Green Bay hits 700 wins: Going back to each of the Packers’ centennial victories
This story appears in the November 2014 issue of Packerland Pride magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.
There are times when history runs into an otherwise normal contest. Before they are just intersecting lines on a graph. After smacking into each other on the axis – when everything that’s already happened brings us to the latest chapter in the present – sometimes you’re left with another dot on the historical map.
On Sunday, Sept. 28, we saw the 700th regular season win in Green Bay Packers history, a 38-17 surgical removal of the Bears from Soldier Field in Chicago, another Aaron Rodgers Hushes The Worried Or Doubting master performance, one more win further unbalancing the rivalry’s lopsided recent results.
Seven hundred franchise wins is a lot. This year’s Packers couldn’t have gotten there, though, without six other games like this one coming before. Through the organization’s long life, players and coaches making up six teams in six different decades have been apart of milestone victories in multiples of 100. While we patiently wait for 800, these are those first six contests, the ones that made 700 possible and the Packers one of professional football’s winningest teams of all-time. And counting.
Green Bay first hit triple digits in franchise wins in front of about 11,000 people on the Wisconsin State Fair Park grounds on Sunday, Sept. 30, 1934. Their opponent that day, the New York Giants, would eventually finish on top of the NFL’s East division, but were starting the season slow, entering their meeting with Curly Lambeau’s Packers on the heels of a Week 1 loss to the Detroit Lions.
It wasn’t an artistic masterpiece, this game. The Packers scored enough to survive, took the Giants help when it came, and went along on their way. A scoreless first quarter was broken by a 20-yard field goal by Green Bay’s Bob Monnett. Monnett, in his second year out of Michigan State, did a little bit of everything (as many did) for the Packers – throwing, running, and kicking. After halftime, still 3-0, Monnett added a 38-yard field goal. Both kicks were the eventual results of Giants fumbles.
The Packers broke through to the end zone later in the third when Roger Grove, another handy-back out of Michigan State, ran in a 22-yard score. New York finally responded on a 32-yard touchdown run by Kink Richards, trimming the lead to 13-6. Buckets Goldenberg, the Wisconsin Badger who played guard and back for 13 seasons in Green Bay, put it on ice with a 2-yard touchdown dive, and the Packers won 20-6.
Green Bay would finish an up-and-down ‘34 campaign 7-6, third in the West. More important news from this season, though, was that the team survived at all. After a fan fell off City Stadium bleachers in 1932 and won a settlement in 1933 for over $5,000, the Packers were deeply in debt. When the only options appeared to be losing the team to Milwaukee or altogether to the annals of football teams come and gone, Green Bay launched its second sale of stock in the team after the ‘34 season, raising just over $13,000 to keep the team alive. The hundredth win was so close to being the only centennial celebration the Packers ever had, it’s likely it wasn’t celebrated much at all.
On the same State Fair Park grounds in front of a slightly-larger crowd of around 31,000 on Sunday, Oct. 5, 1947, the Packers were hosting the Los Angeles Rams.
The game went into the second half scoreless, the blank staring contest eventually snapped on a 3-yard touchdown run by Bruce Smith, a halfback drafted out of Minnesota by the Packers in 1942. This was the only rushing score of his four-year career. Green Bay pushed its lead to 14-0 after lineman Ed Neal recovered a blocked punt in the end zone.
Ted Fritsch, out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, booted in a 23-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter scoring. From there, Green Bay had to survive a Rams rally of two short-yardage rushing scores and, ultimately, a missed 43-yard field goal by Los Angeles’s Bob Waterfield that would’ve tied the score on the final play of the game, hanging on for the 17-14 win. Poor Bob Waterfield, who ran in one of the Rams’ touchdowns and kicked both extra points, yet still couldn’t complete the one-man comeback.
The teams combined for 25 penalties for 211 yards, five turnovers, eight total fumbles, and 141 combined net passing yards. That there is a record of this game that wasn’t burned purposefully in a fire is a testament to football historians and those brave enough to document it in its time.
Despite winning four of their first five, the Packers finished 1947 at 6-5-1. Lambeau would coach two more seasons for the Packers before more money problems and internal battles between coach and team ultimately led to his resignation in early 1950. So while ‘47 wasn’t that great, Green Bay didn’t sniff .500 again until their 6-6 campaign in 1952, the third season under coach Gene Ronzani. In that respect, when it comes to 1947: Not a bad year!
Ah, the ‘60s in Green Bay. Vince Lombardi changed basically everything, and a year before professional football evolved with the creation of the Super Bowl in 1966-67, the Packers were starting the 1965 campaign on a hot afternoon in Pittsburgh against the Steelers on Sunday, Sept. 19.
The Packers offense was crisp, clean, and balanced like your favorite low-cal beverage. One sack, no turnovers. Bart Starr was effective and efficient, throwing for 226 yards and two scores on 17-of-23 passing. Six players got carries out of the backfield, fueling a running game that produced 134 yards on 35 carries and two touchdowns, both short ones ran in by Elijah Pitts.
They were great, but it was the Packers defense that turned this game into the 41-9 pounding of the Steelers it eventually became. Pittsburgh proved early the importance of scoring touchdowns in the red zone, settling for two short kicks (21, 34 yards) to go up 6-0 in the second quarter. Then came the first of Herb Adderley’s two interceptions on the day, this one he returned 34 yards for a touchdown. The Steelers led at halftime 9-7 after a 32-yard field goal. Again: Today wasn’t a great day to settle for three.
Green Bay went to work offensively in the third, outscoring Pittsburgh 13-0 in the frame behind a pair of field goals that followed tight end Marv Fleming’s 31-yard touchdown reception. Paul Hornung caught a 10-yard score and Ray Nitschke got involved in the turnover game, nabbing an interception in the fourth. Pittsburgh had four turnovers in all, two of them setting up Pitts’ late plunges, putting a game not in doubt even further out of reach.
The Packers finished 10-3-1 and defeated the Cleveland Browns to win the NFL Championship on Jan. 2 – their third in five years under Lombardi. It feels right that a team from this era also has one of these multipliers-of-100 victories to claim from their reign.
The 1970s nearly became the second decade, along with the ‘50s, to miss out on notching another 100 victory milestone. The 1979 Packers were injury plagued and, all told, just not that good, finishing 5-11 and fourth in the NFC Central division, smacked right in the mediocre middle that became Starr’s nine-year tenure as head coach in Green Bay. But historical footnotes came both for the legendary quarterback-turned-coach and the Packers on a cold, windy day in Milwaukee County Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 11, against the Minnesota Vikings.
This game, following some earlier ones on this list, wasn’t pretty. But for every wrong the Packers committed, the Vikings were there to make them feel a little better with crushing mistakes of their own. Packers quarterback David Whitehurst – who started 13 games that season – gave the Packers an early first quarter lead, hitting Aundra Thompson for a 23-yard score. And while Whitehurst threw three picks, none of them hurt like a Minnesota fumble – one of three lost and five total Vikings turnovers – scooped up by defensive end Mike Butler, who ran it back 70 yards for a touchdown. Green Bay led at halftime, 13-0.
And while Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer outgained Whitehurst through the air, 262-147, they didn’t have Packers back Terdell Middleton. Middleton churned out 135 yards on 27 carries, far-and-away his finest game of the year, and caught a 5-yard touchdown from Whitehurst in the fourth, giving Green Bay a 19-0 lead. The Vikings avoided the shutout but the Packers earned the 19-7 win.
This was Starr’s first win as a coach over Minnesota in 10 tries – a painful streak to fathom going through in any decade – and started a string of 10 victories in 12 games for Green Bay over the Vikings, which sounds a lot better.
In 1994 Mike Holmgren was entering his third season as head coach in Green Bay. His previous two Packers teams had went 9-7, the last qualifying for the playoffs, winning a memorable game in Detroit against the Lions before falling to that’s right you guessed it the Dallas Cowboys. The year Green Bay notched win No. 500 the Packers finished 9-7 yet again, beat the Lions in the Wild Card round yet again, and ended their season in Dallas yet again. There was progress in ‘94, though, progress we’d see in earnest in 1995 and beyond.
Compared to all that big picture thinking, Sunday, Nov. 13, 1994 was merely a mild fall day at Lambeau Field. The New York Jets were in town on a bumpy runway towards 6-10, coached by Pete Carroll and quarterbacked by Boomer Esiason, which, well you can choose which reads weirder to you now.
Brett Favre didn’t do anything crazy (good or bad) in this one, finishing a tidy 20-of-28 for 183 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. His 21 rushing yards were tied for the team lead with Reggie Cobb, who had one more yard for the day than Edgar Bennett. Favre’s first strike came on an 11-yard touchdown throw to Robert Brooks in the first, starting the day’s meager scoring.
The Jets responded with 10 points in the second and took that lead into the break. The over/under for this game was 36, and it was living up, or down, to that through two quarters of play.
Favre’s longest throw of the day was also the difference-maker. He hit Anthony Morgan for a 17-yard touchdown to give Green Bay a 14-10 lead. Morgan led the team in receiving yards with 46. In the fourth, Chris Jacke made a 46-yard field goal to end the day’s scoring, and the Packers held on for the 17-10 win that added to Green Bay’s impressive knack for turning in close, generally nondescript, sometimes ugly, wins when reaching the base of another 100 victory plateau for the franchise.
This one did have a major difference from the others, though, in that it was the first of these 100-win chapters in team history to take place in Green Bay.
Here in the last installment, before the one we watched this September, is where the Packers saved all the importance. For one, the gap between wins 500 and 600 was only a 9-year difference, the shortest ever between 100-win intervals in team history. For the other, bigger, reason: 2003 was a wild year in Green Bay, memorable for just as many pains as it is joys, tears happy and sad, signs of otherworldly hands guiding the Packers followed by sobering reminders that it always comes down to the brutal, basic fact that plays on the field matter most, all of them, and nothing’s impossible.
Win No. 600 came on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2003 in sunny San Diego. At 7-6 the Packers were fighting for survival in the NFC North. The Vikings were 8-5 and after a season split with the Packers held the tiebreaker, parsed down to its fourth option, should they end with the same record. Green Bay couldn’t afford a loss. They jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead, getting a rushing score from Ahman Green, 32-yard chip-in from Ryan Longwell, and 7-yard toss from Favre to Donald Driver just before the break.
The potent duo of Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson was just that, striking twice early in the fourth to give San Diego a 21-17 edge. Favre responded by gutting the Chargers defense for three passing touchdowns in the final frame, the first a 40-yarder to Robert Ferguson, the second a blip to Green from the 1, and last to Ferguson again, this time from 16 yards out. The four touchdown passes were a season-high for Favre that he’d match the next week in Oakland, a day after his father, Irv, passed away, in arguably the most memorable single performance of his career.
Green topped Jim Taylor’s Packers single-season rushing total of 1,474 yards in the Packers’ 38-21 win over the Chargers, and Longwell broke Don Hutson’s career scoring record of 823 points.
Minnesota lost to the Bears that day. The Vikings and Packers entered Week 17 tied. Green Bay dismantled Denver early enough to scoreboard watch, and when Arizona Cardinals receiver Nathan Poole – who was presented a key to the city of Green Bay for this – caught a 28-yard touchdown with no time left to eliminate the Vikings, Green Bay believed it could be a team of destiny. The next two weeks of postseason overtime games can be summed up with two everlasting phrases in Packers lore: “We want the ball and we’re gonna score,” and 4th-and-26.
The wins come and go, sometimes easier than the losses. When you’ve hit 700 victories and haven’t stopped counting yet, sometimes that’ll happen.
Historical game information thanks to Pro Football Reference and PackersHistory.net.