Sunday, October 28, 2018

50 Years Ago, Packers Starred in Cotton Bowl

LOOKING BACK
By Eric Goska

Bart Starr threw four TD passes to lead the Pack past the Cowboys 28-17.

Lending credence to the notion that everything is bigger in Texas, the Green Bay Packers’ win over the Dallas Cowboys in 1968 was their most impressive of the season.

That Green Bay failed to defeat another opponent of similar stature is one reason why that season was a losing affair, the team’s only sub-.500 campaign of the 1960s.

On Oct. 28, 1968, the Packers visited the Cotton Bowl and knocked off the Cowboys 28-17. The win lifted Green Bay (3-3-1) into a tie with Detroit for the NFC Central Division lead and rekindled hopes that a playoff berth might yet be attainable.

For Green Bay, this wasn’t just another victory. It was one last hurrah – a surprising and unexpected turn of events – for an over-the-hill gang bound for the setting sun.

The Packers were well acquainted with winning. From 1960 to 1967, the team went 82-24-2 (.764) during the regular season and won five league championships.

Green Bay, the least populated city to house an NFL franchise, had become Titletown.
Green Bay and Dallas first played in 1960.
The Cowboys were relative newcomers. As an expansion team in 1960, they had failed to win a game (0-11-1).

The futility didn’t last long. The franchise that would become America’s Team turned in winning seasons in both 1966 (10-3-1) and 1967 (9-5).

The head coaches of these two organizations – Vince Lombardi (Packers) and Tom Landry (Cowboys) – had a shared history. Lombardi had served as offensive coach (1954-58) for the Giants. Landry had tutored the defense for New York, first as a player-coach (1954-55) and then in a full-time capacity (1956-59).

Early in 1968, Lombardi resigned from coaching. Phil Bengtson, his longtime defensive assistant, took over. Lombardi remained the Packers’general manager.

No such changes were forthcoming in Dallas. Landry was beginning the ninth year of what would become a 29-year stay with the Cowboys.

Landry was also looking to break a jinx. His Cowboys had never beaten the Packers (0-5) in a game that mattered.

The two most recent losses – coming as they did in the 1966 and 1967 championship games – were particularly galling. Both outcomes were decided in the final seconds, the first after Packers safety Tom Brown intercepted Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith in the end zone with 28 seconds left, and the second after Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr burrowed into the end zone with 13 ticks remaining.

The setbacks stung. But Landry was his usual unflappable self as the upcoming game between the two teams approached.

“Until somebody proves differently,” he said. “The Packers are still the world champions.”

On paper, yes, but the team from the north hardly looked the part. With just two victories – one over the winless Eagles (0-7) and one over the fledgling Falcons (1-6) – the Packers were an aging team destined for a decades-long stretch filled with more failure than success.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, remained unwavering in their quest to reach the top. In opening with six straight victories, they had outscored the competition by 149 points (213 to 64).

Opponents looking to stage a rally were outgunned. In the third and fourth quarters combined, it was Dallas 124 points; all others 28.

This, then, was the challenge awaiting Green Bay. Twenty-six years had passed since the team had last faced an unbeaten and untied team so deep into the season, and that encounter had not ended well as the Bears (7-0) clubbed them 38-7 in 1942.

On the injury front, the Packers would be without guard Jerry Kramer (knee) who doubled as the team’s kicker. His absence forced a reshuffling of the offensive line and necessitated adding specialist Errol Mann to the roster.

The good news for Green Bay: Starr was ready to go. The league’s most valuable player in 1966 had sufficiently recovered from a bicep injury.

“Bart has been passing well,” Bengtson said. “He’s throwing with more zip every day and he will definitely start against the Cowboys.”

Zip, zilch, nada could have described Starr’s first three passes in Dallas on that Monday evening. Not one found its mark.

Lee Remmel, who kept a handwritten play-by-play for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, jotted down a word or two after each of the incompletions. “Wrong turn?” he wrote after a pass intended for tight end Marv Fleming skipped off the ground. “High” and “drop” followed throws aimed at ends Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler.

Starr was dumped – by defensive end George Andrie and linebacker Chuck Howley – for an 8-yard loss on that opening drive as well. It was beginning to look as if those who said the Cowboys were going to prevail because of the law of averages were right.

Green Bay did turn in an occasional big play. Starr hit running back Donny Anderson for 29 yards. Tom Brown intercepted Meredith.

But the offensive numbers after each team had possessed the ball five times were telling. In the game’s opening 25 minutes, Dallas was clearly in control.

The Packers had 67 yards in 20 plays. They ran four plays in Cowboys’ territory. They had three punts, a missed field goal (by Mann from 37 yards out) and a Starr interception to show for their trouble.

The Cowboys were more prosperous with 183 yards on 30 plays. They initiated 14 plays on the other side of the 50. Though they punted twice and suffered the one pick, they scored on an 18-yard pass from Meredith to speedster Bob Hayes and on a 16-yard field goal by Mike Clark.

With halftime approaching, Dallas led 10-0. That bode well for the Cowboys who had won 10 straight when scoring the game’s first 10 points or more (regular season and playoffs).

Starr, of course, wasn’t aware of that fact as he took the field with 5:19 left in the second quarter. He was simply trying to conjure up a score by any means possible.

And score the Packers did. Led by Starr, Green Bay turned the tables on the Cowboys during those final 35 minutes.

Mr. Quarterback and the offense used nine plays to navigate 80 yards on that sixth drive. Starr found Dale for 21 yards about halfway through the advance, then hooked up with him again from 26 yards out for a touchdown.

In the third quarter, Starr fired a pair of touchdown passes to Fleming. The second, a 32-yarder, put Green Bay up 21-10.

In the fourth quarter, Starr connected with Dowler for another TD. It was the fourth thrown by the 13-year veteran which matched his career-best.

Starr completed 14 of his final 15 throws for 204 yards and four scores. Had the current passer rating system been in place at the time, those gaudy numbers would have earned him a maximum reading of 158.3.

Meredith had a rougher go of it. He had his nose broken by defensive end Willie Davis when sacked on the second offensive play of the third quarter. He was later dumped by Lionel Aldridge.

Dandy Don also threw a pair of second-half interceptions. Linebacker Dave Robinson grabbed one and cornerback Bob Jeter got the other to effectively end the game with 2:28 remaining.

The Cowboys’ most costly mistake, according to Landry, occurred with just over 10 minutes remaining. Lee Roy Caffey forced running back Craig Baynham to fumble when the two collided, and fellow linebacker Ray Nitschke recovered.

Two plays later, Starr found Dowler from five yards out and Green Bay went ahead 28-17.

“The big play was the fumble,” Landry asserted. “It would have taken a big break for us (to win) after that.”

The turnover didn’t stop Dallas from trying. It twice reached Green Bay territory in the waning minutes.

Clark blew a 47-yard field goal attempt to end one threat, and Jeter squelched the other with his interception of a pass intended for receiver Sonny Randle in the end zone.

“The Packers are capable of pulling off the big game,” Landry said. “They were just about as good as in any other game we played them.

“It was a must game for them, no question about it. We wanted to win it, but they wanted it more.”

Bengston was buoyed by the victory.

“We’re right back in the race again now,” he said. “I think the confidence we got in beating Dallas, considering the record they have going into action, should give us encouragement.”

Unfortunately for Green Bay, what could have been a season-changing triumph meant little down the road. The Packers won just three of their last seven to finish 6-7-1.

The Cowboys rebounded to win six of their final seven as they ran away with the Capitol Division. Their season then came to an abrupt end after Cleveland stunned them 31-20 in the first round of the playoffs.

Two years later, Dallas finally defeated Green Bay. The team’s 16-3 win on Thanksgiving Day 1970 put to rest the idea that the Packers had the Cowboys’ number.

SCORING SUMMARY

October 28 at Cotton Bowl

Green Bay           0       7      14      7   —     28
Dallas                  7       3       0       7   —     17

DC – Bob Hayes 18 pass from Don Meredith (Mike Clark kick) [6-80, 3:18]
DC – FG (16) Mike Clark [14-58, 6:31]
GB – Carroll Dale 26 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [9-80, 4:18]
GB – Marv Fleming 3 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [8-78, 3:26]
GB – Marv Fleming 32 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [2-44, 0:47]
DC – Craig Baynham 27 pass from Don Meredith (Mike Clark kick) [5-52, 1:16]
GB – Boyd Dowler 5 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [2-25, 0:44]
GB – Boyd Dowler 5 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [2-25, 0:44]

1 comment:

  1. Why did the game take place on a Monday night? Was this a pre-arranged event or did the NFL have to re-schedule because of unexpected events? I know playing at night on days of the week was not rare for the NFL but it knocks the contention that Monday Night Football was somehow nove.
    TY
    Will O'Toole

    ReplyDelete