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Chuck Noll and Vince Lombardi Became Champions With Teams That Were Tough and Fundamentally Sound
Chuck Noll and Vince Lombardi were two of the greatest coaches in NFL history, but they were very different. Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s. He was tough as nails on his players and motivated his team with emotional talks. Noll coached the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s and 1980s. He was direct and a man of few words. But both coaches accomplished two goals: 1. Build the toughest team in the NFL. 2. Established the healthiest team in the NFL. And with those goals, came championships.
Lombardi’s catchphrase, “winning is everything,” is often misunderstood to mean that winning by any means is acceptable. But his players would probably tell us that “by all means” has more to do with their training than what they do to opposing teams. By sacrificing their bodies and regularly using every ounce of energy in practice, they have become a formidable team on the field. Lombardi tries to prepare his players better than other teams.
Noll’s catchphrase was “whatever it takes.” Again, it is easily misunderstood. Nol expanded the concept and said that “whatever is needed to become the best team” was what he meant. For Noll, like Lombardi, it was all about sacrificing for the team, working for the team, playing your part for the team.
For both Lombardi and Noll, their focus on toughness and fundamentals was on display during two of pro football’s most important moments and will be remembered forever.
Packers 1967 NFL Championship Game: Ice Bowl
The Packers played the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL Championship on the last day of the year 1967. The Packers had a secret weapon-Mother Nature. Few NFL games have been so well celebrated and remembered. The Packers had seen plenty of cold weather before this game, but the so-called “Ice Bowl” was the start of many of the myths and legends surrounding Lambeau Field. From this game, Green Bay fans not only endured the cold in Lambeau, they enjoyed their “frozen tundra”.
The Cowboys led 17-14 in the fourth quarter on a cold Packers field. With just 4:50 on the clock, Lombardi’s offense looked 68 yards toward the goal and started 12 plays for the win. They are needed almost every second.
Bart Starr completed a successful pass at home to Donnie Anderson for a 6-yard gain. Chuck Mercein found enough room for the first time outside. Starr threw one up the middle to Boyd Dowler over the 50-yard line, and Cornell Green, struggling on his feet, was able to grab Dowler by the arm and throw him to the frozen ground. It was nip and tuck all the way. Anderson took over from Starr, but was tackled in the backcourt. It was second down and 19 yards for a first down on what quickly turned into a skating rink. Starr looked around and threw Anderson a touchdown pass that the quarterback converted for another 12-yard gain. Starr followed with another short pass to Anderson, who scored first. Chuck Mercein was targeted next, and after the catch he ran the ball to the Dallas 11-yard line. Mercein had the hot hand and took one from Starr and ran it up the middle to the 2-yard line. Anderson raced to within inches of the goal and took the first shot. A tough, determined Cowboys defense stuffed Donnie Anderson’s two runs. When Starr went to the sideline and told Lombardi that after the backs slid, he would get the ball himself on a wedge play that normally goes to the defender. Lombardi famously responded, “Then do it and let’s get the hell out of here.” When Starr returned to the field, the tension in the stands was almost unbearable.
Starr stopped behind center with 13 seconds left at the 1-yard line with no timeouts. He raised his hands to calm the crowd and the ball was quickly counted out. Jerry Kramer jumped on Cowboys defensive tackle Jethro Pugh and hit him low, then Packers center Ken Bowman hit Pugh high. The cleats scraped on the ice and Pug was driven backwards. Starr overshadowed Kramer and fell into the end zone for the score. Mercein, who thought Starr was about to be handed off, made the play and put his hands in the air so the officials knew he didn’t push Starr into the end zone — a violation that might have cost the Packers a punt. Millions of viewers thought Mersein was pointing the score! The fans realized that Starr had scored and a deafening roar erupted from the crowd in the middle of the arctic field of dreams. Chandler kicked the extra point and the Packers won, 21-17.
The Steelers’ defining moment
The defining moment that ended the losing streak and set the Steelers on a new winning path occurred late in the divisional playoff game on December 23, 1972. Pittsburgh had the ball at the 20-yard line with just 1 minute, 20 seconds left. to go behind the Oakland Raiders with a score of 7-6. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw wasn’t a miracle worker in those days, and after five plays, the Steelers were still 60 yards from the pay dirt with just 22 seconds left. Bradshaw threw an interception to “French” Fuqua, but Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum hit Fuqua and the ball so hard that it flew backward, as if directed by an unknown hand. Franco Harris took the ball by his shoelace in stride and dodged tacklers as he raced into the end zone for the score and victory. The play was called “Flawless Acceptance”. Although the Steelers lost the AFC Championship to the Dolphins, they made an impression on football fans, their opponents, and most importantly, themselves. They had arrived. Steelers Knoll were the winners, and now with a flawless reception, it looked like they had fans in high places.
Harris expressed that he would give the game absolutely everything he had. Even though he appeared to be out of the game, he kept his head in it and when the ball bounced off Tatum, he was able to grab it and run for the score. The extra point gave the Steelers a 13-7 win.
In the waning moments of both games, the players made themselves count and played fundamental football as a team.
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