Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that establishes or changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1966: Oh So Close
NFL Championship Game: Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys finally won the Eastern Division of the NFL in 1966. Dallas finished 10-3-1, the franchise's first winning record. QB Don Meredith won the Bert Bell Trophy as the league MVP as selected by the Maxwell Football Club after throwing 24 touchdown passes against only 12 interceptions. The Cowboys' 445 points led the league by 42 over the Browns.
In the West, the Packers won their third straight title. Still the measuring stick for NFL teams, Green Bay won 12 and lost only two—by a total of four points. The Pack yielded the fewest points in the NFL, 163—49 fewer than the next best, defensive guru George Allen's Los Angeles Rams.
So the game to determine the NFL's representative in the first Super Bowl shaped up as a classic irresistable force vs immovable object confrontation.

L-R: Don Meredith, Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bart Starr
The championship game matched head coaches who had spent five years together (1954-58) on the New York Giants staff. Green Bay's Vince Lombardi served as what today would be called offensive coordinator while Cowboys' coach Tom Landry ran the defense.
Lombardi and his alter ego, QB Bart Starr, knew that Landry's defense would present a serious challenge. They pinpointed Bob Lilly, as strong and quick a defensive tackle as you could find, as the key to making headway against the Cowboys. Knowing Tom would be studying his offense as much as he viewed films of Dallas's defense, Lombardi decided to prune his playbook, adding nothing new but running plays from different formations.
Landry, the Cowboys' only head coach in their seven-year history, developed the "Flex" defense. Working within the 4-3 scheme, he moved one or more down lineman a yard be­hind the others based on what the offense was expected to run.
No coach in the NFL spent more time studying Lombardi's offensive system than Lan­dry, who yearned to build a dynasty in Dallas like the one his former Giants colleague had developed in Wisconsin. And Lombardi kept tabs as best he could on what Landry was doing with his East Division club.

L: Bart Starr passes as Bob Lilly (74), George Andrie (66), and Willie Townes (71) rush.
R: Cornell Green just misses batting down pass to Carroll Dale.
The game couldn't have started more disastrously for the Cowboys. Green Bay took the kickoff and drove right down the field for a touchdown. Starr started with a play he helped design to sucker the Doomsday Defense. The Packers lined up in the red formation with the fullback lined up directly behind the quarterback. So the defense expected a sweep to the right. Instead, Starr faked to FB Jim Taylor going wide and handed to HB Elijah Pitts who burst through a big hole up the middle for 32y to the Dallas 44.
Starr: "We had a special play to open the game. We put the counter in to defeat the pur­suit. I faked a handoff to Taylor going one way, and when the Cowboy defense reacted to his movement, I handed the ball to Elijah Pitts, cutting back in the other direction against the grain of the pursuit."
T Bob Skoronski later explained, "Actually, it was an old play, but the blocking was dif­ferent. Vince was very good at watching film and designing a game plan. He had a great eye for that. He really could find things. It was completely backwards to what the Cowboys must have expected. They had no idea what we were doing to them."

L: Meredith calls signals.
R: Jimmy Taylor receives a pass over a leaping Mel Renfro.
The Packers continued to the first touchdown of the game, which came on a pass from Starr to RB Elijah Pitts, who circled out of the backfield and was wide open in the center of the defense because MLB Leroy Jordan didn't hear the defensive call. Packers 7 Cowboys 0 (10:51)
Then disaster struck the home team on the kickoff. Mel Renfro took the ball at the goal line and ran out to the 15 where rookie T Robert Brown reached out and dislodged the ball. It rolled toward the sideline until second-year FB Jim Grabowski, who had made his mark on special teams while backing up Taylor, picked up the pigskin and ran untouched to pay dirt. Packers 14 Cowboys 0 (10:40)
Could the young Cowboys keep their poise after falling behind two scores before they even ran a play? The answer was a resounding YES. Using the wrinkles they put in for the game, Dallas drove 65y to cut the deficit in half. Dallas adjusted its attack to take advan­tage of Green Bay's stunting, sliding defense. Instead of pulling their guards and trapping as was their style, the Cowboys used zone blocks to allow RBs Dan Reeves and Don Perkins to run to daylight. Reeves scored the touchdown from the three when he took the ball on a crossbuck and followed Perkins' block through a gaping hole at right tackle into the end zone. Packers 14 Cowboys 7 (4:27)

L-R: Elijah Pitts, Jim Grabowski, Dan Reeves
Green Bay's fumble on the kickoff and a sack of Starr gave the Cowboys good field position at their 41 after the punt. Dallas tied the score in only four plays ending with Perkins' 22y scamper. Just as Jordan had been in the wrong spot on Green Bay's second touchdown, the Cowboys got Nitschke out of position with false keys and misdirection plays. Packers 14 Cowboys 14 (0:36)
Fourteen NFL opponents had scored a total of 13 points against the Packers in the first quarter. Dallas got 14. Also Green Bay had not allowed 14 points in an entire champion­ship or playoff game since the 1960 loss in Philadelphia.
The Packers retook the lead 11 seconds into the second quarter when Starr threw long to WR Carroll Dale streaking down the middle. DB Cornell Green came over and appear­ed to have a chance to intercept but seemed to misjudge the ball as it sailed over his grasp into Carroll's arms for a 56y touchdown. Packers 21 Cowboys 14 (14:49)
Dallas came right back with a drive deep into Green Bay territory. Facing fourth and one at the GB 12, Landry gambled on fourth down and won as Perkins smashed over the right side to the nine. But two Reeves runs gained only five and Meredith's pass to TE Frank Clarke floated out of bounds. So Danny Villanueva came on and booted an 11y field goal. Packers 21 Cowboys 17 (8:37)
The rest of the first half was scoreless.
Green Bay's first second half possession into Cowboy territory ended when LB Chuck Howley jarred the ball loose from Pitts, and Dallas recovered on the 21.
The Cowboys then went on a 13-play drive that led to three points. Meredith got the Cowboys off to a good start when he converted the first third down of the half by lofting a nice pass to Reeves to the Green Bay 38. Don then rolled out to the 26 to move the chains again. But three downs gained nothing. The second down play was a pass that had touchdown written all over it. But Willie Wood slapped the ball away from Reeves at the last moment. So Villanueva banged through a 32-yarder. Packers 21 Cowboys 20
The Packers answered the field goal with a 74y touchdown drive. Starr began with a heave to Dale to the Dallas 31. Four snaps later, Starr stepped up in the pocket and found Boyd Dowler cutting across the middle. The 6'5" wide receiver made a lunging catch at the goal line and careened into the end zone. Packers 28 Cowboys 20

L: Willie Wood
R: Boyd Dowler careens into the end zone ahead of Mel Renfro (20) and Cornell Green (34).
Early in the final period, Green Bay's Don Chandler boomed a punt to the goal line. WR Bob Hayes foolishly caught the ball as his momentum carried him into the end zone. He could have downed it but instead was dumped at the one. That miscue helped the Packers double their lead.
Taking over at the Dallas 48 after the punt, the Packers seemingly put the game away with a touchdown drive. Starr lengthened the possession with a third-and-17 pass to TE Marv Fleming to the 33. On the next series, the cagy quarterback converted third-and-12 with a toss to Taylor to the 19. And darn if the same sequence didn't occur again. The Flexers won first and second down. In the huddle before the next snap, WR Max McGee told Starr, "I can beat (CB Warren) Livingston on a zig-out. Give me a shot." Sure enough, Bart found McGee a step ahead of Livingston at the two. Warren tackled Max as he fell over the goal. On the PAT, 6'6" Jethro Pugh got a hand on Chandler's boot to keep the deficit at 14, which was crucial since the NFL, unlike the AFL, did not permit the two-point conversion. Packers 34 Cowboys 20 (5:20)
Anyone thinking the game was over who left the stadium or turned off the TV missed an exciting finish.
Down by 14 for the second time in the game, the Cowboys desperately needed a touch­down. Unfortunately, their possession didn't start well. They were soon facing third-and-20 at their 31. No problem. Don faded back and, with excellent protection on an obvious pass­ing down, saw TE Frank Clarke running free down the right hashmarks. Frank gathered in the perfectly thrown ball at the 30 and eluded the grasp of diving CB Bob Jeter at the six to complete the sensational 69y touchdown that brought the Cowboys back from the dead. Packers 34 Cowboys 27 (4:09)
The Packers took over at their 28 after a regular kickoff. Unbelievably, Starr threw three straight incompletions. So Landry used his second timeout but still had one left when Lom­bardi yelled "Don't let them block it" as Chandler came on to punt. The hard-rushing Cow­boys didn't block the kick but did cause the usually reliable Chandler (40.9 average during the season) to hurry. The ball squibbed off the side of his foot and traveled only 16y to the Green Bay 47 with 2:27 left.
Meredith hit Clarke down the middle to the 26. Working without a huddle, Don handed to Perkins for 4y. After the two-minute warning, Meredith threw long to Clarke incom­plete in the end zone, but a penalty flag flew. Interference on S Tom Brown put the ball at the two with 1:52 remaining. Many on the Green Bay sideline started resigning themselves to overtime.
First-and-two: Meredith asked for quiet and handed to Reeves who was thrown back after gaining a yard.
Second-and-one: Pettis Norman came in as a second tight end. Meredith threw incom­plete into the end zone. But another flag was thrown. LT Jim Boeke had come up from his three-point stance just before the snap. The Packers took the penalty to move the ball back to the six with 1:18 on the clock.
Right before the snap, Nitschke raised an arm and pointed at TE Norman. Boeke's eye caught Nitschke's movement—a prescient motion because the play was indeed a pass to Norman—and moved prematurely.
Meredith
: "We had three plays that would have been very effective from the 2y line. But when we got backed up to the six, the Packers changed their keys, and we had to change too. That penalty crippled what we wanted to do."
Second-and-six: Meredith faded back and threw a screen pass to Reeves, who dropped the ball.
Third-and-six: Don faded back again and threw low to Norman short of the goal line. Pettis caught the ball as he slid down, and Brown touched him at the two.
Meredith hated Landry's third down play call. Don wanted to throw to WR Buddy Dial coming across the middle. Meredith was still haunted by the third down play six months later. "I didn't have faith in my call. If there's one slogan that Landry pounds into us again and again, it's 'Never give the defense more credit than it deserves.' The play is designed on the premise that the linebacker on that side—Dave Robinson—will not cover Pettis. I guess I couldn't really believe it. Surely, I thought, they'll cover him this time. So I came up hesitant when I threw the ball. That's why it was low. I hesitated looking for Robinson. If I'd throw it chest high, Pettis could have waltzed in with the touchdown."
Tom sent in Hayes to play tight end for the do-or-die fourth down play. The idea was to isolate him on a cornerback after he faked a block on Robinson. If Dallas could make the Packers think a sweep was coming, the cornerback would have to force the play by moving up to the line. Then Don could lob a pass over his head to Hayes in the end zone.
Fourth down-and-two: In the huddle, Meredith called Fire 90, Quarterback Roll Right, an option rollout that Dallas had used successfully all season. Don took the snap and rolled right. If the defense came up, he would pass; if it dropped back, he would run. But 245 lb LLB Robinson, immediately recognizing the play from his film study, crashed past Hayes and pulling G Leon Donohue, who was supposed to cut him. Robinson grabbed Don at the eight. Meredith heaved the ball in desperation as he was being thrown down. The ball blooped straight to Brown in the back of the end zone. Game. Set. Match.
FINAL SCORE: PACKERS 34 DALLAS 27

Dave Robinson chases Meredith on the final play as Willie Davis brings up the rear.


Tom Brown cradles his interception in the end zone.
Robinson: "I got a good grip on Meredith's left arm and had part of his right arm when he got rid of the ball. I got sick to my stomach when he got the pass off. As far as I was con­cerned, the whole game was up in the air. But Meredith and I were falling when he got the ball off, sort of side arm, and I could not see what was happening. All I could see was Mer­edith. The first thing I heard was the crowd. I jumped up and saw Brown getting up with the ball."
The Packers pounded the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I 35-10 two weeks later.