1961

Background: ’61 saw some changes–the move to a 14 game season and the addition of an another team–the Queens–who would play in the Western Conference and whose presence would round out the number of teams to an even 14, eliminating the need for a bye week in the schedule.  Vince Lombardi was a man on a mission: they had come very close to winning it all the year before  and this year he would not be stopped.  The Packers were another year older and gained valuable experience in the ’60 playoff run.

Key Departures:   Despite the fact that, again, the Packers lost three players to expansion, none of the three were starters or top reserves.

QB Lamar McHan, who started several games in ’60 was shipped out to Baltimore, his run-in with Lombardi after the Pittsburgh game  the suspected reason.

Key Additions:      The ’61 draft yielded three eventual starters, although none of them immediately:

DB Herb Adderley in round 1 from Michigan State, D

T Ron Kostelnik in  round 2 from Cincinnati, and RB Elijah Pitts in round 13 from Philander Smith.

LB Nelson Toburen,   selected  in round 14, had excellent potential, but a neck injury suffered in ’62 ended his career.

QB John Roach–obtained in a trade with Cleveland.

Season summary:  For the second year in a row, the Packers drop the season opener at home–this time against the Lions–but rattle off six straight victories to take an early lead in the Western Conference standings.  After a big loss to the Colts in Baltimore, the Packers win four in a row to clinch the Western Conference crown on December 3rd in a game against the Giants at County Stadium and would finish the season with an 11-3 record.  The NFL Title game would be a rematch of that Week 12 match up as the Packers and Giants would sqaure off for the first-ever title game played in Green Bay.

The Low Point:  Not many “low” points in a season where you only lose three games that count.  However, after the second Minnesota game the Packers faced two large challenges.  The first came as a result of toll taken in a very physical contest with the Queens: G Jerry Kramer fractured an ankle covering a kickoff and was out for the season.  This, in turn, forced a wholesale shuffle in the offensive line.  Since, inexplicably, ’61 was the only year Lombardi didn’t carry a “third guard,” Kramer’s injury forced RT Forrest Gregg to move to RG, LT Bob Skoronski to move to RT, and reserve T Norm Masters (who often platooned with Skoronski) to start at LT.  The only reserved lineman left was the undersized backup C Ken Iman, who sometimes shuffled

in at G.  Surprisingly, it worked well , and the Packers didn’t skip a beat offensively–owing in large part to Forrest Gregg’s athleticism and football intelligence.

The second point was the that Berlin Crisis forced the call up of into active duty of LB Ray Nitschke, E Boyd Dowler, and HB Paul Hornung.  What opposing coaches and teams could not do, the Defense Department could: seriously threaten to derail the Packers. Nitschke and Dowler missed minimal time to service obligations, but Hornung was a different story.  With Tom Moore and Elijah Pitts as reserve backs the Packers had the bases covered there, but with Jerry Kramer’s injury there was no “Plan B” for placekicking duties, so Lombardi purchased the contract of ancient Ben Agajanian from the AFL’s Dallas Texans and he subbed adequately for Hornung as a PK.

The Packers managed to weather the storm, but it caused some anxious moments for Lombardi.

The high point:  Prior to the second Queens game, the Packers put on an impressive four game win streak, blanking the Barelys 24-0, crushing the Colts, 45-7, dominating Cleveland, 49-17, and overwhelming the expansion Queens, 33-7.  The Cleveland game was perhaps the most impressive. In his only cocahing matchup with the legendary Paul Brown in the regular season, Lombardi’s team was almost flawless in its execution, and Lombardi was said to have remarked that it was like seeing the plays run as they were diagrammed on the blackboard.

Paul Hornung starts out the Packers' 24-point 2nd Quarter scoring barrage in the NFL Title game with a 6 yard TD run.

The key point:  The Week 12 match up with the Giants at County Stadium in early December.  The Packers needed a victory to clinch the Western Conference crown, and picked up a 20-17 win. With the Giants leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter, Giants FB Alex Webster broke into the clear at the Giants 30, but DB Jess Whittenton literally stole the ball out of Webster’s arms and took it back the other way.  Jim Taylor scored the GW TD shortly thereafter.

The Postseason:  The Packers’ game against the Giants for the NFL Title had obvious significance for Vince Lombardi. A native New Yorker who had been a Giants assistant coach, Lombardi wanted to beat the Giants in the worst way, and the Packers players were anxious to seek redemption for the last year’s loss in the title game. With the help of direct intervention from President Kennedy, Pvt. Paul Hornung was sprung for leave time in order to play in the championship game, and he put on an impressive performance, scoring 19 points in the contest.  The Packers broke open a scoreless tie in the second quarter, tallying 24 points before halftime, en route to a 37-0 thrashing of the Giants.  Green Bay fans, witnessing their first title game in City Stadium, were able to toast in the New Year with gusto.

(hat tip on player transactions to packershistory.net)