September 24, 2014

1967: Late Chandler FG Allows Mistake-Prone Packers to Edge Bears

The Green Bay Packers had won back-to-back NFL Championships in 1965 and ’66, but were facing problems as they hosted the Chicago Bears on September 24, 1967. Age and injuries were catching up to many of the key players who had helped to produce four NFL titles since the arrival of Vince Lombardi as head coach and GM in 1959. For instance, gone was the great backfield combination of HB Paul Hornung and FB Jim Taylor, and QB Bart Starr, the league’s MVP in ’66, was playing hurt. But there were still plenty of savvy veterans on the roster combined with some promising younger talent. Nevertheless, the Packers had been shaky in a season-opening game against Detroit the previous week, rallying to salvage a 17-17 tie and with time running out before they could attempt a long field goal. Starr had tossed more interceptions in that one game (4) than he had given up in all of 1966 (3).

The Bears, coached by 72-year-old owner George Halas, “the Papa Bear”, were coming off a 5-7-2 record and had lost badly to the Steelers the week before coming to Green Bay. Key players on the team were all-purpose HB Gale Sayers on offense and MLB Dick Butkus on the defensive side, but there were many question marks elsewhere, notably at quarterback where Larry Rakestraw was to start but it was hoped that Jack Concannon, obtained in an offseason trade from Philadelphia for discontented star TE Mike Ditka, would ultimately step in.  

There were 50,861 fans in attendance on a sunny afternoon at Lambeau Field and they saw Green Bay’s first two possessions end with interceptions. Going for a quick throw to TE Marv Fleming, Bart Starr’s first pass of the game was intercepted by SS Richie Petitbon. On the next series, LB Doug Buffone tipped a Starr pass into the air and pulled it in for another Chicago pickoff. However, the Bears were unable to take advantage of either turnover, giving the ball up once themselves with an interception, and the first quarter was scoreless.

In the second quarter, Green Bay came through with a big play when HB Donny Anderson, back to punt, instead took off on a 40-yard run to the Chicago 10. Two plays later, FB Jim Grabowski (pictured at left) plowed for two yards off tackle to score a touchdown. Don Chandler (pictured at top) converted to make it a 7-0 contest.

Late in the second quarter, the Packers put together another scoring drive, moving from their 30 to the Chicago 13 and being helped by a pass interference penalty on CB Curtis Gentry that enraged George Halas. However, Grabowski came up a yard short on a third down carry and Chandler kicked a 20-yard field goal.

A short kickoff gave the Bears possession at their 32 and QB Larry Rakestraw made a big gain with a 20-yard run to the Green Bay 42, taking advantage of the Packers dropping back into pass coverage on defense rather than mounting a rush. The first half ended with Mac Percival attempting a 49-yard field goal that fell short and the score remained 10-0 in favor of Green Bay.

The third quarter started off with another Petitbon interception of a Starr pass, and he returned it 35 yards to the Green Bay 16. Sayers ran for five yards, but FB Andy Livingston was held to no gain and Jack Concannon, replacing Rakestraw at quarterback, was sacked by LB Lee Roy Caffey for a four-yard loss. Chicago settled for a 22-yard field goal by Percival that cut the home team’s lead to 10-3.

Two more interceptions and a pair of fumbles stymied the Packers, but the defense continued to keep Chicago in check. Late in the third quarter, and with the ball at the Green Bay 31, the Bears tried to convert a fourth-and-one situation but Sayers was stopped short.

On the second play of the fourth quarter, the Packers were inside the Chicago ten and looking to take control of the game, but Grabowski fumbled the ball away at the five. Their inability to build on the lead came back to haunt them when Dick Butkus recovered another fumble, this time at the Green Bay 36. Following two nine-yard scrambles by Concannon, the Bears scored when Sayers ran around left end for a 13-yard touchdown. Percival added the extra point to tie the score with 3:30 remaining in the contest.

The climactic drive started for the Packers at their 39. A short pass from Starr to HB Elijah Pitts picked up 15 yards to get into Chicago territory and then Grabowski ran for nine yards. Kicking into the wind, Chandler’s 46-yard field goal attempt was successful with 1:03 left on the clock. Green Bay came away with a hard-earned 13-10 win.

Belying the closeness of the score, the Packers dominated Chicago in total yards (365 to 159) and first downs (24 to 6). A further contrast was that Green Bay rushed for 233 yards while the Bears netted just 19 yards through the air. The Packers never punted during the course of the game, with the fake by Anderson wiping out the only occasion in which they lined up to do so. However, Green Bay also turned the ball over a staggering eight times, to just one suffered by the visitors.

Bart Starr had another rough performance as he completed 10 of 19 passes for 113 yards and no touchdowns while being intercepted five times. Jim Grabowski ran for 111 yards on 32 carries that included a TD, and while the attempts set a then-club record and it was his first 100-yard rushing game in the NFL (he had one other), he also fumbled three times. Thanks to the long run out of punt formation, Donny Anderson gained 68 yards on 7 attempts. WR Carroll Dale led the Green Bay receivers with four catches for 58 yards.

For the Bears, Gale Sayers rushed for 63 yards on 15 carries that included a TD and also was the team’s top receiver with just two receptions for 12 yards. Larry Rakestraw managed to complete three of his seven passes for 16 yards and had one intercepted. Jack Concannon, who finished the game in relief, went two-of-five for a mere seven yards but ran for 22 yards on five carries. Richie Petitbon (pictured at right) starred on defense with three interceptions that he returned for 41 yards.

“We’re having a hell of a time, apparently,” said Coach Lombardi after a second tough game. “But it’s more tribute that they can still come back.”

Green Bay recovered from the slow start to win eight of its next ten contests and topped the Central Division of the newly realigned NFL at 9-4-1. The Packers went on to win the NFL Championship and a second Super Bowl with a victory over the Oakland Raiders, champions of the AFL. The Bears continued to have trouble scoring points and were 2-5 before catching fire in the second half of the season and ending up second in the division with a 7-6-1 record, losing the rematch with the Packers in Chicago.

Bart Starr gave up nine interceptions in the first two games of the ’67 season and ended up throwing 17 in all, but while he had lesser statistics than in past seasons, in the end he was named Super Bowl MVP for the second consecutive year.

Jim Grabowski went down with a season-ending knee injury in the ninth week but still led the Packers in rushing with 466 yards. The player who was drafted to replace the great Jim Taylor returned to rush for 518 yards in 1968, but injuries ultimately shortened his career.

Don Chandler went on to tie his career best with 19 field goals out of 29 attempts (65.5 %) and added another four in the Super Bowl victory. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the only time in what was his last season.