Happy New Year

New Year’s Eve evokes memories of the Ice Bowl to Packer fans of a certain age, but that 1967 game marked the second NFL title won in Green Bay on December 31. Six year earlier, the first championship game ever played in Green Bay established the pop culture nickname “Titletown USA” for the city from the enthusiastic buildup for the coming home town title match at year’s end. The Packers beat the Giants 20-17 four weeks prior in Milwaukee, with the winning score set up when cornerback Jesse Whittenton stole the ball from Giant fullback Alex Webster in the fourth quarter. Thus, the Packers were favored by just 3.5 points as the home team in this showdown of the league’s best two squads. Coach Vince Lombardi was confident, however. On the Tuesday before the game, he was quoted, ”If the field is right, we’ll win.”

On a crisp, chilly 21 degree day with winds of nine miles peer hour and a wind chill factor of 11 degrees, both the Giants and Packers went three and out in their first possessions, but Green Bay would not punt again in the first half.  The second time the Packers got the ball, they drove 80 yards in eleven plays highlighted by a 26-yard pass reception by Hornung to midfield on a third down and a 13-yard interference penalty on Erich Barnes covering Boyd Dowler that took the ball to the Giant seven. Hornung darted in from the six on the first play of the second quarter to give the home team a 7-0 advantage.

The Packers were rolling. On the ensuing New York possession Henry Jordan tipped a Y. A. Tittle pass, and Ray Nitschke intercepted at the Giants 43, returning the pick to the 34. After a 16-yard strike to Ron Kramer on third down, Bart Starr followed with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Boyd Dowler on the next third down, 14-0. Then, Hank Gremminger  picked off Tittle at the Giants 49 and returned it to the 36. Starr capped a six-play drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to his tight end Kramer.

With the score 21-0, Charlie Conerly replaced Tittle and drove the Giants to the Green Bay six, but on fourth down halfback Bob Gaiters missed Kyle Rote on an option pass.  With time running out in the first half, Starr moved the Pack 70 yards in six plays, featuring a 17-yard run by Hornung and a 37-yard pass to Kramer again.  On the last play of the half, Hornung kicked a 17-yard field goal for a decisive 24-0 lead.

At the start of the third quarter, Bart Starr scrambled 18 yards from the Packer 37 to the Giant 45 on second and nine and fumbled.  The Giants recovered, but the ball was blown dead, plus there was a five yard illegal procedure penalty on Green Bay.  In the confusion, the officials mark off the penalty from the Packer 40 and reset the down to first.  Thus, instead of the Giants having the ball or the Packers having a second and 14 from their 32, the Packers had a first and 15 from their 35.  Even given the five downs, the Packers had to punt.

The Giants went three and out, and the Packers followed suit, but Dowler’s punt was fumbled by Joe Morison and recovered by Forrest Gregg at the New York 22. Hornung capitalized with a 22-yard field goal to up the margin to 27-0. After another Giant punt and a penalty, Green Bay took over on the New York 42. Passes of 11 and 13 yards to Dowler and a six-yard Hornung run took them to the 13, where Starr tossed to Kramer again for the game’s final touchdown. Tittle then returned to lead the Giants to the Green Bay 31, but New York failed to convert on another fourth down try.

In the fourth quarter, the Packers punted again, but then Whittenton intercepted Tittle at the Giant 38. Six plays later, Hornung kicked his third and final field goal to extend the score to 37-0. On the Giants final possession, rookie Herb Adderley grabbed Tittle’s fourth interception. By this time, Lombardi had pulled his backfield stars one at a time so each got a hometown ovation, Hornung, then Taylor, then Starr. John Roach took the final snap of the game.

For the game Kramer caught four passes for 80 yards and scored 12 points, while Hornung caught 3 for 47 yards, ran 20 times for 89 yards, and scored 19 points on one touchdown, three field goals and four extra points.  Hornung deservedly was named MVP of this game to go with his league MVP award for the year, and the Packers were champions for the first time since 1944. Green Bay outgained New York 345-130, were plus five in turnovers and converted seven of 14 third downs to the Giants two of 12. Lombardi received a congratulatory telegram from President Kennedy, saying: “Congratulations on a great game today. It was a fine victory for a great coach, a great team and a great town.” Title Town it is.

(Adapted from Packers by the Numbers.)

1961tphornung  1961trkramer2

1961fbstarr2  1961fbdowler2

1961trnitschke  1961thadderley3

1961fjwhittenton  1961fhgremminger5

1961ffgregg  1961tvictrory!

Custom cards in Topps and Fleer styles.

1944 Champions Team Set, Part 3 of 4

Curly Lambeau’s final title winners did so in a war-depleted league. The Packers played their first five games at home and got off to a 6-0 start before splitting their final four games, losing to the Bears 21-0 in week seven and 24-0 to the Giants in week nine on the road. That game featured the only successful field goal the Packers witnessed all season; Green Bay missed all three of its field goal attempts on the season.

Because of the War, the Packers also played a benefit exhibition game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Nashville, Tennessee in between games four and five and lost 38-13 to the Eagles that day. Green Bay’s 8-2 record outdistanced the 6-3-1 Bears and Lions to win the Western Division title.









Custom cards all colorized.

December 26, 1965

1965 was a pivotal year for the reputation of Vince Lombardi.  People were starting to suspect the Packers were done with their nice little run.  If so, Lombardi would be remembered today as just another good coach from the past, not an icon that the Super Bowl trophy is named after.  The Colts had won the West convincingly in 1964 and looked to repeat in 1965.  Green Bay and Baltimore had won six of the last seven Western Division crowns, and the Colts reins had been successfully passed from Weeb Ewbank to young Don Shula to perhaps begin a new Baltimore era.

The Packers and Colts would meet three times that year, and the Colts would have a different starting quarterback each time.  On September 26, the teams met in Milwaukee with Johnny Unitas behind center for Baltimore.  Green Bay won a hard-hitting defensive battle 20-17 that day behind a fourth quarter 37-yard touchdown pass from Zeke Bratkowski to Max McGee.  Zeke had replaced an injured Bart Starr in an odd bit of foreshadowing of what would recur exactly three months later.

When the teams met for the second time on December 12 in Baltimore, Gary Cuozzo was starting in place of Johnny Unitas who had been injured the week before.  In a thick fog, the game was tight for the first half.  The Packers led only 14-13 in the last minute when Cuozzo was intercepted by leaping linebacker Dave Robinson at the Packer two-yard line.  Robby returned the ball 88 yards to the Colts 10.  The Packers cashed in on a Starr to Boyd Dowler 10-yard TD toss to lead at half 21-13 rather than trailing 20-14.  In the second half they would rumble on behind Hornung and Taylor who accumulated 127 yards on 32 carries between them.  Green Bay took a 35-17 lead through three quarters and iced the game late in the fourth quarter on a 65-yard touchdown pass from Starr to Hornung. Paul scored five touchdowns in the 42-27 victory.

In more bad news for Baltimore, Cuozzo separated his shoulder in the second half, and halfback Tom Matte had to go in at quarterback for Baltimore.  Equally important, the loss knocked the Colts out of first place.  To win the division, 9-3-1 Baltimore would have to win its final game against the last place Rams with halfback Matte running the offense and hope that the 10-3 Packers not beat the 7-6 49ers.  Amazingly, that’s what happened a week later on the West Coast.  Baltimore beat the Rams behind Matte and waiver wire acquisition Ed Brown. Meanwhile, the 49ers tied the Packers on a last minute John Brodie touchdown pass. That left Green Bay and Baltimore in a tie for first place.  Even though the Packers had beaten the Colts both times in the regular season, a playoff would be held the next week, and Green Bay won the coin flip to determine the location.

With the difference in quarterbacks between Starr and Matte, the Packers were favored by a touchdown.  On the game’s first play from scrimmage, though, tight end Bill Anderson fumbled Starr’s pass.  Linebacker Don Shinnick picked the ball up and headed for the end zone.  Starr tried to make the tackle, but got caught up in a crush of bodies and badly bruised his ribs.  Viewing the game on film, Anderson never did control the pass, and it would be ruled an incompletion in today’s NFL.

Still, after one play, the Packers turned the game over to ace backup Zeke Bratkowski, down 7-0.  The game settled into a fierce defensive struggle, but after several exchanges of punts, the Colts launched a 67-yard drive to the Packers eight and kicked a 15-yard field goal to go up 10-0 late in the second quarter.  The Packers finally began to move the ball at that point and marched to the Colts one-yard line, aided by a 47-yard interference penalty on Jerry Logan covering Bob Long.  However, three straight Packer runs were stuffed by the Colts who took over on downs to maintain a 10-point margin at the half.

In the third quarter the Packers got a break when a bad snap on a punt led to the Packers getting the ball on the Colts 35.  A 33-yard shot to Carroll Dale took the ball to the one, and Hornung punched it in on second down.  The next two times the Packers got the ball their drives were stopped by interceptions; they turned the ball over four times in this game. At one point in the third quarter, Bratkowski was knocked down hard by Billy Ray Smith, and third quarterback Dennis Claridge started warming up on the sideline.

Finally, with nine minutes left, Green Bay got the ball on its 28 and began one final long march that took them to the Colt 20 with two minutes left.   On fourth down, Chandler lined up to attempt a 27-yard field goal.  He booted the ball very high and then turned his head in disgust because he thought he missed it.  However, under the goal posts, field judge Jim Tunney ruled the kick good. The Colts could not believe it and would not accept it even decades later.  The controversial kick tied the game and caused the goal posts to be raised to 30 feet for the next season.

In overtime, the defensive battle continued for another 13 minutes.  Lou Michaels missed a 47-yard field goal try for Baltimore, but Chandler at last won the game for Green Bay with a 25-yarder right down the middle, following a 62-yard five-minute drive featuring one 18-yard completion to Bill Anderson and another to Dale. The Packers outgained the Colts 362 yards to 175, but turned the ball over four times to Baltimore’s one. Anderson avenged his early fumble by catching eight passes for 78 on the day. The Packers had won the Western Division for the first time in three years and would face the Browns for the NFL title a week later. Lombardi was back on the upswing.

1965pvlombardi2  1965pdchandler2

1965pbstarr  1965pzbrat

1965pbanderson  1965pcdale1

1965pphornung2  1965pblong3

1965pdclaridge3  1965playoftheyear

Hornung custom card in colorized.

A Card for Everyone: Steve Ruzich

Born in Cleveland on December 24, 1927, Steve Ruzich went into the military after graduating high school and didn’t enter college until he was 21. Ruzich was recruited by Ohio State Coach Wes Fesler in 1948 and finished his Buckeye career under new coach Woody Hayes in 1951.

Paul Brown used a 14th round draft pick on the hometown guard in 1952, but later sent Steve to Green Bay in an unusual sequence of personnel moves. On May 22, Brown traded linebacker and captain Tony Adamle and halfback Don “Dopey” Phelps to the Packers for defensive back Ace Loomis. Adamle retired to pursue medical school, however, so Cleveland sent Ruzich in his place on August 20. Phelps had reported to Green Bay, but abruptly left camp on August 12. In the meantime, Loomis was waived by Cleveland on September  29 and reclaimed by the Packers. Then on November 4, Brown repurchased the rights to Phelps because he was short a halfback due to injuries. Phelps appeared in just one game for the Browns and returned five punts for 15 yards. Adamle returned to the Browns in 1954 for one final season.

Ultimately, Green Bay acquired Ruzich for nothing. Steve started at guard for two seasons before being moved to tackle in 1954. In the penultimate 1955 preseason game, though, he suffered a serious leg injury and was cut 10 days later. Six years later when the Packers travelled to Cleveland to play the Browns, the long-retired Ruzich took advantage of Green Bay being in town to have a summons issued to the team and filed suit for $6,700 in back pay for the 1955 season. I could find no mention of how this matter was ever resolved. Ruzich died at age 63 on November 30, 1991 in Columbus, Ohio.

1952bsruzich  1952bssruzich

1953bsruzich2  1954bsruzich2


Custom cards all colorized.

1944 Champions Team Set, Part 2 of 4

Each of the three Hutson-Era championship team sets features the Packers in a different uniform. The 1936 team in green and gold, the 1939 team in the white-jersey-green numeral alternate uniforms used a few times in 1938 and ’39, and the 1944 squad in the gold-yoked blue jerseys that the Pack sported from 1937 through 1948. That look was so iconic that the team still trots out a modernized version of this jersey for its throwback gear.









Custom cards all colorized.

Coach Mike Sherman

Mike Sherman was born on December 19, 1954 in Norwood, Massachusetts and grew up in the Boston area as a Green Bay Packers’ fan during the Lombardi era. His mother later recalled to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that all he wanted for Christmas one year was the two-volume set, Vince Lombardi on Football; he was a decent enough lineman to play at Central Connecticut State from 1974-1977, but he was destined to be a coach.

Sherman coached high school football for three years after graduation before joining Jackie Sherrill’s staff at Pittsburgh as a graduate assistant from 1981-1982. He subsequently coached the line at Tulane from 1983-1984 and Holy Cross from 1985-1987 until he was promoted to Holy Cross’ offensive coordinator in 1988. Mike moved up to the big time in 1989 as the line coach at Texas A&M and coached there through 1996, with a one-year interlude at UCLA in 1994.

Sherman continued up the ladder in 1997 by becoming the tight ends coach for the defending champion Green Bay Packers. When head coach Mike Holmgren left Green Bay to take over the Seahawks in 1999, he brought Sherman with him as offensive coordinator. The Packers replaced Holmgren with Ray Rhodes, but were dissatisfied with the results and fired him a year later. GM Ron Wolf brought Sherman in for an interview and hired him as head coach for 2000. When Wolf retired a year later, Sherman was named GM as well.

Mike was taking over a veteran club that was led by larger-than-life gunslinger quarterback Brett Favre. For the next six years, Sherman did his best to reign in the on-the-field excesses of Favre by adopting a power running approach that sometimes utilized six large offensive linemen at a time to clear the way for runner Ahman Green. For the most part, it was a successful style, but in the playoffs there were problems. In 2001, Favre’s six interceptions paved the way to a loss to the Rams. In 2002, Sherman’s team was the first Packers’ team to ever lose a home playoff game when Mike Vick led Atlanta to victory. In 2003, Green Bay lost to Philadelphia in a game they dominated after Sherman decided to punt on fourth and inches. The result was the Eagles converting a fourth-and-26 to force overtime and an ugly Favre interception leading to a sudden death loss. In 2004, Vikings receiver Randy Moss pretended to moon the crowd at Lambeau in an upset of the Pack, a second home postseason loss.

Sherman was fairly easy-going, but perhaps the most memorable moment of his career came after a game with Tampa during which Bucs’ defensive tackle Warren Sapp took a cheap shot at Packers’ tackle Chad Clifton following an interception and knocked him out for the year. Sherman angrily charged at Sapp after the game, but was mocked and pushed away.

When Sherman was replaced as GM by Ted Thompson in 2005, he knew his days were numbered. A combination of key injuries and a team weakened by Mike’s bad drafting led to a 4-12 season, and Sherman was fired. Gary Kubiak, who Sheman had worked with at Texas A&M, hired Mike as offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans in 2006. After two years, Mike returned to Texas A&M, but this time as head coach. In four years, he went 25-25 and was fired in 2011 three days before the team received a bowl bid.

Sherman’s former offensive line coach Joe Philbin, in his first head coaching assignment, then hired Mike as Offensive Coordinator of the Dolphins, and he was instrumental in Miami drafting Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the first round that year. With the Dolphins’ offense ranked 27th in 2013, however, Sherman was fired and out of football in 2014. He next surfaced as the Head Coach of Nausset High School in North Eastham, Massachusetts in 2015, but resigned after compiling a 4-18 record in two seasons. Mosat recently, Sherman coached the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL to a 5-13 record in 2018 before being fired again.

(Adapted from NFL Head Coaches.)


Custom card in original style.

Phil Bengtson, Head Coach

When the Packers hired Vince Lombardi in 1959, he remembered Phil Bengtson from a game in 1957 during which Bengtson’s 49er defense unleashed a surprising tactic on Lombardi’s Giant offense — blitzing linebackers.  The 49ers called it the Red Dog defense, and they hit Giant quarterback Charlie Conerly repeatedly, causing him to fumble five times to help San Francisco to beat New York that day.  By 1959, Bengtson had just finished a seven-year stint with the 49ers and quickly signed on in Green Bay. Before coming to the 49ers, Phil had coached only in the college ranks. He was an All-American tackle at Minnesota in 1934, blocking for quarterback Bud Wilkinson, and then found steady employment as line coach for 17 years at Missouri, Minnesota and Stanford under such talented coaches as Don Faurot, Bernie Bierman, Clark Shaughnessy and Marchy Schwartz.

Born July 17, 1913 in Rousseau, Minnesota, Bengtson ran the Packer defense for nine years under Lombardi and then succeeded him as head coach in Green Bay.  In those 12 years with Phil pacing the sidelines chain smoking cigarettes, the Packers gave up an average of just 15.9 points a game.  During that time, they finished first in fewest points allowed three times, second four times and third twice.  They finished first in fewest yards allowed twice, second twice, and third four times.  His pass defense was especially effective, allowing the fewest yards in the league six times (1962 and from 1964-8). The combination of a consistent offense and a ball-hawking defense allowed the Packers of those 12 years to be an amazing +124 in turnover ratio. Over those dozen years, the defense also scored 20 touchdowns on interceptions and six on fumble recoveries. In his autobiography, Packer Dynasty, Bengtson stressed, “In the modern game of football, the defense attacks. The defense has plays, formations, strategies, and it can even produce points by making touchdowns and safeties. Most important, the aggressive defensive squad must have a morale of its own.” Phil put a great deal of emphasis on pride, and his defenses responded.

Bengtson’s first Packer defenses featured a lot of blitzing, but as Lombardi brought in more quality players, the blitzes decreased dramatically.  Despite that 49ers-Giants game in 1957, neither Lombardi nor Bengtson were strong advocates of the tactic. Phil preferred a much more patient defense that reflected Lombardi’s simple offense.  His defense was a 4-3 arrangement that primarily relied on man-to-man coverage.  The defensive tackles were pinched toward the center to allow middle linebacker Ray Nitschke the freedom to pursue the ball.  Blitzing was rare and was that much more effective because it was unexpected. Usually the pass rush was generated by the small and quick front line, while the large, fast, athletic linebackers were expected to cover short passes underneath and to stay with backs coming out of the backfield all the way down the field.  The inside deep passing game was funneled to safety Willie Wood in “centerfield,” while the quick and rangy cornerbacks took the outside routes.

Bengtson taught his players their responsibilities, and his scheme allowed them to succeed.  His calm, quiet personality was diametrically opposed to Lombardi’s volatile one, but he got results through more measured corrections, and his players loved and respected him for it.  In fact, both Ray Nitschke and Willie Wood had Phil present them for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As head coach, though, he found that following a legend is a near impossible task, especially when the offense is rapidly aging and cannot generate points. After three mediocre seasons, Bengtson was fired. He briefly ran the Chargers’ defense in 1971 before taking a leave of absence as the Patriots’ interim head coach in 1972. He later served in the Pats’ front office before settling in San Diego in retirement. He died at age 81 on December 18, 1994.

(Adapted from NFL Head Coaches.)


1968alttpbengtson2  1970tpbengtson

1970kpbengtson  1969tpbengtson

Last three custom cards are colorized.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #98

Defensive tackle Tony DeLuca wore 98 for his entire one-game NFL career and initiated the number in Green Bay. After a two-year gap, defensive end Brent Moore next wore the number for the Packers. Altogether, seven defensive tackles, five defensive ends and two linebackers have worn the number.

DT: Tony DeLuca (1984), Esera Tualo (1991-92), Alfred Oglesby (1992), Billy Lyons (1998-2002), Kenny Peterson (2003-05), Alfred Malone (2008) and Leroy Guion (2014-16).

DE: Brent Moore (1987), David Grant (1993), Gabe Wilkins (1994-97), C.J. Wilson (2010-13) and Fadol Brown (2018-19).

LB: Todd Auer (1987r) and Chris Odom (2017).

Billy Lyons had the longest tenure in 97 at five years. Gabe Wilkins is the closest thing to a memorable player who wore the number. There were gaps of service from 1985-86, 1988-90 and 2006-07.

1984ttdeluca  1991tetualo

1993dgrant  1995gwilkins

1998blyons  2010cjwilson

First custom card is colorized.

1944 Champions Set, Part 1 of 4

Curly Lambeau’s final championship team came during the depths of World War II, with people on the home front living on rationed goods and the NFL struggling to find enough reasonably-able-bodied men to field its depleted rosters. There were no football card sets in this period, so I have envisioned this set as part of War Bonds drive. As the background to these cards, I used a War Bonds poster from the 1940s, with the player image superimposed over top of it.

1944wbwaschwammel  1944wbwaurban







All custom cards are colorized.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #97

The first Packer to wear 97, Tim Harris, is still the best one, although the current representative, Kenny Clark, may challenge Harris’ supremacy over time. Since 1986, the number has been worn by five linebackers, six defensive tackles and two defensive ends.

LB: Tim Harris (1986-90). John Miller (1987r), Keith Traylor (1993), Mike Merryweather (1993 playoffs) and Vic So’oto (2011-12).

DT: Danny Noonan (1992), Cletidus Hunt (1999-2004), Kenerick Allen (2006), Johnny Jolly (2007-09, 2013), Luther Robinson (2014) and Kenny Clark (2016-19).

DE: Matt LaBounty (1995) and Paul Frase (1997).

Harris is the only 97 who is in the team’s hall of fame, and Hunt wore the number the longest at six seasons. There have only been one-year gaps in service since the number was initiated.

1986ttharris  1992dnoonan

1995mlabounty  1999chunt

Custom cards in Topps and Fleer styles.