GREEN BAY—This might be a first for me. I read a book for the second time. I read Vince Lombardi’s “Run to Daylight” when it was first published in 1963, and I read my same hardcover copy – not the newer paperback version – again in recent weeks.
Two things prompted me to do so. One was to help me prepare for this job. The other was to reassure myself that I hadn’t lost my mind since the first time I read it. I’ve been reading old day-by-day newspaper accounts of the Lombardi years for the same reasons.
Having grown up in Green Bay during that era, I faithfully attended home games at Lambeau Field and watched the rest of them on television. And I read just about everything I could get my hands on about those Lombardi teams in local newspapers, national magazines and books.
Lately, however, I’ve been getting fed a different version from revisionist historians and contemporary statisticians whose methodology doesn’t apply to 1960s football. For example, Lombardi said in “Run To Daylight” the halfback option play was “the greatest in football.” Obviously, the game has changed and that’s no longer the case, but what measuring sticks do the stat guys possess to judge the value of a triple-threat halfback of yesteryear?
Anyway, I knew I wouldn’t find all the answers in “Run to Daylight,” but I was pretty certain I’d find enough evidence to support two of my contentions related to the game the book was built around: Detroit at Green Bay, Oct. 7, 1962.
1. That Lombardi viewed Paul Hornung as his best clutch player, biggest playmaker and strongest spiritual leader – not Bart Starr -- through 1962, for sure, and probably during the 1965 championship season, as well.
In the book, Lombardi calls Hornung “one of those great money ballplayers,” and later adds “inside that 20-yard line he is one the greatest I’ve ever seen.”
Lombardi also quotes Hall of Fame defensive tackle Henry Jordan, who said: “Before our 1961 championship game, I was under the impression that (Tom) Moore could run as well as Hornung and that Ben Agajanian could kick as well or better, but the week before the game, when Paul got that leave from the army and walked into the locker room, you could just feel the confidence grow in that room.”
On page 151, Lombardi talked about the importance of the “big play” and having “that big man” who will deliver it. When he was with the NY Giants, Lombardi said Frank Gifford was the guy. “Johnny Unitas has come up with the big throw consistently for Baltimore and Bobby Layne used to do it with Detroit and Pittsburgh,” Lombardi tells his readers. “Ray Nitschke has a lot of this on the defense for us, and the offense, when he’s in shape, we get it from Hornung.” If not Hornung, then Jim Taylor, Lombardi added.
Later, Lombardi addressed Hornung’s early struggles under Lisle Blackbourn and Scooter McLean and what he now meant to the team: “From an occasional quarterback, occasional halfback and occasional fullback, he became last season not only the most valuable player on this club but in the league….”
2. That the 1962 Lions were the best team the Packers faced during the Lombardi Dynasty, and that the “Run to Daylight” game to this day might be the biggest regular-season victory the Packers have registered at Lambeau Field, if not the best game and most exciting finish.
Only four games into the season and three days removed from kickoff, Lombardi says in his book “it may be the ballgame of the year.” He also calls it the kind that coaches crave because of the challenge. A day later, Lombardi tells assistant coach Bill Austin, “You know, this is probably the biggest game of the year and they (his players) were as loose as a goose out there.”
On Saturday, Lombardi tells his players: “Everybody in the country is interested in this game. Everybody thinks this is the game of the year. Now let’s show them a great Packer team!”
On game day, Lombardi reminds his players as he finishes his emotional pre-game pep talk: “I don’t have to tell you about the importance of this ballgame. You know as well as I do, that you’re meeting today the top contender, and that no one can win it now but you.”
In a radio interview following the game, Lombardi tells the announcer, “I think the people of Green Bay saw one of the finest football games I’ve ever seen.”
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