8381...
TGS SPECIAL REPORT..."COLD BOWL" & CONF. TITLE NOTEBOOK

                                    by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

We at TGS precede the “Super Bowl era” by a full decade, and can recall a time when the pro football season would essentially end after the NFL and AFL championship games, usually contested in late December. (TGS was also in existence for three seasons between 1957-59 that preceded the existence of the old AFL!) So when the Super Bowl initially arrived for the 1966 season (and yes, it was unofficially referred to as the “Super Bowl” by all media outlets before Pete Rozelle would affix the name permanently to the championship tilt), the AFL and NFL title games became effective semi-final games. We’ll talk about Super Bowl I, either on these pages or our website, before the upcoming “Supe” on February 2.

After the 1970 merger, the names would change (AFC and NFC) but the semi-final round would stay the same. And in the decades since, we at TGS have had the good fortune to watch every single one of those Super Bowl prelims, in which some of the greatest moments in pro football history have been forged. Indeed, there is little doubt that the conference championship round has provided more thrills and great games than have the Super Bowls since the merger.

Also providing some of the most memorable images, mostly due to weather conditions in the conference final round. In other words...cold! Some of the most-iconic images in NFL history have been courtesy bad-weather games, either in the championships before the Super Bowl era, or many from the 1966 season onward. Indeed, with Super Bowls mostly played at warm-weather climes, or indoors, it’s been conference championship weekend when the most-memorable “weather games” have been played.

Of course, the most enduring of those is the infamous Dallas-Green Bay “Ice Bowl” from December 31, 1967 at frozen Lambeau Field, forever etched into NFL lore as the ultimate gridiron test of man against the elements. Such has the “Ice Bowl” clouded perceptions, however, that some other historic cold-weather games, featuring great teams in this championship round, have unfortunately been pushed aside to the dustbin of football history. One of these icy games, involving an all-time great team, was within the TGS era (which began in 1957) and deserves to be recalled.

We have long considered it a bit unfortunate that the Green Bay Packers’ history from the Vince Lombardi “Glory years” is too often recalled by the last installment in 1967, the aforementioned “Ice Bowl” season. Though we do agree with many historians who consider that ‘67 NFL title game vs. Dallas to be the defining game in pro football history. But in no way was Lombardi’s last title winner in ‘67 his best team, and the “Ice Bowl” was also not the only Packers’ NFL title win for Lombardi that was played in brutal, freezing conditions.

In fact, what might have been Lombardi’s greatest Packers team in 1962 also had to deal with some arctic weather in the title game vs. the Giants. Anyone around today who was at Yankee Stadium in New York on December 30, 1962 might still be thawing out. Of the many who attended both the ‘67 Ice Bowl and the refrigerator-like conditions in the Bronx almost five-years-to-the-day earlier, more than a few thought conditions might have been worse in New York. If not for Packers-Cowboys in ‘67, it’s likely that the ‘62 championship game might have eventually worn the “Ice Bowl” label.

The reason? Bone-chilling wind. Though the thermometer for title game in ‘62 at Yankee Stadium would dip from 17 to 13 degrees during the game, which seemed almost balmy compared to the -15 at Lambeau Field five years later, a wind that whipped upwards of 30 miles per hour created a wind chill of approximately -9. The howling gusts created extreme discomfort for those in the stands, who felt as if the whipping wind might as well have been icicle projectiles. To that point, it was perhaps the most-uncomfortable of many uncomfortable NFL title games played in the freeze of December.

There was the matter of the game between the Giants and Packers as well, a rematch of a lopsided 37-0 Green Bay win the previous December in the 1961 title game at then-called City Stadium in Wisconsin. But nobody was expecting the ‘62 title clash to be remotely similar. Even though the Packers finished with what would be their best-ever regular-season record (13-1) for Lombardi, the Pack had labored a bit down the stretch, including a 26-14 beatdown administered by the Lions on Thanksgiving in Detroit that ended Lombardi’s 10-game win streak to begin the season. That result created some hope on the side of the G-Men, who enjoyed their best season of the decade at 12-2, with vet QB Y.A. Tittle, added in ‘61 in a trade with the 49ers, enjoying his best pro season to date with a league-record 33 TD passes.

Still, Green Bay was installed as a 6 ½-point favorite and expected to keep its crown. Along the way in ‘62, rugged fullback Jim Taylor had supplanted Jim Brown as the NFL rushing leader with a bruising 1474 yards on the ground. (It would be the only year of Brown’s decorated career when he did not win the NFL rushing title).

The Giants were all-business in the run-up to the game. Coach Allie Sherman, looking to atone for the beatdown 12 months earlier, herded the Giants upstate to Bear Mountain and the vast fieldhouse at nearby West Point for practice and preparation before the game. Meanwhile, Lombardi’s Packers braved sub-zero temperatures in Green Bay as they prepared to jet to New York and defend their title.

Lombardi, of course, was a New York native and one of Fordham’s most-famous “Seven Blocks of Granite” (the name attached to Ram offensive lines of the era) before embarking upon a coaching career that would lead to prominence as Jim Lee Howell’s offensive coordinator for powerhouse Giants teams of the 1950s. After taking the Packers job in 1959, any subsequent trips “home” to New York were major news in the Big Apple, though during the festive period of 1962, a newspaper strike in New York City shut down the local papers and somewhat muted the local chatter about Lombardi’s return. Though scribes from papers in neighboring areas, and of course the national media, were proving ample coverage of Lombardi's return to New York.

Sherman, however, was not about to let Lombardi out-motivate him or his team. A skillful orator who majored in psychology at Brooklyn College, Sherman mastered a spot-on impersonation of Notre Dame’s immortal Knute Rockne delivering his famous “Win One for the Gipper” speech before the Army game of 1928, related versions of which he would often use to arouse his team. According to vet sports writer Jerry Izenberg, Sherman was afraid his team might go slack in the penultimate game of the regular season at Yankee Stadium against the hated Browns after the G-Men had sewn up the Eastern crown the week before. He decided to improvise a version of Rockne’s “Gipper” speech to spark his troops for a good effort in front of the home fans to hopefully provide some momentum into the title rematch vs. Green Bay...with some help from a local delicatessen.

The purveyor of a chain of kosher delis on Long Island had his own idea of how to provide incentive for a special effort vs. the Browns. If the G-Men would deliver an outstanding performance vs. Cleveland, the deli man would deliver to every player on the team, a choice selection of his freshest bagels and finest lox, his best pastrami and tastiest herring.

In the dressing room before the game vs. the Browns, Sherman spoke to the team about this heartwarming gesture from the deli owner. Sherman pictured a Yankee Stadium full of fans like this...generous, loyal, and richly deserving to see a best effort from their favorite team. Izenberg has claimed that, while Sherman’s voice was not breaking with emotion when he delivered the final punchline, he can testify to its memorable conclusion.

“All right, men,” Sherman, according to Izenberg, said. “Let’s go out there now and win one for the kippers!” And the G-Men did by a 17-13 count.

The ‘62 title game would also mark the unofficial beginning of a pro football institution that would become known as NFL Films. A former World War II vet and coat salesman, Ed Sabol, would in his spare time often use a motion picture camera, which he received as a wedding gift, to film his son Steve’s high school football games. This led to Sabol’s founding of a small film company called Blair Motion Pictures, named after Sabol’s daughter. A football fan, Sabol decided to bid for the rights to film the ‘62 NFL championship game for $5000, more than double what the rights sold for the previous year. Sabol’s film of the game survived the harrowing weather conditions at Yankee Stadium, which son Steve thought for a moment had ruined the production when two of the six cameras froze and several boxes of film cracked, plus one cameraman suffering frostbite. But Sabol’s work impressed Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who asked the NFL owners to agree to buy out Sabol’s company. The owners initially rejected Rozelle’s proposal in 1964, though by the next year had agreed and re-named Sabol’s company NFL Films. Sabol received $20,000 in seed money from each of the league’s then-14 owners, and would shoot every NFL game plus an annual highlight film for each team. After the merger, by 1968 an “AFL Films” division would open under Sabol’s watch.

Thus, created from the 1962 NFL championship game was what we all came to know as NFL Films.

Even with the New York newspaper strike, hype for the Packers-Giants ‘62 title game was off the charts. The national media of the day joined in the frenzy. The NBC telecast of the game, with fabled Chris Schenkel (Giants) and Ray Scott (Packers) sharing the play-by-play duties, was expected to draw a record TV audience of beyond 40 million viewers. Winter conditions would cause the field at Yankee Stadium to be covered by a tarpaulin the day before the game, but half of the field was uncovered for both teams to perform brief workouts within a half-hour of one another. Temperatures, in the 30s that Saturday, were expected to dip overnight, with chances of cold rain, sleet and/or snow. Nonetheless, a capacity crowd of better than 64,000 was expected the next day.

Aching for another shot at the Packers, the Giants’ dressing room was papered with headlines and quotes about the previous year’s 37-0 shellacking, hopefully to rile the team enough to prevent a similar beating. But ready as they were, the G-Men would not out-prepare the Pack, especially Lombardi’s trusted defensive aide, Phil Bengston (who would eventually succeed Lombardi as coach later in the decade), who knew the Giants’ tendencies inside-out. As reported in Sports Illustrated, Bengston would quietly tell confidantes at Lombardi’s noted “Five Thirty Club,” an informal and convivial get-together of Packer friends and associates (and occasional media members) the night before road games at Lombardi’s hotel suite, what to expect on Sunday.

“(Y.A.) Tittle likes to throw on first down on the first series he calls,” Bengston would say quietly. “If the game is even the series after the first one, he is more apt to run. If he calls a running play and it gains six or seven years, he likes to come back with exactly the same play. If the first running play doesn’t gain, you figure the first call a run, the next two passes.

“If he’s got third and long yardage for a first down, he’s more likely to throw to Frank Gifford or Joe Walton than he is to Del Shofner. He likes Shofner for the bomb–the long pass for the touchdown.”

Weather conditions on Sunday, however, would curtail Tittle’s deep-ball game, as it would for Green Bay counterpart Bart Starr. (These types of wicked high winds were something that the Packers and Cowboys did not have to deal with five years later at the Lambeau “Ice Bowl” game.) “In this game you should throw caution to the winds and go for the big one every time you think it’s there,” Starr would say after the game. “But you couldn’t take chances in that wind. You couldn’t throw long because you weren’t sure where the ball would go.” The Packers were also contemplating what to do about HB Paul Hornung, who had been battling a knee injury since midseason, with backup Tom Moore having filled in for previous games, and G Jerry Kramer having taken over Hornung’s place-kicking chores.

Though Starr’s playbook was reduced by weather conditions, Tittle’s would be even more restricted. The gusty, fitful winds took away one of the mainstays of the New York attack–the long pass from Tittle to Shofner. In less-windy conditions, Tittle might have been more tempted to go deep, especially after Packer CB Jesse Whittenton, whose job was to shadow Shofner, was hurt early in the game. He stayed in, playing at less than full speed, but since Tittle wasn’t daring to throw deep, Whittenton could afford to play off Shofner, who still caught 69 yards worth of passes. But no deep balls.

The Giants, however, had plenty in their satchels, including the powerful motivator of revenge. All-Pro MLB Sam Huff, who had been embarrassed in the previous ‘61 title game, vowed retribution, and was hellbent to atone for the poor effort in the 0-37 defeat. Huff made it is his personal mission to punish the rugged Jim Taylor, as the Giants planned on using the same gang-tackling techniques they similarly employed to slow the great Jim Brown of Cleveland.

All-Pro DE Andy Robustelli was just as focused and motivated as the angered Huff. “That game (0-37) was the low point of my career,” said Robustelli. “We have done a great deal with defense for the Giants, and that one really stings. It burned into my brain, and the only way I can get rid of the memory is by returning the aggravation. If we win this game, it won’t be enough. We have to destroy the Packers and Lombardi. It’s the only way we can atone for what happened to us last year.”

New York QB Tittle later recalled the high-intensity run-up to the game. “Green Bay was the heavy favorite, but I felt we had a better chance than in 1961. ... I really thought we could do it, and so did the rest of the team. There was an intensity about them that I had never seen before. The defense was really worked up.”

Being that it was 1962, however, the NFL’s TV “blackout” policy was still being enforced; a 75-mile ring around New York City would not be able to watch the game. As was the case annually in those years, a Federal judge would refuse to lift the ban in a suit brought forward by disgruntled fans of the home team (in this case, the Giants). Which was good news for hotel/motel operators outside of the 75-mile radius, and able to pick up TV signals from locales like Philadelphia that were televising the game.

The Jersey City Journal reported the next day that...“fans were six deep at a Howard Johnson’s in Lawrenceville, talking of Tittle and Shofner while munching halftime hamburgers. Waitresses looked bewildered. And most of the motels kept a TV repairman on duty throughout the game to guard against the calamity of a blown picture tube. The owner of the Sleep-E-Hollow Motel in Lawrenceville said he had begun to receive reservations for the game three weeks ago. By game time, all 53 of his units were filled, and someone even wanted to rent the TV set behind the motel desk. He kept it for himself. ‘I just hope the Giants don’t lose,’ he said at halftime. 'I’m afraid the fans will tear up the place.'”

Due to the brutal weather conditions, the crowd was late-arriving in the Bronx, but would eventually swell “The House that Ruth Built” to capacity. Legendary columnist Red Smith had his own description of the conditions. “Polar gales clawed topseed off the barren playground and whipped it into whirlwinds about the great concrete chasm of Yankee Stadium,” said Smith. “The winds snatched up tattered newspapers, more newspapers than people can find in all New York these days, and flung the shreds aloft where they danced and swirled in a Shubert blizzard ...”

Throughout the game, players on both sides huddled around metal oil drums stuffed with trash and doused with lighter fluid. Wind gusts would every so often topple a sideline bench. Hot dog paper wrappers would swirl in th air. Newspapers did the same. Occasional dust storms kicked up on the all-dirt field (grass having long-since died due to the freeze). Many hats of fans would be blown away, including one that belonged to Marie Lombardi, Vince’s wife, and Cherry Starr, Bart’s wife whose favorite white fur hat flew off of her head, never to be recovered.

And what of the field? The grassless surface was almost like concrete, frozen in large areas with holes and ruts throughout. The players would have to take short, choppy steps to keep from slipping.

Tactically, the Packers, as noted before by Starr’s observations, knew their downfield passing was limited. So Lombardi and Starr decided on a more conservative approach built around FB Taylor. Since the Giants’ running game was much less productive, the weather favored the visitors. Still, Starr would have to keep close contact with his coach, later saying “I conferred more during this game (with Lombardi) than any other I can recall.”

Because of the arctic conditions, teams also had to decide upon proper footwear to wear on a real “frozen tundra.” The Packers decided to have their backs and ends wear ripple-soled “coaches shoes” with all linemen donning cleats. Meanwhile, all of the Giants wore coaches shoes, with some donning white, rubber-soled sneakers at halftime. (This reminded of the 1934 title game between the Bears and Giants at an icy Polo Grounds, when the Giants, down 10-3 at the half, would make an emergency run to nearby Manhattan College, where AD Brother Jasper would empty the lockers of the school’s basketball team and loan the sneakers to the Giants. Who, with better footing in second half, stormed to a 30-13 win!). Some players on each team also wore gloves.

What ensued was considered at the time as perhaps the roughest and most-physical NFL game in its 43-year history to that point, made worse by the wind-swept freeze. Hitting was fierce, tackles punishing. The aforementioned Huff made it his personal mission to brutalize Pack FB Taylor, who took a frightful beating. After a particularly hard hit in the first quarter, Taylor had badly bitten his tongue, and would be swallowing blood for much of the arctic afternoon. Huff’s constant punishment of Taylor looked like mayhem to many, yet football people considered it rough but clean, setting the tone for an afternoon of barbaric battle in the deep and bone-rattling freeze.

On Tittle’s first possession, the elements immediately came into play. Runs by Phil King and Alex Webster would gouge out a first down, but Tittle’s first pass on the next series was blown three yards short of Shofner, who to make things worse was also called for interference on Green Bay’s Whittenton, who had earlier been a teammate when both were with the Rams. Fingers frozen almost stiff, Tittle’s passes had no zip against the gale-force winds. Steve Sabol, filming the clash for his dad Ed’s Blair Motion Pictures, was shocked at what the wind did to the strong-armed Tittle’s pass. “There was such an expression of despair and surprise on Tittle’s face,” Sabol later recalled. “You could tell he realized he was in for a long afternoon.”

Starr would quickly realize much the same. “If Y. A. Tittle had this much difficulty with the wind, I saw no need to fight it,” Starr would later say. But Starr, with aid of the hobbled Hornung, who gutted his way into the starting lineup, was able to chop the Packers downfield with their first possession. Taylor, already taking abuse from Huff and other Giants defenders, keyed a few short gains, while Starr, throwing short, cobbled together an advance that got far enough for Kramer to open the scoring with a 26-yard field goal into a swirling wind. The Pack had drawn first blood (literally, with Taylor cutting his tongue on the drive after a violent hit from Huff and a skid along the ice).

Perhaps kicked into gear by the Green Bay field goal, Tittle would fire up the Giants’ best serious advance of the afternoon on their next drive. On a third down from New York’s 46, Tittle zipped a pass thru the icy wind to sure-handed Shofner, who stepped all of the way to the Green Bay 33. Passes to Shofner and King moved the ball to the 15. Where, on 2nd down, Tittle was ready to strike. Seeing TE Joe Walton wide open in the end zone, Tittle was throwing on an expected arc only for ever-present Packer LB Ray Nitschke, rushing Tittle, to tip the pass, which instead fell at the Green Bay 10 into the hands of LB Dan Currie, who suddenly had lots of open field and blockers in front of him. “Rumblin’ and stumblin’” as Keith Jackson might have said, Currie would fall on his own at the Packers 39. Starr advanced another drive that ended on a missed Kramer field goal from 37 yards as the 1st Q ended.

By now the lights had been turned on Yankee Stadium and the ominous clouds began to gather, as winds whipped as high as 40-50 MPH in some parts of the stadium. The game settled into no-holds-barred trench warfare, with brutal hitting both ways. Neither side could sustain any marches until deep into the 2nd Q, when the Giants, looking to move into at least a 3-3 tie at the break, instead saw HB King fumble on a draw play, thanks to a jarring hit by LB Currie, with the ever-present Nitschke there to recover for the Pack on the Giants’ 28. In good field position, and now looking for a score that could put the Pack up 10-0 (a mountainous lead in such conditions), Starr would attack aggressively, and utilize the versatile Hornung for one of the plays of the game, a halfback option pass that wobbled to End Boyd Dowler, all of the way to the New York 7. Where, on the next play, Taylor would cut back against the grain for a TD run and a 10-0 lead with just 2:39 to play in the half. A belated advance by Tittle got the ball into Packer territory before the break, but PK Don Chandler (a future key Green Bay member) was well short on a 47-yard FG try in the final minute of the half, and the Pack took a 10-0 lead into intermission.

At halftime, as the teams drank hot bouillon and coffee in their locker rooms to warm up, attention on the Green Bay side was focused upon Taylor, who not only was spitting blood because of the cut on his tongue, but was also getting stitches for a gash on his left elbow. Moreover, Taylor was under-the-weather; as it would turn out, he was suffering from hepatitis, which had prompted a weight loss which at the time was undiagnosed. Packer teammates wondered how their beaten and bloodied fullback could possibly play in the second half. But Taylor’s constitution was made of iron; if he could walk, he could play.

As the second half commenced, it was becoming apparent that neither team was going to be able to sustain a long drive, and other means would be necessary to produce points. The battle between Taylor, Huff and the Giants’ defense continued unabated, complete with incessant trash-talking both ways. “I hit him so hard I don’t know how the hell he got up,” Huff later said. “I didn’t think I could get up either, but I had too much pride to stay down. Most guys, rather than get hit, would run out of bounds. But I knew Taylor wasn’t going to do it. I knew he was going to turn back into me and bury me. And I thought, “One of us is going to die.” (Huff was later diagnosed with a slight concussion after the game.)

Just when it looked like the Giants were out of answers, however, their defense and special teams delivered! Beginning a drive from his 20 after a Chandler punt into the end zone, Starr was quickly in a box, and soon it was 4th and 15 from the 15 after DB Dick Lynch almost intercepted a pass intended for target Max McGee. Max would stay in on 4th down to punt, but rushing in from the left side, quick CB Erich Barnes would block McGee’s punt, which fell on the 1-yard line, where New York special teamer Jim Collier would gather the pigskin and roll into the end zone. Now, we’ve got a ball game! The Green Bay lead had been cut to 10-7 midway thru the 3rd Q!

Again, however, a sequence that ended with another New York mistake gave Green Bay a chance to extend its lead. After the G-Men held following the Collier TD, and Yankee Stadium rocking to its foundation, McGee was forced to punt...only for G-Man DB/punt returner Sam Horner to muff it as he tried to field on the dead run at the New York 42. Instead of great field position to go in for a tying or go-ahead score, the Giants coughed up the ball to the Pack, where the ever-present Nitschke recovered the pigskin for Green Bay. With Taylor gaining short yardage and a pass to Dowler, Starr moved to the 22, from where Kramer would kick a 29-yard field goal to give the Pack a 13-7 lead late in the 3rd Q.

Tittle, however, immediately got the Giants to chug just beyond midfield, though on a 3rd-down incompletion, Packer DB Willie Wood was flagged for interference on Shofner at the Green Bay 18. Wood, in his zealousness to protest, bumped into official Tom Kelleher and knocked him down, earning an expulsion from the game. New York was back in business inside of the Green Bay 20, down only 13-7, and the Pack now minus a key d-back!

But here is where things went pear-shaped one final time for the Giants, who, before relinquishing the ball, had retreated all of the way back to their own end of the field, the result of two holding penalties and an aborted flea-flicker! Eventually, it became 4th and 47, and Chandler’s punt rolled down at the Green Bay 28...ten yards further from the Packer end zone than the G-Men had been just a few plays before.

The game still stayed in the balance deep into the 4th Q with the Pack holding the nervous 13-7 lead before Starr willed one last march to sew up the game. With Hornung now injured, backup HB Moore contributed a couple of key runs spliced among more pounding thrusts by Taylor and a couple of pass completions to Dowler. At the 2-minute mark, the Pack was close enough for Kramer to ice (lierally and figuratively) the game with a 30-yard field goal, which he did...and extending the margin past the 6 1/2-point spread in the process. Though Tittle would drive the Giants all of the way to the Green Bay 4 as the game ended, the Pack was a 16-7 winner, for the second straight year holding Tittle and the potent New York offense to no points in the title game.

After the game, the battered and bruised Taylor, who gained 85 hard-earned and grinding yards on 31 violent carries, tried to explain the brutality and punishing conditions, though he was hard to understand with his injured tongue. “I never took a worse beating on a football field,” Taylor said after the game. “I just rammed it down their throats and let my running do the talking.” Hornung had a similar opinion of the brutal spectacle. “I never played a tougher game,” said the Golden Boy.

Meanwhile, Huff was still wondering how in the world he hadn’t broken Taylor. “Taylor isn’t human,” said Huff afterward. “No human being could have taken the punishment he got today. Every time he was tackled, it was like crashing him down on a concrete sidewalk because the ground was as hard as pavement. But he kept bouncing up, snarling at us, and asking for more. If there was any turning point in the game, it was that time in the first quarter when we went right down there and didn’t score because they intercepted that pass.”

Yankee Stadium would never again host an NFL title game, and the Packers were not done for the decade. But if there are games to be remembered for their battles against the elements, the ‘62 NFL title game has to be on a short list.

The “Ice Bowl” name has already been taken. Can we offer “Cold Bowl” as a label for Packers-Giants ‘62?

CONFERENCE TITLE HISTORY

Like the Ice Bowl, some of the most compelling viewing in NFL seasons has come in Super Bowl prequels, since 1970 contested as AFC and NFC Championship games. There was a period of time when the conference titles were decidedly non-compelling, however, especially for much of the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s when AFC & NFC title games mirrored Super Bowls of the era and usually featured one-sided results. But after the 2016 and ‘17 seasons in which three of the four conference championship games ended with lopsided scores, both games a year ago featured overtime thrillers, even though the enduring memory is of the non-call of an obvious pass interference penalty by the Rams late in their NFC title game against the Saints. That changed the entire trajectory and sequence of the final two minutes of regulation, paving the way for the Rams to get a chance to force overtime before they would win without help from the officials in the extra period. Plenty of tension on the AFC side, too, when the Chiefs awakened in the second half to force overtime at Arrowhead Stadium against Bill Belichick’s Patriots before Tom Brady drove New England for the winning score after receiving the kickoff in extra time.

Last year's tense confrontations were actually more like recent conference title action, as only seven of the 22 clashes over the past eleven seasons have been decided by double-digit margins.

We have always found it fascinating that the biggest blowout in pro football history occurred in the 1940 NFL title game when George Halas’ Chicago Bears stepped on the throat of the Washington Redskins (who had beaten Halas three years earlier in the championship battle) by a whopping 73-0 count! (And, no, TGS was not around to cover that game!) In a four-year span in the mid ’50s, NFL title games produced scorelines of 56-10 (Browns over Lions in 1954), 38-14 (Browns over Rams in 1955), 47-7 (Giants over Bears in 1956), and 59-14 (Lions getting their revenge on the Browns in 1957). It was more of the same throughout much of the 1960s, with NFL title games featuring some romps such as 37-0 (Packers over Giants in 1961), 27-0 (Browns over Colts in 1964), 34-0 (as the Colts gained revenge over the Browns in 1968), and 27-7 (Vikings over the poor Browns again in 1969). Meanwhile, old AFL title games featured some lopsided results as well, including wipeouts such as 51-10 (Chargers over Patriots in 1963), 23-0 (Bills over Chargers in 1965), 31-7 (Chiefs over Bills in 1966), and 40-7 (Raiders over Oilers in 1967).

Last year’s road wins by the Rams and Patriots were departures from most results of the preceding five years, when the host sides would win outright in all ten conference title games and cover the spread in eight of those. Home underdogs have won twice that span; Denver 20-18 over New England four years ago and Philadelphia 38-7 over Minnesota two years ago. The home/favorite trends had not been so pronounced in the preceding years, especially in the NFC, where home teams lost outright in three straight and failed to cover four conference title games in a row prior to 2013. Seven years ago (2012 season), both road teams (Baltimore in the AFC, San Francisco in the NFC) won outright; along with last year’s results, only three times since the 1997 playoffs (Green bay and Denver winning that year) ave both the visitors won straight-up the same day in the conference finales.

Though underdogs have covered all four conference title games the past two seasons, favorites continue to hold a pointspread edge in these games since the merger year of 1970 (52-43-2), although as mentioned their dominance has been a bit less pronounced in recent years, with the dogs covering eleven of the last sixteen conference title battles over the past seven seasons. Among pointspread category trends in AFC & NFC championship battles, note that “intermediate/high” chalk (those laying between 7-9½ points) still stands 16-8 vs. the number in conference championships since 1970. Double-digit favorites, a bit more rare, are only 4-8 vs. the line. Home teams have also won straight up more than two-thirds of the time since the merger (66 of 98). Conference title “total” trends are not especially pronounced, though have leaned slightly “over” (36-29-1 since 1986; four of six “over” the past three years).

Acknowledging the earlier references to historical one-sided results in these games, please note that even with the closer conference title clashes in recent years, almost half of the AFC & NFC championship battles since the 1970 merger (44 of 98) have been decided by 14 points or more, with nearly two-thirds (60 of 98) being decided by double digits.

Following is a list of pointspread breakdowns and results of AFC & NFC Championships since 1970.

CATEGORY RESULT

Favorites/Underdogs (one pick ‘em) ...52-43-2
Favorites straight up... 64-33
Favored by 1-3 points... 12-13
Favored by 3½-6½ points... 20-14-2
Favored by 7-9½ points... 16-8
Favored by 10 or more ...4-8
Home teams straight up... 66-32
Home teams vs. spread... 54-42-2
Home favorites vs. spread... 44-33-2
Home underdogs vs. spread... 10-8
Home pick’em vs. spread... 0-1
Overs/unders (since 1986)... 36-29-1

MARGINS OF VICTORY

1-3 points... 14
4-6 points... 16
7-10 points... 13
11-13 points... 11
14 or more... 44


Return To Home Page