The Detroit Lions fired the first salvo of the week, but it wasn’t Ndamukong Suh and the current Lions that took aim at the Packers, it was three esteemed members of the Lions’ 1962 team that took “shots” at the Packers.
It was the country’s game of the year, the 10-0 Packers (sound familiar?) in hot pursuit of an undefeated season. Vince Lombardi was the Packers’ coach and his star quarterback, of course, was Bart Starr.
Earlier in the season, the Packers had dealt the Lions a 9-7 loss in Green Bay on a rainy day, a game in which the Lions defense throttled the Packers offense all day, until a Herb Adderley interception late in the game, with the Lions holding a 7-6 lead, opened the door and allowed the Packers to rally for the win.
“We had respect for them, but we all felt we had a better football team,” Lions Hall of Fame middle linebacker Joe Schmidt said during a conference call on Monday, beginning a week that will culminate with Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day game between this year’s 10-0 Packers and the 7-3 Lions. The Lions were 8-2 heading into that ’62 classic.
“The first game, Milt Plum got blamed for throwing the ball but that call came from upstairs. We were leading 7-6 and they called a little timing pass and Terry Barr slipped. We always felt we were the better team but we can’t prove that because they won the championship,” Schmidt added.
On Thanksgiving, the Lions got their chance for revenge at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. It was a game they had awaited, much as a real lion awaits feeding time.
“We were the only game on TV. There was no other game on Thanksgiving and we knew everybody would be watching that game. It was a motivational thing,” defensive lineman Roger Brown said.
Brown and defensive tackle Alex Karras would dominate the game, as Starr was sacked 11 times. The Lions scored a 26-14 win that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate, but four wins later the Packers won the NFL title for the second consecutive season.
It’s important to note that there was no playoff system back then. The Lions went to something mockingly known as the “Runner-up Bowl,” where they beat the Steelers, 17-10.
Forty-nine years later, the edge in Schmidt’s, Brown’s and wide receiver Gail Cogdill’s voices is still sharp. All these years later, the ’62 Lions still believe they were the better team.
“Back in ’62, we had a vendetta. We had a game to make up for. We gave them a gift up in Green Bay and we wanted to set the record straight, so we had a vendetta against them,” Brown said.
“We should’ve won the first game, no question about that,” Schmidt said.
“It was a shock that we lost the first game. It ate in the back of our minds and when Thanksgiving came around it was like, yeah, it’s here,” Cogdill said.
Pro football was not the TV sport then that it is now, so the long-awaited rematch between the two teams became a TV event. In fact, the audience for the ’62 Packers-Lions game on Thanksgiving Day was so large that it helped drive pro football into the TV age.
“This was the only time you were on national hookup other than the championship game. It was the only time you had a chance to show what kind of football team you were to the viewing public,” Schmidt said.
The Lions were so focused on payback for the game they lost in Green Bay earlier in the season that their young defensive coordinator, an up-and-coming coach by the name of Don Shula, devised a cutting-edge plan for slanting his defensive linemen that confused the Packers’ blocking schemes and created havoc at the line of scrimmage.
“According to formation, they used to run that Green Bay sweep. By formation, I could call a slant to where they were going to run. We would twist the tackles and blitz off that. They sort of got confused with their blocking schemes and it caused them real problems,” Schmidt said.
“We had a set of stunts we would do. We did all kinds of nutty things, but we were determined to get to Bart Starr,” Brown said.
The Lions got their revenge but the Packers got the title, and that sets the stage perfectly for this year’s game. Schmidt, Brown and Cogdill made their rooting interests perfectly clear.
“As far as Thanksgiving is concerned, we always play super football and, hopefully, they can duplicate the game we had against them in 1962,” Schmidt said.
“I think they’re going to play one of their best games this year,” Cogdill said.
The week begins. Additional coverage - Nov. 21