The calendar year 1967 started with some unfinished business from the 1966 NFL season. The Dallas Cowboys hosted the Green Bay Packers for the NFL Championship Game on New Year’s Day. It would close in similar fashion as the Packers took their turn to host the Cowboys for the rematch on New Years Eve.
The 1966 affair had offered excitement as the game remained competitive throughout the afternoon. The final outcome had been in some doubt until the Cowboys final possession. It was a game that would be remembered for living up to what a championship match should be and seldom is. The 1967 game would be remembered for other reasons.
Like the contest before, the game would be a closely-matched battle and it would also be decided in the final moments. In fact, the game is referred to as one of the greatest in NFL history. Even so, everyone remembers the 1967 NFL Championship Game for another reason; history refers to this contest as The Ice Bowl.
Green Bay, in winter, has a tendency to be a bit cold, but even by those standards the conditions of December 31, 1967 were miserable. The temperature inside Lambeau Field was -15 degrees and the wind chill hovered around -48. It would only get colder as the afternoon wore on, more and more of the playing surface would fall into the shadows of the stadium. Conditions were so cold that several members of the Wisconsin State University-LaCrosse Marching Band would have their instruments freeze to their lips during pre-game festivities. Still there was football to be played, and even though NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle considered postponing the game, a heated field and promise of deteriorating conditions the following day insured that the contest would be held as scheduled.
Green Bay started the scoring early. Bart Starr led Vince Lombardi’s team down the field on an 83-yard drive that used up the majority of the first quarter before he found Boyd Dowler for a short touchdown reception. A tough Packer defensive series soon had the Green Bay quarterback looking for more. Again he hit Dowler for a score, this time for 43 yards. As they had done 364 days prior, Lombardi’s team charged out to a quick 14-point lead. They threatened to expand on that margin after Herb Adderley, then with the Packers, picked off Don Meredith and returned the ball to the Dallas 32-yard line.
It was at this point that Tom Landry’s Doomsday Defense had enough. They made their first stand of the game. A sack of Starr by George Andrie soon took Green Bay out of field goal range. Although Meredith and the Cowboys offense would struggle, the team’s vaunted defense would take up the slack and keep the blue and silver in the game. Willie Townes would soon record the second sack of Bart Starr and Andrie would take the lost ball seven yards for the Cowboys first score of the game.
The Cowboys would also benefit from a costly fumble in the kicking game. Willie Wood muffed a Dallas punt that would be recovered by Phil Clark at the 17-yard line. The Dallas offense continued to sputter and the Cowboys settled for a field goal from Danny Villanueva to cut the deficit to 14-10.
That would remain the score as the teams left the field for intermission.
The third stanza of the contest saw the Cowboys offense come to life. Meredith was able to lead his team down the field on a pair of sustained drives. Had it not been for the efforts of Green Bay linebacker Lee Roy Caffey the Cowboys might have flipped the contest. Instead, Caffey forced a Meredith fumble deep in Packer territory on the first drive. Herb Adderley recovered the loose ball, stalling the Dallas effort. On the second drive Caffey recorded a sack that forced a long field goal attempt by Dallas. The kick by Villanueva came up short.
Dallas continued to be effective against the Packer defense. The fourth quarter opened with the Cowboys taking a 17-14 lead when halfback Dan Reeves hit Lance Rentzel for a 50-yard score on an option play. Green Bay would soon have an opportunity to tie the contest, but Don Chandler missed on a long field goal attempt.
The Dallas Cowboys found themselves five minutes shy of their first NFL Championship when Villanueva punted the ball back to the home team.
One of the most fabled drives in the annals of NFL history began at the Green Bay 32-yard line. Bart Starr led his team methodically down the field. Before long the Packers had forced the Dallas defense to stand their ground with their backs against the goal line. It was strength on strength. Each team was at its best in this situation and the two best teams in professional football would slug it out for one yard of ground.
On first down Starr handed the ball to his running back, Donny Anderson, who slipped and fell on the icy surface. Neither back nor lineman could gain any traction under the conditions. Regardless, the Packers went to the same play on second down. This time Anderson nearly went down before taking the ball from his quarterback. Starr called his final time out to consult with Lombardi.
Before heading to the sideline, the quarterback asked guard Jerry Kramer if he could get the footing to make a block on Jethro Pugh. With his answer in mind, Starr went to the sidelines with a suggestion for his head coach.
"Run it, and let's get the hell out of here!" Vince Lombardi
The rest is history. Kramer and center Ken Bowman double teamed Pugh allowing Starr to shuffle into the endzone and send Green Bay on to their second Super Bowl.
It would be the last time that the NFL Championship game would be considered the ‘ultimate’ game of the season. The 1968 season would see the upstart New York Jets and Joe Namath shock the football world by winning the the AFL’s first Super Bowl. The upset would mark a shift in importance between the two contests. The Cowboys and Packers did the tradition proud, sending the NFL Championship game down in history with a pair of hard fought and competitive contests to bookmark the 1967 calendar year.
Here’s to hoping that the upcoming Divisional Round meeting between the two franchises lives up to the legacy of Landry and Lombardi.