PACKERS AND GIANTS, PRINCIPALS IN A 'TITLED' RIVALRY, HAVE PLAYED FOR NFL HONORS 5 TIMES; 'DAVID' OWNS EDGE ON 'GOLIATH'
Taciturn Calvin Coolidge was occupying the White House, Babe Ruth was in his slugging prime and Gene Tunney was heavyweight boxing champion of the world when the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants began having at it on the football field.
That was in 1928, a time when 30-year-old Curly Lambeau was in his 10th season presiding over the Packers' artistic fortunes - and the burgeoning Green and Gold were en route to becoming a power in the National Football League, a dream they were to realize a year later when they won the first of three consecutive championships.
The Packers and Giants formally launched their rivalry in the third week of the '28 season (Oct. 7), the New Yorkers paying their first-ever visit to Green Bay and subsequently departing the original City Stadium - then only three years old - with a 6-0 victory.
The Green and Gold, visiting the "Big Apple" for the first time, had an opportunity for revenge five weeks later, invading New York's Polo Grounds Nov. 18 for their scheduled rematch. This time, the Packers scored the game's only touchdown and they emerged with a 7-0 win.
In the next day's newspapers, New York sportswriters made much of the fact that Packers halfback Eddie Kotal, a Lawrence College alumnus, did not wear a helmet in the game, and suggested that the reason was that the Packers could not afford proper equipment for all of their players.
In fact, however, it was because Kotal disliked wearing the leather headgear then in use - and since the league then had no rule requiring that helmets be worn - he regularly played the game without one.
Their helmets securely in place, as long since mandated by the NFL, the Packers and Giants have been infrequent adversaries in recent years - having crossed paths only four times in the last decade - but their series continues to be one of the most intriguing rivalries in professional football.
In part because of the "David and Goliath" matchup the rivalry suggests - small town Green Bay (102,000) against the Manhattan megalopolis - and in part because they have played for the recognized world championship of football five times over the years...more often than any two other teams in NFL history.
The Packers, to the delight of those who cheer for the underdog, have won four of those climactic contests.
The Giants had the better of it in the first of those showdowns, prevailing 23-17 at New York's venerable Polo Grounds in 1938, but the Packers have won the last four such encounters - 27-0 at Milwaukee's State Fair Park in 1939, thus recording the first shutout in NFL Championship Game history; 14-7 at New York in 1944; 37-0 in 1961 at Green Bay's City Stadium in (it was renamed Lambeau Field in 1965) and 16-7 at New York's Yankee Stadium in 1962. The Packers also lead the series, 24-20-2.
The NFL's playoff system, implemented in 1933, was in its infancy when the Packers and Giants met in the league's title game for the first time, in '38. The Packers overcame an early 9-0 deficit, spawned by two blocked punts deep in their own territory, subsequently taking their only lead of the game on a 15-yard field goal by Paul "Tiny" Engebretsen, 17-16, in the opening minutes of the second half.
But the Giants promptly retaliated with a 61-yard scoring drive, climaxed by a 23-yard pass From Ed Danowski to Hank Soar for what proved to be the winning margin, both clubs going scoreless in the fourth quarter.
A year later, it was a vastly different story when the same teams clashed for 1939 honors, this time in frigid State Fair Park at Milwaukee, where the Packers' Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell, though beset by bitter, 35-mph winds, both passed for touchdowns in escorting Green Bay to its fifth world championship before 32,279 fans, 27-0.
Out front by only 7-0 at halftime, the Packers left the Giants behind in the third quarter by way of a 29-yard Engebretsen field goal and a 31-yard touchdown pass from Isbell to Joe Laws, a score set up by Laws' 30-yard punt return.
It would be five years before the Packers and Giants played for the NFL title again, this time in 1944 against the backdrop of World War II, then still in progress. The impact of the conflict was subsequently brought home when one of the game's participants, Giants tackle Al Blozis, left for Army service following the contest and was killed during fighting in France soon after.
In the '44 matchup at the Polo Grounds, the Packers emerged from a tightfisted struggle with a 14-7 victory, attributable in large measure to a shrewd maneuver by Coach Curly Lambeau. Confident the Giants would focus their game plan on containing Don Hutson, Green Bay's incomparable end, Lambeau surprised the New Yorkers by employing Hutson primarily as a decoy throughout the contest.
As a result, fullback Ted Fritsch emerged as the offensive hero in the Packers' world title victory, their sixth and final championship under Lambeau. Fritsch scored both Green Bay touchdowns, the first on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal, and the other on a 28-yard pass-and-run collaboration with Irv Comp, staking the Packers to a 14-0 halftime lead.
Ward Cuff, later to become a Packer (1947), scored the Giants' touchdown on the opening play of the fourth quarter, a drive which found New York advancing past its own 35-yard line for the first time in the game.
Presiding over the Giants' offense at tailback in the losing cause was former Packer Arnie Herber, a Green Bay native and three-time league passing champion, who had been out of the game for three years before joining the '44 Giants.
Conversely, it was a former Giant, Vince Lombardi, who orchestrated the Packers' back-to-back victories over New York in the most recent title game showdowns between the teams.
Lombardi, who had been the Giants' offensive coordinator before coming to Green Bay as head coach and general manager in 1959, presided over a 37-0 rout of the Giants in their 1961 championship showdown on New Year's Eve afternoon, the first playoff game ever to be played in Green Bay.
Paul Hornung, then on leave from the Army (he had been flown in by private plane from Fort Riley, Kansas, for the weekend), amassed 19 points (one TD, three PAT and 3 FGs) to tie a playoff record and key the Packers' runaway.
With a stadium record 39,029 looking on, the Green and Gold erupted for 24 points in the second quarter. Overall, the Packers scored seven times against the NFL's top defensive team, amassing four touchdowns and three field goals. The defense was equally devastating, intercepting four passes and recovering one fumble while limiting the Giants to six first downs and 130 yards of offense.
One year later, amid an Arctic setting at Yankee Stadium, the Packers led the entire game while forging to a 16-7 victory and an eighth NFL title in a primitive, hand-to-hand struggle. It was a raw, blustery day when the wind chill, product of 13 degree temperatures and 40-mile per hour winds, registered a frigid 47 degrees below zero.
Middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, the game's eventual MVP, and right guard Jerry Kramer played key roles in the close-to-the-vest victory. Nitschke deflected a Giants pass early in the game, triggering an interception that blunted a New York drive at the Green Bay 10-yard line. He also recovered two fumbles, one that led to the Packers' only touchdown, and another that set up a Kramer field goal.
Over the course of the afternoon, Kramer kicked three field goals - one in each of the first, third and fourth quarters - which provided the eventual margin of victory. Meanwhile, the Giants' lone touchdown came after blocking a Max McGee punt in the Green Bay end zone, midway through the third quarter.
Following the game, a battered Jim Taylor - cuts and bruises covering his face and bleeding from the mouth - offered graphic testimony to the level of intensity in Yankee Stadium, punctuated by his highly physical battle with New York linebacker Sam Huff.
Huff played like a man possessed, from start to finish, having been embarrassed following the '61 title game by a nationally distributed photo showing him lying on Lambeau Field turf in the wake of Green Bay's offensive line, whose members appeared to be dusting off their hands en route back to the huddle after "disposing" of him.
Despite Huff's vendetta, the swashbuckling Taylor set a playoff record with 31 rushing attempts, good for 85 yards- paying a price for every yard.
Continuing an association with the team that is more than 55 years old, Lee Remmel was named the first official Team Historian of the Green Bay Packers in February 2004. The former *Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter and Packers public relations director, Remmel will write regular columns for Packers.com as part of his new assignment.
In addition to those articles, Remmel will answer fan questions in a monthly Q&A column. To submit a question to Remmel, click here. *