November 22, 2010

1962: Lions Hand Packers Only Defeat of Season in “Thanksgiving Day Massacre”

After ten weeks of the 1962 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers were undefeated at 10-0 and apparently cruising toward a second consecutive league title. The Detroit Lions were 8-2 with four games left to play and had lost a hard-fought 9-7 game at Green Bay in Week 4. The clubs were scheduled to meet at Tiger Stadium on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, and the Lions were determined to exact their revenge.

Head Coach Vince Lombardi’s Packers were the highest-scoring team in the league, as well as the best all-around. The offensive line, which contained two future Hall of Famers in center Jim Ringo and tackle Forrest Gregg and an outstanding tandem of guards in All-Pro Jerry Kramer and Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston, allowed the team to roll up yardage on the ground. FB Jim Taylor already had 1121 yards rushing. QB Bart Starr could pass effectively (he came into the game ranked second in the NFL) and had outstanding receivers in flanker Boyd Dowler, split end Max McGee, and TE Ron Kramer (also an outstanding blocker).

Detroit, coached by George Wilson, had long been established as a premier defensive club. Tackles Alex Karras and Roger Brown, MLB Joe Schmidt, CB Dick “Night Train” Lane, and safety Yale Lary were all among the best at their positions (Lary was also an outstanding punter). The Packers had been fortunate to beat them in the first meeting, and therein lay the seeds of discontent among Detroit’s offensive and defensive units.

Pro Bowl QB Milt Plum had been obtained by the Lions from the Browns in the previous offseason, and there was speculation that the upgrade at quarterback might boost Detroit past the Packers in the Western Conference. However, the offense continued to lag, and it was an interception thrown by Plum that had set up Green Bay’s winning field goal in the first meeting.

It didn’t take long for the attacking Detroit defense to stop the Packers in their tracks. Before an enthusiastic sellout home crowd of 57,598, they dumped Starr for a 15-yard loss the first time he dropped back to pass on Green Bay’s third play. Later in the first quarter, Dowler shanked a punt that traveled only 15 yards and gave the Lions the ball on the Green Bay 41. On a third-and-two play, Plum froze the defense by faking a handoff to FB Nick Pietrosante and then fired a pass to split end Gail Cogdill who ran past two defenders for a 33-yard touchdown.

Detroit put the Packers away in the second quarter. Green Bay HB Tom Moore, substituting for the injured Paul Hornung, fumbled and LB Carl Brettschneider recovered at his own 47 yard line. Shortly thereafter, Plum hit Cogdill again for a 27-yard TD and 14-0 lead.

On Green Bay’s next possession, Roger Brown (pictured at left) hit Starr while setting up to pass and forced a fumble that DE Sam Williams picked up and ran into the end zone for a six-yard touchdown. When the Packers got the ball back, again pinned deep in their own territory, Starr faded back into his end zone and was sacked for a safety by Brown, who had run over both Thurston and Taylor in his pursuit of the quarterback. The Lions had scored 16 points in under three minutes of action.

Green Bay got a break late in the second quarter when McGee was roughed while punting from his end zone and the offense put together a sustained drive of 56 yards that included five completed passes by Starr. But Jerry Kramer’s field goal attempt missed after being partially blocked and the Lions carried the 23-0 lead into halftime.

Detroit didn’t let up in the third quarter, as Lane intercepted Starr’s first pass of the second half to set up a 47-yard field goal by Plum. That was the end of the scoring for the Lions. The Packers managed two late touchdowns in the fourth quarter – one by the defense – and the final score was 26-14.

Detroit’s domination of the game that came to be referred to as “The Thanksgiving Day Massacre” was more complete than the score indicated. While both teams turned the ball over five times, the Lions outgained the Packers, 304 yards to 122. The usually unstoppable Green Bay running attack was held to just 73 yards on 27 attempts. Bart Starr was sacked 10 times for a net loss of 93 yards, giving Green Bay just 49 net passing yards (Plum was not sacked at all).

While the defense dominated, Detroit’s offense played just well enough. Milt Plum completed 8 of 16 passes for 137 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. FB Ken Webb, who took over for the injured Nick Pietrosante, gained 62 yards on 11 carries while HB Tom Watkins ran the ball 17 times for 55 yards. Gail Cogdill (pictured below) caught three passes for 79 yards and the two big TDs.

As for the Packers, when Bart Starr was able to throw, he completed 11 of 19 for 142 yards with no TDs and two interceptions. Jim Taylor gained just 47 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown – most of it came later in the game, as he was held to -3 yards in the first half. Ron Kramer caught four passes for 62 yards, and Boyd Dowler also had four receptions, for 41 yards.

“It's a known fact that the Detroit defense is good,” summed up Vince Lombardi. “They
completely overpowered us in the first half…My club wasn't flat. We were ready. They just overwhelmed us.”

Green Bay didn’t lose another game (they came back the next week to thrash the hapless Rams by a score of 41-10) and finished the season at 13-1 atop the Western Conference. They defeated the Giants once again to repeat as NFL champions. The Lions lost the season finale to end up at 11-3 and in second place; their reward was a trip to Miami for the meaningless Playoff Bowl for the third straight year.

The Detroit defense was ranked number one overall in the NFL, giving up a total of 3217 yards (30 yards less than the Packers), and were also best against the run (1231 yards). The 177 points allowed was second best to Green Bay’s 148. Roger Brown, Joe Schmidt, “Night Train” Lane, and Yale Lary were all consensus first team All-Pro selections and were selected to the Pro Bowl along with Alex Karras.