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THE POINT OF SOME RETURN
Tex Maule
January 03, 1966
On the verge of defeat at the hands of fate and a fanatical Baltimore defense, the favored Packers turned the playoff game around and, in sudden-death overtime, won a shot at the Browns
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January 03, 1966

The Point Of Some Return

On the verge of defeat at the hands of fate and a fanatical Baltimore defense, the favored Packers turned the playoff game around and, in sudden-death overtime, won a shot at the Browns

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It was the longest game in the history of the National Football League, and when the Green Bay Packers finally won it—13 minutes and 39 seconds deep in a sudden-death overtime period—they had captured the Western Division title and the right to meet the Cleveland Browns in the championship game. They had also demonstrated that all the courage in the world cannot compensate for the lack of a passing attack. Third-string Quarterback Tom Matte and his Baltimore Colt teammates had the courage, but the Packers had the passing and ultimately the 13-10 victory.

Right from the beginning the quarterback shortage became even more acute than anyone had anticipated. Green Bay's Bart Starr was eliminated on the game's first play, and it was Zeke Bratkowski who made the victory possible. Bratkowski had defeated Baltimore in Milwaukee in the first game between the teams this year, and on Sunday he did it again. By completing 22 of 39 passes for 248 yards he brought the Packers from a 10-0 deficit to a tie in regulation play and then moved them into position for the climax of the year's most dramatic game. Before 50,000 Green Bay fanatics warmed in the freezing weather by their own hysteria, Don Chandler thudded his toe into the game-winning field goal.

Meanwhile, Matte, an erstwhile halfback dragooned into service when Baltimore lost John Unitas and Gary Cuozzo on successive weekends, did as well as anyone could have expected. Unfortunately for the Colts, what Matte can do does not include passing. The Packers conceded the passes to him—which cost very little—and concentrated on limiting Matte's forays as a ballcarrier.

At the start, however, the Colts seemed to have the luck if not the horses. They almost evened the eight points laid against them on the first play from scrimmage, surely one of the most gorgeous windfalls ever to cheer an underdog. The Packers had received and Starr tried a sideline pattern to Bill Anderson, his tight end. Anderson caught the ball and was hit on a scrambling, clawing tackle by Lenny Lyles, the Colt corner back. Don Shinnick, trailing Anderson from his corner linebacking position, picked up the resultant fumble and rumbled 25 yards for a touchdown.

"I didn't see what happened after I threw the ball and Anderson caught it," Starr said later. "The next thing I knew Shinnick was coming down the sideline with the ball and a couple of blockers ahead of him. I didn't think I had much chance to tackle him, but I saw a green uniform behind me, and I thought if I could take out the blockers someone else would get him before he scored. So I tried to take out the blockers, and I got hit low on my back on the right side. I'm not a doctor, but to me it feels like a bruised muscle and not any damage to the ribs. Anyway, after that I couldn't raise my right arm above my shoulder. I tried throwing the ball on the sideline later on, but it was impossible."

That one play gave the Colts impetus to control the game until late in the third period.

"We figured we would have to play a hell of a defensive game," Baltimore Coach Don Shula said. "Our only offensive weapon was Matte's running. We couldn't throw. We had to win with defense and field position. We had to contain the Packers so well that every time they gave the ball up we would be in a good position to attack. It didn't quite work out, but I've never had a club that gave more than this one did. But I guess if you can't beat a team once in three tries you don't deserve to be in the championship game, and we couldn't beat Green Bay."

The Colt defense was certainly far more effective against the Packers in this game than it had been in Baltimore two weeks ago. In one electrifying episode the Colts stopped the Packers on the goal line with a new defense. "They came out in a five-one," Packer Guard Jerry Kramer said. "It fouled up our blocking, and Gaubatz had a clean shot at Jim Taylor. He made a good play, but we should have picked him up."

This happened late in the second period with the Colts leading 10-0 on Shinnick's run and a 15-yard Lou Michaels field goal, and with the Packers exhibiting far more strain and tension than the Baltimore team. Bratkowski had brought Green Bay 78 yards to the Baltimore one, a large portion of it on a deep pass intended for Bob Long on which the Colts' Jerry Logan was called for interference on the Baltimore nine-yard line. "He was all over me," Long said. "He was holding both my arms. If he hadn't been doing that, I could have caught the ball and gone in for the touchdown. Zeke did a beautiful job throwing all afternoon, and that ball was thrown just right." Bratkowski followed this play with a sideline pass to Anderson for eight more yards, down to the Baltimore one. It was a pattern very much like the one Starr had called to open the game—the pass that had seemed to mean disaster for the Packers.

Then Green Bay, running into that unfamiliar five-one defense, banged away at the line twice, once with Taylor and the second time with Paul Hornung. With fourth and one, Lombardi demonstrated his confidence in the Packer offensive line by calling for the touchdown try instead of the sure field goal.

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