Were the 1965 Green Bay Packers better than the Browns?
That’s up to debate, but the Packers were better mudders, and that was the key as the two teams met in the NFL Championship Game on Jan. 2, 1966.
Taking full advantage of an overnight snowfall that turned the surface at Lambeau Field into a muddy mess, which was just what the weatherman ordered for their power running attack, the Packers defeated the defending-league-champion Browns, 23-12.
When the Browns went to bed the night before the game in their Appleton, Wis., hotel, about 50 miles from Green Bay, the conditions were dry and calm. That would make for a fast track, which was what the Browns wanted because they were faster than the Packers.
But Mother Nature nixed that by the time they awoke, altering the conditions so much that the Browns’ buses had trouble getting to the stadium. By the time the Browns finally arrived, they had to hustle to get dressed and warm up.
Despite that, the Browns got off to a pretty good start in the game, leading, 9-7, after the first quarter. Green Bay opened the scoring as Bart Starr threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Carroll Dale, but the Browns countered with a TD of their own as Frank Ryan found wide receiver Gary Collins with a 17-yard pass. Ryan and Collins had been the heroes of the Browns’ 27-0 rout of the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 title game by combining for three scoring passes.
Lou Groza never got the chance to try the extra point because the snap and placement were mishandled. But Groza came back to kick a 24-yard field goal later in the quarter to give Cleveland what would be its only lead of the day.
Don Chandler booted two field goals of 15 and 23 yards to open the second quarter to put Green Bay in front, 13-9, then Groza hit a 28-yarder to cut the deficit to 13-12 at halftime.
But it was all Packers in the second half as running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor gradually wore down the Browns. Hornung scored on a 13-yard run in the third quarter, and Chandler connected on a 29-yard field goal in the fourth to complete the scoring and give Green Bay its first NFL crown since 1962.
The Packers had 69 offensive plays in all, or 30 more than the Browns. Most were runs, as Green Bay picked up 204 yards on 47 carries. The Browns had just 64 rushing yards, with Jim Brown being held to 50 yards in 12 attempts in what would turn out to be his final game. He announced his retirement just before the start of the 1966 training camp.
Ryan hit on only eight of 18 passes for 115 yards and the TD with two interceptions. The Browns also lost two fumbles on the slippery day.
This Day in Browns History is presented by Cleveland Clinic.