Cowboys vs Packers: a Long Forgotten Rivalry

posted in: Dallas Cowboys, Greenbay Packers, NFL | 11
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As a fan of the Dallas Cowboys for over 40 years, I remember a rivalry no one ever talks about anymore: the  Cowboys vs Packers. It dates back to the 1960’s to be exact. The truth be told, this very rivalry is probably what sparked the beginning of the longest dynasty in NFL history.

Cowboys vs Packers: The Beginning of a Dynasty:

Cowboys vs PackersTom Landry and Vince Lombardi went from being good friends and coworkers to arch rivals pretty much overnight. In the mid to late 1950’s, Tom Landry was the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants and worked side by side with Vince Lombardi who was the offensive coordinator. The two managed to take the Giants to three championships in 4 years. This immediately put them on the radar of many teams as potential head coach candidates. Vince Lombardi was hired by the Green Bay Packers and Tom Landry was selected to be the first head coach of the new expansion team, the Dallas Cowboys. Legend has it, they exchanged play books prior to taking on their new roles as head coaches, and a lot of Lombardis’ success can be attributed to the fact he used the 4-3 defense Tom Landry invented.

Vince Lombardi was known as an offensive guru and his run to daylight offense was virtually unstoppable. Tom Landry, who is now referred to as the “Great Innovator”, was known as a defensive guru. Lombardi was famous for his Power Sweep and it is explained in his own words in the video below.

4-3 flex defenseAs you can clearly see, the Power Sweep was a very complex play that relied on not only perfect timing, but quickness, athletic ability, and the ability for everyone involved to work together as a single cohesive unit. If executed properly it was believed to be unstoppable. Despite the fact Landry had just invented a defense that revolutionized football as we know it, he knew if he wanted to compete with the Packers, he had to be able to stop the Power Sweep and the Run To Daylight offense as a whole. It was then that Tom Landry orchestrated what was probably the most complex defense in NFL history. The 4-3 Flex. The Flex defense required the utmost discipline and it took a very long time for most players to grasp it. Eventually, Tom Landry came to the realization that he would have to dumb it down a bit so the players could grasp it properly. The system in itself was perfect, the problem was; the players were not. Tom Landry had created a master piece in hopes of Stopping Vince Lombardis’ Packers. Thus the Cowboys vs Packers rivalry began.

Cowboys vs Packers Ieb owl 1967The Ice Bowl December 31, 1967:

Future hall of famer, Tom Landry, of the Dallas Cowboys  had coached  his team to first place in the Capitol Division.  The Cowboys finished the season with a 9-5 record. The Green Bay Packers, and future hall of famer Vince Lombardi, won the Central Division  finishing the season with a 9-4-1 record. In the playoffs, the Cowboys met the Century Division champions, the Cleveland Browns, and the Packers faced off against the Coastal Division champions the Los Angeles Rams. At the Cotton Bowl, in an amazing performance  by quarterback Don Meredith, the Cowboys trounced the Browns 52-17. The week before the Rams game,  Lombardi inspired his team all week with a rendition of St. Paul’s  “Run to Win” letter to the Corinthians. In what Bart Starr would later state was Lombardi’s most motivational pregame speech. Head Coach Vince Lombardi motivated his team to a 28-7 victory over the Rams at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Green Bay Packers vs Dallas Cowboys 2The 1967 championship game was a rematch of the 1966 NFL title game, and a continuation of the ongoing Cowboys vs Packers rivalry. The Green Bay Packers had won back-to-back NFL Titles in 1965 and 1966. The Vegas betting line listed the Packers as 6 1/2 point favorites. The Cowboys would employ their dominant “Doomsday Defense”, (a nickname supposedly given to them by a Dallas reporter because it was so successful at making goal line stands). The now eight year-old Cowboys team was trying to win its first world championship. The Packers were on a mission to achieve what had never been done before; three consecutive world championships. Green Bay brought its renowned Lombardi sweep to the table and the Cowboys brought Landrys’ renowned Flex.

Although the Packers and the Chicago Bears were arch-rivals, Lombardi’s most passionate game planning was in preparing for Landry’s “Flex”.

Dubbed by the sports media as “The Ice Bowl”, the game-time temperature at Lambeau Field was about –15F (26°C), with a wind chill around –48F (14C). Lambeau Field’s turf-heating system malfunctioned, and when the tarp was removed from the field before the game, it left moisture on the field, which flash-froze in the extreme cold, leaving an icy surface that got worse as more and more of the field fell into the shadow of the stadium. The heating system, made by General Electric, cost $80,000 and was bought from the nephew of George Halas, George Halas Jr. On the sidelines before the game, some Dallas players believed that Lombardi had purposely removed power to the heating coils. The heating system would eventually be given the moniker “Lombardi’s Folly”. The prior convention to prevent the football field from icing up was to cover the field with dozens of tons of hay.

Aided by two Dallas Cowboys penalties and a 17-yard reception from Donny Anderson, Green Bay opened up the scoring with an 83-yard, 16-play drive that took nearly 9 minutes off the clock. Bart Starr finished the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Boyd Dowler, giving the team a 7-0 first quarter lead. Green Bay’s defense quickly forced a punt, and their offense stormed back for another score, this time driving 65 yards in just three plays. After a 13-yard run by Ben Wilson and a 6-yard run by Travis Williams, Starr threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Dowler, making the score 14-0. Then on the second play of the Cowboys ensuing drive, defensive back Herb Adderly intercepted Don Meredith‘s pass and returned it 15 yards to the Dallas 32. But after a run for no gain and an incompletion, Cowboys lineman George Andrie sacked Starr for a 10-yard loss, pushing Green Bay out of field goal range.

Cowboys vs Packers 2The Dallas’ offense went the entire second quarter without gaining a first down, but Green Bay committed two costly turnovers that led to 10 Dallas points. First, Starr lost a fumble while being sacked by Cowboys lineman Willie Townes. Andrie recovered the ball and returned it 7 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead in half. Then, with time almost out in the second quarter, Packers safety Willie Wood fumbled a Dallas punt after calling for a fair catch, and Cowboys rookie defensive back Phil Clark recovered the ball at the Green Bay 17-yard line. The Packers were able to keep Dallas out of the end zone, but kicker Danny Villanueva kicked a 21-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10 by halftime.

In the third quarter, the Cowboys finally managed to get a sustained drive going, moving the ball to the Green Bay 18-yard line. But Packers linebacker Lee Roy Caffey ended the drive by forcing a fumble from Meredith that was recovered by Adderly. Then after a Packers punt, Dallas once again got moving with a drive to the Green Bay-30-yard line, but once again they failed to score as Caffey sacked Meredith for a 9-yard loss on third down and Villanueva’s missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.

On the first play of the final quarter, the Cowboys took a 17-14 lead with running back Dan Reeves‘ 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lance Rentzel on a halfback option play.

Later in the quarter, a 15-yard facemask penalty on Dallas rookie Dick Daniels during a Wood punt return gave Green Bay the ball on the Cowboys 47-yard line. The Packers then drove into scoring range and had a chance to tie the game, but kicker Don Chandler missed a 40-yard field goal attempt.

With just over 5 minutes remaining, Villanueva punted the ball deep into Packer territory, and Wood returned it nine yards before being brought down at the Packers own 32-yard line. In their last offensive drive, the Packers took over possession with 4:50 left in the game. With the wind chill around -70 °F / -’57C,  Bart Starr led his team down the field with three key completions: a 13-yard pass to Dowler, a 12-yarder to running back Donny Anderson, and a 19-yard throw to fullback Chuck Mercein down to the Cowboys 11-yard line. Then Mercein ran 8 yards to the Cowboys’ 3-yard line. Anderson carried on the next play to the 1-yard line for a first down. Twice Anderson attempted to run the ball into the end zone, but both times he slipped on the icy field before taking the hand-off and was tackled at the 1-yard line. The second time he almost fell down before Starr gave him the ball. By then the thermometer read -20 °F/ 29°C. (and to think, the modern Cowboys struggled in single digit temperatures).

Cowboys vs PackersOn third-and-goal at the Dallas two-foot line with 16 seconds remaining, Starr called the Packers’ final timeout to confer with Lombardi. Starr immediately asked right guard Jerry Kramer whether he could get enough traction on the icy turf for a wedge play, and Kramer responded with an unequivocal yes. Summerall told the rest of the CBS crew to get ready for a roll-out pass, because without any timeouts remaining a failed run play would end the game. Landry expected a pass attempt because an incompletion would stop the clock and allow the Packers one more play on fourth down, either for a touchdown (to win) or a field goal attempt (to tie and send the game into overtime), but Green Bay’s pass protection on the slick field had been seriously tested during the game; the Cowboys had sacked Starr eight times.

On the sidelines Lombardi told Starr to “Run it, and let’s get the hell out of here!” Lombardi was asked by Pat Peppler what play Starr would call, to which Lombardi replied, “Damned if I know.”Starr returned to the huddle and called a Brown right 31 Wedge, but with him keeping the ball, and Kramer and center Ken Bowman executed a post-drive block (double-team) on left defensive tackle Jethro Pugh as Starr crossed the goal line for a 20-17 lead.

Don Chandler kicked the extra point to make the score 21-17. Dallas downed the kickoff in their end zone, and after two Dallas incompletions the game was over. At the conclusion of the game, jubilant Packer fans streamed onto the field knocking over Packer and Cowboy players alike. (Ice Bowl facts are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Cowboys vs Packers 3That final touchdown would haunt Tom Landry for years to come. He had devised the perfect game plan, but his old buddy Lombardi did the last thing he would have ever expected. Tom Landry was devastated because the Dallas Cowboys lost the world championship to one of the most basic plays in Lombardis’ offense. Weather, turnovers and penalties played a major role throughout the game, but the Dallas Cowboys were labeled as the team that can’t win the big game. The packers made history by winning three consecutive world championships, but it was also the beginning of the Dallas Cowboys 20 year dynasty that remains unchallenged to this day. Vince Lombardi moved on to greener pastures as an NFL GM, and Tom Landry never got a rematch. In my opinion, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry are the two best coaches to ever roam sidelines, and the Cowboys vs Packers rivalry was the best of all time.

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  • californy

    These 2 Coaches are great innovators and hall of fame type of coaches. Despite their great schemes it was the simple basic principles of football that won this game. It never a good thing to go high at the line of scrimmage and the boys got beat at the point and the snap of the ball.

  • californy

    The Touch down that Green bay score to win the game reminds me of a play we had my first year of playing ball. I was shooting the gap between the OG and Center the whole game, But we were in goal line situation and I got moved from The LB, and place between the OT and the OG on that play. The QB sneak the the ball in the gap I vacated. I knew it was coming it that way too, I had to go over the OG back to make the play, but I was too late. This was the only score we gave up the whole season. At the point I had like 6 sack before Half time and at least 15 QB hits.

    I believe LB often mess up more the play when they are put on the inside of these plays and place on the Defensive line.. I would of put The LB behind the OG on that play or outside the OT shoulder

  • californy

    Nice Article Al, It nice to hear about the history of the boys. I just wished the boy live more in the present and started to mold their history today.

  • californy

    Wow, didn’t know you had video in this one. This is great to see real history. I heard Adderly played both for the Cowboy and Packer in their history. It look like Dallas defense kept them in this game. We could use some of that pass rush this weekend

  • californy

    We saw some trickery with Reeves throwing that pass, Typical Landry I heard. Maybe JG need to watch Old Cowboys games.

    • He does need to study Landry, but I don’t think we have smart enough players for a complex system like Landry ran.

  • californy

    I saw the TD that won it, Yup, They got beat at the snap, and Dallas is playing to High. Howley is how I played it in a similar situation with the same results.

    • They were playing pass: the last thing Landry expected was a QB keeper because if it failed the clock would run out and the game was over.

      • californy

        I wish I could see the whole game, who wouldn’t expect a QB sneak at that part of the game

  • californy

    I would rather you of played a video in the 90’s where Erik William man handle Reggie White, lol