June 2, 2023 12:00pm

The NFL and Legendary Matchups

The 1962 Green Bay Packers were the best team of the Vince Lombardi era, coasting through the regular season with a 13-1 record and then traveling to New York to beat the Giants in the NFL championship game.

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

The 1962 Green Bay Packers were the best team of the Vince Lombardi era, coasting through the regular season with a 13-1 record and then traveling to New York to beat the Giants in the NFL championship game.

That Green Bay team featured 12 Hall-of-Fame players in addition to its Hall-of-Fame coach plus two other starters not in Canton who were selected to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team. On paper, there hasn’t been a more talented team in history. So just how would the Packers of the 1960s fare against the best teams of the game’s more modern era?

Apparently, not too well.

In this week’s NFL Power Poll., we asked our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters who would win games between great teams of the past and great teams of a more recent vintage. We matched the 1962 Packers against the 2007 Patriots and the 1950 Cleveland Browns against the 1985 Chicago Bears.

We also couched the question, saying it’s understood that any NFL team from the 2020s would defeat any NFL team from the 1960s because the players in today’s game are bigger, stronger and faster than they were 60 years ago. But in these two head-to-head matchups we’re asking you to judge the teams based on the caliber of players and the caliber of play by each team during their particular eras – not necessarily the physical attributes (bigger, stronger, faster) of the teams.

There were 169 votes cast and the Patriots received 102 of them, the Packers 67. That New England team went a perfect 16-0 during the regular season with Tom Brady throwing a career-best 50 touchdown passes. But the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

“The modern game is just so much more sophisticated not just with schemes and passing attacks, but physically as well,” said Bruce Castleberry, the sports editor of the Boston Herald. “Nobody is smoking a ciggy in the locker room. These games wouldn't be competitive.”

Others had a hard time visualizing players from the 1960s lining up with players from the 2000s.

“These are impossible questions to answer,” said Bob Socci, the radio voice of the New England Patriots. “Great players and teams are great in their era. But if we could `super-size’ the athletes to make height, weight, speed, training and technology equal, get me a bucket of popcorn and a `daddy soda’ to watch those games! Great coaches and players on all four teams. Bet both games would be thrillers that went down to the wire!”

But the Packers had their believers.

“If those Patriots lost to the Giants, I'm guessing that they'd also lose to Lombardi's Packers!” said Jim Colony, a sports reporter with radio station KDKA-FM in Pittsburgh.

Added Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson of the Dallas Cowboys: “I went old school with my votes. Why? No specific reason just a big fan of those teams way back in the day. But it was hard to vote against the Patriots with the way Brady was slinging it.”

Mike Klis, a sports writer with 9News in Denver, even offered up a play-by-play.

“On fourth-and-one at the 1, down 3 with 16 seconds left, Lombardi has Starr fake the handoff to Jim Taylor, throws a slant to Max McGee who makes a one-handed catch near the goal post,” Klis wrote. “Packers win, 21-17.”

In the second matchup, the Bears with their iconic defense prevailed overwhelmingly with 143 votes. The Paul Brown-Otto Graham Browns received just 26 votes.

“I disagree that today's teams are better,” said Vito Stellino, a long-time Hall of Fame voter. “With free agency, you can't keep great teams together. Favre and Rodgers won once each. And winning isn't the goal the way it once was. Today the goal is getting that second contract.

“The Steelers had 10 Hall of Famers and won four in six years and repeated twice. No team has matched either feat in almost half a century. And Lombardi won five in seven years including three in a row. So in the decade of ‘60s and ‘70s two teams combined to win 9 titles and went 9-1 in title games. And they played football in those days. Today's game is one step above flag football.”

Sports writer Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Constitution-Journal agreed.

“The 1978 Steeler which kick butt in any era,” he said.

Like the Packers, the Browns had their supporters. Otto Graham didn’t lose and Paul Brown was one of the great football minds in the game’s history. Graham won 83.4 percent of his career starts and took the Browns to the championship game in each of his 10 seasons.

“I’m going on the assumption that by the time they’d meet Paul Brown would figure out how to beat Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense,” said Gregg Bell, a sports writer with the Tacoma News Tribune.

Added Gene Frenette, a sports columnist for the Florida Times-Union: “I think Otto Graham might be the most underrated QB in NFL history.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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