It’s that time of year, Packer fans. December football is upon us. There are four games standing between us and the glory of January. The Packers are no strangers to the postseason, as you well know. We must go into the breach with our heads held high in acknowledgement of the ghosts of history that tread alongside us. When the temperature goes down, the real Green Bay Packers show up. The finishers, the enforcers, the January trendsetters: these are the Packers that we know and love. It is our duty as fans to never falter, to flash a winsome smile as our play-makers make history. God, it feels good to be a football fan.
If it’s not obvious, I am writing this while listening to NFL Classic’s scores, courtesy of the great Sam Spence. You know how I know I truly love the game of football? There is no more inspiring sound than that of the brass and bass medleys of his music. It makes me want to go rub some dirt in it, build a bridge, tear it down, and build it all back again. What a great game.
It is here that we make our last stand.
To think that this season has played out the way that it has…well it would have been horrifying to think of just a few months ago. But that’s what has happened, we can’t change it. However, like all areas of life, we must trudge headlong into whatever hell has been decided for us by the gods. But, there is still glory to be found. As “The Magnificent Eleven” plays in the background, I am given hope that there is still more excitement and joy lurking in the emerald halls of Lambeau.
Let’s not forget that we have satisfied all but one of the victory conditions to see #12 on the field. Granted, it’s been by the skin of our teeth and we’ve done the absolute bare-minimum to get here. But we are here. Next Sunday could be the day that the white wizard returns with his cavalry of loyalists and his unwavering belief in victory. There is hope, it is foolish to not give your heart the chance to feel it–if only for a short time. We are football fans. It is our right and our duty to hope.
We face none other than the Cleveland Browns in a contest of teams with no offense and a defense just feeble enough to lose most every game. However, this is the true face of the Browns, while our identity is obscured by 13 screws and a metal plate. This team is nothing like it could be without its leader, and why should it be? But it must reach deep down and find the inner strength it needs to get past this final obstacle, however small it may seem.
This week, I have the pleasure of writing about one of the great classic matchups in the history of the game–a championship game between two titans, two legends in the budding years of the greatest American sports league. I speak of a game that included names like: Vince Lombardi, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Jim Ringo, Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and Willie Wood for the Packers. Then there was Jim Brown and his Cleveland Browns. This is a game of legend, of Hall of Famers–this was The Last Championship of the NFL.
The Cleveland Browns vs. The Green Bay Packers
1965 NFL Championship Game
January 2, 1966
Can you hear it, can you hear the lilting trumpets of “The Chilling Championship”? I can when I look at the breathtaking images from this mid-60’s affair. See for yourself:
Look at the loyal fans in below-freezing conditions:
The old general:
The men in the trenches:
It just stinks like football, this one. It’s also the first Championship to be in color–and boy does it help. These are two of the most iconic teams in the sport, and seeing their mid-century modern color schemes on display in their full glory really drives home the legendary quality that both franchises have maintained over the years. Granted, the story of Cleveland is not a happy one and the stink of their failure is long from being washed away. I still believe they could return to form in the years to come.
This game was also the first Championship played in January. It was a set-up to the Super Bowl era, the connecting tissue between the bygone age of Packers dominance and the modern age of Packers excellence. That’s why I call this The Last Championship.
Lombardi was in top form, but he had a giant task ahead of him. The task was known as Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back of all-time, running in snowy weather that suited him. We always seem to have a close relationship with the great NFL running backs–think about it–Peterson, Payton, Sanders, they are all foes that are familiar to us. Thankfully, we always seem capable of weathering the storm.
This time, our edge might be attributed to the toughness afforded to us by the extra game we played in the postseason. The Packers had to play Unitas’ Baltimore Colts in tie-breaker playoff game that went to OT. The Packers held it together and won by a field goal. The Brown’s, on the other hand, were the defending champions and had put together a title-defense season that might have been more impressive than their preceding championship. They were putting the hurt on practically everyone they played.
Again, their success was mostly due to Jim Brown and his Cleveland offense. As it turns out, this would be his last game. He retired in the following Summer and surprised everyone. But, he started this game red-hot, with a 30-yard reception in the first quarter. Cleveland needed to respond quickly, Starr and his team of HOFers had marched down the field on the opening drive and scored–a Green Bay tradition. You’ve got to punch them in the mouth, first thing.
To their credit, they were able to respond–with a touchdown pass of their own. Packers fans responded too…by throwing snowballs at the receiver. Hey, at least it wasn’t batteries.
The Packers and Browns then traded field goals, as the field conditions began to worsen and the cold began to set in. From here on out, it would be the Green Bay’s game. Up 10-9, Green Bay’s defense became the star of the show. They held Brown to just 12 carries and 50 yards with no scores–the all-time leading rusher in those days. By the time it was all said and done, The Packers had doubled up on the Browns in both yardage and points, thanks to more field goals and a Paul Hornung TD run. Don Chandler, our kicker at the time, lead the game in points and was arguably the MVP, though the award went to a also-deserving Jim Taylor.
This game was one of Lombardi’s finest moments. He was able to completely stymie the offense of the Browns, leaving them with only 38 plays to win it. He assigned Nitschke to shadow Brown and Ray won that battle all day. He clogged up the middle and made Brown hesitate before he hit the hole on most plays. But, most importantly, Lombardi’s Packers ran out the clock with a whopping 47 run plays that went for over 200 yards. Cleveland’s offense was red-hot, but Lombardi starved the flame and it went out early.
I’m not sure about you, but that sounds like a hell of a plan for this Sunday too. With our rookie backs running the way that they are, I wouldn’t stop running until I hit 40+ attempts. Why not? It’s a strategy that comes with Lombardi’s seal of approval.
Play the *%&ing jazz, boys.