ROUGH JOURNEY TO A SHOWDOWN WITH THE PACK
For 10 plays and 80 yards across the mud of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium last Saturday, the Green Bay Packers looked like a million dollars. In fact, the touchdown that put a period to this meticulous composition and beat the Baltimore Colts 14-10 to give the Packers the NFL's Western Division championship may well have been worth that amount to the team.
The Packers will play either Dallas or St. Louis for the league championship, probably the Cowboys. Despite their loss to Washington on Sunday, the Cowboys need only to beat or tie the footless New York Giants this Sunday to win in the East. The Packers should meet Dallas for the NFL championship on January 1 in the Cotton Bowl. Then, in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Packers will meet the champion of the American Football League in the supergame. The winning team's share of this double bonanza—some $23,000 per player for 42 shares—will fall only a little short of that $1 million figure.
This reasoning, of course, assumes that Green Bay will win the NFL championship, a task likely to be harder than defeating the AFL champion in Los Angeles. Even so, in their victory over the Colts in Baltimore, the Packers demonstrated rather clearly why they must be selected to go all the way.
The Packers are surely the best team in depth in football today. Against an excellent Baltimore team that reached its peak of the year, the Packers won with some of their outstanding players out for all or part of the game.
Bart Starr, their impeccable quarterback, suffered a muscle spasm in his back and spent the second half conferring with the Green Bay scouts in the press box and advising Zeke Bratkowski, his replacement, on the sidelines. Fuzzy Thurston, who teams with Jerry Kramer to give Green Bay the best tandem of guards in the league, was replaced by Gale Gillingham, a rookie. For a considerable part of the game Bob Jeter, a regular corner back, was out of action after a shattering head-on tackle of Tom Matte in the second period, and his place was taken by Doug Hart. And Boyd Dowler, one of the key receivers in the Green Bay short-haul attack, was replaced by veteran Max McGee after he developed a flat wheel in the second quarter.
The loss of a starting quarterback, guard, receiver and corner back in a game as tightly played as this could easily have destroyed a lesser team than Green Bay, but consider what the Packer replacements did:
Hart and Gillingham gave the Packers better-than-adequate performances. The 34-year-old Bratkowski, playing all of the second half, actually did a better job than Starr had done in the first two quarters. Starr, under the savage pressure of a keyed-up Baltimore line and the hard rush of blitzing linebackers, completed seven of 15 passes for 96 yards; in his stint, Bratkowski, in a steady rain and on a field that became a mire during the second half, hit five of eight for 87 yards.
More important, Bratkowski directed the 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth period that brought Green Bay its victory. The key play in this careful, thoughtful march was a 21-yard pass on third and seven from the Baltimore 25-yard line, and the pass was caught by Dowler's replacement, McGee. The pass epitomized the poise and maturity of the Packer team, which extend beyond the first-line players to their substitutes.
Bratkowski, who spends so much time with Starr that he has come to think like him, called an audible at the line of scrimmage when the Colts made a late change in their defense. On the snap of the ball the Colts changed again and McGee, a veteran of 11 years, broke his normal pattern to avoid the strength of the new defense. He was to have run a square-out to the sideline, designed to gain eight or 10 yards, just enough for the first down.