January 1, 2011

1967: Packers Hold Off Cowboys to Win NFL Championship

The 1966 NFL Championship game, played on January 1, 1967 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, featured a matchup between the defending league champions, the Green Bay Packers, and the host Cowboys, appearing in their first postseason game.

Head Coach Vince Lombardi’s Packers were even better than they were the previous year, compiling a 12-2 record to finish atop the Western Conference. While age was catching up to some of the players who had been part of winning three titles in the previous five years, such as HB Paul Hornung, FB Jim Taylor, and split end Max McGee, others were still highly effective. QB Bart Starr (pictured above) led the NFL in passing and was intercepted only three times. CB Herb Adderley, FS Willie Wood, DE Willie Davis, and OT Forrest Gregg were still among the best in pro football at their positions, and Jerry Kramer and Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston were the most effective guard tandem as well.

The Dallas Cowboys, in their seventh season of existence, had been molded into an outstanding club by Head Coach Tom Landry. The offense, operated by QB Don Meredith and including WR Bob Hayes and FB Don Perkins, was explosive while the defense, featuring stars such as DT Bob Lilly, LB Chuck Howley, and FS Mel Renfro, was one of the best. They won the Eastern Conference title with a 10-3-1 tally.

There were 75,504 fans on hand on a clear day with temperatures in the 50s. Green Bay wasted no time in taking early command, as HB Elijah Pitts took off on a 32-yard run and then caught a swing pass from Starr for a 17-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Renfro fumbled and rookie FB Jim Grabowski recovered for the Packers and ran 18 yards for a TD. In short order, the defending champs had a 14-0 lead.

The Cowboys fought back with a 13-play drive that culminated in a three-yard run by HB Dan Reeves to cut the Packers’ lead in half. Green Bay was forced to punt on its next possession, and Perkins ran for a 23-yard touchdown to end the resulting five-play drive that covered 59 yards. The score was tied at 14-14 after the opening period.

The Packers scored again on the third play of the second quarter as Starr connected on a bomb to split end Carroll Dale that barely made it past CB Cornell Green’s outstretched fingers for a 51-yard touchdown (pictured below).

The Cowboys drove from their 28 to the Green Bay four, with the big play being a Meredith pass to Reeves that covered 40 yards. But the Packers held and Danny Villanueva kicked an 11-yard field goal.

Green Bay’s offense moved into Dallas territory once more, but tackle Ralph Neely blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt by Don Chandler before halftime. The score at the intermission was 21-17 in favor of the Packers.

Early in the third quarter, the Cowboys forced Pitts to fumble, which stopped a good Green Bay drive at the Dallas 21. That was turned into three points when Villanueva kicked a 32-yard field goal to cap a 13-play drive, and it was now a one-point game at 21-20. But on the next possession, Starr threw to Dale for 43 yards and then four plays later to Dowler for a 16-yard touchdown to extend Green Bay’s lead to 28-20.

The pace of the scoring slowed, and Green Bay got a break when Bob Hayes unwisely fielded a punt by the Packers at the one and was immediately brought down, pinning the Cowboys deep in their own territory. They were forced to punt in turn and the Packers took over at the Dallas 48. Starr was sacked by DE George Andrie but responded with a 24-yard pass to TE Marv Fleming. On a third-and-12 play, he connected with Jim Taylor for a first down. Starr, again being sacked for an 11-yard loss by DE Willie Townes, threw a 28-yard TD pass to McGee with 5:20 remaining for a 34-20 lead. Chandler’s extra point attempt was blocked by Lilly, but it appeared that the Packers had the game in hand.

There were now just over five minutes to play and the Cowboys needed to score quickly to have a chance. They did, when on a third-and-20 play, Meredith connected for a 68-yard touchdown pass to TE Frank Clarke that narrowed the margin to seven points.

The Packers sought to maintain possession and run time off the clock when they got the ball back, and Starr passed to Fleming for 18 yards to the Green Bay 46. But then LB Dave Edwards sacked Starr for an eight-yard loss, Townes deflected a pass for an incompletion, and a swing pass to Taylor was stopped for a loss. Green Bay would need to kick the ball back to Dallas. The Cowboys charged in to try to block the punt, resulting in a poor 17-yard kick by Chandler that gave Dallas good field position at the Green Bay 47 with 2:19 on the clock.

Meredith passed to Clarke for 21 yards, Perkins ran for four just prior to the two-minute warning, and then, on a throw intended for Clarke, a pass interference penalty was called on SS Tom Brown that put the ball on the Green Bay two. It seemed as though overtime was looming.

Reeves got to the one, but following an incomplete pass, an offside penalty on the Cowboys moved the ball back five yards. Meredith missed on a pass to Reeves, and a throw to Norman picked up four yards. On fourth-and-goal at the two, and with less then 30 seconds to play in regulation, Meredith rolled out, but LB Dave Robinson was there to hurry him. Lobbing a pass into the end zone that was intended for Hayes, it was intercepted by Brown (making up for the pass interference penalty) to snuff out the threat (pictured below). Green Bay won the NFL title by a score of 34-27.

The Cowboys outgained the Packers (418 yards to 367), had more first downs (23 to 19), and sacked Starr five times for a loss of 39 yards, while Meredith was dumped just twice. But the two turnovers made the difference as the first led directly to a Green Bay touchdown and the second sealed the game. The one turnover by the Packers, by comparison, gained three points for Dallas.

Bart Starr had an outstanding performance, completing 19 of 28 passes for 304 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Carroll Dale caught 5 passes for 128 yards and a TD, and Jim Taylor also caught 5 passes out of the backfield for 23 yards to go along with his 37 yards rushing on 10 carries. Elijah Pitts led the Packers in ground gaining with 66 yards on 12 attempts.

For Dallas, Don Meredith (pictured below) was successful on 15 of 31 passes for 238 yards with a TD and an interception. Don Perkins ran for 108 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while Dan Reeves also ran the ball 17 times, gaining 47 yards and a TD, and also caught 4 passes for 77 more yards. Frank Clarke, with the long scoring catch, gained 102 yards on his three receptions. However, the Packers successfully neutralized the potent deep threat, Bob Hayes, who had just one catch for a yard.

“We had our chance down there and muffed it,” said Tom Landry. “It was just one of those things.”

There was one more game for the Packers to play, as the merger between the NFL and AFL that was announced in June of 1966 created a contest between the champions of the two leagues that came to be known as the Super Bowl. Green Bay defeated the AFL-champion Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10. It was also the last year before the conferences were broken up into divisions in the NFL, thus creating an extra layer of postseason in 1967.