Which drive was the greatest of all time in NFL history? Get ready to find out.
‘The Sneak’ – Green Bay Packers over Dallas Cowboys – 1967
The mark of a truly great drive has to have certain things in play. High stakes. A great opponent. Tough conditions and a historically enduring image. With those requirements in mind, there was no greater march in the annals of football history than in the 1967 NFL championship game.
It was a day marked by incredible circumstances. The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys were meeting for the second time in a row to decide the league champion and the right to represent the NFL in the Super Bowl. At the head of everything were the head coachs, two Hall of Famers in Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. The year before Green Bay had escaped in a 34-27 thriller that culminated in an end zone interception that would’ve tied the game. Now Landry and the Cowboys were out for revenge.
Even more amazing than the backdrop was the atmosphere. By the start of the game the average wind chill at Lambeau Field was −36 °F. It was easily one of the coldest games in league history and because of the frozen conditions on the field, the game soon earned its legendary nickname: The Ice Bowl. Naturally, as things progressed the weather and the field began to take a toll. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead, Green Bay’s offense completely shut down, unable to muster anything for almost three quarters. At the same time, Dallas’ ferocious defense and a few big plays by their offense got the Cowboys the lead 17-14 late in the 4th quarter.
By that point the temperature had tanked to −50 °F. Packers quarterback Bart Starr had been sacked eight times at that point. Somehow he had to get his team 68 yards in less than five minutes against a defense and conditions that had befuddled him for most of the afternoon. Still, in spite of it all he went out anyway. It’s never really clear what happened next. All anyone can say is Green Bay reached down deep for whatever they had left and somehow began to move.
Starr completed three passes on the drive to three different receivers. The most critical was a 19-yard strike to fullback Chuck Mercein, who was actually brought in mid-season as an emergency injury replacement. A play later, Mercein struck again with an 8-yard run up the middle to the Dallas three. There the drive stalled. After two failed runs at the goal line the clock was stopped with 16 seconds left. Recognizing how bad the footing was on the icy field and not willing to risk a pass against that Dallas rush, Starr asked Coach Lombardi to let him try a quarterback sneak. Lombardi simply replied, “Run it, and let’s get the hell out of here!”
Starr called the and follow right guard Jerry Kramer across the goal line into the end zone for the go-ahead score. Once again the Packers had beaten Dallas with seconds left at the goal line. The resulting 21-17 victory notched them their third-straight NFL championship, fifth of the decade under Lombardi. The Ice Bowl would become the signature game of his career and of a football dynasty.