Now we were back where we were at the end of the 1966 season—preparing to play the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL championship. We had respect for the Cowboys, but most of the Packers felt that we would win. As for me, I don't think Don Meredith rates with Unitas or Ryan as a quarterback, although he is a good one. We had a hunch Bob Hayes might be a fair-weather player, too. And you don't get that much fair weather in Green Bay in January.
The first thing we had to do, though, was to stop their ground game. The year before, in Dallas, when we had to stop them on our two-yard line with seconds to go to keep them from tying the game, Don Perkins had had a great day. Perkins is one of the best running backs in football, for my money. He blocks hard, he hits hard and he has tremendous balance. They like to use him on quick openers and on cross bucks against the flow of the play, off the I formation. That puts a lot of responsibility on me at middle linebacker. We made some adjustments to take care of his favorite plays, but it is still harder to prepare a defense for Dallas than it is for anyone else. Tom Landry is a fine coach. He has maybe 30 or 35 different offensive sets, and you have to be aware of all of them and be sure you are in the right position for them. He doesn't really expect to whip you with the sets themselves. What he wants to do is create a moment of doubt, a moment of confusion in the defense. Once he has done that, then it snowballs. You are out of position on one play, then you worry and think too long on the next, and all at once you're all at sea and you're dead. In some ways it's the opposite of our philosophy—beat a club at its strength. We like to say, here's where we're coming and what we're going to do—try to stop us. In the old days, when we used the power sweep, it worked wonders. A club would begin to break down when it set up a defense to stop the power sweep, and we still picked up five or six yards at a crack.
Well, the Cowboys didn't run over us or confuse us, and we handled them pretty well in the first half. Everyone who was at the game remembers the weather—13� below with a 15-mile-an-hour wind, the equivalent, I read somewhere, of 51� below zero. I really didn't notice the cold on my face or my hands. My feet got numb after a while and, when the game was over, I found out I had six frostbitten toes, but I didn't pay any attention to it during the game. The field was all right for the first three quarters, then it got slick in the fourth.
The Cowboys had a good third quarter. They changed the blocking in their line to mess up our keys—the players you read to diagnose a play—but the big shot was an option pass from Dan Reeves to Lance Rentzel for 50 yards and a touchdown. We were ready for it, but we had a mental mix-up between Bob Jeter and Willie Wood. They are supposed to talk to each other and decide who will cover deep on the option, and they missed signals. Both of them came up, and Rentzel was left all alone.
Actually, you can ring up our victory to Bart Starr. You may remember, we got the ball on our own 32-yard line with four or five minutes to play, and he took us all the way, scoring himself on a sneak in the last few seconds to win 21-17.
All of his calls on that drive were good, but the key came on first and 10 on the Dallas 11-yard line, with 1:11 left to play. He called a play the offense had worked on all week. It was based on Bob Lilly's tendency to be very aggressive, and Bart had saved it until he really needed it.
Lilly is a very quick, strong tackle, and he crosses the line fast and pursues fast. He had been giving Gale Gillingham, our guard, a hard time, especially when Gale pulled to lead a play and Lilly went through the hole he left to run the ballcarrier down from behind.
This time Bart faked the ball to Anderson, going to his right, and Gillingham pulled out and started to his right as if to lead the play. Lilly went through the hole and after Anderson, and Bart handed the ball to Chuck Mercein.
Mercein went through the spot Lilly had left and gained eight yards down to the Dallas three. It was a great call and a daring one, and it was typical of Starr. Nothing bothers him, and he has complete faith in the team and in himself.
We had two days off after the championship game in Green Bay, then we went back to work to get ready for the Super Bowl and the Oakland Raiders. It was too cold to practice outside in Green Bay, so we worked in a high school gym. We didn't get outside until we arrived in Fort Lauderdale a week before the game. Incidentally, we worked out on the field the Yankees used for spring training. It might have meant something a few years ago.