'55 THRILLER AT 'OLD' CITY STADIUM, PAIR OF '62 BATTLES STAND OUT IN PACKERS' 148-GAME RIVALRY WITH DETROIT LIONS
Inevitably, over the 74-year history of the Packers' rivalry with the Detroit Lions, one of the National Football League's oldest and most storied series, there has been a substantial collection of noteworthy battles.
-A 1993 Wild Card playoff game which saw the Packers pull out a victory in the closing seconds by way of a 40-yard Brett Favre bullseye to wide receiver Sterling Sharpe;
-A 1994 Wild Card playoff in which the Packers limited the incomparable Barry Sanders to a minus 1-yard rushing in 13 attempts, one of the most spectacular defensive performances in NFL postseason history; and
-Any number of Thanksgiving Day classics, particularly during the '50s and '60s when their holiday collisions in the Motor City were an annual Turkey Day highlight for 13 seasons on national television (1951-63).
But with their 149th meeting on the horizon - in Lambeau Field Sunday - few if any of those matchups linger in the memory like the Green and Gold's last minute, 20-17, come-from-behind victory in their mutual, 1955 season opener at "old" City Stadium on Green Bay's East Side.
As euphoric as the Packers faithful can get in victory, rarely has there been an eruption of such unbridled joy as the one that swept through the venerable structure on that September afternoon.
Major underdogs to the reigning Western Conference champion Lions, the Green and Gold trailed, 17-13, as the final minute continued to tick away. Quarterback Tobin Rote, dropping back from center, fired an 18-yard strike to Gary Knafelc for the winning touchdown as only 20 seconds remained.
Hit just inside the 1-yard line, Knafelc turned around and, eluding Detroit defensive backs Jack Christiansen and Karl Karilivacz on the play, dived into the end zone.
What happened next had to be seen to be believed.
Elated fans swept onto the field before Fred Cone could kick the extra point and proceeded to lift Rote and Knafelc to their shoulders, then carried Knafelc to the sidelines before order could be restored.
Knafelc, signed during the 1954 season after being released by the then-Chicago Cardinals, subsequently delivered the "quote" of the day.
Taking note of the fact that he would be receiving a suit of clothes from a local haberdasher as a reward for his game-winning catch, he quipped, "They should give out 33 suits for this one," a reference to the 33-man team roster then in effect.
The Packers' 1962 home-and-home showdowns with the Lions in 1962 also occupy a unique place in series annals - for contrasting reasons.
Their first '62 encounter, which brought the Lions to City Stadium (now Lambeau Field), was another last minute "save," later to become celebrated because that week's Packers preparations for the contest were featured in Vince Lombardi's first book, "Run to Daylight," written in collaboration with W.C. Heinz and subsequently a best-seller.
It was the fourth week of the season and the Packers, then en route to a 10-0 start, found themselves in a tightfisted struggle - one which saw the unbeaten Lions leading 7-6 with less than 2 minutes to play.
With Detroit facing third-and-8, the Packers' Herb Adderley intercepted a Milt Plum pass intended for Terry Barr in the right flat, and returned it 40 yards, setting the stage for Paul Hornung's game-winning 21-yard field goal with only 33 seconds left.
The Lions, openly chagrined over the outcome and how it had come about, let it be known in their post-game comments that they would be awaiting revenge in a Thanksgiving Day rematch seven weeks later at sprawling Tiger Stadium, then the home of baseball's Detroit Tigers as well as the Lions.
And, regrettably for the Green and Gold, the Lions did not forget. Clearly on a mission, they charged to a prohibitive, 26-0 halftime lead in Detroit's Tiger Stadium. Spearheaded by Roger Brown and Alex Karras, Detroit's defense literally had quarterback Bart Starr running for his life, sacking the Packers' field general 9 times for 93 yards in losses during the course of a long afternoon.
One of the latter saw Brown fell Starr in the end zone for a second-quarter safety as the aroused Lions, who forced five turnovers along the way, went up, 23-0.
Guard Fuzzy Thurston, one of Green Bay's "Guardian Angels" in company with Jerry Kramer, later wryly jested, "That was the day we invented the 'lookout block'...'Look out, Bart!'"
The victory lifted the Lions, then 9-2, to within one game of the Packers, who had appeared en route to the only undefeated season in their history coming into the Thanksgiving Day contest.
Lombardi, philosophical in defeat, took what amounted to a positive approach.
"From now on," he said, "we'll be a lot better ball club...I think we're all a little relieved."
He proved to be prophetic. The Packers went on to sweep their last three games - defeating the Los Angeles Rams at Milwaukee and the San Francisco 49ers and the Rams on the road to finish with a 13-1 record, which remains the best in Packers history.
(The Packers also posted 13-victory seasons in 1996 and 1997, but also had three losses in each of those campaigns under the 16-game format implemented by the NFL in 1978).
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. *