The Packers are those against whom all others are measured. Last year they won the championship by the skin of their teeth, and despite an offense that often seemed to be at the point of breaking down; but win they did. This year they will win it with more style and polish. More than any other team, Green Bay has the elusive quality of character—a willingness to play as well as possible for as long as necessary—and this season the squad is deeper, stronger, fitter. The Packers themselves know that they are going to win. "I figure the West will be tougher than ever this year," says Jerry Kramer, the Green Bay right guard. "It will be a dogfight among four, maybe five, teams." "Right," says the other Packer guard, Fuzzy Thurston. "We could lose two more games than we did in '65 and still win it." The one absolute in Fuzzy's analysis, of course, is that Green Bay will win.
Last year Thurston and Kramer were hurt for part of the season, and Forrest Gregg, perhaps the most skillful of all offensive tackles, was shifted temporarily to guard. When Kramer and Thurston came back and Gregg returned to his old position the sputtering offense began to regain its old power and slickness. The offense also was helped by the steady improvement of young Ken Bowman at center and by the substitution of Bill Anderson for the inconsistent Marv Fleming at tight end. The Packers' late-season offensive form has carried over into 1966. "A lot of critics," says Halfback Paul Hornung, "were pointing to 1965 as the end of the line for Paul Hornung—at least until the championship game. I was accused of busting plays and generally wearing out. Well, that wasn't so. It was the whole offense. We didn't get the smoothness and precision that the Packer style requires until Coach Lombardi made these changes. Another year or two and I'll retire, but I want to go out while I'm on top."
It is known that Hornung and the Packers' punishing fullback, Jim Taylor, are in unusually fine condition (SI, Aug. 22), partly due to the arrival of the bonus rookies Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski. The veteran Elijah Pitts, while not as rich, can run, too. Quarterback Bart Starr is always in top shape and prepared to frisk the defenses with his intelligent play selections. Wide receivers Boyd Dowler and Max McGee may be slowing down, but that merely proves speed isn't everything. In preseason games they were sensational. Anderson can block as well as catch, and if anybody lets Split End Carroll Dale go downfield just mark it as a touchdown.
If there is anything more dispiriting than trying to prevent the Packer offense from pecking out first downs and touchdowns as steadily as a woodpecker drills holes in a dead elm tree, it is looking for mercy from the Packer defense. Mrs. Lombardi's mother would get a concussion from these gentlemen. End Willie Davis, 32, and Tackle Henry Jordan, 31, are elderly smashers who think pro life begins at 30. Their younger colleagues on the front four, 260-pound Tackle Ron Kostelnik, and 245-pound End Lionel Aldridge are getting to be as mean as Davis and Jordan.
But if there is a man other teams really love to hate it is Ray Nitschke, center linebacker, the Erich von Stroheim of pro football. Left Linebacker Dave Robinson is said to be the most improved player on the team—which means you had better carry a blackjack if you run at him. Lee Roy Caffey on the right side is just as quick to anger.
Next we come to the secondary, which picks up the pieces that the line and linebackers let through. This is the unit that intercepted 27 passes last year. Three of the steals were for touchdowns by Herb Adderley, who has a tendency to guess and jump—and usually he guesses right. Free Safety Willie Wood is more conservative but no more inclined to let anyone pass against him. Adderley's corner back mate, Bob Jeter, and the other safety, Tom Brown, complete an exceptional defensive backfield.
Then there is Don Chandler, punter and place kicker extraordinary. Baltimore fans still do not accept the Chandler field goal that tied the Colts and sent the playoff game into sudden death overtime last year, but Chandler kicks enough undisputed goals to be an asset to any team.
It's hard to put too much stress on the unanimous Packer desire to excel. Linebacker Caffey has a roommate, Tom Crutcher, who would like to play Caffey's position. "One of these days," Crutcher tells his roomie, "you're going to get hurt. Nothing serious, mind you, but just enough so that I take over." Then Crutcher says, "And you're never going to get back in."
People who trace this way of thinking to the man with absolute control of the franchise—Lombardi—are on the right trail. Lombardi is a hard, blocky man with a mouth as full of teeth as an alligator's and a temperament to match, and it is remarkable how the players see things his way. Lombardi drafts and trades shrewdly, eschews frills and, despite his heroic demands, runs a reasonably happy club. He is going to be difficult to beat again this year.