The Green Bay Packers backfield duo of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung dominated the early 1960s and both ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But by 1965, the veteran backs were slowing down. But in the 1965 NFL Championship Game, Taylor and Hornung returned to vintage form and led the Packers past the Cleveland Browns 23-12. The win earned the Packers their third championship under Vince Lombardi.
Injuries slowed both future hall of famers in 1965. Hornung was limited to just eight starts and gained just 299 yards on only 89 carries. Taylor, meanwhile, picked up only 734 yards and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry after topping 1,000 yards in each of the previous five seasons.
But in the snow and mud of Lambeau Field, Hornung and Taylor turned back the clock with a title on the line. The Golden Boy carried 18 times for 105 yards and a touchdown while Taylor added 96 yards on 27 carries despite his long run being just eight yards all game.
After the game, Lombardi said, “I think there’s a little spark left in them.”
While the running backs got the headlines, the Packers defense played an outstanding game in the muddy weather. Cleveland gained only 161 yards all game and picked up eight first downs. The great Jim Brown was held to just 50 yards on 12 carries in what turned out to be the final game of is HOF career.
“It was just Green Bay’s defense,” Brown said. “Willie Davis at end is their leader. They have a fine interior line and two of the best defensive backs in the business in Herb Adderley and Willie Wood. Then there’s always Ray Nitschke at middle linebacker. He always seems to know where I’m going before I do.”
The Packers took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter wen Bart Starr found wide receiver Carroll Dale on a 47-yard touchdown pass. Two Browns defenders, Walter Beach and Ross Fichtner slipped on the play and Dale scored easily.
Cleveland answered with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Frank Ryan to Gary Collins. The Browns missed the extra point when holder Bobby Franklin dropped the snap. Kicker Lou Groza tried to pass for the extra point but Franklin was stopped short of the goal line. The Packers led 7-6.
The Browns took the lead 9-7 on a 24-yard field goal by Groza but Don Chandler of the Packers booted a pair of field goals before Groza added another three point kick just before the half to cut the Packers lead to 13-12 at halftime. The second Packers field goal was set up by an interception by Willie Wood.
In the second half, the Packers went on a long and time consuming, 11-play, 90-yard drive that culminated with a classic power sweep that saw Hornung follow Jerry Kramer and Forrest Gregg on a 13-yard touchdown dash. The Packers led 20-12.
“This was the best job the offensive line as done all year. They just bowled them out of there,” Hornung said. “We were so surprised to see the size of the holes they opened, that we couldn’t wait to go through.”
The Browns tried to answer and tried another field goal but Packers defensive tackle Henry Jordan managed to block the kick.
“When I saw them come out and start lining up, I looked at Ray [Nitschke] and told him to take the goal in. Then I told Lionel Aldridge to take the tackle and take him out.”
Jordan blocked the kick. “My hand almost went with it, Jordan added. “That’s how hard he boots that thing.”
Kramer saw the blocked kick as the point he knew the game was in the bag. “When Henry Jordan got a piece of Lou Groza’s field goal, I knew we were in,” he said.
The Packers took complete control of the contest in the fourth quarter. First, Chandler booted his third field goal of the game to make it 23-12. Then, the defense shut down the Cleveland attack, limiting the Browns to five offensive plays in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Taylor kept the chains moving as he carried 27 times in the game. The Packers earned the win in front of a sold out crowd at Lambeau Field.
Browns coach Blanton Collier praised the Packers performance. “We got beat by a fine football team. They made the big plays, we couldn’t. They made their third- down plays and kept possession on sustained drives, we didn’t.”
Lombardi was pleased with the way his team played in the snow and mud. “After all, we played basic football. You know were the most basic team there is.”
The Packers would win two more titles under Lombardi to become the first team in NFL history to win three strait championships since the NFL instituted a title game in 1933.
After the game, Taylor sat by his locker. “Man, I’m tired, too tired to celebrate.” But he wasn’t too tired to win a third championship.
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