Playing methodically and almost without verve, the Green Bay Packers won the championship of professional football Sunday under the warm Miami sun. They beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 on what can only be described as an off day. To be sure, an off day for Green Bay is equivalent, roughly, to a superhuman effort by most mortal teams. Against the young, eager and at times impressive Raiders, the off day certainly was enough.
"I thought I was ready for this one," Forrest Gregg, the Green Bay offensive tackle, said. Gregg, 34 years old, has been around for 11 years and this was his eighth championship game. "When I got out there, I just did not have the zip I had against Dallas and Los Angeles," he said. "It was mechanical. It's been a long, long season."
Lee Roy Caffey, the Green Bay corner linebacker, agreed with him. "It's tough to get up again when you've been on the stick for two big games," he said. "I know we did not play as well as we have. We made mistakes we don't make in most games. But I guess it turned out all right, didn't it?"
That it did. Even making unaccustomed mistakes and playing with something less than the fire that animated them through the last five minutes against Dallas and all day against Los Angeles, Green Bay was clearly superior to a Raider team that had won 14 games and lost only one in the AFL.
January 22, 1968
"They're getting better," Henry Jordan said after the game. "If they improve as much each year, they'll be on a par with us soon. I think this was a tougher team than Kansas City, especially on defense. And the AFL is becoming much more sophisticated on offense. I think the league has always had good personnel, but the blocks were subtler and better conceived in this game."
Jordan paused and reflected for a moment. "They were in the same position we were in before our first championship game against Philadelphia," he said. "That was the first big one for a lot of us—me, Nitschke, Thurston, Skoronski, Starr—lots of us. We thought we were ready and would win, but we weren't and we got beat. All of us have regretted that ever since. We have never forgotten it. We don't talk about it much, but it's always in the back of our minds in a game like this. I'm sure they'll regret this one, too."
The game itself was so nearly what most people had expected it to be that it lacked the suspense that creates excitement in professional football. The Packers, no team for frippery, did all the things they have done so well for so long. The first time they got the ball, Starr directed them in his businesslike way from the Green Bay 34 to the Oakland 32 and Don Chandler kicked a 39-yard field goal. At the end of the first period, Starr marched them from the Green Bay three to the Oakland 13 and Chandler kicked another field goal. The longest gains on the two drives were a 17-yard pass to Carroll Dale, who had gotten behind Willie Brown, and a 14-yard run by Starr himself.
The Oakland corner backs, as expected, played much tighter on the Green Bay wide receivers than is customary in the NFL. This cost them a touchdown in the second quarter when Starr, on first down from his own 38, found Boyd Dowler deep down the middle for a 62-yard touchdown.
"I just bulled by Kent McCloughan," Dowler said. "He was playing me tight and he bumped me and I ran through him. It was a little post pattern, and when I got by no one was left."
The Raiders produced their best football of the day just after that. They were behind by 13 points; if they had been stopped again the game might well have become a rout. But Daryle Lamonica, the rather brash but very good young Oakland quarterback, went to work with all the poise of a Starr. He ran Pete Banaszak and Hewritt Dixon into the line, and for the first time they made good yardage. He had tried to send them wide earlier, but Green Bay's linebackers are too fast for backs who have no more speed than these two. They went over tackle for their gains. Lamonica passed once to Banaszak and wound up the drive by passing to End Bill Miller behind Tom Brown in the corner of the end zone.
"I was supposed to take him deep and I played him too soft," Brown said later. "Dave Robinson dropped back as far with him as he could and I should have taken him."
Brown was to make almost the same mistake later on Oakland's second touchdown, a pass to Miller that came out of the same double-wing formation that had generated the first. This set was designed to isolate Miller on Brown and it succeeded those two times—but no more.
In the second half the Packers went their usual way, waiting for the Raiders to err and scoring when they did. They seemed a bit sharper and more determined than they had in the first half and Jerry Kramer, the offensive guard, explained why.
"Some of us old heads got together," he said. "We decided we'd play the last 30 minutes for the old man. I wouldn't be surprised if Lombardi retires before too long and all of us love him. We didn't want to let him down."
Kramer, unlike many of his teammates, had been excited by this game. "I don't know why," he said. "It just built and built for me. I got up this morning, put my shorts on backwards and, for the first time in my life, I forgot a team meeting. I was having breakfast with my wife when I suddenly realized I was supposed to be someplace else. One funny thing about this one—we made more mental mistakes than I can ever remember our making in any other game."
Despite the mistakes, Starr put together the game clincher early in the third quarter and the big play was a call that is, for him, standard operating procedure. It was third down and one on the Green Bay 40. Starr faked to the fullback going into the line, dropped back and lofted the ball to elderly Max McGee, who had replaced Dowler. Starr has used this ploy successfully many, many times in the NFL, but it seemed to come as a complete surprise to the young Raiders.
"One of the safeties woke up late," McGee said. "He started over and Bart saw him and adjusted to throw away from him. That's why I had to turn around to catch the ball. It was a great throw by Bart."
McGee caught the ball behind Rodger Bird for a 35-yard gain to the Oakland 25-yard line. Donny Anderson and Dale caught two shorter passes down to the Oakland one, and then Anderson cantered through a wide gap in the Raider line for the second touchdown.
In the fourth period Herb Adderley ran 60 yards with an intercepted pass to put the game far out of reach. "We designed the defense to take away their runs," Adderley said. "We wanted to make them put the ball in the air. That's the way we like it. This time Lamonica was trying to hit Biletnikoff on a slant-in, and I played the ball and cut in front of him. It was no gamble." Shuddering blocks by Jordan and Ron Kostelnik cleared Adderley's path to the goal line.
As they do for all games, the Packers prepared for the Super Bowl with all the emotion of a surgeon scrubbing for a routine operation. They were stationed at the Galt Ocean Mile Motel, a sunny, comfortable hostelry on the ocean some 30 miles from Miami and, fittingly enough, they worked out on the field the New York Yankees use. For the week they were there, the field assumed some of the glamour of the glory days of the Yanks. Lombardi, who for two years has been hinting that he may retire, seemed a bit drawn at the end of what has been a particularly demanding season, and so did the team. During the first two days in the Florida sun the players were a bit sluggish, but tongue-lashings by Lombardi got them out of that quickly enough. By the Thursday before the game, the club was operating with its accustomed efficiency and Lombardi eased up a bit.
Even this minor problem was not apparent to outsiders. Unlike Oakland, Green Bay is not an openly emotional team. But implied in Lombardi's hints at retirement was the possibility that this would be his last game as a coach. Implied, too, was the possibility that this would be the last game for some other longtime Green Bay heroes. Lombardi and his veterans needed no greater incentive. If they were going to retire, it would not be after a loss to an AFL team.
Paul Hornung, driving a multicolored jalopy, visited his old teammates and revealed how strong Lombardi's hold is on his players, even after they have retired. "I had a dream the other, night that I came by and sneaked Max McGee out after hours," he said. "Vinnie found out about it and darned if he didn't fine me five thousand bucks, even if I wasn't with the team any longer. The thing that woke me up was that I dreamed I paid the fine."
The players were not overly impressed by what they saw of Oakland in the three movies the Raiders provided them for scouting purposes. Although they would not say so for publication, among themselves they were more or less agreed that the Raider execution was not as crisp as it is on a good NFL team and that there was more loafing in the AFL games than in the NFL. The year before, watching the Chiefs' films, they had occasionally broken into laughter at some Kansas City gaffes. They tittered only rarely this time, but once, when the Raider safety men collided and fell down, they laughed out loud.
One Oakland player they were not impressed with was Ben Davidson, the Raiders' defensive end, who had spent a brief period as a Packer.
"I remember Davidson," said Jordan, reflectively. "We just called him Big Ben in those days and he didn't wear a mustache. I remember when he showed up, a big tall guy unfolding from a little Porsche sports car. We aren't any more worried about his reputation for meanness than we were worried about The Hammer last year. If he gets dirty, we may chastise him, but I don't expect we'll have to."
Whenever the players appeared to be taking Oakland too lightly, Lombardi hauled out the film of the Oakland-San Francisco exhibition game played before the season began. The Raiders lost that one 13-10, but they gave a tough, accomplished San Francisco team all it could handle before succumbing.
Tactically, Lombardi and his coaches decided that they would be able to run off-tackle and to run sweeps against an Oakland defense that showed a tendency to clog up the middle. Starr's passing plans included a preponderance of quick turnout passes. Oakland's defenses differ from those the Packers usually see in the NFL; Coach John Rauch likes to use an odd line with a man head to head on the center, his tackles head to head on the tackles and two linebackers playing opposite the offensive guards. He sometimes puts Defensive Tackle Dan Birdwell out with the tight end.
Against this, the Packers felt they would be successful with a quick flare pass to a halfback, since the linebackers would be too far inside to provide fast enough coverage on the back. A similar pass to Chuck Mercein gained 19 yards against Dallas in Green Bay's final drive in the NFL Championship Game.
The veterans all expected Travis Williams and Donny Anderson to have a good day against Oakland. Bob Skoronski, the offensive tackle and team captain, said, "Anderson has looked beautiful the last two weeks. And it's hard to believe that Williams is a rookie. He follows his blockers and sets up his blocks like an oldtimer."
The Raiders were extraordinarily careful to say nothing that might incite Green Bay. They spoke of the Packers with exaggerated respect, but professed no fear. Many of Oakland's young players recall watching current Packer stars on television during their junior high school days. "It's a little like playing against your father," one of them said. "These guys were my childhood heroes."
Most confident of the Raiders was Lamonica, completing his first full season as a starting quarterback. "I know we can win tomorrow," he said flatly the day before the game. "Those predictions—Oakland a two-touchdown underdog—are ridiculous. Green Bay is a great football team. There can be no doubt about that. We respect them. But we should have been undefeated this year. You're a good football team when you come close to winning 15 games in a row. This is a young, strong football team. It makes mistakes, but all year it proved it could overcome them."
After the game, Lombardi smiled happily. "It wasn't our best effort," he said. "All year it seems like when we get a couple of touchdowns ahead, we let up. Maybe that's the sign of a veteran team. I don't know."
Someone asked him if he planned to retire, and he smiled again but did not answer.
Gene Upshaw, the rookie Raider offensive guard who played opposite Jordan, came into the Packer dressing room after most people had left and sat down next to him. Jordan introduced him to Gregg. "Here's a fine young ballplayer who did a hell of a job on an old man today," Jordan said, smiling.
"I told 'em in the All-Star Game, Oakland would be in the Super Bowl," Upshaw said. "I've learned a little since then, Henry."
"If you learn as much next year, I'd hate to get you again," Jordan said. He thought about that and added, "Still, I hope we see you again next January."
"Let's make it a date," Upshaw said. It is a date both players probably will keep.