Yes, Vince Lombardi blew a fuse in San Francisco

1965 game at Kezar Stadium kept Packers title hopes alive

Former Packers Head Coach Vince Lombardi

Doug from Sacramento, CA

First Packers game I ever went to was in 1965. I was 15. My dad took me and my brother to Kezar Stadium for Green Bay-San Francisco. Game ended in a tie. GB had secured playoff spot; outcome had no effect on seeding. But Vincent Thomas Lombardi was p-----. Royally p-----. I've heard a tale he was so p------ he called a practice when the Packers arrived home, whenever that was. Have you heard anything like that?

First, let me say, lucky you. I never had the opportunity to attend a game at Kezar, but always wanted to. Watching on television as a kid, I was intrigued by the stadium's character and especially that old scoreboard clock. It was my favorite NFL stadium and I finally got to at least see a reconstructed Kezar in January 1998. Before the Packers played the 49ers that year in the NFC Championship at 3Com Park – a sorry excuse for a pro football stadium if there ever was one – my wife and I spent several hours walking around Golden Gate Park, mostly exploring and taking pictures of what by then was a scaled-down Kezar. But in my mind's eye, especially at the end of the stadium where a replica arch had replaced the original, I could envision the old Kezar and what it would have been like watching a game there in the 1960s. An added treat was heading across the street afterward for a few beers and to soak up the memorabilia that filled the walls of Kezar Pub. But to your question. Yes, Vince Lombardi was livid that day. He tore into the officials during the game. He snapped at reporters in his post-game interview. Did he tear into his team? Not sure, but I think that would have been out of character for him and maybe why he took out his wrath on everyone else. For the record, the Packers beat the Baltimore Colts the week before in a do-or-die game. Had they lost, they would have been eliminated from the race before the final weekend. Back then only the Eastern and Western Conference champions got to play for the title, so the game you went to would have been meaningless following a loss to the Colts. Instead, the Packers headed to San Francisco from Baltimore leading the Western Conference with a 10-3 record, a half-game better than the 9-3-1 Colts. On Saturday, Dec. 18, the Colts beat the Rams in Los Angeles to finish 10-3-1. The Packers played the 49ers the next day. Win and they'd finish 11-3 and host Cleveland in the NFL Championship. If they had lost, they would have finished 10-4, a half-game behind the Colts, and played for the third straight year in the NFL's meaningless Runner-up bowl or what Lombardi called, among other things, a "hinky-dink" game. Thus, the Packers' entire season hinged on the game you attended. And the 24-24 tie resulted in the Packers and Colts tying for the Western Conference title with 10-3-1 records, forcing a playoff the next weekend at Lambeau Field. But back to your sunny, 54-degree day in Kezar. Lombardi threw his first fit late in the second quarter when Willie Wood returned what Lombardi believed was a fumble 82 yards for a touchdown. What caused him to go ballistic was that not until after both teams had lined up for the extra point did the officials decide 49ers back John David Crow had muffed a lateral, not fumbled it, and nullified the TD. Obviously, this was before instant replay. And not surprisingly, Lombardi stormed onto the field and flew into a rage, screaming at the officials. His beef was that the official furthest away from the play had made the call. As it turned out, it might have been the right call, but it cost the Packers a victory. With 1:07 left, the 49ers tied the score on a John Brodie touchdown pass and, back then, there was no overtime. At first, Lombardi was philosophical about the outcome when he met with reporters. "Disappointed we didn't win; happy we didn't lose," he said, before adding, "But I'm happy to be where I am. We could have lost it." And then he lost it. When a reporter asked him how he felt about the muff call, he barked, "It's none of your business how I feel. I've already said my piece to the officials." When someone asked him where the Colts-Packers playoff game would be played, he shot back: "How could you ask such a damn dumb question?…If you don't know where the game is to be played you shouldn't be here asking questions." The Packers' flight out of San Francisco was delayed more than an hour-and-a-half when their busses got snarled in traffic leaving Kezar and, thus, they didn't land at O'Hare Airport in Chicago until 1 a.m. While the team switched planes and headed to Green Bay, I believe Lombardi probably stayed in Chicago overnight. He had a press conference scheduled for noon on Monday at the Drake Hotel to announce the signing of No.1 draft pick Jim Grabowski. A fullback at Illinois, Grabowski also had been drafted No. 1 by the Miami Dolphins. That was when the NFL and AFL were bidding against each other for players and so Grabowski's signing was huge. I can tell you for sure that Lombardi was at the press conference in Chicago and his players had Monday off in Green Bay. Also, in his post-game press conference, Lombardi had described the Packers' effort against the 49ers as only "fair." But here's why I doubt if he laced into his players after the game. They now had ado-or-die playoff game coming up against the Colts and Lombardi, generally, from what his players have said, was much less insufferable before big games as opposed to those where the Packers were expected to win. He simply trusted his players to be ready without much prodding from him.

Mark from Jamestown, NC

I truly enjoy your work on the history of Green Bay Packers. Grew up in Winston-Salem, NC in the '60s. Over the years, I have seen brief mentions of the Packers playing exhibition games in Winston-Salem in the '50s and maybe early '60s probably at Bowman Gray Stadium where Wake Forest used to play its games, and Winston-Salem State and some high schools still do. Also, in one of the books written about Lombardi, I saw a brief mention that he might have applied for the head coaching job at Wake Forest University. Interesting to think of what his impact on Wake Forest football might have been! Some of the history is not positive due to the racial climate of the time. Can you expand on those topics and the Packers history in Winston-Salem?

Thanks for being a loyal reader. Several years ago, I also made a point of visiting Bowman Gray Stadium because you are correct: The Packers played six preseason games there against Washington from 1955 to 1960. The last two were played when Lombardi was coaching. That was during an era when the Packers played five or six exhibitions – as they were called then – and most of them in non-NFL or neutral cities. I believe that was done strictly for financial reasons, not only to pad the Packers' profits, but also for the benefit of the communities where the games were played. They were heavily promoted. For example, before the Packers played in Winston-Salem for the first time in 1955, there was a banquet for both squads on Tuesday night and both spent several days in the area practicing. That year, the Packers stayed in nearby Greensboro and practiced at Guilford College. In 1960, before the last game, the Packers arrived two days before the game and practiced on Friday at Greensboro High School. I don't know if they stayed in Greensboro every year; and I don't know if Guilford and Greensboro High shared a stadium. It was interesting, though, despite the promotional efforts to drum up interest, Bowman Gray sat about 25,000 and the game never drew more than 15,000. It was billed as the Piedmont Bowl and tickets the last few years, at least, sold for $4. The smallest crowd was 8,000 in 1960, Lombardi's second season. The Packers won, 41-7, and Bart Starr threw three touchdown passes and pulled ahead in his battle with Lamar McHan for the starting quarterback job. The Piedmont Bowl contract expired at that point and it was decided even before the game not to renew it. I also believe Wake Forest then tagged one of the games on its schedule with the name Piedmont Bowl. In 1972, the Packers also practiced at Wake Forest's Groves Stadium most of the week before their Dec. 24 playoff game in Washington. As for Lombardi being a candidate for the Wake Forest coaching job, I've never heard that and I can't imagine he would have been interested after he finally landed his first NFL head coaching job in Green Bay. I'd even be surprised if he was interested when he was younger. My guess is like so many stories, it's one that has been exaggerated and twisted over the years. At the end of the 1968 season, when Wake Forest hired Cal Stoll, a Michigan State assistant, to replace Bill Tate, the other finalist for the job was Red Cochran, Lombardi's backfield coach in Green Bay from 1959-66. Cochran had been a star football and baseball player at Wake Forest both before and after World War II. He also launched his coaching career as an assistant at the school. Pat Peppler also served for a year as an assistant coach at Wake Forest before Lombardi hired him as personnel director in 1963.

Joe from Superior, WI

In the 1920s, Duluth had an NFL team called the Kelleys and later the Eskimos. I can only find one game where Green Bay played in Duluth and that was on Sept. 28, 1924. What can you tell me about the game?

Joe, I'm guessing you've been to the site of the game. It was located just beyond the outfield wall, where Duluth's baseball park stands today. The name in 1924 was Athletic Park. What's now Wade Stadium, built in 1941 and recently renovated, replaced it. You may know this, but for others: Duluth was in the NFL for five seasons, from 1923 to 1927, and also had a formidable semipro team before joining the league. The Packers played Duluth for the first time at the end of the 1922 season in a non-league game that in a roundabout way saved football in Green Bay. Then the two teams played five league games, four in Green Bay. The Packers were 3-1-1 and lost the game that was played in Duluth. Again for background, the Duluth team was nicknamed the Kelleys after the hardware store that sponsored it the first three years. They became the Eskimos and also strictly a traveling team when they signed the great Ernie Nevers in 1926. The final score of that 1924 game was 6-3, with all the scoring coming in the fourth quarter. Attendance was a disappointing 2,200. Cub Buck dropkicked Green Bay's field goal for a 3-0 lead before the Kelleys countered with a touchdown pass from Cobb Rooney to Jack Underwood. Rooney was one of three brothers on Duluth's team. Maybe the most interesting thing about the game was the Packers' trip to and from. They left for Duluth on an 8:20 Chicago & North Western train the night before the game, transferred to a Soo line sleeper in Neenah, Wis., slept in a Pullman car and arrived in Duluth about 9 a.m. Sunday. Kickoff was 2 p.m., which was early enough in those days for the Packers to catch a 5:30 p.m. train home. One other note: Halsey Hall, the old Twin Cities sportswriter and broadcaster, was the referee.