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THE RIGHT TO BE FIRST
Tex Maule
November 20, 1961
Green Bay and New York look more and more like ultimate claimants to the national championship, but Detroit and Philadelphia are far from being counted out of the race
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November 20, 1961

The Right To Be First

Green Bay and New York look more and more like ultimate claimants to the national championship, but Detroit and Philadelphia are far from being counted out of the race

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In the biggest Sunday of the pro football season so far, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants proved conclusively their right to first place in their respective divisions. Curiously, their games with the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles were decided quickly; both the Packers and the Giants took charge in the first halves with highly spectacular offensives.

In Chicago, Wrigley Field was packed. The tickets had been sold long before gametime, and ushers with megaphones stood outside announcing that no tickets were available. Inside, there was the usual Bear crowd, noisy, obstreperous, but also informed. A victory in this game would tie the Bears with the Packers in the league standings. When Billy Wade hit Mike Ditka early in the game with a beautifully thrown 47-yard touchdown pass, it seemed likely that the Bears would, indeed, do just that.

But Green Bay is precisely the kind of team that can beat the Bears. The Packers' strong offensive line, blocking effectively against the jitterbugging Bear defense, immediately began opening holes for Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung, and within minutes the Packers had tied the score. Although Hornung and Taylor were making the five-and six-yard gains that controlled the ball, the unemotional direction of Quarterback Bart Starr was the decisive factor.

In the first game between these two teams this season—in Green Bay—Starr had taken a beating. Early in that game the Bears' powerful middle linebacker, Bill George, dropped Starr with a high tackle, bloodying his mouth. While the Packer quarterback lay on the ground, George smiled down at him and said, "You'll get a lot of that today, Bart. On every play." Starr, who ordinarily does not use profanity, called George a number of predictable things. Then he spit out the blood, trotted back to the Green Bay huddle and led the Packers to a 24-0 victory.

Same cast, new setting

Sunday, Starr again faced George across the line. The defense set up by Clark Shaughnessy, the Bear defensive coach, had the middle guard playing head on the center a good deal of the time, in position to drive in on the quarterback. Starr took advantage of the situation. He called traps and wedges up the middle all during the first half, using George's own strength to defeat him.

The first Packer touchdown came after Starr had fired Taylor into the line, underlining the threat of the Green Bay running game in order to discourage George, or the other Bear linebackers, from rushing the passer. On the next play Starr again sent Taylor straight in, but this time he kept the ball himself. He found Ron Kramer, the massive Green Bay end, far downfield with a pass that wobbled in the air but dropped precisely into Kramer's hands for a 53-yard touchdown.

In the second quarter, Starr established almost complete domination over the Bears. Using the very powerful running of Paul Hornung (playing his last game with the Packers before entering military service) and throwing once in a while to keep the Bear defense from ganging up in the middle, he got three touchdowns for Green Bay. During this quarter the Packers played virtually perfect football; they discovered a soft spot in the Bear secondary, and twice Starr passed into it for Packer touchdowns. Shaughnessy finally made a substitution in his deep backs but, unfortunately for the Bears, it was already too late, although the Packers were to suffer some anxious moments later on.

A sudden letdown

"I was this high off the ground when I went into the dressing room at the half," said Dan Currie, the Green Bay corner linebacker. He held his hand high over his head. "Then I sat down and, for some reason or other, I went flat. I guess everybody went flat. I don't know why. It's one of those things that happen to a ball club. We were pretty fired up for this game. Up until last week, we were riding pretty high. Guys would come up to you on the street and slap you on the back and say, 'Great game, fellow,' things like that. I guess we got pretty self-satisfied. Then the Colts whipped us."

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