Jon's Joggings: Photo find leads to early Packers, NFL memories
A series of seemingly unrelated events last week all came together to conger up memories of significant moments in the history of the National Football League.
I purchased an 8 x 10 framed glossy photo of the Green Bay Packers in action in a secondhand store in River Falls. Later I heard of the death of former Detroit Lions great Alex Karras.
What do these two things have in common? Well, I'll tell you.
The photo caught my eye because it depicted the famous Green Bay sweep against the Chicago Bears.
Quarterback Bart Starr had just handed off to halfback Paul Hornung, guards Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer were pulling out to lead the blocking. Tackle Forrest Gregg was battling with a defensive lineman and fullback Jim Taylor was heading downfield to block, presumably a linebacker.
The significance of the photo was in the details. It was obviously the early 1960s because of the uniforms -- helmets with no logos.
The Bears were in their white uniforms of the era indicating a home game for the Packers, most likely at City Stadium, which became the Lambeau Field of today after a few additions.
Legendary Bears in the photo were most likely Joe Fortunato, Bill George, Fred Williams and Doug Aitkins.
Through a process of elimination, web research and an email discussion with my old friend and former Packer public relations director, Chuck Lane, I pretty much narrowed down the time of the photo to the 1960 season.
A history of the Packers' uniforms on the web lists 1961 as the first season for the famous "G" helmet logo designed by long-time equipment manager Dad Braisher
It also marked the beginning of the Packer dynasty under Coach Vince Lombardi.
Lombardi took over in 1959 and went 7-5. In 1960 the Packers posted an 8-4 record and won the NFL's Western Division then lost by a 17-13 margin to the Philadelphia Eagles in the championship game at Franklin Field in Philly.
In 1961 they went 11-3 and pounded the New York Giants 37-0 in Green Bay's City Stadium on Dec. 31.
Then came the 1962 team, one of the best.
"The '62 Packers, I feel, was the best team to ever play," said Lane.
The 1962 Packers went 13-1 during the season, including a 10-0 streak, and won the NFL championship on Dec. 30 with a 16-7 victory over the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium (linebacker Ray Nitschke was MVP of the game, a rare honor for a defensive player).
Pro football was still second fiddle to major college bowl games and championship games were played in late December.
The winning streak was snapped on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22; against the Detroit Lions and a defense led by -- you guessed it -- tackle Alex Karras.
I remember watching the game on black and white TV. I was just shy of 17 at the time.
I specifically remember Karras raining havoc on Bart Starr. Few defensive statistics were kept except for fumble recoveries and interceptions.
Sacks didn't become official until more than a decade later, but some statistics-minded individual has determined Starr was sacked 11 times in the game.
It seemed to me Karras got at least half of them. He lived inside Starr's No. 15 jersey all day.
The Lions won the game 26-14, but the game wasn't as close as the score suggests. Green Bay, down 26-0, scored all its points in the fourth quarter on a fumble recovery by Willie Davis and a 4-yard rush by Taylor.
Hornung and Karras were suspended from football in 1963 for betting on NFL games. Both players were reinstated in 1964.
The suspensions are blamed for Hornung's late induction into Canton in 1986, some 20 years after he retired, and Karras, who deserves it, never got the nod.
Karras, however, became a media star. I first saw him on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and he was genuinely funny.
He joined the Monday Night Football crew in 1974 with Howard Cosell and played in a number of movies, probably the most memorable to youngsters, who never knew he was a football player, was his character "Mongo" in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles."
So a series of unexpected incidents brought back memories of a great era in the NFL and the beginning of the Packers' "Glory Years."