Tuesday, July 24, 2018

WILLIE DAVIS and the 1962 Packers

LOOKING BACK
By T.J. Troup
Willie Davis by Christopher Paluso
When writing my book "The Birth of the Modern 4-3 Defense" one of the goals was to detail who played what position and how well for each of the twelve teams in the '50's. This saga of one of the best teams of all-time will continue that format. John Turney's superb and in-depth story yesterday on the best 4-3 defensive ends of all-time fits well since today is Willie Davis birthday, and he is a key factor for the success of this team.

Perspective is a key element when a team is evaluated and discussed. Eleven-year-old boys in '62 living outside of Chicago look forward to Chicago Bear road games on TV. The Bears started 2-0 that year and then came the devastation in Green Bay as the Green & Gold took this so called rivalry to a new height or depth depending upon your viewpoint. Twice more I saw the Packers that year, the Thanksgiving day massacre in Detroit, and the 1962 title game at Yankee Stadium.

Now, all these years later having coached, and devoured film of the Packers brings a true perspective of just how powerful this team was. Ready? The 49ers and Colts are flawed teams that really are not contenders in 1962. The two teams in the Western Conference that believe they are contenders are the Bears & Lions. Willie Galimore's early season injury limits the Bears running game, but Bill Wade can fire that football. He has some outstanding games during the year, yet still forces throws into coverage.

How does Wade fare against the Green Bay defense? The Chicago defense is in transition, and to this day no one really knows when Shaughnessy is striped of his defensive co-ordinator role and George Allen takes over. The youthful talented Bear secondary is improving, and the d-line and linebackers can and do make plays, but can they limit the Packer attack? The Bears are too inconsistent to win the west. Detroit has finished second in back to back seasons and has an outstanding defense.

The question that is asked each year in the Motor City is where is the quarterback to take us back to the championship game? Milt Plum proves he cannot rise to the level of elite quarterback. The Lion running game is very limited as hard running fullback Nick Pietrosante gained just 204 yards rushing the last five games of '61, and struggles during the '62 campaign.

Coach George Wilson like so many coaches wants a balanced attack, but the Lions cannot dominate the game running the ball. What the attack does have is a truly gifted receiver who makes key catches all year; team MVP Gail Cogdill(44 catches for 797 yards in 11 victories). The toughness, and talent of the defense coached by Don Shula coupled with Cogdill just might be enough most years to win the division, but not this year. Defining greatness can be a real challenge, we know it when we see it, but how do we state it?

The 1962 Packers are one of the greatest/best teams of all-time! Vince Lombardi knows his defending champions are primed to repeat, and his excellent coaching staff returns. Much has been written about this man, and he is complex in some ways. He is the best combination chemistry teacher/offensive line coach during his time in the league. Lombardi understands how to put the right ingredients together in just the right amounts and then send that motivated ingredient on the field to lay waste to the opposition.

His defensive coordinator Phil Bengston finally has every position filled with a quality player. Willie Davis is in his third year starting in Green Bay. He is durable, quick, sheds blocks, and is finally a force as a pass rusher. He is not chosen for the Pro Bowl, yet is voted Second-team All-Pro. Dave "Hawg" Hanner has survived the lean years in Green Bay and is still a strong run defender at left defensive tackle. Second year man Ron Kostelnik fills in capably off the bench during games for Hanner. Henry Jordan is quick, savvy and is a master at shedding blocks. He is not chosen for the Pro Bowl, yet he also earns All-Pro recognition at right defensive tackle. Veteran Bill Quinlan is not much of a pass rusher, but is strong at the point of attack at his right defensive end position.
Ray Nitschke by Merv Corning
There have been many seasons where a player receives recognition though it is based upon past performances, and Dan Currie at left linebacker is a vivid example. He has lost his ability to pursue, and moves poorly due to injury. Though he can still make a play, he is not near the player he once was. Ken Iman fills in admirably for Currie, and makes key plays during the campaign. Veteran Bill Forester is at the peak of his career at right linebacker, and is simply the best in the league at his position. A very strong run defender, who can blitz when called upon, and is always where he is needed to be during the year. He is All-Pro and Pro Bowl bound. Ray Nitschke was having his best year in '61 until the Army called, and he struggled late in the year. There was no struggle in '62. This IS the year when he puts it "all together". Ray is a savage very motivated tackler who excels at zone coverage. His speed in pursuit for a man his size is very impressive. The middle linebacker position in Packer land is finally a strength.
Herb Adderly by Merv Corning
There are still books that list Herb Adderley as the starting left corner for his rookie year in '61. He was not, but in '62 he not only is the starter, he earns all-pro recognition. Athletic, swift, with the ability to make the big play this youngster is destined for stardom. Hank Gremminger survived at left corner for years, though he did not have the skills for the position. Mike Ditka's performance in '61 in Wrigley against the Pack creates a void a strong safety(left) for the Packers, and Gremminger finally is playing the position he was meant to. Tough, and a fine pass defender on underneath routes. Hank is fortunate to have Adderley on his left and Willie Wood on his right. Wood leads the league in interceptions, but just as important he almost never misses a tackle. He learned his lessons well from Emlen Tunnell and now in his third year is the best in the league, though Patton & Lary are voted First-team All-Pro. Add to his resume that Willie is one of the better punt returners in the league. Jesse Whittenton is headed to the down side of his career, but he is still a stellar right corner who knows all the tricks, and is rarely out of position.

This group is durable, capable, and at their peak. The Green Bay defense allows just 14 offensive touchdowns in fourteen games, and records 36 sacks. Vince Lombardi wants to dominate opponents defenses, and at times the offense so controls the clock and the scoreboard that there is very little for him to do on game day but watch. No team in this era is as well prepared for Sunday as the Lombardi Packers. Ron Kramer has size and athleticism but rarely has he been the tight end that everyone in the league knew he could be. That situation changes in '62 as he is All-Pro and a real asset to the attack as both a blocker and downfield receiver. McGee & Dowler have size and speed and run the pattern needed for all successful teams.
Bart Starr by Merv Corning
The era of the 50's and '60's the square-in route (called a 'dig' these days) is the staple of every quality team. The quarterback must have pin point accuracy and enough zip on the ball to make this throw. McGee and Dowler run the pattern exceptionally well. Yes, they run other routes well also, but throwing down the middle in front of the free safety is vital to setting up the other plays in the Packers arsenal. Bart Starr does not have the passing stats of other quarterbacks in the league. Twelve touchdown passes seems like a small number for a dominant offense, yet that stat is very impressive. Could Green Bay have utilized their passing game in the "red zone"? We will never know, simply because no team runs the ball in the red zone like the Packers. Starr is basically mistake free, accurate, and at this point in his career a very capable leader on the field. He is voted Second-team All-Pro.
Jim Taylor by Merv Corning
Jim Taylor has a season for the ages. A record setting 19 touchdowns, and averaging over 100 yards a game on the ground. He runs with a fury, and refuses to be tackled by the first defender that he comes in contact with. Taylor is a willing blocker who can catch.
Paul Hornung by Merv Corning
Hornung's early season injury gives Tom Moore an opportunity to play. He runs hard, will block, and can throw the halfback option pass. He is a pedestrian talent at best. Watching game film shows massive holes to run through, and he seldom gets away from tacklers. Moore gives effort, and is a solid back-up, but nothing more. Rookie Earl Gros, and youngster Elijah Pitts actually show more promise. Film clips of Lombardi often show him with "a seal here, and a seal here"—detailing his sweep. The film clip of him on the blocking sled calling out "look at me, look at me" tells us all we need to know. He understands every aspect of how to block a defense, and though he has an offensive line coach, he is the master at this aspect of the game.
Jim Ringo by Merv Corning
Not sure the "G" on the side of the helmet stands for greatness, yet greatness is in the offensive line. Bob Skoronski is the nominal starter at left offensive tackle, and performs well. Norm Masters still sees plenty of playing time there, and is a better drive blocker. Skoronski has grown as player would now be viewed as a strength. Jim Ringo is First-team All-Pro and at the pinnacle of his career. Undersized, but quick he makes the cut-off block on the middle linebacker better than anyone can imagine. Green Bay will cross block on up the middle plays, and Ringo capably takes out the usually much bigger defensive tackle.
Forrest Gregg by Merv Corning
Forrest Gregg is by far the best strong-side offensive tackle in football. He has every attribute you would want in a tackle and is consensus All-Pro. Finally, the guards—Vince's boys Thurston & Kramer. Film footage of them out in front leading a sweep, cross blocking up the middle plays, the trap, the counter, and of course pass blocking. They both are voted 1st team all-pro. Adding in Kramer's ability to pick up the slack of an injured Hornung and kick effectively just adds to his resume. Jerry Kramer should have received votes as the MVP of the league.

Max McGee struggles when asked to punt during the year, but Dowler has a fine year as the number one punter. The Packers are excellent in the kick return game, and with the exception of Abe Woodson cover punts and kick-offs with savage proficiency. Nelson Toburen before his injury was a stellar special teams bomber. You now know the line-up, shall we take a look at the season? Of course we will.

Three straight home victories set up the first Lion game. Besides Alex Karras throwing his helmet at Plum in the locker room after the game for his ill timed inaccurate pass, how about credit to youngster Adderley for zipping into position to pilfer the pigskin? The Packers win three more before their annual pilgrimage to Wrigley Field. Lombardi is going for his third straight victory in the lair of the Bear. Green Bay was at one point 1 win 16 losses and a tie in 18 consecutive games at Wrigley.  The Packers have outscored the Bears 96-41 in their last three games against Chicago, and though the Bears come out fired up they are humbled 38-7. How strong is the Packer running attack you ask? The Bear defense many times lines up in an 8-man front with Petitbon as the lone safety in the middle of the field. Could Starr have thrown against this defense?

Of course, but the Green Bay offensive line with precision, and power opens hole after hole, running lane after running lane. The Packers are off to Philadelphia, kind of a homecoming for Jersey boy Lombardi and scene of his championship loss in '60. The Eagles of '62 are a weak club, and have defensive limitations. Does Lombardi feel pity for the Eagles? A league record setting performance for 1st downs, and looking at the box score, and film the Packers are at their peak. Two weeks from now the Packers will journey to Detroit for the rematch with the one loss Lions, but first is the November 18th home game against Baltimore, and the game that will be examined in depth. The 5-4 Colts have won four of their five road games, and though it is not his best year still have Johnny "hightops" Unitas. Weeb Ewbank has his steads ready, and they really play inspired physical football for much of the game.

Baltimore kicks off with a 3-0 lead and Adderley weaves his way through the Colts for 103 yards and the lead. Adderley intercepts and the Baltimore turnover leads to a field goal and a 10-3 lead but here comes the Colts down the field. Weeb is pulling out all the stops today as holder Bobby Boyd on a fake field goal dashes to the Packer one yard line. On 4th and goal deep in Packer territory Unitas attempt to fool the Bengston defense goes awry as Bill Forester records his second sack of the quarter. Just before the half Unitas pitches to Orr in the corner and a 10-10 tie.

Third quarter and a 52 yard Baltimore drive sets up a field goal and a 13-10 lead. Fourth quarter and Baltimore is forced to punt, and Wood zips to the Colt thirty-one yard line on the return. Tom Moore runs through a massive hole on trap play to the right and a 17-13 lead. The tension mounts as both teams fumble, but this is the field general himself John Unitas and he marshalls his hosses down the field and when he sees daylight he is off and running inside the Packer ten. Jimmy Orr has a step on Adderley but we will never know the outcome since left linebacker Ken Iman leaps to block Johnny's pass. Out played and out gained by 266 yards, yet resilient enough and with enough big plays the Packers are 10-0 before the inevitable massacre in Detroit.

The highlights of the final two games of the season on the west coast are worth a mention. John Brodie has had some impressive games against Green Bay, but also some duds as well. The Packer pass rush overwhelmed the Niners earlier in the year, and Brodie struggled the entire afternoon. Today though at Kezar the Niners in a "trips" right alignment cause havoc and have a 21-0 lead as slot receiver Bernie Casey torments the Packer secondary. The Green Bay offense is up to the challenge and win 31-21.

The division crown is clinched and a meaningless game in the Coliseum against a Ram team that has won just one game. Max McGee fumbles the center snap from punt formation, and in his feeble attempt to roll right is under pressure from young defensive end David Jones. McGee's end over end pass winds up in the hands of rookie defensive tackle Merlin Olsen, and the big man rumbles 20 yards for a score in the Green Bay 20-17 win.

Back to perspective. My two historical mentors answered questions from their persective on the championship game in Yankee Stadium. Paul Lionel Zimmerman is a fledgling writer who know offensive line play. He stated to me more than once how impressed he was with the Packers o-line and blocking combinations. My other mentor a young 20 year old small college football player helping his dad out on the camera crew for upstart Blair Motion pictures told me of his day filming the title game rematch of the Giants against the Packers.

Looking back now at the Giants strategy on the windy frigid day—should Allie Sherman have aligned the Giants in a "trips" right offensive formation and continually thrown short passes with the weather conditions being what they were? Give credit where it is due, Green Bay's defense shut-out the Giants. Even with the huge special teams play by New York, they just were not going to beat the Packers. Workmanlike and consistent Green Bay survived the elements and a motivated New York Giant team to win their second in a row 16-7. Eric Goska is one helluva writer and historian on Packer history, and quoting him from his super book,"Vince Lombardi preached perfection. Of all his teams, the '62 edition came the closest to attaining it".

6 comments:

  1. I believe Dr Z. ranked this team as his number one all time a little while back. You think this squad was even better than the 74 Steelers and the Super Bowl Chiefs squad with Bell, Lanier, Dawson?

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    1. ...yes Alen, the '62 Packers rank with '78 Steelers, '84 49ers as the best teams of all-time. The '69 Chiefs defense would have been a strong challenge for Lombardi's boys, but would have had trouble scoring more than 10 points, thus Packers win say 14-10.

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  2. this article brings me into the 1961 packers team that won the nfl championship and the year paul hornug won the nfl mvp . how and why did he win the award ? I get it he lead the league in scoring with 146 points and I know this was a different era but his main position was halfback . he rushed for 597 yrds 8 , receiving yards 145 and 2 touchdowns . that is pedestrian especially since jim brown and jim taylor started raising the bar for rushing yards in the nfl back then . now if you want too say his 41 for 41 extra points and 15 of 22 fgm as a kicker then I guess you got me, so he was mark mosley before mark mosley (1982 mvp)? jim taylor was the best player on the team that year and the second best back in the league that year as well as probably the 2nd best player in the league. with 1,307 rushing 15 tds in 14 games !!! hell that is a great year in 2018 with a 16 game schedule. that was a mvp year !! sonny jurgeson threw for 3,723 yrds with 32 tds , now he had 24 picks but they went 10-4 why wasn't he an mvp he deserved it , but lets not stop there. tommy McDonald had a great year for a receiver in any era 64 catches for 1,144 yrds with 13tds that lead the league with a whopping 17.9 yards a catch !! also lead in yards per game with 81.7 . rounding this out is jim brown with 1,408 yrds but only 8 tds but had 459 yrds receiving with 2 tds that gave him 1,867 yards from scrimmage . so why did paul hornung win the nfl mvp when it was other players that were more deserving than he was ? if it was just a packers thing cause they were winning that's fine then it should have went too jim taylor hands down !!

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  3. jim taylor should have been back to back nfl mvp in 1961 and the one he won in 1962 those 2 years 2,776 yards and 34 tds . that 2 year average is 1,388 yards with 17 touchdowns a year, again we are talking a 14 game schedule !!

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    1. ....Hornung's game against Colts 11-5-61 was an attention grabber. As for Jimmy T. you sure made a strong case for him being MVP. Your thoughts on who was Packers defensive MVP for '61/'62? Mine is Bill Forester.

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  4. the packers got beat that game 45 to 21 , hornungs numbers were 7 rushes 32yrds 1 td , completed a pass for 12 yrds and made 3 extra points nothing that spectacular at all . infact I still don't see how he won the award for nfl mvp in 1961 ? he wasn't the best player on his team , not the best back on his team , or probably the 5th to 6th best player on his team . its also hard for me to see how he even got into the hall of fame. now we can say he was on 4 title teams and he was a good player on that team then fine , but teams don't get inducted into the hall of fame . he wasn't the best halfback in football at anytime his numbers don't reflect being the top dog for that era . his Heisman trophy win was a gimme there is no way he should have won that !! its water under the bridge now but the internet gives you the ability too see stats , and even old games via youtube . was a hornung a good back on a great team , yes !! butr he wasn't never one of the best halfbacks too play the game his numbers do not reflect that at all !! don't know much about team mvps , but im sure willie davis , ray nitchske , willie wood and john symank got some votes .

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