For the last three years the winner of this game has gone on to take the Western Conference championship, and in 1965 and 1966 Green Bay won the NFL championship as well. Last year the Packers also won the Super Bowl. For both teams, then, the game has come to be the most significant of the season. Oddly enough, because of a Monday night TV commitment, the Packers arrived in Baltimore with the handicap of one less day than usual in which to prepare. They had defeated St. Louis 31-23 on Monday night and did not get back into Green Bay until 2 a.m. Tuesday.
"We had to compress our preparation," Vince Lombardi said last Saturday night. "We put in the offense and defense as we usually do, but in a normal week we use Friday for refining and polishing. This week we didn't have time to tune the machine. We're ready, but we may be less precise than I would like us to be."
Much of the pregame conjecture concerned the physical condition of the two quarterbacks. In previous years Unitas had often had to play despite being hurt, but now Unitas was healthy. Starr, in turn, had been forced to miss all or part of three of the last five games between the two teams, and last week was just getting back into top shape from injuries suffered first during the exhibition season. Zeke Bratkowski had come in for Starr in the three games and in each case proved at least as damaging to the Colts as Starr himself. But last Saturday morning Bratkowski pulled a muscle in his back working out on the frosty field in Green Bay. "I had to help him out of bed this morning," said Max McGee on Sunday. "Color Zeke gone. There's no way he'll be able to play today. It's a good thing Bart is ready."
Green Bay's touchy predicament at quarterback was complicated early by its loss of both first-string running backs. Jim Grabowski went to the sideline with an injured knee in the first quarter, to be followed moments later by Elijah Pitts, who tore an Achilles tendon. Without them, the Packers' running game lacked some of its sparkle, although Ben Wilson and Donny Anderson performed adequately. By half time the game had lapsed into a stern defensive battle, relieved only by Don Chandler's 49-yard field goal.
It was not until Boyd was injured early in the fourth period that Green Bay got its lone touchdown. One of the leaders of the Colt secondary, Boyd was replaced by Charlie Stukes, a good rookie, but a rookie.
"On the touchdown to Anderson," Shula said later, "they sent the spread end to the inside, taking Stukes with him and isolating Anderson on the linebacker. Boyd, with his experience, would not have gone so far inside with the end. He would have rolled back out to help on Anderson and I think he might have made the play."
Hawkins, who caught the first Baltimore touchdown pass, faked in, then broke to the outside to take Unitas' perfect throw just in the corner of the end zone. Hawkins was smiling later in the dressing room. He had not been put in the game until the fourth period, and after last Wednesday morning's poker-playing escapade, when he and eight friends were arrested at 4:45 a.m. in the back room of a suburban barbershop, he was not sure that he would get in at all. Hawkins used to be called Captain Who? when he was the leader of the Baltimore special teams. "They changed my name to Captain Midnight," he said in the dressing room Sunday evening. "I guess I got a three-quarters suspension. I'm glad they lifted it in time for me to get in."
Whatever penalty Shula has in store for Hawkins may be reduced a bit by the coach's euphoria over victory. "This year we're getting the breaks," he said happily. "When you're rolling, that's what happens. Maybe this is going to be our year."
Twice during the second half the Colts took what seemed to be extraordinary gambles for a team that was trailing but still had a good deal of time left to play. Once, with fourth and one at the Green Bay 44 midway in the third quarter, Shula elected to try for the first down. Nitschke and Willie Wood met Lenny Moore behind the line of scrimmage to give the Packers possession of the ball. The Colt defense salvaged that lost gamble by forcing a Green Bay punt.
As the fourth period began, the Colts had the ball on the Green Bay 43, again fourth and one, and Shula gambled once more. And again Nitschke met Moore behind the line of scrimmage and the ball went over to Green Bay. This time the lost gamble cost the touchdown that put the Packers ahead 10-0.