50 years ago: Haunted by earlier loss, Lombardi’s Packers roll past College All-Stars, 27-0
Vince Lombardi never let his 1967 team forget what happened in the 1963 College All-Star Game in Chicago.
The Green Bay Packers were the two-time defending National Football League champions and coming off a stellar 1962 season with a 13-1 team in its prime that was arguably one of the best in franchise history. Green Bay dominated the NFL that season, outscoring opponents, 415-148, and won the league championship game, 16-7, over the Giants in New York.
Lombardi’s Packers — minus Paul Hornung due to suspension and Ray Nitschke due to a broken arm — were still heavy favorites to crush the collection of College All-Stars in the annual game pitting them against the current professional champions at Soldier Field.
In a gridiron upset for the ages, former University of Wisconsin teammates Ron Vander Kelen and Pat Richter hooked up on a 73-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to cement a 20-17 victory for the underdogs.
“Vince was pretty upset after that loss — he told us it was his most embarrassing loss of his coaching career,” said Dave Robinson, the Packers’ first-round draft choice in 1963 who played with the College All-Stars. “We then had dinner with the Packers after the game and it was pretty quiet. Training camp was pretty rough under Vince for the next week.”
Lombardi did not want a repeat of that upset in 1967, with his Packers squad again shooting for the elusive third straight NFL Championship.
“Vince had a single thing in mind — winning three championships in a row,” Robinson said. “He wanted nothing to interfere with that.
“I remember distinctly Lombardi telling us winning was a habit, and so was losing. And he wanted us starting out the 1967 season with a win in the College All-Star Game.”
The 1967 All-Stars roster featured quarterbacks Steve Spurrier (Florida) and Bob Griese (Purdue), running backs Mel Farr (UCLA) and Floyd Little (Syracuse), and big-play receiver Gene Washington (Michigan State).
One defender was also grabbing the pre-game headlines: defensive tackle Bubba Smith of Michigan State.
“This College All-Star team was supposed to be the best ever and the biggest and fastest and meanest of them all was Bubba Smith — a talented kid who I knew would be a challenge,” said right guard Jerry Kramer, who faced off against the 6-foot-8, 287-pound All-American defender.
Kramer studied film of Smith and was impressed with his overall speed and quickness off the ball. But he also noticed he didn’t use his hands well, and Kramer felt he could pop him in the chest and drive him back. “If (a player) uses his hands well, he can grab you and throw you when you’re trying to pop him, and he’ll go right by you,” Kramer wrote in his book, Instant Replay.
Also fueling Kramer’s desire to play well against the rookie was the Chicago Tribune’s pre-game ads stating, “Come see Bubba Smith hit Bart Starr.” Remember, this was Bears country.
On the first series of the game, the ad proved prophetic. Smith displayed his trademark quickness and blew by Kramer to sack Starr for a 10-yard loss. “That was a wake-up call. I had to stay between Bubba and Bart, or Coach Lombardi’s going to be very, very unhappy with me,” Kramer said. “After that, I adjusted and held him in check pretty good.”
Don Chandler kicked two short field goals after drives fizzled inside the All-Stars’ 10-yard line and the veteran Packers got untracked as Starr threw touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler (11 yards) and Bob Long (22 yards).
The Green Bay offense was methodical but unspectacular in the 27-0 romp before 70,934 fans on a warm August evening. Starr played just one half, and Jim Grabowski rushed nine times for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Grabowski was a surprise addition, as he played on only a few hours sleep on the drive to Chicago after getting released from National Guard duty in Milwaukee for the day to play in the game. The former University of Illinois All-American was a difference-maker.
The Packers defense was superb, pitching a shutout and limiting the All-Stars to just 33 yards rushing and 103 yards passing.
“Our defense was really solid in 1967,” Robinson said. “We had to carry the load at times as the offense got going. Remember, Hornung and Taylor were gone. The offensive line was getting a little long in the tooth and the young running backs (Donny Anderson and Grabowski) had a lot of pressure on them. The team was changing, but one constant was our defense.”
Another constant was the relentless focus of their head coach.
“It wasn’t about the money, it wasn’t about the rings, it wasn’t about the Super Bowl,” Robinson said. “It was about doing something that had never been done in the history of professional football: win three championships in a row. Vince said we were the team to do it.”
Despite the victory over the College All-Stars, Lombardi saw plenty of room for improvement in the week film session. As Kramer detailed in Instant Replay: “Coach had a few more comments about the All-Star game, and he wasn’t in such a good mood. First he said the halfbacks were absolutely useless. Then he said that the blocking by our flankers was an absolute disgrace. In fact he said the blocking by everybody was a disgrace.”
Lombardi was so upset, he handed out blocking grades written on a piece of paper to each individual instead of reading them aloud in the session.
Kramer wrote, “I got a 54 for blocks on running plays and a 67 for blocks on passing plays. A passing grade is supposed to be 65 percent on runs and 85 percent on passes, so obviously Vince thought my blocking was miserable. But I checked around and I found out that my grades were about average for the game.
“The grading has to be pretty subjective, but even though we all know that the grades aren’t very accurate, they do accomplish their purpose. . . my pride’s going to be hurt, and I’m going to block a lot harder the next week.”
Packer Plus magazine is published 40 times a year. To subscribe, call 1-844-900-7103.