Sean Jones and Gilbert Brown, Dotson solidified the best front four the team had put on the field since the Lombardi era. Unfortunately, it did not last long, with Jones retiring a year later.

Dotson, whose father Alphonse was drafted by Green Bay in 1965 before he signed with the AFL, was drafted out of Baylor by Tampa Bay in the fifth round of the 1992 draft. Santana was the NFC defensive rookie of the year with ten sacks at right defensive tackle that year, but never equaled that total again. In 1995, Dotson lost his starting job to rookie Warren Sapp and was downgraded to the role of situational pass rusher, so he signed with the Packers in 1996.

At 6’5” 270 pounds, Dotson was a tall, angular force in the middle of the line for six years in Green Bay; he was good for around five sacks a year and was an effective penetrator on running plays. Defensive coach Fritz Shurmur said in 1998, “I think consistently over the long haul, he was the [steady] one. He was there every week, and down after down he was productive.”

Dotson game was primarily quickness and the ability to shed blocks. Teammate Gilbert Brown told the Journal Sentinel in 1998, “He has great leverage and the ability to stand in there and hold on to the big guys.” Even though he never got a lot of sacks, he was always good at supplying pressure on the passer and was an excellent tackler who ranged widely in pursuit. He signed with the Redskins as a free agent in 2002, but a ruptured Achilles in training camp ended his career. He was an underrated performer who never went to a Pro Bowl, but probably should have.

Among defensive ends in NFL history, three names come before all others: Gino Marchetti, Deacon Jones and the late Reggie White. While the Packers got Reggie only for the second half of his career, he was still the best defensive end in the league for a number of those years. And even with his reduced sack and tackle numbers in Green Bay, he still elevated the play of the rest of the defensive line to make that unit a strength on the team.

After earning All-America honors as a senior at Tennessee, White signed a $4-million contract with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL prior to the 1984 NFL draft. Reggie recorded 23.5 sacks in two years in Memphis before the league folded and he was drafted by the Eagles fourth overall in the USFL Supplemental draft in 1984. In eight years in Philadelphia, White accumulated 124 sacks in 121 games and never recorded fewer than 11 in any season. As the prize free agent in 1993, he shocked everyone by signing with Green Bay, where Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren were trying to resuscitate a moribund franchise. White, along with Brett Favre, would prove to be the key to that successful turnaround.

White’s honors are beyond impressive: 13-time Pro Bowler, 10-time first team All-Pro, defensive player of the year in 1987 and 1998, a member of the All-Decade teams for both the 1980s and 1990s, his number 92 retired by two franchises, and, of course, being elected to the Hall of Fame. He is second all-time to Bruce Smith in sacks, but only because Smith hung on long enough in a diminished capacity to inch past White in his 19th season. Not only was Reggie a complete defensive end on the field, he was the main team leader in the clubhouse of both the Eagles and Packers, both beloved and respected by teammates and opponents alike.

Reggie was as sturdy against the run as anyone. At 6’5” and 300 pounds he was tough to move, whether from his customary left defensive end spot, or from defensive tackle on occasions when he shifted inside during a game. His pass rushing skills were second to none; he had speed, quickness and overwhelming power. His death at the age of 43 13 years ago was a sad day for all of football.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

2010jspitz

1998sdotson  1998rwhite

Custom cards in altered Topps styles.

Earl and Brian

On December 17, two starters on the 1996 Super Champions will share a birthday. Tackle Earl Dotson will turn 47, while linebacker Brian Williams will turn 45. While Mike Holmgren’s offense was exciting and productive, the offensive line was not noted for having any big stars – center Frank Winters was the only Holmgren lineman to go to a Pro Bowl. Instead, the unit was said to have great chemistry and communication. The best player on those lines, though, was probably right tackle Dotson. Earl was quiet and humble, but the 6’4” 315-pounder was also a Division II All-America at Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1992. Drafted in the third round in 1993, he spent his rookie year on special teams and then missed most of 1994 with an elbow injury.

Making a special effort to improve his conditioning that offseason, Dotson won the starting job in 1995 and held it until his body began to break down at the turn of the century. Not especially strong, not especially quick, Dotson was just a solid, reliable player and was the line’s anchor. He was exceptionally tough, though. He began having problems from a ruptured disc in his lower back in 1999, but played through the season and won the team’s Ed Block Courage Award that year. He had offseason back surgery, but it was not successful, and Earl lost his starting job to rookie Mark Tauscher in 2000. After another offseason back surgery, Dotson was cut to satisfy an arcane salary cap rule, but returned as a backup in 2001. In 2002, he even stepped in as a starter again when Tauscher was lost for the season.

Dotson never complained about losing his job to Tauscher, telling the Journal-Sentinel, “He won the job outright, so I’m not bitter.” Dotson retired after the 2002 season, a loyal soldier who played a big role in a winning era.

Injury also ended the promising career of Brian Williams, just as he was beginning to fulfill his promise. Selected out of USC in the third round of the 1995 draft, the 6’1” 240-pound Williams won a starting position as weakside linebacker in the championship year of 1996 and gathered some All-Pro notice in 1997. When he ruptured his patellar tendon in 1999, GM Ron Wolf said, “Brian was having what I would consider a Pro Bowl year.”

Williams returned for four games in the middle of the 2000 season, but struggled and then had further problems with the knee. Released by the Packers in 2001, he caught on with the Saints for four games and the Lions for two that season. He finished his career with three games for Detroit in 2002 and later opened a trendy restaurant in his native Dallas. Although he was never singularly outstanding in any particular area, Williams was an all-around player who met the duties of his position within the defensive scheme.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

1993edotson  1997edotson

1995bwilliams  2000bwilliams

Custom cards in custom designs.