Packers And Eagles 50 Years Removed
I'm old, but believe it or not there are things that happened BEFORE I was aware of my surroundings or feed myself.
One of them occurred December 26, 1960 and Friday's New York Times says it was a turning point in American sports culture. It was the day the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Green Bay Packers 17-13 for the NFL Championship.
Writer Jere Longman says THAT game--and not the 1958 title tilt in which the Colts beat the Giants in overtime--is when pro football came of age.
The Baltimore/New York clash certainly is a classic but Longman raises a valid point: while the Eagles and Packers were having it out at Franklin Field, the winds of change were blowing through the rest of the league, putting it in a position to overtake baseball as the nation's most popular sport while becoming a marketing force the likes of which we'd never seen before.
Commissioner Pete Rozelle was in the process of yanking the league offices out of Phily and bringing them to New York. He won an anti-trust exemption from Congress, allowing him to set a precedent by ordering money from the newly inked network TV contract to be spread evenly among NFL franchises. It allowed small-town Green Bay equal financial footing with New York and other major markets. Other pro sports would realize the wisdom of the move much later on. The deal came as the American Football League was forming, putting teams in towns that wanted but couldn't afford an NFL club.
The AFL started out as a relative joke, but it helped feed the nation's sudden thirst for pro football. It also competed for college talent with the NFL, raising pay scales and squeezing the older league into a merger before the end of the decade.
Despite the loss, the Packers bought into Lombardi that December afternoon in Philadelphia. Lombardi took ownership for the defeat, admitting he left too many points on the field. And, he vowed the Packers would never lose another title game on his watch.
Green Bay would return to the championship the next two seasons, posting a pair of wins over the Giants. They'd win three more in 1965, '66 and '67, along with the first two Super Bowls. The Packers would become a national fascination, a small-town club not just content to compete with the big boys. The nation watched to see if Lombardi could do it again and again.
No one remembers the Eagles and Packers clash of 1960 the way they recall the Giants and Colts from two years before. The Philly clash proved to be compelling, for sure, but it's more about WHEN the game was played as opposed to who won and lost. As the 50's became the 60's, Rozelle and the league got smart about the product on the field and the financial/marketing acumen surrounding it. The decisions made would set the NFL on a course that would allow pro football to become the nation's most watched, most talked about, and best marketed sport.
The Eagles host the Packers again Sunday, and it could be the last Green Bay football we see for a while if Philly prevails. A job action looms, one that could result in owners locking players out in hopes of securing a new collective bargaining agreement. Rookie salary limits and an 18 game schedule are just a few of the sticking points. And, in that regard, we may find ourselves looking back on the 2010 season the same way we are now dissecting the 1960 title game--a point when the NFL morphed dramatically.
The 1958 championship was a big deal and a legendary clash. Was it the day the NFL truly came of age? Maybe, but then, if it was, how come no one remembers the 1959 title game?