Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
1961: New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped
without losing the continuity of the article.


Vince Lombardi


Allie Sherman and Y. A. Tittle


Erich Barnes


Private Paul Hornung


Ray Nitschke, Army reservist


Boyd Dowler

The biggest drama in the NFL during the off-season was whether Vince Lombardi would return to New York as coach of the Giants.
  • Jim Lee Howell had announced before the 1960 season began that he would retire at the end of that campaign as New York's head coach.
  • Even as November faded into December, New York writers speculated that the lure of the Big Apple would be too much for Lombardi.
    Red Smith wrote in the New York Herald Tribune: Lombardi has relished his success in Green Bay, has enjoyed being his own boss even though the double job makes heavy demands on his time. But he doesn't try to hide his homesickness ... They love Vincent in Green Bay. They would love him in New York.
    Vince's longtime friend Arthur Daley of the New York Times called him "a New Yorker a heart" and "always the Giants' boy."
  • But people Vince admired in the NFL, such as George Halas, Paul Brown, and, to a lesser extent, new Commissioner Pete Rozelle, urged him to stay in Green Bay. He had saved that venerable franchise but, if he left, it would fall into danger again.
  • Lombardi agonized through the winter of 1961 over whether to ask the Packers for a release from his contract. He finally decided to remain and fulfill the obligations he had incurred in Green Bay. Besides, he relished coaching "the damn good team" he had returning.
  • After waiting for his friend's decision, Giants owner Wellington Mara promoted offensive coordinator Allie Sherman to the head coaching position. Little did anyone know that the two men would meet for the NFL Championship the very next season.

The NFL added another expansion team, the Minnesota Vikings, to pair with the Dallas Cowboys from the previous year.

  • The Cowboys moved from the West to the East to balance the conferences with seven teams each.
  • Two weeks were added to regular season schedule, giving each team 14 games.
The Giants returned to the top of the East, nosing out the defending NFL champions from Philadelphia by a half-game.
  • The difference from 1960 was that the G-men beat the Sonny Jurgenson-led Eagles both times they played in '61 after losing both encounters with Norm Van Brocklin's gang the year before.
  • The top-notch defense returned intact, giving up almost a touchdown less per game than in 1960 thanks in part to the NFL's best secondary. Dick Lynch (whose nine picks led the league), Jimmy Patton, Erich Barnes (with the most INT return yards in the circuit), and Joe Morrison combined to lead the league in INTs with 33 (four more than the Packers).
  • The offense was reinvigorated with the acquisition of QB Y. A. Tittle off the 49ers' bench. At age 35, he completed 57.2% of his passes for 2,272y and 17 TDs.
    Missing from the Giants lineup for 1961 was a mainstay of their team for nine years, HB Frank Gifford. In February, he had announced his retirement from pro football after he missed the second half of the '60 season following a vicious hit by Chuck Bednarik of the Eagles. The event that clinched his departure was CBS offering him a long-term radio contract for nearly twice the pay he made as a Giant.

As the chased instead of the upstart, Lombardi pushed his defending West champions even more.

  • The offense functioned like a well-oiled machine, leading the league with 391 points, 23 more than the Giants. The order in points allowed was the opposite, NY edging the Pack 220-223.
  • After inexplicably losing to the Lions on opening day in Green Bay 17-13, the Packers reeled off six wins in a rows and took ten of their next eleven to win the division by 2.5 games over 8-5-1 Detroit.
  • The main additions to Lombardi's lineup were DBs Willie Wood, in his second year, and rookie Herb Adderley. They were ably mentored by veteran Emlen Tunnell not only in how to cover receivers but also how to be an African-American in an overwhelmingly caucasian league.
  • Working behind an incomparable offensive line, QB Bart Starr set a franchise record for passing yards, and FB Jim Taylor ran for 1,307y (trailing only Jim Brown of Cleveland) and 15 TDs (tops in the league).
    Lombardi might have ruled his team with an iron hand, but he couldn't control international affairs. When the Soviets constructed the Berlin wall late that summer, President John Kennedy activated thousands of military reservists and national guardsman. Three Packers received their call-up notices in October: Paul Hornung, Boyd Dowler, and Ray Nitschke.
    Vince contacted Pentagon officials to get them to grant deferments to Hornung and Nitschke as "critical members of the team." Fans all over Wisconsin wrote letters on behalf of their heroes. With the Cuban Missile Crisis looming, the Pentagon brass couldn't justify deferring football players. However, Hornung got a break by being stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas where the commanding officer was a friend of Lombardi from the days when Vince coached at West Point. So he approved Paul being allowed to join his other team on Sundays providing it did not interfere with his military duties. So the triple-threat HB played in 12 of the 14 games - he missed the Sunday before Thanksgiving as well as the annual Turkey Day game at Detroit. With his kicking ability, he led the NFL in scoring to win the league MVP award. Nitschke also missed two games while Dowler took the field in all 14.

The two teams met in Milwaukee December 3.

  • The Packers O-line surprised the Giants' strong defense with some unusual blocking stunts to spring Taylor for 186y in the 20-17 victory.
  • Encouraged by the last minute loss, Sherman and his staff made some "adjustments" for the championship clash to stifle the run game and force Starr to take to the air more.

As the Packers prepared for the title game, they received good news about their army callups.

  • Hornung was given a week's leave from the Army to participate in the game and practiced with the team from Tuesday on. Paul said his weight, which had been 218 at the start of the season, had dropped to 202 while in the service but had been beefed up to 212.
  • Dowler and Nitschke were also on Army leave, giving Lombardi his full squad for practice for the first time in eight weeks.
    Hornung was able to play thanks to intervention from on high. Let Paul tell the story from his autobiography:
    I was supposed to begin a six-day leave the Tuesday after the championship game. I asked my captain if I could switch the leave to December 27-January 3 so I'd be able to play in the NFL title game. Much to my surprise, the SOB said no.
    I immediately called Lombardi and told him we had a problem. He listened, then said, "Let me make a phone call and I'll call you back in twenty minutes." When he called back, he said, "I think your captain is about ready to get a phone call that will get you off to play."
    Damned if he hadn't called President Kennedy. Sure enough, the captain got an imme­diate call from the White House. At first, he didn't believe it was really JFK on the line. Heck, everybody was impersonating Kennedy's Massachusetts accent back then. But when it dawned on the captain that it was, indeed, Kennedy, it wasn't long before Pri­vate Hornung was on his way to Green Bay to play in the championship on December 31.
1961 New York Giants
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
11 Lee Grosscup QB 6-1 185 Washington, Utah 2
12 Pete Hall E 6-2 200 Marquette 1
14 Y. A. Tittle QB 6-0 190 LSU 11
20 Jimmy Patton DB 5-11 185 Mississippi 7
21 Allan Webb DB 5-11 180 Arnold 1
22 Dick Lynch DB 6-1 200 Notre Dame 4
24 Phil King FB 6-4 225 Vanderbilt 4
28 Joel Wells HB 6-1 200 Clemson 1
29 Alex Webster FB 6-3 225 North Carolina State 7
34 Don Chandler K 6-2 215 Florida 6
35 Bob Gaiters HB 5-11 210 New Mexico State 1
40 Joe Morrison DB 6-1 210 Cincinnati 3
41 Gene Johnson DB 6-0 185 Cincinnati 3
42 Charlie Conerly QB 6-1 185 Mississippi 14
44 Kyle Rote HB 6-0 200 SMU 11
49 Erich Barnes DB 6-2 200 Purdue 4
52 Larry Hayes LB 6-3 220 Vanderbilt 1
53 Greg Larson T 6-3 250 Minnesota 1
55 Ray Wietecha C 6-1 225 Michigan St., Northwestern 9
61 Zeke Smith G 6-2 235 Auburn 2
62 Darrell Dess G 6-0 245 North Carolina State 4
65 Mickey Walker G 6-0 235 Michigan State 1
66 Jack Stroud G 6-1 235 Tennessee 9
70 Sam Huff LB 6-1 230 West Virginia 6
72 Chuck Janerette T 6-3 255 Penn State 2
75 Jim Katcavage DE 6-3 235 Dayton 6
76 Roosevelt Grier DT 6-5 285 Penn State 7
77 Dick Modzelewski DT 6-0 250 Maryland 9
79 Roosevelt Brown T 6-3 255 Morgan State 9
80 Joe Walton TE 5-11 200 Pittsburgh 5
81 Andy Robustelli DE 6-1 230 Arnold 11
82 Tom Scott LB 6-2 220 Virginia 9
83 Bob Simms LB 6-1 230 Rutgers 2
85 Del Shofner SE 6-3 185 Baylor 5
88 Pat Summerall K 6-4 230 Arkansas 10
89 Cliff Livingston LB 6-3 220 UCLA 8
1961 Green Bay Packers
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
3 Ben Agajanian K 6-0 215 New Mexico 17
5 Paul Hornung HB 6-2 215 Notre Dame 5
15 Bart Starr QB 6-1 195 Alabama 6
18 John Roach QB 6-4 195 SMU 6
22 Elijah Pitts HB 6-1 205 Philander Smith 1
24 Willie Wood DB 5-10 190 USC 2
25 Tom Moore HB 6-2 215 Vanderbilt 2
26 Herb Adderley DB 6-0 205 Michigan State 1
27 John Symank DB 5-11 180 Florida 5
31 Jim Taylor FB 6-0 215 LSU 4
33 Lew Carpenter HB 6-1 220 Arkansas 9
45 Emlen Tunnell DB 6-1 185 Iowa 14
46 Hank Gremminger DB 6-1 200 Baylor 6
47 Jesse Whittenton DB 6-0 195 Texas-El Paso 6
51 Jim Ringo C 6-1 230 Syracuse 9
53 Ken Iman C-G 6-1 240 SE Missouri State 2
58 Dan Currie LB 6-3 235 Michigan State 4
61 Nelson Toburen G 6-3 235 Wichita State 1
63 Fuzzy Thurston G 6-1 245 Valparaiso 4
65 Tom Bettis LB 6-2 230 Purdue 7
66 Ray Nitschke LB 6-3 235 Illinois 4
71 Bill Forester LB 6-3 235 SMU 9
72 Ben Davidson DE 6-8 275 Washington 1
74 Henry Jordan DT 6-2 250 Virginia 5
75 Forrest Gregg T 6-4 250 SMU 6
76 Bob Skoronski T 6-3 250 Indiana 6
77 Ron Kostelnik DT 6-4 260 Cincinnati 1
78 Norm Masters T 6-2 250 Michigan State 5
79 Dave Hanner DT 6-2 255 Arkansas 10
81 Lee Folkins E 6-5 215 Washington 1
83 Bill Quinlan DE 6-3 250 Michigan State 5
84 Gary Knafelc TE 6-4 215 Colorado 8
85 Max McGee E-P 6-3 205 Tulane 6
86 Boyd Dowler FL-P 6-5 225 Colorado 3
87 Willie Davis DE 6-3 245 Grambling State 4
88 Ron Kramer TE 6-3 235 Michigan 5

 


Andy Robustelli


Emlen Tunnell


Del Shofner


Joe Walton


Norm Masters


Forrest Gregg


Wellington Mara


In the predawn hours, workers began clearing the City Stadium field.


Snow blowers do their work.


Bundled up fans approach City Stadium.


Green Bay fans enjoy first championship game at home


Commissioner Rozelle speaks before the kickoff.


Ben Agajanian


Joe Wells


Paul Hornung runs through RT.


Max McGee


Jim Taylor is horsecollared.


Bill Forrester


Henry Jordan


Sherman consults with Joe Walston, Kyle Rote, and Alex Webster


Taylor leads Hornung.


Kramer catches between Jimmy Patton and Sam Huff.


Hornung's pass sails over Max McGee as Jimmy Patton covers.


Starr barks the signals deep in Giants territory.


Henry Gremminger


Fuzzy Thurston


Charlie Conerly leads a drive into Packer territory.


Dave Hanner


Phil King


Bobby Gaiters


Nitschke clobbers Tittle.


Tom Bettis


Huff jumps over his teammates.


Mickey Walker


Jesse Whittenton


Hornung is sandwiched between Jim Katcavage (top) and Sam Huff.


Elijah Pitts


John Roach

The Giants didn't lack for confidence entering the game despite being 3.5-point underdogs.
  • They felt there was nothing Lombardi could surprise them with since he ran the same plays he taught to the Giants as O-coordinator and even used the same terminology.
  • Green Bay had won the regular season meeting in the last minutes 20-17 after a stolen ball deep in Giants territory set up the winning TD.
    At a banquet in Connecticut before leaving for Green Bay, DE Andy Robustelli stood on a chair and promised that the Giants would clobber the Packers.
  • They arrived in Green Bay the day before the game to find the thermometer registering 10°. As their bus drove to the hotel, they saw signs throughout the city proclaiming, WELCOME TO TITLETOWN, U.S.A.
    LB Sam Huff joked that they had spelled "Tittle" wrong, and the visitors would turn the city into Tittletown.
    Emlen Tunnell, the longtime Giant S, who lived at the hotel where the visiting team stayed, greeted his old teammates with You guys got here for the heat wave. It had been subzero earlier.

The Giants were frisky and joking during their short workout.

  • They were more loose than usual, remarked NFL Coach of the Year Sherman. They've been loose like this before their best games this season. Allie declared he had no intention of "going conservative" and hinted that his HBs might throw the ball on pitchout plays.
  • With excellent receivers in Del Shofner (another key off-season acquisition), Kyle Rote, and Joe Walton, the Giants' passing game was rated superior to that of the Packers.
  • The only Giant not in the best of shape was all-pro OT Roosevelt Brown, who had been bothered by a knee injury for the past few games. However, he was expected to play.

Obsessed with beating his former team, Lombardi was even more confident than the visitors.

  • If the field is right, we should win. Vince proclaimed his philosophy as hit them with what you do best and do it again and again.
    In private, the Packer coach exuded even more swagger. Two nights before the game, he amazed his dinner companions with a bold prediction. You know, I hope that ball doesn't bounce funny on Sunday. If it just bounces straight for both of us, if nobody gets lucky, we'll kill them. They don't have anything left.
  • A native New Yorker, Vince cast the game as the little Midwest city against the Eastern metropolis.
    Willie Davis: He built it up so the thing was you were defending the pride of Green Bay as much as you were the pride of the Packers. It was big ol' New York against lil' ol' Green Bay. And we all knew how much it meant to him personally. He felt he had earned the right to be a head coach long before that, so when it became a reality he wanted to leave no doubt. There was an incredible driving force behind him, and it wsa so obvious before the Giant game. It was like he wanted the Giants wiped out.
  • The only Packer with a serious health problem was Taylor, who sustained a kidney injury in the regular season finale. He would play but how effectively was the question. RG Jerry Kramer had broken his ankle early in the season and was replaced by Norm Masters, who took over at RT while Forrest Gregg switched to RG.
    The Green Bay D-coordinator, Phil Bengsten, had an edge when defensing the Giants. From Edward Gruber's biography of Nitschke: Having coached in San Francisco when Tittle was there, Bengsten knew all of his former QB's tendencies. He knew what pass patterns were Tittle's favorites, what play Y.A. was likely to call in a certain situation. As the Packers' MLB, Nitschke would be engaging in a game of mental cat-and-mouse with Tittle. Knowing Tittle's habits beforehand gave Nitschke an advantage, and he took the field believing this title game was going to mark one of the greatest afternoons of his life.
  • The game marked a reunion for Lombardi with his old pals from the Giants and gave him the opportunity to serve as gracious pregame host.
    The night before the game, Vince and his wife Marie invited a group of New Yorkers to dinner at a club northeast of Green Bay. Wellington Mara, Giants owner and one of Lombardi's closest friends, recalled the evening. There were four or five couples and a few priests and we had a great time. I remember thinking to myself how relaxed he was, how much he'd changed. I found out a moment after that how much I'd misjudged him. He stood up, signed the check he called for, and said, "You can find your own way back to town." Then he left. It was like he was saying that the game officially began then. It was a helluva long cab ride.
The ground crew began clearing the City Stadium field at 5 AM Sunday, December 31.
  • They first shoveled off the snow (which had been as high as 14" in some places), then removed the foot-thick covering of hay (20 tons worth), and, finally, pulled off the tarpaulin. Lombardi was delighted when the crew reported the field was hard but not frozen, just the way he wanted it for his ground attack.
  • Infrared heating units were placed along the bench areas of both teams.
  • By the 1 PM kickoff, the mercury still registered in the teens. The weather may have been responsible for about 1,000 empty seats as 39,029 well-bundled patrons paid $10 to get in with some tickets sold outside the stadium at the last minute for $5.

NBC purchased the television and radio rights from the NFL for $615,000.

  • A record 55 million would watch the telecast with Chris Schenkel and Lindsey Nelson at the microphones. The Green Bay area was blacked out. Ray Scott and Jim Leaming handled the radio broadcast.
  • It was the first championship game ever played in Green Bay. Three of the four previous times the Packers had made the finals, they were the visiting team and, in the other one (1939), Curly Lambeau moved the clash to a bigger stadium in Milwaukee to make more money.
  • The temperature rose to 20° by the 1 PM kickoff with an 11mph wind.
  • The lights were turned on before the game. But as the Packers came on the field, the sun broke through the clouds - an omen from Mother Nature?
    Before the game, Hornung and Taylor pulled a psychological ploy that affected the Giants. They went out to warm up in the freezing cold in t-shirts. They were freezing, and we were running around as if we were in L.A., wrote Hornung. What we were saying to them was, "This is our kind of weather. It isn't bad. It's perfect. Let's play ball."

The Packers started slow but operated on all cylinders in Q2.

  • Quarter 1
    The Giants won the toss and elected to receive. Veteran Ben Agajanian, who joined the club late in the season to take over the kicking duties from Paul Hornung, booted to Canadian-league veteran Joel Wells, who returned the short kick to the 31.
    After two short runs, Tittle threw into the flat to FB Alex Webster to the 37. Kicking with the wind, Chandler booted to Willie Wood at the 23. He returned 3y.
    Figuring the Giants were keying on Taylor after he torched them in the previous meeting, Starr handed to Hornung three straight times but fell a half-yard short of the first down. The Giants took Boyd Dowler's punt exactly where they started their first drive - their own 31.
    Wells
    banged over LT for 8y. Then FB Alex Webster crashed across the 40 for the initial first down of the game. Tittle threw a square-out pattern to the right to Kyle Rote, who couldn't hang on. An offside on the Packers made it 2nd-and-5. Then Webster fumbled the handoff but recovered himself for a 2y gain. Tittle threw a quick pass to Rote to move into Green Bay territory. 1st and 10 at the 46. Shofner slipped down near the sidelines and had no chance for Tittle's 1st down throw. After Webster met a stone wall on 2nd down, Y.A. threw down the middle to Rote, who, looking back into the sun, dropped the ball at the 15. So Chandler punted into the EZ.

    Alex Webster finds the going tough.
    The Giants didn't know it, but the Packers were about to take control of the game.
    Hornung took a crossbuck to the 24. Then Starr finally threw a pass, a long one down the left sidelines through the hands of Max McGee. Bart then looped a swing pass to Hornung who burst to midfield. Looking quick and confident after his longest practice stint with the squad in months, Paul zipped through a hole at LT to the 45. With the announcers speculating that his injury severely limited him, Taylor finally got the ball and advanced to the 42, then to the 37 for a first down.

    Jim Taylor tries to sidestep Cliff Livingston.
    The ground onslaught continued as Jimmy gained 5, followed by Hornung on the crossbuck over LT again for 7. 1st and 10 at the 25. Taylor hustled through RG to the 20. Starr then threw down the middle to Dowler at the 7, but LHB Erich Barnes hit the receiver early - interference. The Giants finally slowed down the advance when they stopped Taylor for no gain as the period ended. Packers 0 Giants 0

    Erich Barnes interferes with Boyd Dowler.
  • Quarter 2
    Hornung took the handoff on a crossbuck over RT this time into the EZ to culminate the 80y march. On NBC-TV, Chris Schenkel proclaimed it "one of the prettiest power marches." Packers 7 Giants 0 (14:56)

    Hornung scores the first TD.
    Wells returned the kick from the 17 to the 25. Tittle tried to hit Rote again but, rushed by Bill Forrester, overthrew the receiver. Webster took a draw play handoff to the 30. Tittle's next throw proved disastrous. Deflected by DT Henry Jordan, the ball went into the hands of MLB Ray Nitschke, who was downed on the 34.
    Hornung took a handoff to the right, stopped, and threw downfield to the left to McGee, but Lynch defensed the pass beautifully.

    With Andy Robustelli at his feet, Hornung throws incomplete to his buddy Max McGee.
    Now it was Starr's turn to try to get the ball to Max, but the ball sailed too high in the EZ. On 3rd-and-10, Bart threw a look-in to TE Ron Kramer, who bulled to the 18. Taylor found slow-going in the middle as two carries gained 5y. Then Starr threw a beautiful bullet into the outstretched hands of Dowler streaking across from his RE position on his way to the EZ. Lindsey Nelson pointed out that Green Bay could thank the U.S. Army for the TD as Nitschke made the INT to start the march and Dowler scored it - both on leave from Fort Lewis (WA). Packers 14 Giants 0 (10:41)

    TE Ron Kramer snags a pass between Joe Morrison (40) and Sam Huff.
    Wells again made a good return, 23y to the 33. LE Willie Davis burst through to lower the boom on Tittle as he attempted to throw a screen pass to his left. Then Y.A. couldn't connect with TE Joe Walton to make the QB's ledger read 2-for-9.

    Willie Wood breaks up a pass intended for Joe Walton.
    Tittle fared even worse on his next throw, Hank Gremminger jumping in front of Rote at the 49 and returning to the 36.
    Tittle recalled the sequence: On the first play from our 32, I had Rote and Shofner wide open on a deep pass pattern. But before I could get rid of the ball, Willie Davis, the big Packer defensive end, crashed into me from the blind side ... On the next play, I tried a screen pass to Alex Webster, but he could not get open. I was forced to throw to my second man, Joe Walton. The pass was incomplete. On third down, Rote beat Hank Gremminger on a deep route, but I underthrew Kyle badly, and the ball went right into the hands of the Packers defensive back.
    Taylor bounced off a tackler for 4. With both sides of the Packer line continuing to open holes, Hornung moved through RT to make it 3rd-and-1 at the 27. Taylor got a football length more than needed at RT to move the chains. On the next snap, Jimmy started around LE, waited for the blocks of Norm Masters and Fuzzy Thurston, and gained 5 to the 20. A delay handoff to Hornung pushed 4y closer to pay dirt. Then the Golden Boy dove over RT to the 15 for GB's seventh first down (to two for the Giants). After a short run, Starr stepped back with the snap and flipped the ball to Kramer over the middle into the EZ. Packers 21 Giants 0 (x:xx)
    Agajanian kicked off for the fourth time and Wells made another nifty return to the 39. Sherman sent Charlie Conerly in at QB to see if he could mount a comeback as he had three times during the season. The 40-year-old veteran, playing in his last game, immediately engineered a drive deep into Packer territory, although the possession didn't start auspiciously. Charlie went back to pass, but DT Dave "Hawg" Hanner hit his arm as he tried to throw - incomplete. On a draw play to blunt the rush, Webster pushed to the 46.

    Alex Webster totes the leather.
    Conerly threw an incompletion but got the first down on an offside penalty to midfield. Wells was wide open in the left flat but Conerly's swing pass went through his hands. The Pride of Ole Miss then fired downfield to Rote who caught the ball between several defenders at the 15. Phil King, who took over at FB when Webster limped off the field, ran a draw play to the 8. Alex returned and banged to the 6. Following the two-minute warning, Wells met a stonewall in the middle. The Giants didn't hesitate to go for it on 4th down. Bobby Gaiters came in at HB with a special play. He took the handoff running right and threw a pass intended for Rote wide open in the back of the EZ. But the ball sailed high and off Kyle's hands. Green Bay ball on the 20 since the pass was incomplete in the EZ.
    Hornung weaved through RT out to the 35. After a delay to attend to injured S Jimmy Patton, play resumed with rookie Alan Webb in his place. Starr ran the same play to Hornung but to the opposite side to the 44. Tom Moore, replacing Taylor at FB, gained the first down at the 48. The Packers called their second timeout with 0:27 on the clock. Starr winged the ball down the middle to Kramer who ran like a bull down the narrow streets of Pamplona to the 15. The Packers hurried downfield, and, without huddling, Starr threw an incompletion to stop the clock with two seconds left. The Giants were caught offside to move the ball 5y closer for Hornung, who nailed a 17y FG. Packers 24 Giants 0 (0:00)
    Hornung boots FG to end the first half.
The 10-point turnaround in the final two minutes discouraged the Giants.
  • The lopsided halftime stats showed the New Yorkers with only four first downs and 35y rushing while the Packers registered 13 first downs, 101y rushing, and 106 passing.
  • The Giants were silent in their clubhouse, already beaten and ready to go home. Sherman didn't try to change anything. How can you fix a dropped pass or a fumble on the blackboard? he answered after the game when asked about halftime adjustments.
    Jim Taylor later recalled the home team dressing room. During the half, the locker room quickly filled up with smoke as Lombardi gave his halftime spiel. Hornung had his usual two Marlboros, Lombardi smoked his Salem cigarettes, Henry Jordan grabbed a Camel from Phil Bengston, and I pulled out my cigar. The only guy who didn't smoke was Starr.
  • Quarter 3
    Pat Summerall kicked off to up man Nitschke, who returned to the 36. Patton returned to the secondary. Starr tried the crossbuck over LT that had been so successful the first half, but the Giants stopped Hornung after just a 1y gain. Expecting Green Bay to stay on the ground to run clock with a 24-point lead, the Giants crowded the line of scrimmage and burst through as Starr took the snap and faded to pass. But Bart popped out of the pocket and ran straight downfield to the 41 where he fumbled the ball as he was thrown to the ground. Patton picked up the loose pigskin and returned it crossfield to the 42, where the referee signaled first down New York. He also indicated illegal procedure against the Packers but penalty declined.
    So the Giants offense and Packers defense came on the field. But wait. The officials huddled and ended up marking off the illegal procedure penalty and giving the ball back to Green Bay on their 35, only two yards behind the original line of scrimmage. The sideline markers indicated 1st-and-15 although the cancelled play was 2nd down.
    The officials explained after the game that Starr was ruled down before he fumbled the ball. So the Giants took the penalty rather than allow the good gain to stand. However, in the confusion, the chains had been moved. With no replay to verify where the original line of scrimmage was located, the officiating crew guessed where to place the ball.
    Hornung ran through RT for 5. In a preview of the 1962 championship game, Huff popped Taylor for just a 1y gain. Starr slipped as he went back to pass and threw low to McGee. LLB Cliff Livingston partially blocked Dowler's punt, which was picked up by Larry Hayes who fumbled when hit, but Mickey Walker recovered at the NY 46.

    Cliff Livingston tackles Hornung.
    Under a heavy blitz, Conerly threw blindly but accurately to Webster in the left flat but he was swarmed under by LB Tom Bettis for a loss of 5. Then a draw play to Webster resulted in four more lost yards. Conerly hit Walton to midfield. Facing 4th-and-1, Sherman made a strange decision. He sent in the punt team - a sign he had thrown in the towel? Chander punted out at the 15.
    New York rookie RT Greg Larsen recalled the ferocity of the Packers' defense. When we fell behind, they knew we had to pass. When they knew that, they came in swinging fists and elbows and yelling and looking crazy in the eyes. They came in screaming and screeching. It was the most frightening thing I ever saw in a football game, absolutely terrifying. We had no way to stop them. It was unending. They were like wild men. Play after play, pounding and slapping and punching. It was enough to make a man cry from the physical brutality of it all.
    The Giants defense continued to show some spunk as they dropped Taylor for a half-yard loss around LE. Hurried by the rush, Starr missed Hornung in the right flat. Then Paul swept RE to the 20, 5y short of the first down mark. Dowler got off a long spiral that Morrison bobbled. OT Forrest Gregg corraled the bounding ball at the 22, then ran to the sidelines before he realized the offense was huddling.
    Moore, in for Taylor, scampered up the middle to the 16. Then Hornung fumbled but Green Bay recovered on the 15. Starr lobbed a pass toward Paul swinging upfield to the right, but Barnes knocked it down. So Hornung lined up a FG attempt at the 22. Packers 27 Giants 0 (5:05)
    After the kickoff into the EZ, Conerly backpedaled under a heavy rush and lobbed a screen pass to the 25. Then he threw a little too wide for Walton at the right sideline. When a 3rd down pass didn't come close, Chandler booted to Willie Wood, who called for the fair catch at the GB 42 only to be bumped by Wells. The 15y penalty advanced the ball to the NY 43.
    Starr reared back and hit RE Dowler who ran to the 32. 1st down. On a dive play at LG, Hornung advanced to the 26. Starr then threw a down-and-out to 6'5" Dowler who got his feet inbounds at the 13 as Barnes protested the call. With a defender at his feet, Hornung threw a pass too wide for McGee at the left edge of the EZ. Bart then threw to Kramer who got loose from Joe Morrison in the same area for a TD. Packers 34 Giants 0 (2:48)
    The Giants' top ground-gainer of the day, Wells, ran the kick out to the 34. Tittle took back the helm and immediately asked for quiet, a request the referee granted. Taking the snap, Y.A. stood up and threw a baseball-like pass to Rote in the right flat. Kyle fumbled but was ruled down at the 48. Shofner finally got loose from Jesse Whittenton and made his first catch of the day at the 32. Tittle fell as he turned to pass for a loss of 6, then fired to his road roommate Shofner on a slant-in to the 30.
    Willie Davis reaches for Tittle as Roosevelt Brown loses his helmet.
  • Quarter 4
    Tittle threw incomplete to Rote to bring up 4th down. This time, the offense stayed on the field. But Jordan and Hanner sacked Yelverton Abraham at the 40.
    Hornung met stiff resistance from Huff & Company and gained nothing. Moore took a pitch around LE but Lynch and Huff threw him for a 5y loss. Taylor replaced Moore but was only a decoy as Starr took several steps backward and threw to Hornung racing up the middle to the 48. Dowler punted on 4th-and-2 to Morrison who made the fair catch at the 21.
    Shofner went straight down the left sideline, and Tittle threw in his direction. But Whittenton had the receiver covered like a blanket and caught the ball as if he were the receiver and was stopped immediately by Del.
    Starting from his 38, Starr threw an incompletion, then handed to Moore for 3. Following an offside on the visitors, Hornung picked his way through RT to the NY 47 and a first down. Taylor took a delayed handoff, exploded through the middle, and veered to the right and out of bounds at the 14. Hornung tried to go around LE but was smothered by Jim Katcavage and Huff back at the 20. As the Giants rushed up the middle, Starr tossed to Hornung to his right, and Paul followed his blocking to the 12. Bart looped a pass to Kramer at the left pylon but Morrison broke it up. Hornung then split the uprights from the 19 to give him 19 points for the day, a championship game record. Packers 37 Giants 0 (8:12)

    Kramer blocks Patton as Hornung goes down.
    Gaiters returned the kickoff from the 5 to the 26. Tittle fumbled the snap and Gaiters fell on the ball back at the 22. Y.A. came right back and hit Shofner at the 36. 1st down. Nitschke red-dogged on the next play and clobbered Tittle as he threw incomplete. With the Packers charging on every play, King lost 2 on a draw play. Rote and Tittle got their signals crossed on the next aerial as Kyle went inside and Y.A. threw outside but Gremminger dropped the possible INT. Chandler's punt bounced to the 25.
    Moore turned the RE corner to the 30. Lombardi started subbing for his regulars one at a time to give the fans a chance to cheer. Elijah Pitts replaced Hornung, who got a standing ovation. Moore rocketed up the middle to the 42. Next, Max McGee came to the sidelines. Pitts got a chance to run and gained 2. Boyd Dowler left the field. Following Pitts' gain to the 45, John Roach took over for Starr, who drew a thunderous ovation after removing any doubt that he could lead the Pack to a championship. Pitts tried to swing wide, but Huff tripped him up on the 40. After the two-minute warning, Dowler came back in and boomed a punt that was downed at the 9.
    With no chance to avoid a shutout, the Giants ran out the clock. Gaiters gained 2. Tittle didn't connect with Shofner on a down and out. For the first time, Y. A. went into a shotgun formation he brought from San Francisco but badly overthrew Pete Hall. Adderley made a diving INT at the 30, got up, and jitterbugged to the 16.

    Herb Adderley returns an INT in the last minutes of the game.
    With the crowd roaring from more points, Roach sneaked, then let the time run out as the two teams headed for the tunnel in the south end zone before the gun sounded. Sherman ran across the field and congratulated Lombardi.
    FINAL: GREEN BAY 37 NEW YORK 0

When the gun sounded, Hawg Hanner and Dan Currie hoisted Lombardi onto their shoulders and, with a gang of exultant Packers, ran to the clubhouse.
  • The fans flooded the field and wrestled down the goal posts.
  • The Packers Band marched onto the field and played "Auld Lang Syne" to bring in the New Year.
Sportswriters voted the MVP award to Paul Hornung. The Army jeep driver received a new Corvette.

Final statistics:

  • First downs: Packers 19 Giants 6
  • Yards rushing: Packers 14-31 Giants 44-181
  • Passing: Packers 19-10-0/164 Giants 19-10-4/119
  • Return yardage: Packers 6-58 Giants 9-129
  • Fumbles-Lost: Packers 1-0 Giants 5-1
  • Penalties: Packers 4-16 Giants 4-38
  • Punting average: Packers 5-42.0 Giants 5-39.2
1961 NFL Championship Game participants in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Giants: Roosevelt Brown, Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli, Y.A. Tittle, owner Wellington Mara
Packers: Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Jim Ringo, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Emlen Tunnell, Coach Vince Lombardi

The gross receipts totaled a record $1,013,792.

  • The players' pool came to $434,618, a new record for the second straight year.
  • The Packers got $5,195 each.
  • Each New Yorker made $3,340.
Postgame

Green Bay Locker Room

  • Lombardi proclaimed his champions the greatest team in the history of the National Football League. ... The most important thing about our game was that the defense kept getting the ball for us. We were nearly perfect on defense against the Giants.
  • Willie Davis revealed the Packers' motivation. It was a personal thing with most of us. We felt that we hadn't been getting the credit and recognition we deserved dring the season, neither in the press or the all-pro selections.
  • DB coach Norb Hecker credited Nitschke with inspiring the defense with his hard hits. It sort of rubs off on the rest of the men and makes them want to hit harder. You know how it is when you're in a fight and someone on your side gets in a big punch? It swings things your way. That's the way it is when Nitschke flattens someone.
  • Bengsten also praised his MLB. It gets so they want to know where Nitschke is lined up on every play. They become quite conscious of his presence.
  • Hornung proved what Lombardi said about him. The bigger the game, the tougher he plays. This is the greatest day in my life, said Paul. When reminded he had won the Heisman Trophy, he shook his head. That was five years ago. This was today.
  • G Fuzzy Thurston kept a vow he made to eat the sports page if the Packers won. Ron Kramer couldn't believe he did it. He ate it. I mean, ate it! Aaarrgghh!

Lombardi celebrates with his three backfield stars.
New York Locker Room
  • Sherman offered no excuses. No, the weather wasn't a factor. Neither was the condition of the field. It's true that we did more slipping and sliding around than they did, but maybe that's because the team that's ahead on the scoreboard is a lot more relaxed. The team that's behind is pressing harder and loses fooing more often. The big thing was that we made a number of mistakes early in the game, and they always capitalized. We were stronger in the second half, but there were still too many mistakes. I'm just sorry we couldn't have made it more respectable.
  • Shofner disagreed with his boss about the weather. It sas a little hard to cut on pass patterns sometimes. I'd say the cold definitely was a factor. It affects everything you do.
  • Tittle: We couldn't have beaten them if we had used 22 men at once. Had he ever been rushed that hard before? I don't know. I was just lousy.
    Tittle in his autobiography: The locker room was an awful sight. Everyone, except Conerly, showed the emotional strain of an embarrassing defeat. As always, his expression gave no clue as to what he really felt inside. But no one felt the loss more deeply than Allie Sherman. Even though his eyes were moist and he was flushed with anger and humiliation, he refused to let the game get him down. He jumped on the table in the middle of the crowded locker room and hollered for attention.
    "Now I know how tough this thing is," he said ... "But let me tell you this. You are Giants, and when you walk out tht door, you're going to walk out with your heads held high. You're going to kook them in the eye. You are not going to look ashamed or beaten."
    Rosey Grier, the 300-pound defensive tackle, growled, "Damn right, Allie."
    Then Sherman said, "We have been whipped before, and we'll get whipped again. But don't let this one get you down. We will be back again. We have had a great season, and I am proud to have been your coach. Now square those shoulders and walk tall. Good-bye and thank you."
  • Huff: We couldn't stop their running game, and if you can't do that, you can't beat them. They have too much balance. ... The weather didn't make any difference. We were flat. They made us play their game, and there wasn't anything we could do about it. Was I surprised by anything they did? Yeah, I was surprised that they got 37 points. They must have paid the preacher.
    The first Giant to reach the dressing room and the first to leave was Dick Lynch. Just married three days earlier, he was anxious to leave on a honeymoon trip to Hawaii.
Bart Starr had endured a difficult relationship with his father, a master sergeant in the Air Force during World War II who (according to Bart's autobiography) ran our household the way he did his squadron ... I was not allowed to express my own views or disagree with him. I never even raised my voice. He intimidated me. Mr. Starr also compared Bart unfavorably to his younger brother "Bubbly," who died of a tetanus infection at an early age. The father was convinced his son would never amount to anything unless he adopted his late brother's personality.
Starr related what happened when he left the stadium after the '61 title game. Mom, Dad, and Cherry(Bart's wife) were waiting for me. Mom and Cherry rushed to embrace me, and, as I hugged them, I saw Dad looking at us with tears streaming down his face. He started to say something, stopped to gain his composure, then walked up and wrapped his arms around me. He gave me a big hug and softly whispered, "I was wrong, son."

Aftermath

  • Green Bay celebrated New Year's Eve like never before. An impromptu procession of honking cars made its way through clogged downtown streets deep into the winter night. One station wagon dragged one of the goalposts behind it, sparks flying as it scraped the asphalt.
  • The Packers scattered to their favorite watering holes to celebrate the championship. One player who usually joined their revelry was conspicuously absent.
  • Lombardi hosted his inner circle in his basement party room. Hornung was the only player invited.
    Anything I can do for you, Paul? asked Lombardi of his favorite player. Yes, a scotch and soda , please. The smile left Vince's face. Mix your own damn drink. But later, writer Red Smith noticed Lombardi staring across the room at his Golden Boy with a great big grin pasted on his face that would not come off.
    The phone rang constantly. During the evening, Vince answered and found President Kennedy on the line offering congratulations. Later, a telegram arrived that meant more to Lombardi than any trophy. Congratulations on a great game. It was a fine victory for a great coach, a great team, a great town. Best regards, President Kennedy.

References: When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, David Maraniss (1999)
The Fire Within, Jim Taylor with Kristine Setting Clark (2010)
Starr: My Life in Football, Bart Starr with Murray Olderman (1987)
Golden Boy, Paul Hornung as told to William F. Reed (2004)
Nothing Comes Easy: My Life in Football, Y.A. Tittle with Kristine Setting Clark
Nitschke, Edward Gruner (2002)
Magnificent Seven: The Championship Games That Built the Lombardi Dynasty (2002)
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