December 31, 2009

1967: Packers Win Third Consecutive NFL Title, Beating Dallas in “Ice Bowl”

Even by the standards of Green Bay, Wisconsin it was exceptionally cold on December 31, 1967. The temperature for the NFL Championship game at Lambeau Field between the hometown Packers and Dallas Cowboys was minus 13 degrees below zero. As if that weren’t enough, a brisk wind out of the north took the wind chill factor down to minus 38. The temperature had dropped so quickly the night before the game that the grid of underground wires, referred to as the “electric blanket”, that was to keep the field from freezing failed – the surface was hard and slick.

Head Coach Vince Lombardi had led the Packers to four NFL championships since arriving in 1959, including the previous two seasons, and was seeking a third in a row – something only the 1929-31 Packers had done (in the pre-postseason era). While the team had retooled along the way, some players were showing their age as well as wear and tear. QB Bart Starr suffered through an injury-plagued season. Rookie HB Travis Williams was sensational returning kickoffs, but journeymen like fullbacks Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein had to play in the backfield due to attrition. In the new divisional format, the Packers won the Central Division with a 9-4-1 record and advanced to the title game by defeating the Coastal Division champion Rams convincingly, 28-7.

The Dallas Cowboys, under Head Coach Tom Landry, had lost to the Packers in the previous championship game – a close, hard-fought affair at the Cotton Bowl. Despite injuries to QB Don Meredith and HB Dan Reeves along the way, the team won the Capitol Division with a 9-5 record and annihilated Cleveland in the first round, 52-14. Defensively, they were built around five All-Pros in DT Bob Lilly, DE George Andrie, LB Chuck Howley, CB Cornell Green, and FS Mel Renfro.

The Packers were better adapted to playing in the extreme weather conditions, and showed it on their first possession as they drove 82 yards capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass by Starr to split end Boyd Dowler. Key penalties by the Cowboys helped move the Packers along to the early 7-0 advantage.

Green Bay made it 14-0 in the second quarter, again on a Starr to Dowler pass play, this one covering 46 yards (pictured at bottom). But Dallas got two breaks late in the first half. First, Starr was sacked by DE Willie Townes and fumbled, with Andrie picking up the skittering football and rumbling seven yards for a touchdown. Then safety Willie Wood muffed a punt at his 17 yard line, and the Cowboys again recovered. Danny Villanueva kicked a 21-yard field goal, and the Packers led by just 14-10 at halftime.

Green Bay’s offense turned as cold as the weather in the third quarter. CB Herb Adderley recovered a Meredith fumble on the Packer 13 yard line, which prevented a possible Dallas score but nothing more. The Cowboys finally struck with a big play in the fourth quarter, with Reeves successfully decoying the Green Bay defense and firing a halfback option pass to flanker Lance Rentzel that covered 50 yards and put Dallas ahead, 17-14.

For the next ten minutes, the momentum belonged to the Cowboys. They controlled the ball as Meredith (pictured at left) began to hit timely passes. The defense sacked Starr eight times, had not allowed the Packers to go farther than 14 yards in any of their last 10 possessions, and appeared to have the game in hand.

With 4:58 left to go, Green Bay got the ball back at its 31 yard line. Starr threw a screen pass to HB Donny Anderson for six yards, and then Mercein ran for seven and a first down. Starr hit Dowler down the middle for 13 yards. But then Anderson slipped and was tackled for a nine-yard loss. Starr went right back to Anderson, hitting him on consecutive passes to the Dallas 30.

Now it was Mercein catching a short pass and running to his left past Howley, who slipped and fell, and finally going out of bounds at the 11. Mercein ran again, and with Andrie slipping to the ground, went 8 yards to the Dallas three yard line. Anderson ran for two yards and a first down at the one. At this point, the Packers called their first time out. Now it was time for the Dallas defense to make a stand, and two running plays were stopped for no gain.

With 17 seconds left on the clock and stalled at third and goal on the one, the Packers took their last time out. In one of the most daring decisions in pro football history, Lombardi elected to pass up a game-tying field goal attempt and go for the all-or-nothing touchdown. Starr suggested a quarterback sneak on their 31-wedge play (normally a fullback dive). Guard Jerry Kramer had to make the key block on Cowboys DT Jethro Pugh – in the huddle, Starr told him, “Nothing short of the goal. It’s up to you, Jerry.”

Starr took the snap, Kramer made his block on Pugh (with help from C Ken Bowman), OT Forrest Gregg knocked Townes away, and the quarterback fell into the end zone (pictured at top). With Don Chandler’s extra point, the Packers were the champions once again by a score of 21-17.

Bart Starr completed 14 of 24 passes on the day, with two touchdowns and none picked off. Donny Anderson was the leading rusher, although at 18 carries for 35 yards he averaged less than two yards a carry. Chuck Mercein (pictured at right), who ran so effectively on the final drive, gained 20 yards on 6 attempts and caught two passes for 22 more. Anderson and Boyd Dowler both led the team with 4 pass receptions, with Dowler gaining the most yards (77) and scoring twice.

The Cowboys gained 109 yards through the air, with Dan Reeves accounting for 50 of that with his option TD pass. Don Meredith completed 10 of 25 throws for 59 yards with an interception. FB Don Perkins led the rushers with 51 yards on 17 carries, and Reeves added 42 yards on 11 attempts. Reeves also caught three passes for 11 yards, and the speedy split end Bob Hayes also caught three, for just 16 yards. Lance Rentzel, with the one long TD, gained 61 yards on two catches.

Green Bay went on to win the second Super Bowl over the AFL champion Oakland Raiders. But Lombardi stepped away from the sidelines, remaining in the front office for a year before leaving the Packers altogether. Phil Bengston would lead the aging team to a 6-7-1 finish in 1968. Dallas stayed a contender, making it to the postseason in each of the next three seasons until finally winning an NFC title in 1970, the first year of the merger, and a Super Bowl following the ’71 season.

But on a day when they battled the extreme cold as well as the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers played inspired clutch football when they had to, and earned a third consecutive championship.