Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
Throughout the nearly 100 seasons of football played in the National Football League, fans have been treated to amazing plays made by legendary players on historic teams. However, sometimes it is those plays that were not made or the players who did not make the team that provide the best stories of inspiration. Many times, the story unfolds when a player is faced with adversity that would make most people falter. When all is said and done, it is these moments that take football from being just a game to an encouraging metaphor for life. Even the best teams have bad days and the fight to persevere help build character.
On Oct. 24, 1965, two of the NFL’s most storied franchises made history during a game played in week six of the regular season. The results of the game remain a distinction that both Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys could have lived without. The two teams set a little-known record for the fewest passing yards gained by both teams in a game (-11 yards). To this day, it is the only time in league history that both teams finished with negative passing yardage in a game.
The newspapers reported the game as an “off day” for the two clubs. Regardless, these were two clubs were rather good football teams. That makes this type of poor offensive performance even more astonishing. Dallas was in its sixth year of existence and they were beginning to turn the corner under Landry’s supervision. Green Bay was in its seventh season with Lombardi at the helm. The legendary coaching figure had already led the Packers to three NFL championship games and two titles. The Packers had started the ‘65 season at 5-0. Meanwhile, the Cowboys won their first two games before they dropped three closely contested battles prior to their matchup with the Pack.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the weather at County Stadium in Milwaukee, Wis. that played the role of spoiler in either team’s inept passing game. The official statistical play-by-play from the game listed the sky as clear, the temperature at 41 degrees, and the wind out of the northwest at a mere five miles per hour. What did have an effect was each team’s defense as they chased the opposing quarterbacks all over the field that day.
Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr completed just four of his 19 pass attempts for 42 yards. He was also sacked five times for 52 yards in losses which resulted in minus-10 yards of total net passing. Lombardi stated, “I can’t remember when Bart Starr has had a worse day moving the team.”
Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton didn’t fare much better as he hit just 10 of his 20 passes for 61 yards, threw two interceptions, lost one fumble and was sacked 10 times for 62 yards in losses. That computed to a negative one total net yard of passing.
The Cowboys outgained the Packers in total net offensive yards 192 to 63 thanks to a valiant effort by fullback Don Perkins who rushed the ball 22 times for 133 yards. Unfortunately, Perkins also had one of the Cowboys’ five costly turnovers. The Packers converted three of Dallas’ turnovers into a touchdown and two field goals for a 13-3 win which allowed them to remain undefeated.
Despite such a terrible outing by Green Bay’s offense, the fact is, as a team they were very strong. The game against the Cowboys proved to be an anomaly. The Packers went on to finish with a 10-3-1 record before they knocked off the Baltimore Colts in a Western Conference playoff game. The season ended with a victory over the Cleveland Browns in the 1965 NFL Championship Game to claim their third NFL title under Coach Lombardi.
After the Green Bay loss, Dallas rebounded and closed the season 5-3. They finished the year at 7-7 and reached the .500 mark for the first time in franchise history. The next year, the Cowboys won the Eastern Conference to earn a showdown against the Packers in the championship game. This time, with a trip to Super Bowl I on the line, the Packers and Cowboys combined for more than 500 yards through the air. That was a far cry from their previous meeting.
As Coach Lombardi once said, “Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
Football builds great character. Even the best teams are going to play games where the ball doesn’t want to bounce their way. However, some of the best lessons are learned from those crushing defeats. And the next victory is that much sweeter, because of the determination and commitment to the mission that led the way.