Friday, September 2, 2011

1961 + 50

The 1958 season is probably the lowest point in the history of the Green Bay Packers franchise. In 12 games played, they managed only one win and one tie. To date, it's the only season the Packers didn't manage at least two wins. But if you look at the roster for that 1958 team, there are a lot of familiar names, including some Hall-of-Fame players: Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Max McGee, Jim Ringo, Ray Nitschke, Forrest Gregg, Jim Taylor. All of these guys played important roles in the Packers' championship runs of the 1960s.

But one of the key pieces for the Packers didn't arrive until 1959: Coach Vince Lombardi. When he took over, he had an immediate impact: in Lombardi's first season, the Packers had a winning record for the first time since 1947. In Lombardi's second season, the Packers returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1944.

50 years ago this month, the Packers began their third season under Coach Lombardi, and he took the first step from local hero to all-time NFL great. In 1961, the Packers won the NFL Western division, advancing to the Championship game, where they beat the New York Giants in convincing fashion.

The 1961 season was the start of a (so far) unprecedented streak of 5 NFL Championships (and victories in the first two Super Bowls), accomplished in just 7 years. No other team, no other coach has matched that level of dominance. The Browns played in 6 straight NFL championship games from 1950-1955 (winning 3). The Steelers with coach Chuck Noll won 4 Super Bowls in 6 years in the 1970s. The 49ers won 4 Super Bowls in the 1980s, and another after the 1994 season under coaches Bill Walsh and George Seifert. Those are the only cases where any teams have even come close to matching what Coach Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers accomplished in the 1960s.

Vince Lombardi stepped down as head coach of the Packers after the 1967 season, and it quickly became apparent that he was a keystone of those championship teams. In the 24 seasons following Coach Lombardi's resignation, the Packers had just 4 winning seasons and two playoff appearances. This streak of futility didn't end until 1992, when newly-hired General Manager Ron Wolf brought in Mike Holmgren to be head coach, along with players like Brett Favre and Reggie White to be the core of a new championship run.

When Coach Lombardi arrived in Green Bay, the Packers could already lay claim to 6 NFL Championship titles. When he left, that total had been raised to 11, and Green Bay had an indisputable claim to the nickname "Titletown". And since his name was given to the Super Bowl trophy, the name "Lombardi" has become justifiably associated with success at the highest level of professional football.