When the Baltimore Colts lost the playoff for the NFL's Western championship last year, they were without John Unitas and Gary Cuozzo and still it took Green Bay most of an overtime period to beat them. Understandably, the Colts have been anxious to prove that the story would be different with their famous quarterbacks in action. Last Saturday night, before a record crowd of 48,650 in Milwaukee's County Stadium, the story was indeed different. In the opening game of the NFL season the Packers gave the Colts an infinitely worse beating than they did last December, and in so doing established themselves solidly as favorites to repeat their 1965 championship.
"They played an almost perfect game," Baltimore's Don Shula said after it was over. He smiled a wry, sorrowful smile as he considered what the Packers had done to his club in their 24-3 victory.
The only flaw to be found in his statement is the "almost." If the jolly green giants of Green Bay made any mistakes, they were undetectable. This was probably the best defensive performance by the Packers in several years, and in the second half the defense was matched by a brilliant offense.
"This one is a gut-twister," Willie Davis said in the unusually subdued Green Bay dressing room before the game. The All-Pro defensive end grimaced. "I couldn't sleep all night. I kept trying to tell myself this was just another game, just one of 14, but you can't kid your stomach. It knew."
Guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston drew diagrams on a blackboard, working out blocking angles. Backs Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung lay on the floor, relaxing, their heads in their dressing stalls. "The Colts have been mouthing off a lot," one veteran said. "I heard that every time one of them gave a talk during the off season he had a picture showing we missed the field goal that put us into overtime in the playoff game. They say they've been waiting a year to get us again. Well, they've got us. But we got ourselves ready, too. Only we didn't start until last Wednesday. Sometimes you can get too high. I think maybe they are."
"It may be easier with Unitas," said one of the Packers. "When they went to Tom Matte in the playoff we had no idea what to expect. We know what they do with Johnny Unitas."
The speaker was not Vince Lombardi. What Lombardi said was, "It boils down to this. If Johnny Unitas is hot, no one can beat them. If he's just good, we have a chance. If he's only fair, then we'll take them."
Unitas was hot for all but the last two minutes of the first half, but that brief letdown was fatal to Baltimore. Pouncing on Unitas passes, the Packers won the game in those moments on two beautiful interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. Until then the Packer defense had held off a strong Baltimore attack by fencing dexterously with Unitas, giving him short passes but denying him the deeper routes and, when necessary near the goal line, foreclosing the short passes, too.
At one point in the first quarter, on fourth down with a yard to go on the Green Bay 19-yard line, the Colts decided to try for the first down instead of an almost certain field goal. Unitas sent Fullback Jerry Hill into the middle of the line on a play that had gained three yards not long before. This time the big, agile Green Bay ends, Lionel Aldridge and Davis, read the play and pinched in hard, slamming Hill for a one-yard loss. "Looking back, that was a key play," Shula said. "That really hurt us."
Just as the second period began, the situation re-occurred. Confident no longer of penetrating the Packer defense, the Colts sent Lou Michaels in to kick a field goal on fourth and two from the Green Bay 19. It was the only score Baltimore was to get.