In Patrick McCaskey's Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships he covers the ten greatest NFL coaches of all-time. Among the pillars is Vince Lombardi who coached the Green Bay Packers to five NFL Championships in the 1970s. Lombardi was one of most gifted coaches who made his mark on NFL history. This post comes from Pillars and tells the story of one of Lombardi's season's.
1960 Packers’ Season
Joining the Packers in 1960 were two Hall of Famers, Willie Wood and Willie Davis. Wood was an undrafted free agent quarterback from the University of Southern California (USC). Wood played 12 excellent seasons at free safety. Willie Davis would play defensive end for the Packers. Davis was drafted by the Browns and came over to the Packers in a trade. He was a team leader who would never miss a game in his 12-year career. Lombardi valued him for his “speed, agility, and size.” Both Davis and Wood were critical contributors to the Lombardi-Era Packers.
Football is simple in one way—the team that scores the most points wins. During the Lombardi years, Green Bay typically scored 100 points more per season than their oppositions scored against them. Green Bay scored 332 points and allowed 209 in the 1960 season. In the early Lombardi years, the Packers’ great running game defined the offense. Hornung and Taylor were a big part of that game. Before the 1960 season began, in talking about Paul Hornung, Lombardi said:
Let’s face it. He’s the guy who makes us go. Hornung is a key player and much of our success will depend upon him.
During the 1960 season, Hornung ran for 13 touchdowns, caught 2 touchdown passes, made 41 extra points, and kicked 15 field goals for a record-breaking 176 point total. Jim Taylor more than doubled his rushing yards from the previous season to 1,101. It was the first of 5-straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons for Taylor. About midway through the season, Starr would take over as starting quarterback, but he would still be developing at the position.
In the season opener against the Chicago Bears, a Packers’ score by Taylor in the second quarter and another by Paul Hornung in the third put Green Bay ahead, 14–0. Touchdown runs by the Bears’ tandem of Willie Galimore and Rick Casares in the fourth quarter evened up the score at 14–14. With less than a minute to go, the Bears’ John Aveni kicked a 16-yard field goal for a 17–14 Bears win. A brutal start, but Lombardi would often show a talent for picking his team up after a loss.
The Packers rebounded and beat the Lions, 28–9. Green Bay limited the Lions to three field goals while scoring four touchdowns themselves. The Baltimore Colts fell apart in the face of Lombardi’s defense the following week when the Packers intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles. The final score was Packers 35–Colts 21.
On October 23, 1960, the Packers’ offense sparked a 41–14 rout of San Francisco. Hornung rushed for two touchdowns, kicked two field goals, and made five extra points for a total of 23 points on the day. One ongoing concern about the offense was the up and down play of McHan, the Packers’ quarterback. When Green Bay played Pittsburgh on October 30, it was Hornung doing all the Packers’ scoring in the first half. He hit four field goals in a row. A Bobby Layne pass to Tom “the Bomb” Tracy gave the Steelers their first score in the second quarter. The 13-year veteran Layne hit Buddy Dial for another Steelers’ score in the fourth quarter. The score stood at 13–12 in Pittsburgh’s favor. Lombardi had replaced McHan with Starr in the second half and with Starr at the helm, the Packers mounted a successful touchdown drive. Taylor ran the ball in from the 1-yard line to cap off the drive. Hornung’s extra point gave the Packers a 19–13 win.
On November 6, 1960, in Baltimore, two Hall of Famers, Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, played pitch and catch. The duo connected for three scores to help defeat the Packers, 38–24. Starr completed 23 of 32 passes, but tossed four interceptions. Taylor rushed for one touchdown; Hornung rushed for two and kicked a field goal. Next, Green Bay walloped Dallas, 41–7, in a game that featured a Ray Nitschke interception that the 235 pound linebacker carried 41 yards to the end zone. Fans were also treated to three touchdown runs by Taylor. Two losses followed that might have easily derailed the season: A 33–31 loss to the Rams and a 23–10 loss to the Lions. But on December 4, Lombardi’s Packers were able to right themselves with a 41–13 win over the Bears. They followed up with victories over the 49ers and the Rams.
1960 NFL Championship Game
The Packers played the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFL Championship on December 26, 1960, in Franklin Field in Philadelphia before a huge crowd of 67,325. It was a game that would try any coach’s soul. The Packers’ Bill Quinlan intercepted a pass on the Philadelphia 13-yard line and Green Bay took over from there. Lombardi looked on as the Packers were stuffed on four downs. No attempt at a field goal was made. The Packers turned the ball over to the Eagles on downs at the 6-yard line. The Eagles turned the ball over again, this time on a fumble on their 20-yard line. After three plays, the Packers had advanced the ball 7 yards. This time, a Paul Hornung field goal gave the Packers 3 points. In the second quarter, Hornung kicked another field goal—this one from 20 yards out. Later in the quarter, two Hall of Famers delivered for the Eagles when quarterback Norm Van Brocklin connected with Tommy McDonald on a 35-yard touchdown pass. The Eagles led, 7–6, after the extra point. The Eagles had another successful drive that ended with a field goal by Bobby Walston. And just before the end of the first half, Hornung had a chance to match Walston, but missed. The Eagles nested on a 10–6 lead at the half.
The Packers drove down the field on their opening possession of the second half, but stalled at the Eagles’ 26-yard line. Lombardi decided against a field goal once again on fourth down and the Eagles’ defense stopped the Packers. After an Eagles’ drive into Green Bay territory, Johnny Symank intercepted a pass for Green Bay, but the Green Bay offense sputtered to another stall. Later in the quarter, after another lackluster possession, Max McGee was sent in to punt on fourth down deep in Packers’ territory. When the Eagles pulled back at the snap with no one to cover McGee, he took off running past midfield keeping the drive alive. The drive continued and Starr hit McGee for the score on a 7-yard pass. The Packers led, 13–10.
Ted Dean gave the Eagles great field position for their next possession when he took the Green Bay kickoff 58 yards. A short Eagles’ drive ensued and a few plays later, running back Dean punched the ball in from the 5-yard line for the score. After the extra point, the Eagles led, 17–13. Late in the waning moments of the game, Starr directed a last minute drive towards the Eagle goal line. On the last play of the game from 22 yards out, Starr hit Taylor with a short pass. With the entire Franklin Field crowd holding their breath, Taylor struggled to make his way into the end zone with everything he had, but he was stopped by the last defender at the 9-yard line. The championship was lost, but Lombardi vowed never to lose another one.
Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press
Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press