There comes a moment in the course of nearly every professional football season when one team rises unmistakably above all the rest. An aura of destiny surrounds the club, as if its success were preordained. In four of the last six years the Green Bay Packers were such a team, and the revelation that they were the chosen ones came, as often as not, in Baltimore.
Thus it was that the Packers went to Baltimore last Sunday, seeking—after an indifferent first half of the season—that sure sign that this again would be their year. For most of a wintry afternoon it seemed that the Packer quest would be a success. Although the Baltimore pass rush harassed him continuously, Bart Starr ran his Green Bay offensive machine like the competent engineer that he is, and when—with 12 minutes left in the game—he took advantage of a Colt rookie defensive halfback to throw a 31-yard scoring pass to Donny Anderson and give Green Bay a 10-0 lead, the Packers appeared sure winners.
They seemed even surer after the next set of downs. As Johnny Unitas strove manfully to untrack his team's attack, Willie Davis, throughout the afternoon a virtuoso performer at defensive end, and Ray Nitschke and the other redoubtable Packer linebackers continued to stop Baltimore cold. Davis eluded a tentative block by Sam Ball, a young tackle who went to graduate school on this Sunday, and smashed Unitas from behind, causing the Colt quarterback to fumble for a nine-yard loss. Unitas passed to Tom Matte for a scant yard, then was hurried into a long, incomplete pass, and Baltimore had to give the ball back.
Then it began to happen. A series of penalties thwarted a Green Bay drive. When Johnny Unitas got his hands on the ball again with six minutes and 22 seconds showing on the clock, the complexion of the game was suddenly changed. Unitas passed to Willie Richardson for a first down, passed to Alex Hawkins for another, was hit throwing his next pass but still got the ball into wobbling flight and into the hands of Richardson. This was good for 15 yards and another first down. With the Packer defense dropping back to guard against the long pass, Unitas hit Running Back Tony Lorick in close for 10 more yards. First down No. 4. A moment later Unitas threaded the ball through a narrow crack between a Green Bay linebacker and a Green Bay back into the hands of Hawkins, deep in the corner of the end zone. Touchdown. Score: 10-6. Time to go: 2:19.
Now the extra point and a field goal would tie the game. But the Colts missed the extra point. Defensive Back Bobby Boyd, who usually holds the ball for Lou Michaels' kicks, had gone out of the game earlier with a shoulder injury. Although Coach Don Shula had Rick Volk, a rookie safetyman, warming up as a holder on the sideline, the jiffy course was too hurried. Taking a good snap from center, Volk tried to race the ball into position while spinning the lace to the front. He wound up with the top point of the ball cupped in his palm instead of suspended by a fingertip. Even worse, it was tilted to the side like the Tower of Pisa. Faced with so strange a target, Michaels booted the ball wide. The missed extra point forced Baltimore to play for a touchdown instead of a field goal.
Michaels and Volk redeemed themselves immediately. As Michaels' onside kickoff skittered through the front line of Green Bay receivers, Volk pounced on the ball. It was first down for the Colts on the Green Bay 34, with a minute and 56 seconds left. Lorick ran for four yards, but matters took a desperate turn when Unitas tried twice for John Mackey, the big tight end, and missed.
So it was fourth and six. As Unitas faded back for what could have been his last pass in a lost cause, the Green Bay defense dropped off and covered his receivers perfectly. Willie Davis, barreling in from Unitas' right, forced him out of the pocket, and Unitas began to run with his long, cranelike strides. Against the Packers a year ago, in an almost identical situation, a Unitas run had ended in disaster when Davis smashed into him, making him fumble into the hands of Dave Robinson, the Green Bay linebacker. This time Unitas ran for seven yards and remained attached to the ball despite a thunderous tackle. The Colts had their first down on the Packer 23.
Unitas climbed dazedly to his feet, and on the next play the gods smiled sweetly at last on Baltimore. Johnny U. threw a pass to Willie Richardson, who has been playing—and playing well—primarily because Jimmy Orr has been injured. Richardson beat one of the best defensive halfbacks in pro football—Herb Adderley—to catch the game-winning touchdown.
"We noticed in movies that Herb has a tendency to take a stance looking in," Richardson explained after the game in the exuberant Colt dressing room. "I'd fake out and get around him and cut back in when his back was toward me. Raymond Berry spent the whole fourth quarter studying his moves, and we discussed them. When I went back into the huddle after Johnny ran for the first down, I told him I could beat Herb to the inside. Johnny was pretty shook up from the tackle, but he threw a perfect pass. Herb was playing me real tight. Six inches farther, I couldn't have caught it; six inches back, he intercepts."
Adderley actually had a hand on the ball. "Just as I reached for it, Richardson hit me with his shoulder and bumped me off the ball," he said. "I thought for a split second I might get it."