The following is not a summary of historical events,but rather the results of my computer football replay of the 1968 NFL season using Second and Ten football.
The Cleveland Browns dropped their fifth straight game dating back to November 26, 1967 with a demoralizing 17-13 loss the second-year New Orleans Saints in the opening game for both clubs played at Tulane Stadium. Cleveland jumped to a 13 point lead at the half. But the Browns literally handed the game off to the Saints in the second half as marched back with 17 unanswered points. A fumble by tight end Milt Morin on the Browns’ opening possession of the second half marked the beginning of the Saints’ rally. Saints QB Billy Kilmer tossed a 46 yard touchdown pass to Jim Hester for the home team’s opening score. Leroy Kelly fumbled on the Browns’ next possession which turned into a 31 yard Charlie Durkee field goal to close the Cleveland lead to three points. On the Saints’ following possession, Dave Parks broke loose on an end around 46 yards to set up a Tony Lorick touchdown plunge for the lead. The Browns failed to mount any significant comeback by continuing to shoot themselves in the foot. Cleveland turned the ball over three more times before the final whistle blew. The task of regaining their winning ways gets no easier as the Browns travel to Dallas to play the World Champion Cowboys next week.
The Saints win was not the only upset on Opening weekend. The Atlanta Falcons traveled to Minnesota on Saturday and upended the Vikings in the rain, 24-10. On Monday, the Cardinals defeated the Rams, 27-14, as Jim Hart threw a pair of touchdown passes for St. Louis. Other teams tabbed as favorites waltzed through the first week of the season. Dallas hammered Detroit, 52-0. Don Meredith threw five touchdown passes for the Cowboys. Baltimore pinned a 44-10 pasting on San Francisco as Earl Morrall, subbing for the injured Johnny Unitas, threw four touchdown passes. Morrall was acquired from the Giants August 25 and became the Colts’ signal caller by virtue of Unitas’ arm injury suffered against the Cowboys in the final exhibition game. Donny Anderson rushed for 141 yards in the Packers’ 41-10 dismantling of the Eagles. Chicago’s Gale Sayers compiled the highest rushing total for the week with 164 yards in a 21-20 loss to Washington. Earl Gros rushed for 121 for the Steelers, but it wasn’t enough as Fran Tarkenton and the Giants triumphed, 20-17.
When Vincent Lombardi, having achieved all that any professional football coach could hope to achieve, decided to leave the field for the front office after the Super Bowl, he said, seriously, “The greatness of this team lies ahead of it.”
On Thursday afternoons early in the training season this year, Lombardi played golf; when he came out to practice to watch Phil Bengtson drive the club as hard as he himself did, he sat on a special bench in the sun and acquired a tan, biting his tongue. He did not interfere with Bengtson, who spent nine years as his assistant and who has not varied the Lombardi routine. Lombardi appropriated a green park bench for his own and asked equipment man Bob Noel, “Where’s my bench?” whenever he appeared. Once, when he had taken off his shirt only to see a cloud hide the sun, he demanded, “Where’s my sun?” No one doubts that it reappeared at once.
The team Bengtson inherited may be the best of the long series of exemplary Packer clubs. It is essentially the same as the 1967 version and, given only a normal run of injuries, it should be much better. Last season Bart Starr, playing with a swollen thumb and rib injuries in the early games, threw nine interceptions in the first two, or three times as many as he did in all of 1966. Healed, he settled down to his usual pace and threw only tweleve more in the next 12 games. The Pack lost its two starting running backs during the course of the season when Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski each missed significant time with injury. Travis Williams, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, got a late start because of tonsilitis, but he is recovered now and with a year’s experience should have a strong season. Herb Adderley played defensive halfback for most of last season with a separated bicep in his right arm. Minus such injuries, the Packers figure to improve on their 1967 performance. And there are other significant pluses.
The Dallas Cowboys finally reached the glory and the money, shaking a possible bridesmaid title with their overtime victory against Oakland in last year’s Super Bowl. “We’re either going to be a lot better or we are really going to slip,” says Tom Landry, the scholarly, quiet man who has done the best job ever done with an expansion team, bringing the Cowboys to two division titles in seven years. “The attitude of this training camp has indicated we’re going to be better.”
The Cowboys won their conference title last year with Don Meredith, their quarterback, suffering a variety of injuries during most of the season. He appeared healthy when he reported to the Thousand Oaks ( Calif.) training camp, although it was rumored that he was one of the two Cowboys who failed to finish the mile under the six minutes required for backs.
Meredith, at his best, is one of the four or five championship quarterbacks in pro football. He has a strong arm and he is able to hit the square-out patterns which test accuracy, as well as the long shots which test timing. He is an intelligent signal caller and has, in full measure, the charisma which a quarterback needs to lead a team. He has been well battered in previous years and has shown he can take the punishment without letting it affect his poise.
They should not have too much trouble reaching the championship game even if Meredith happens to get hurt. Craig Morton and Jerry Rhome constitute the deepest reserve of quality quarterbacks in football. As if this were not enough, the sensation of the early weeks in Thousand Oaks was Roger Staubach, the old Navy All-America who belongs to the Cowboys and will be available next year. Staubach was superb. Continue reading “1968 NFL Replay Preview – Dallas Cowboys”→
Miami, Jan. 14, 1968 – Nine seasons ago, a nationally televised NFL Championship Game carried into overtime and lifted professional football into the national spotlight. The championship game between the NFL Champion Dallas Cowboys and AFL Champion Oakland Raiders has similarly lifted this “Super Bowl” into equal prominence overnight. The Cowboys defeated the Raiders, 16-10, in sudden death overtime for the World’s Championship. The clubs played like freshman at the senior prom. Each had opportunities to seize control of the game, but instead the game played out as a marathon walk on a tightrope.
Oakland made the first mistake as Cowboy LB Lee Roy Jordan intercepted Daryle Lamonica’s pass intended for Fred Biletnikoff. Jordan rumbled 31 yards down the sideline to set up Don Meredith’s troops at the Oakland 41. After two ineffective gadget plays, Meredith found Lance Rentzel downfield for a completion to the Oakland 9. The Raider defense pushed the Cowboys backward from there, and forced Dallas to settle for a 23 yard field goal attempt by Danny Villanueva. The butterflies were evident as Villanueva missed the attempt. However, Mike Johnson picked off another Lamonica pass on the subsequent drive, and Villanueva converted a 27 yard attempt for the game’s initial score.
Green Bay, Dec. 31 – The Dallas Cowboys exacted revenge in the most unlikeliest of scenes – Lambeau Field amid the harshest playing conditions in professional sports – with a 22-0 blanking of the host Green Bay Packers to advance to the second annual NFL-AFL Championship Game. Green Bay defeated host Dallas last season, 24-13, to advance to the inaugural game en route to the World’s Championship. With the temperature at kickoff registering negative thirteen degrees and a wind chill of forty eight degrees below zero, the Cowboys stymied the Packers with a relentless defensive attack that equaled the brutal cold that swept across the playing surface. The Cowboys sacked Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr nine times, and suitably finished the game with a end zone sack of Starr which resulted in a safety.
Under a heavy rush, Starr threw three interceptions which led to two first-half touchdowns by Dallas and the other ended a Packer scoring threat. On the Packers first series, Starr’s first attempt was intercepted by Mel Renfro at the Packer 34. Dallas quarterback Don Meredith connected with wideout Lance Rentzel for 24 yards, and tight end Frank Clarke reached the Packer 1 with an end-around. Don Perkins plunged ahead for the game’s first score, however kicker Danny Villanueva missed the extra point. Starr threw another interception on the opening play of the second quarter. Chuck Howley intercepted and returned the ball thirty yards to the Packer 13.
Cleveland, Dec. 3 – Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton threw a five yard touchdown pass to Aaron Thomas with no time remaining as the New York Giants defeated the Cleveland Browns, 30-27, for the NFL Century Division championship. The victory was controversial after the home town Browns were flagged for roughing the passer after a failed fourth down conversion by New York two plays earlier. Cleveland had taken a four point lead two and a half minutes earlier after Leroy Kelly raced in from five yards on a draw play. The touchdown capped a seventeen point rally by the Browns from a 23-10 fourth quarter deficit.
The Giants failed to convert on their first possession when Les Murdock, filling in for Pete Gogolak, missed a 20 yard field goal attempt. Lou Groza put the Browns on the board first with a 19 yard field goal on the Browns’ first possession. Cleveland settled for a field goal after two false start penalties halted the Browns initial drive. New York responded with a touchdown as Tarkenton found Joe Morrison for a 30 yard touchdown pass. A short punt by Cleveland’s Gary Collins set up the Giants for another scoring opportunity. Tarkenton capitalized and drove his team 34 yards for another touchdown, a 10 yard strike to Del Shofner. New York was prepared to take an eleven point lead into the half when the Browns defense stepped up. Ross Fichtner intercepted Tarkenton and returned the ball for a 24 yard touchdown.
New York, Nov. 26 – New York Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton passed for a season high 360 yards and threw three touchdown passes to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles, 35-17. The victory marked the fifth consecutive win for the Giants who captured a one game advantage over the Cleveland Browns in the tightly contested Century Division. Tarkenton’s favorite mark on the afternoon was wideout Homer Jones who had seven receptions for 236 yards, a record high for any NFL receiver this season. Philadelphia quarterback Norm Snead passed the 3,000 yard mark for the season in the defeat. The Giants are now set to settle the division race with the Browns in Cleveland next week. New York’s current winning streak began October 29 with a 31-23 defeat of the Browns at Yankee Stadium.
The Eagles took an initial three point lead before Tarkenton could revive the Giants offense. The former Georgia Bulldog hit Jones for a 59 yard touchdown bomb midway through the second quarter for New York’s first score. On the Giants next possession, Tarkenton found Jones again for 59 yards which set up Bill Triplett’s four yard scamper for a 14-3 halftime lead for the home club.
Tarkenton fumbled on the first possession of the second half after being sacked by Eagles linebacker Harold Wells. Tackle Floyd Peters recovered for Philadelphia, and Snead capitalized on the turnover with two strikes to Ben Hawkins; the second for a three yard touchdown. However, Tarkenton found Jones for 47 yards on the next play from scrimmage for the Giants. Tucker Frederickson gained 26 yards on a screen pass before being shoved out of bounds at the Eagle seven yard line. Two plays later, Tarkenton hit Jones for another touchdown. From there, the Eagles were unable to keep up with the Giants who scored touchdowns on their next two possessions to put the game out of reach. Snead threw a touchdown to Fred Hill in the waning moments to close the score to its 35-17 final.
Green Bay, Nov. 12 – The Green Bay Packers committed five turnovers and lost the first game of their season, a 28-20 defeat to the Cleveland Browns, on a brisk autumn afternoon at Lambeau Field. Cleveland returned two Bart Starr interceptions for touchdowns as the Browns won a crucial game as they are knotted in a tight division race.
The day started poorly for Cleveland QB Frank Ryan who threw an interception on the game’s opening play. Bob Jeter returned the interception for a Packer touchdown. Twelve minutes later, Leroy Kelly fumbled at the Packer 30 and Starr attempted to cash in on the turnover with a strike to Boyd Dowler running an slant pattern. But, Jim Houston intercepted and returned the ball 40 yards for his third touchdown this season to tie the game. The teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter to enter halftime tied at 14-14.
On the Packers second possession of the second half, Dowler fumbled at the Packer 22, and Ross Fichtner recovered for Cleveland. The Browns took advantage of the turnover as Browns FB Ernie Green rushed up the middle seven yards for the score. Starr and the Packers responded with a drive to the Cleveland 5. The Browns defense stiffened and held Jim Grabowski on two rushing attempts, and Starr’s pass to Donny Anderson on third down fell incomplete. The Packers were forced to settle for an 11 yard field goal by Don Chandler.
The Cleveland defense held the Packers again in the shadow of their own goal posts in the fourth quarter, and Green Bay again was forced to settle for another Chandler chip shot from 15 yards to close within a point with seven minutes remaining. The Browns were able to run out five minutes off the clock before punting with two and a half minutes to go. Starr took over at the Packer 16, and was sacked by Bill Glass for a ten yard pass. Starr then attempted a post pattern to Dowler. But, Cleveland safety Ross Fichtner picked the pass off and sealed the victory with a 24 yard interception return for a touchdown. Browns RB Leroy Kelly gained 102 yards on the day. In addition to the two goal line stands, the Browns defense caused three second half fumbles, two by Dowler.
Baltimore, Nov. 5 – The Green Bay Packers stumbled out of the gate but regained their form with seventeen second quarter points to defeat the Baltimore Colts, 34-19. The victory was Green Bay’s eleventh consecutive win. Their last defeat came here in Baltimore on December 10, 1966. An early interception by Bart Starr and a muffed punt by Willie Wood set the Colts up for two first quarter turnovers and an early 13-7 lead. Starr led the Packers on three consecutive scoring drives in the second quarter to take an eleven point halftime lead. Starr finished the game with an efficient 16 of 24 for 165 yards. His counterpart, Johnny Unitas, completed 17 of 37 attempts but managed a mere 104 aerial yards against the league leading Packer defense.
Green Bay running back Jim Grabowski gained a game-high 62 yards as the Packers outgained the Colts 335 to 198 yards. After a scoreless third quarter, Lou Michaels hit a pair of field goals to close the Packer lead to five points. However, Green Bay responded with a 20 yard chip shot by Don Chandler to push their lead to eight points with only five minutes remaining for Unitas to work any magic. On the Colts’ second play, it appeared Bob Jeter ended Baltimore dreams with an interception. However, Green Bay was flagged for pass interference on an underneath route, and Unitas was granted a second life. But even a second life is a difficult one against this Packer defense which held Unitas and the Colts on downs. Baltimore held Green Bay to three plays, but Donnie Anderson’s punt pinned the Colts deep at their own nine yard line. In the end, it was Jeter who cashed in on a second chance as the Packer cornerback jumped in front a pass intended for Tom Matte and raced nineteen yards for the final score. It was Jeter’s eighth interception of the season.
The Packers will return to Lambeau Field next week to host the Cleveland Browns. The loss was crucial to the Colts who dropped two games behind the Los Angeles Rams in the Coastal Division. The Rams will host the Colts on the final weekend of the season.
Washington, Oct. 29 – The Baltimore Colts, down fourteen points and riding a three game losing streak, bounced off the mat to rally past the Washington Redskins, 42-28. The Redskins proved to be hospitable hosts with five turnovers that contributed to the Colts’ revival. Bob Boyd stepped in front of A.D. Whitfield and intercepted Redskin quarterback Sonny Jurgensen with a minute and twenty-six seconds left in the first half. Boyd raced down the sidelines 33 yards for a touchdown. The clubs entered their locker rooms at halftime tied at 21.
The teams exchanged turnovers to open the second half, and Lou Michaels missed a 53 yard attempt midway through the third quarter. On the Colts’ next possession, Jerry Hill plunged in from three yards to give Baltimore its first lead. The touchdown was set up by Unitas’ 33 yard pass to Tom Matte to the Redskins three yard line. However, the Redskins responded with a counterpunch of their own as Jurgensen found tight end Jerry Smith in the end zone for a 19 yard strike.
In the fourth quarter, Unitas led the Colts to the shadow of the Redskins’ goal posts, but Michaels shanked an 11 yard attempt. Jurgensen gaffed on the subsequent play by fumbling the snap, and Dennis Gaubatz recovered for the Colts. After Matte scampered for eight yards, Unitas found his tight end, John Mackey, for a 10 yard touchdown. The frustrated Redskins were flagged for an intentional face-masking penalty on the play, but Michaels failed to pin the Redskins deep by kicking the ball in the end zone for a touchback. However, Boyd intercepted Jurgensen a second time and set Unitas and the Colts up at the Washington 41. Unitas converted a pair of third downs. The second conversion went for another touchdown as Unitas hit Mackey again for an 18 yard score. Scrambling away from the persistent Colts pass rush, Jurgensen fumbled away the Redskins final opportunity and Ordell Braase recovered for Baltimore. Matte, Hill, Jerry Lorick and Lenny Moore took turns running out the clock as the crowd at D.C. Stadium filed out.
The loss dropped the Redskins into a first-place tie with the Dallas Cowboys who defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 13-3. The Colts return home to host the undefeated Green Bay Packers.
This game story is dedicated to the boys at the Fell’s Point Diner.