Williams Memories Complement '65 Title Game In Browns Series
Any reflection upon the Packers' competitive history with the Cleveland Browns is likely to focus on a single game ... one now 40 years distant.
And understandably so. It was, after all, a time when they were mutually deciding the National Football League championship (Jan. 2, 1966) ... and in Lambeau Field, appropriately enough.
Plus, the Packers ultimately trudged from their snowy turf -- which had to be shoveled off by hand before the principals could take the field -- with a 23-12 victory on that occasion.
But there is at least one other game in the rivalry, to be renewed when the Ohioans visit "Lambeau" Sunday for Green Bay's regular-season home opener, that merits an extensive review.
Because of its record-breaking pyrotechnics, it deserves no less.
And because it dramatically showcased the dazzling talents of Travis Williams, one of the most gifted athletes in the Packers' long history ... and also one of the most tragic figures in team annals.
The Green and Gold were pursuing a "three-peat"-- the first such championship trifecta under the NFL's playoff system - and the Browns were en route to a Century Division title when they came together in Milwaukee County Stadium the afternoon of Nov. 12, 1967.
And Williams, a fourth-round selection in that year's NFL draft, was a mercurial rookie running back just beginning to emerge from relative obscurity, a circumstance he was to desert in spectacular fashion that day.
Blessed with blistering 4.3 speed in the '40' -- in full gear -- the 6-1, 210-pound Californian had made his first "strike" just two weeks earlier. Inserted by Coach Vince Lombardi as a returner for the first time in a mid-season game at St. Louis, he had run back an early fourth quarter kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown to trigger a 31-23, come-from-behind Green Bay victory over the Cardinals in Busch Memorial Stadium.
Prior to that explosive sortie, which had been preceded by a modest 28-yard return of a Cardinals kickoff in the closing seconds of the first half, Williams had been largely anonymous. He had, over time, been in Lombardi's "doghouse" because of a fumbling problem, one the coach dealt with by requiring Travis to carry a football with him wherever he went, day in and day out, throughout training camp and the preseason.
Obviously primed for a breakout performance that November afternoon in '67, Williams wasted no time in making his presence known. Pulling in the opening kickoff from Hall of Famer Lou Groza, he quickly swept into the open and sprinted 87 yards to a touchdown.
And that, for both Williams and the Green and Gold, was only the beginning.
The Packers' defense, always opportunistic under veteran coordinator Phil Bengtson, then took a large hand in the proceedings before Williams reclaimed the spotlight with a spectacular "reprise" of his game-opening excursion.
A Bob Jeter interception led to a Bart Starr 14-yard touchdown throw to tight end Marv Fleming. A Ray Nitschke fumble recovery at the Cleveland 37-yard-line shortly was climaxed by Donny Anderson's 2-yard scoring run. Then a Jim Flanigan fumble recovery, returned to the Browns' 27-yard line, was expeditiously converted into the Packers' fourth touchdown of the opening period, Starr finding Anderson with a scoring strike up the middle on first down.
With Don Chandler's fourth conversion, it already was 28-0, with only 10:27 elapsed in the game. Here, then, the Browns made a successful swipe at retaliation - their only one of the afternoon - scoring in three plays, running back Ernie Green cantering 59 yards for the score.
The wing-footed Williams, who had come to be known as the "The Roadrunner," then returned to center stage. Fielding Groza's kickoff at the Green Bay 15, he streaked 85 yards to the fifth touchdown of that remarkable opening period, registered with 2:59 still remaining in the quarter.
He thus became the first - and to date, only -- player in the National Football League's 85-year history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same quarter of any game.
Beyond his record-setting efforts, the 35 points the Packers scored in those first 15 minutes (Chandler had added a fifth conversion following Williams' second breakaway), remain to this day the most ever scored in the opening quarter of an NFL regular season game.
For the Roadrunner, his County Stadium heroics against the Browns also served as a springboard to the most spectacular season for a kickoff returner in NFL history. Subsequently posting a record fourth scoring runback, he went on to close out the season with 18 returns for 739 yards and an imposing 41.06-yard average, the latter still an NFL record.
Two years later, Williams staged a similar "show," returning a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a game at Pittsburgh (Nov. 2, 1969), although not in the same quarter.
Traded to the Los Angeles Rams following the 1970 season, he was essentially out of football a year later -- at 25 -- much earlier than he should have been.
Sadly, he died, homeless, among the street people in Martinez, Calif., at the age of 45 in February of 1991.
It was not, ironically, the kind of fate that would have been envisioned for Williams when he arrived in Green Bay as a sunny, 21-year-old rookie from Arizona State in 1967.
The team's then veteran equipment manager, G. E. "Dad" Braisher would say with evident affection, "Travis Williams comes in with a smile on his face every morning ... It makes you feel good ... It's always a pleasure to be around him ..."
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. *