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The Super Bowls That Never Were

Second in a three-part series

By Glenn Guzzo

            In Part One, we established that the American Football League was troublesome for the National Football League since the younger league’s birth in 1960, signing top draft picks and building teams of recognizable players. By the time the leagues merged after the 1969 season, the NFL and AFL had split four Super Bowls following the 1966-69 seasons.

            I decided to play four Super Bowls that never were, using Strat-O-Matic’s football teams for 1962 through 1965, enjoying SOM’s “What-if?” ability.

            Here’s how the 1962 and 1963 Super Bowls played out.

 

1962: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Texans.

How they got there: The dominant Packers had their best record under Lombardi, 13-1, succumbing only to an awesome defensive performance by the 11-3 Detroit Lions on a Thanksgiving Day still famous in Detroit. After outscoring regular-season foes 415-148, Green Bay then whipped the 12-2 New York Giants for the second straight year in the NFL championship, 16-7. The Giants were able to score only by recovering a blocked punt for a TD … Dallas, 11-3, also led the AFL in scoring offense and scoring defense, 389-233.  But it took Tommy Brooker’s 25-yard field goal in the second overtime to topple defending champion Houston, 20-17, in the AFL’s only championship game settled in overtime.

Key players: Green Bay QB Bart Starr was the NFL’s No. 1-ranked passer. FB Jim Taylor gained 1,494 yards rushing with 19 TDs, the only time anyone other than Jim Brown claimed the rushing title during Brown’s career. But the Packers dominated with defense and such All-Pro defenders as DE Willie Davis, MLB Ray Nitschke, CB Herb Adderley and FS Willie Wood … The Texans were loaded with players the NFL wanted, such as the aforementioned Haynes, McClinton, Miller, Arbanas, Tyrer and Holub on offense, and Branch, Mays, Holub (a two-way player) and Robinson on defense. Hall of Fame QB Len Dawson was the AFL’s leading passer.

Forecast: Lombardi’s best had to have been prohibitive favorites, despite Dallas’ stats and star power.

How it turned out: Coaches of underdog teams, such as Dallas’ Hank Stram, speak of having to play a perfect game, turnover-free, penalty-free and opportunistic. These Texans played just such a game, committing only two penalties, intercepting Starr twice, sacking him five times and recovering a fumble. The Texans converted key third downs, for 18 first downs in all, and outgained the Packers.

Brooker’s field goal following Green Bay’s punt on its first possession gave Dallas the early lead. The Packers responded by driving aggressively to the Dallas 21, but Taylor lost a fumble. A few plays later, Haynes got outside for a 64-yard TD run. After another Green Bay punt, Brooker added a 20-yard field goal and Dallas stunned the world with its 13-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

When Taylor scored from one-yard out to cap a 79-yard drive early in the third quarter, the momentum seemingly shifted. But no, after the kickoff, Dawson clicked with Arbanas and WR Chris Burford (a Browns draftee) and Dallas answered Green Bay’s TD by marching 65 yards for a 20-7 lead secured by Haynes’ 1-yard run. A Jerry Kramer field goal cut the lead to 20-10, but CB Dave Grayson intercepted Starr before halftime and Brooker’s third field goal made it 23-10 Dallas at intermission.

Could this continue? Was it already too late for Green Bay? The Packers kicked off to start the third quarter and Dawson led the Texans 52 yards until the drive stalled. But Brooker’s 20-yard field goal gave Dallas a stunning 26-10 lead. The Texans were not to be denied.  Clearly, Green Bay had no margin for error.

The Packers took the kickoff and drove 80 yards to Starr’s 1-yard TD plunge. The key play was a 15-yard completion to WR Boyd Dowler on 4th-and-3 – Dowler’s first catch of the day. But the impressive drive took more than half the third quarter to accomplish and the Packers still trailed by two scores, 26-17.

Finally, the Packer defense stood up to Dawson, Haynes, (132 yards offense), McClinton (65 yards in 11 carries) and Burford (six catches, 99 yards). But there was no more scoring until late in the fourth quarter, following Nitschke’s 22-yard return of an interception, Dallas’ only turnover of the game. That resulted in Kramer’s 40-yard field goal with 4:30 to play, cutting the Texan lead to 26-20.

Dallas played cautiously after that and punted safely to the Green Bay 20 with two minutes left. Time for one last drive, but only if it contained a big play. The Packers got it – with Dallas’ secondary playing deep, Starr found the Long Gain on the Texan Short Pass card and WR Max McGee turned it into a 48-yard play. Then Taylor and TE Ron Kramer made clutch receiver-card catches. Now, 45 seconds left, and Green Bay on the Dallas 13. Starr gets enough protection this time and finds Dowler in the corner of the end zone! Jerry Kramer’s conversion was the winner, 27-26.

This was a champion-worthy drive to complete a champion-worthy comeback. Two 80-yard TD drives and a 79-yard TD drive for the Pack. The shattered Texans and their fans can’t believe they could lose a game after accomplishing all they did on both sides of the ball. They won the turnover battle (3-1), the penalty battle (3-2), and the yardage (375-368) and first-downs (18-15) battles. The Dallas defense had five sacks, a fumble recovery and two interceptions. Green Bay’s vaunted D had one sack and one interception. Brooker (4-for-4 on field goals) outkicked Jerry Kramer (2-for-2).  Taylor ran for 107 yards and a score in 20 carries, but Haynes ran for 118 and two in 16 carries. Green Bay had three runs of 13 or more yards; Dallas had seven. Playing from behind, the Packers uncharacteristically threw more times than they ran, and Starr was 18-for-32 for 241 yards. Dawson was 18-for-30 for 184 yards. Starr had a TD pass, but Dawson was intercepted only once, compared to twice for Starr.

“Statistics are for losers,” Lombardi declared through a toothy victory smile.

1963: Chicago Bears vs. San Diego Chargers

            How they got there: Relying on an ultra-conservative offense and a Monsters of the Midway defense that held eight foes to 7 points or fewer, the 11-1-2 Bears won the season opener in Green Bay, 10-3 then beat the 11-2-1 Packers in Chicago, 26-7, dealing their arch-rivals their only two defeats of 1963. Then, on frozen Soldier Field, George Halas’ squad stifled and bloodied QB Y.A. Tittle and his 11-3 New York Giants, 14-10, to win the NFL title … The 11-3 Chargers won in opposite fashion, twice topping 50 points and only three times being held to fewer than 23. But in their losses they gave up 50, 41 and 33 points. No matter, the Chargers trashed the Boston Patriots in the AFL championship, 51-10.

            Key players: The Chicago defense, with DE Doug Atkins, MLB Bill George, OLB Joe Fortunato, CB Bennie McRae, SS Richie Petitbon and FS Rosey Taylor were the stars, though TE Mike Ditka and WR Johnny Morris snared 116 of QB Billy Wade’s short-range passes … San Diego’s No. 1-ranked AFL passer, the ex-Lion Tobin Rote, had the choice of passing to supreme WR Alworth (61 catches, 20-yard average, 11 TDs) or handing off to explosive RBs Paul Lowe (5.7/carry) or Keith Lincoln (6.5/carry). The aforementioned OT Ron Mix handled protection and NFL draftees Faison, Ladd and Allen anchored the defense.

            Forecast: Odds-makers at the time would have favored the Bears heavily on bettors’ NFL bias. But Strat-O-Matic players know this San Diego offense is almost impossible to keep under 20 points – more than the Bears scored in eight games. Chicago will have to win the field-position battle with its defense, and play-it-safe offense, while looking for lapses by the Charger defenders. Rate this game a toss-up, but don’t be surprised if San Diego scores more than the Bears have in them.

            How it turned out: Bears receive but early in their drive, Joe Marconi fumbles at the Chicago 34. This is exactly what the Bears need to avoid. Two plays later, Rote zips a pass to Alworth and Bambi covers most of the 31 yards into the end zone after the catch. It’s 7-0 San Diego two and a half minutes into the game. Chicago now starts from its own 14 after the next kickoff, but Ronnie Bull runs 15 yards on his first carry and Wade hits 5-of-6 passing in a seven-minute drive that includes six first downs and Wade’s one-yard TD sneak. In the second quarter, Bears PK Bobby Jencks misses a 32-yard field goal and the opportunistic Chargers answer with an 80-yard TD drive. Alworth’s 38-yard reception sets up Lowe’s 2-yard scoring plunge. But again the Bears rise to the challenge by taking the kickoff and marching 78 yards to the tying TD. This time Wade hits Ditka from six yards out and it’s 14-14 at halftime.

            The Chicago defense opens the second half fiercely when Bill George intercepts Rote at the San Diego 9. But the Bears manage only three yards and settle for Jencks’ 13-yard field goal. On the next possession, the Bears force San Diego to punt, but Taylor fumbles it and the again-opportunistic Chargers recover at the Chicago 24. That results in Lowe’s one-yard run up the middle for a San Diego lead, 21-17 which holds up through three quarters.

Midway through the fourth, San Diego’s George Blair boots a 26-yard field goal and it’s 24-17. For the third time the resilient Bears take the kickoff and drive long-distance to a tying touchdown. This time it’s 65 yards, covering nearly six minutes, with Wade finding Ditka on a 9-yard scoring strike. Make it 24-24 with 2:30 to play. Bears kick off and San Diego drives against the clock. Runs don’t get much, Rote throws a couple incompletions. But he also hits Alworth for 15 yards and TE Dave Kocourek for another 15. With one minute left, Blair is on for a 38-yard field goal. It’s good and San Diego wins, 27-24.

Though Chicago outgains the mighty Charger offense, 364-304, and have 19 first downs and three long TD drives to their credit, Halas and Bears fans complain about seven penalties, an uncharacteristic two interceptions, two lost fumbles and a missed field goal. All undermine Chicago’s need to control field position. Then there’s the matter of having to settle for three points after George’s interception. Chicago’s defense held San Diego’s breakaway backs to 94 yards in 28 carries, and intercepted Rote (218 yards passing) twice. But Taylor’s fumbled punt and Marconi’s early fumble gave the Chargers, not the Bears, short fields.

Wade hit 25-of-38 passes for 247 yards, with Ditka making 11 catches for 94 yards and two TDs. Alworth had five catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.

Next: The 1964 and 1965 Super Bowls