Quarterback Cecil Isbell of the Green Bay Packers is stopped by New York Giants' Frank Cope in NFL title game, Dec. 11, 1939. The Packers won, 27-0, before a crowd of 32,000.
Packers vs. New York Giants certainly pits “A Flagship Franchise” vs. “A Flagship Franchise.”
They also have faced each other in more championship showdowns than any two teams in the 97-year history of the National Football League.
What’s a flagship franchise?
There are arguably three with a rich enough history and the trappings of success to qualify as showcases for the entire NFL.
The Packers, Giants and Chicago Bears are three of the four oldest franchises in the league and the only teams, along with the Arizona Cardinals, that date to the 1920s, the NFL’s first decade. The Packers, Bears and Giants also rank No. 1, 2 and 3 in championships won in the first category in the “Team Records” section of the Official NFL Record & Fact Book. The Packers have won 13; the Bears, nine; and the Giants, eight. No other team is listed.
This year’s Super Bowl will be the NFL’s 84th championship game. There were 33 NFL Championship Games played from 1933 to 1965, and there have been 50 Super Bowls played since the 1966 season.
In those 83 years, the Packers and Giants have met five times in title games: 1938, ’39, ’44, ’61 and ’62. The only two teams to square off for the title more often have been the Giants and Bears. They’ve met six times.
But in the NFL’s first 13 seasons, before there was postseason play and the championship was decided by the final standings, the Packers and Giants were the only two teams to finish first and second more than once and also play late-season showdowns.
In 1929, the Packers beat the Giants on Nov. 24 in the 10th of their 13 games and, consequently, edged them by a half-game for the championship. The Packers finished 12-0-1; the Giants, 13-1-1.
In 1930, the Packers won the title by .004 percentage points over the Giants, despite losing their Nov. 23 showdown, 13-6. The difference in the end was that the 10-3-1 Packers beat the 13-4 Giants in Green Bay on Oct. 5; and also that the Giants, after winning the rematch, lost back-to-back games by the score of 7-6 to Staten Island and Brooklyn.
Incidentally, in the 50 Super Bowls, the closest thing there has been to a classic matchup is Dallas vs. Pittsburgh. They’ve met three times in Super Bowls X, XIII and XXX.
Of those five NFL title games and two pre-1933 late-season showdowns between the Packers and Giants, here were the Packers’ five most important victories.
First, let’s give the Giants their due. Not only did they win the late-season matchup in 1930, they also beat the Packers in the 1938 NFL title game. More recently, they’ve beaten Green Bay twice in postseason games at Lambeau Field – in the NFC Championship Game following the 2007 season and a divisional playoff following the 2011 season.
Benjamin Friedman of the New York Giants runs against the Green Bay Packers Nov. 24, 1929.
1. Nov. 24, 1929 (Packers 20, Giants 6 at New York’s Polo Grounds) – Prior to the Ice Bowl, this might have been the signature game in Packers history. It might still be their biggest victory ever. It led to their first NFL championship and first of three straight. Those titles also were what gave the Packers enough cachet in league circles to survive their 17 months in receivership in the mid-1930s, their empty coffers prior to their 1950 stock sale and their string of 11 non-winning seasons prior to Vince Lombardi’s arrival in 1959. Just as important was what this game did for the Packers’ image. More than any other, it fostered the David vs. Goliath mystique that made the Packers the league’s best drawing card and was critical to their survival. New York had a population of nearly 7 million; Green Bay, roughly 37,000. The Giants used 19 players; the Packers, 12. Ten of the Packers’ starters played the entire 60 minutes; the other, Jim Bowdoin, played 59 minutes before being removed for a sub. Both teams entered the game unbeaten. “Until yesterday it was inconceivable that any football team in the country could defeat the Giants three touchdowns to one: they have such a powerful team,” was sportswriter Rud Rennie’s lead in the New York Herald Tribune. Ken Smith of the New York Graphic wrote, “The whole blamed team (the Packers) is an all-American eleven, to my mind the greatest football team in the world today.”
2. Dec. 31, 1961 (Packers 37, Giants 0 at City Stadium, now Lambeau Field) – This was another first. Although the Packers had won six NFL championships under Curly Lambeau, this was the first time they played a championship game in Green Bay. Local fans were so overjoyed and giddy about the prospect, the game might still be the most eagerly anticipated contest ever played in Green Bay. The Packers clinched the Western Conference championship on Dec. 3 against the Giants and it triggered a nearly month-long celebration climaxed by perhaps the biggest and most boisterous New Year’s Eve Party in the history of the city. Thousands of fans rushed the field to tear down the goal posts when the final gun sounded, then flocked downtown and dragged the metal posts through the streets. “Downtown Green Bay was a sea of turmoil, cars bumper to bumper, horns blazing, headlights flickering and people milling about,” the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported in a hot-off-the-presses “Extra!” The paper further noted cheering fans were setting off firecrackers downtown, and cruising the streets in top-down convertibles and cars with “as many as 15 persons hanging onto fenders, standing out of open doors and sitting on the roof.” The early edition Extra predicted the celebration would “give Green Bay its largest hangover in history.”
3. Dec. 30, 1962 (Packers 16, Giants 7 at Yankee Stadium) – Just as the Packers’ emergence as an NFL power during the “Golden Age of Newspapers” in the late 1920s was critical to their survival, the birth of NFL Films in 1962, just as the Lombardi dynasty was unfolding, was another of the most fortuitous developments in Packers history. To this day, the 1962 title game might be the most memorable and brutal defensive battle in NFL history. NFL Films, as Blair Motion Pictures when it started, was there to capture the scene of an NFL game like never before: Zeroing in on the blood-stained players, the bitter cold and the raw winds illustrated by the waves of hot dog wrappers and other litter swirling just above the concrete-like turf of Yankee Stadium. From that day forward, Ed and Steve Sabol of Films embraced and romanticized the Lombardi Packers, perhaps like no team since; and, better yet, the franchise is still reaping the benefits.
4. Dec. 10, 1939 (Packers 27, Giants 0 at Milwaukee’s State Fair Park) – This marked the first championship game ever played in Wisconsin. The Packers were forced to play at their second home, State Fair Park, because it had 7,000 more seats than Green Bay’s old City Stadium. Fans in Green Bay were dismayed over the decision and the New York press spent more space panning, rather than praising, the show. “The National football league can’t stand many more events of this kind and expect to be taken seriously by the football public,” wrote Stanley Woodward in the Herald Tribune. “The league revealed itself as definitely small town.” The biggest beef of the writers was the makeshift wooden press box erected 100 feet above the ground that “trembled and swayed continuously” in the 35-mile per hour winds, according to Louis Effrat of The New York Times. Even before the game, Bill Corum of the New York Journal-American wrote it was time the NFL dropped the small-town Packers. But winning another championship helped silence the critics and enhanced Green Bay’s standing in the league.
5. Dec. 17, 1944 (Packers 14, Giants 7 at Polo Grounds) – It was Lambeau’s last championship and occurring as World War II raged on two fronts, the victory certainly boosted the spirits of the Packers fans back home. The appearance of several Giants servicemen in the locker room after the game, eager for the war to end so they could get back to playing football, confirmed to Arthur Daley of The New York Times that the game’s players were in it for the love of the sport, not money. “That’s why professional football has grown so great,” Daley wrote two days after the game. “Perhaps the spirit of the participants is best exemplified by an incident which happened in Green Bay some years ago. The Packers lost their opener and a most promising freshman star remarked, ‘So what? It’s just another ball game.’ ‘Get out of here and don’t come back,’ snapped Curly Lambeau, white with rage. ‘We don’t want your type in this league.’ And he fired him on the spot.”