The city of Philadelphia will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its 1960 NFL Championship team this weekend, with alumni from that squad visiting the Eagles' Saturday walk-through practice and participating in a processional in a double-decker bus to Sunday's Packers-Eagles game.
Philadelphia's opponent in that 1960 title game was, of course, the Packers, as the Eagles won their third and last league championship with a 17-13 victory at Franklin Field the day after Christmas.
But as players from that '60 squad are recognized before Sunday's 2010 season opener at Lincoln Financial Field, it's worth remembering the significance that championship game 50 years ago carried for Green Bay as well.
As it turned out, the heartbreaking loss – which ended with Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor getting tackled on the Philadelphia 8-yard line as the clock ran out – marked the only time legendary head coach Vince Lombardi and his 1960s Packers lost a postseason game. Lombardi would lead the Packers to nine consecutive postseason victories after that, including five championships in the next seven years.
Taylor, who spoke with Packers.com over the phone this week from his home in Louisiana, recalled how that season and that game in particular – taking the highly touted Eagles to the wire on their own field – helped establish where the Packers were headed.
"We were kind of the Cinderellas then," Taylor said. "Two years before, we had a 1-10-1 record in my rookie year in '58, worst in Packer history."
Lombardi took over in '59 and led the team to a 7-5 mark. In '60, Green Bay started just 5-4 but won its final three games, all on the road, to get a shot at the NFL title against the Eagles, who were 10-2.
The underdog Packers nearly pulled it off. They stopped the Eagles at their own 4-yard line late in the third quarter and subsequently took a 13-10 lead in the fourth on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Bart Starr to Max McGee.
But the Eagles' Ted Dean returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards, leading to Dean's own 5-yard TD run with 5:21 left. The Packers made one final push, driving to the Philadelphia 22-yard line in the closing moments, but the game ended with Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik tackling Taylor at the 8.
"I got the ball and I did what I could but they had it defensed," Taylor said. "I was a safety valve I suppose and ended up with it, but I just couldn't get it in the end zone. The others were covered in the end zone and (Starr) dumped it out to me as desperation, but they had me pinned down. I had no chance to break any tackles or have any chance to make the score."
Despite the loss, Taylor believed what the team accomplished that season, its second under Lombardi, set the stage for the great run to come.
"We were growing and learning," he said. "Not making any excuses or anything, but they were just the better team on that day.
"We got to the door but we didn't open it. They won, but it gives you something to work toward and builds some of your confidence. We really did something those next couple years, and that gave you an indication of the team coming together and playing some good, sound, solid football."
Those next couple of years, '61 and '62, produced back-to-back NFL titles, the Packers' first championships since 1944. In '62, the Packers were able to exact some small measure of revenge on the Eagles, visiting Philadelphia for the first time since the '60 title game and winning in blowout fashion, 49-0.
"We just were a totally different football team that had moved to another level," Taylor said of the 'rematch' two years later. "They beat us fairly, straight up before, but their team didn't win a lot of games after the '60 championship for a while, and we did. We started to really get Lombardi's philosophy and leadership established."
Indeed, beginning in '62, the Eagles finished above .500 only once over a span of 16 seasons and never added another championship after 1960. Meanwhile, the Packers followed up their consecutive titles with three more in '65, '66 and '67, the final two years concluding with the first two Super Bowls.
Interestingly, however, the Packers' 49-0 shutout win in Philadelphia in 1962 is the last thing the Packers have had to cheer about in that town. What still ranks as the most lopsided home loss ever handed to the Eagles in their 77-year history also marks Green Bay's last victory there.
The Packers didn't return to Philadelphia until 1974, but beginning with a 36-14 loss that year, Green Bay has lost nine straight games in Philly. One of the more memorable defeats was in the early stages of the 1997 season, when rookie kicker Ryan Longwell missed a 28-yard field goal in the final moments of a 10-9 decision.
Six years later, there was of course the infamous fourth-and-26 game in the NFC Divisional playoffs, when the Eagles converted the improbable down-and-distance to set up a tying field goal and send the game into overtime. Quarterback Brett Favre's interception in the extra period led to Philly's game-winning points.
The Packers then lost regular-season contests in Philadelphia each of the next three seasons, 2004-06, to run the losing streak to nine. Green Bay's last visit there was in Head Coach Mike McCarthy's first season, a 31-9 defeat on Monday Night Football.
So the Packers would appear to have plenty of history working against them as they attempt to get their 2010 season off on the right foot Sunday.
But looked at another way, maybe opening a season filled with such hope and promise in Philadelphia will provide Green Bay with the same opportunity the NFL Championship Game 50 years ago did – to show where they're headed.
Only, unlike the result Taylor and Lombardi's Packers experienced back then, they'd like the significance to be represented with a victory.
*Note: Taylor, who held the Packers' all-time rushing record until last season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976, has a new book available entitled The Fire Within. Taylor is scheduled to conduct a book signing from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18, at the Packers Pro Shop in the Lambeau Field Atrium.*
Additional coverage – Sept. 10