November 15, 2015

1931: Nevers Spurs Cards to Upset of Packers

The Green Bay Packers were undefeated and trying for a third consecutive NFL title as they faced the Chicago Cardinals on November 15, 1931. The Cards did not appear to be a formidable opponent. Coached by Ernie Nevers (pictured at right), who was also their most outstanding player, they had won their last two games following three straight losses to start the season, and were thus 2-3 as they hosted the powerful Packers.

Green Bay, under the direction of team founder and coach Curly Lambeau, was 9-0 and had easily beaten the Cardinals at home. The two-time defending champs were loaded with outstanding players that included back Johnny (Blood) McNally, end Lavvie Dilweg, guard Mike Michalske, and tackle Cal Hubbard.  

There were 8000 fans in attendance at Wrigley Field. The Packers had the game’s first possession, defending the muddy half of the field, and the teams traded punts until a pass from Ernie Nevers to end Milan Creighton put the Cardinals at the Green Bay 20. Chicago came up empty, however, when a field goal attempt by Nevers was short and wide.

Following another punt by the Packers, Nevers went to the air, with a big completion to back Bill Glassgow for 29 yards. A short run, incomplete pass, and three-yard throw to Creighton had the Cards facing fourth-and-five. Nevers connected again with Creighton, who grabbed the ball at the Green Bay 16 and evaded four tacklers on the way to a 27-yard touchdown. Nevers added the extra point.

Early in the second quarter, the Packers got a break when tackle Dick Stahlman broke through the line and blocked a Nevers punt. End Tom Nash recovered in the end zone for a TD. However, a bad snap caused the extra point to be aborted and the score remained 7-6 at halftime.

In the third quarter, the teams again exchanged punts before the Cardinals, taking possession at the Green Bay 49, drove to another score. Two carries by back Bunny Belden picked up nine yards and Nevers gained two for a first down. Chicago continued to move methodically, mixing reverses with off-tackle runs by Nevers. A reverse by back Gene Rose gained 12 yards and Nevers carried three straight times to get a first down at the three.  Cal Hubbard broke through to tackle Nevers for a two-yard loss, but on the next play Rose ran a reverse for a five-yard touchdown for the Cards. Nevers converted and Chicago was ahead by 14-6.

As the game entered the fourth quarter, the Packers opened up their passing game. A throw by back Paul Fitzgibbon was intercepted by end George Rogge, who nearly went the distance on the return but was caught at the Green Bay 11 by Johnny McNally. A nine-yard run by Nevers was nullified by offsetting penalties and after a lateral picked up two yards and two passes fell incomplete, it appeared that the Cards would come up short. However, on fourth down Nevers threw to end Chuck Kassel in the end zone for a 16-yard TD. Nevers booted the extra point so firmly that it sailed into the stands and time was called for the ball to be retrieved. The Cardinals held a commanding 21-6 lead.

McNally returned the ensuing kickoff to the Green Bay 27 and back Hank Bruder and McNally made good gains on successive carries. But Bruder then slipped while cutting with a nearly clear field ahead of him and the drive ultimately petered out.

After a Nevers punt to midfield, the Packers put together a 50-yard drive. Passes from FB Russ Saunders to McNally and tailback Red Dunn to Bruder got the ball to the Chicago 26 and, three plays later, Dunn connected with McNally down to the seven. Bruder ran for a one-yard touchdown shortly thereafter and Dunn kicked the point after. The Cards got the ball back with three minutes remaining, ran the clock down, and then dominated on defense to prevent any chance of a Green Bay comeback. Chicago won by a final score of 21-13.

The Cards gained 271 total yards, with 135 on the ground, and completed 10 of 19 passes, most of them by Nevers, and gave up no interceptions. Green Bay was successful on only 8 of 23 throws and three were picked off. The Packers managed only two yards from scrimmage prior to scoring on the blocked punt. Ernie Nevers received acclaim for engineering the upset as he played all 60 minutes and contributed to every facet of play, on offense, defense, and kicking.

The loss was a setback in Green Bay’s drive to a third successive championship as they faced a difficult contest against the Giants the following week, but they won that game and the next two after before losing the season finale to Chicago’s other team, the Bears. The Packers managed to achieve their third successive NFL title with a 12-2 record. The Cardinals ended up in fourth place at 5-4.

In what proved to be the final season of his brilliant career, Ernie Nevers led the league in points after touchdown (15), ranked second in scoring (66 points), and third in touchdowns (8). He received consensus first-team All-NFL honors.