On This Date in Sports January 2, 1966: The Packers Down Browns

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Green Bay Packers win their third NFL title in five years, beating the Cleveland Browns 23-12 in the NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field. Field conditions were sloppy with a rain and snow mix falling during the game, following a pregame snowstorm. The muddy conditions helped the Packers limit Jim Brown to 50 yards as the Browns' hopes for a repeat were dashed. It would turn out to be Jim Brown’s final game, as he retired after nine seasons.

The 1960s belonged to the Green Bay Packers, as Vince Lombardi helped usher in the modern era. After losing the 1960 NFL Championship Game to the Philadelphia Eagles, Lombardi pledged his team would never lose again in that situation. The Packers beat the New York Giants in the next two seasons, but their reign ended in 1963 as Paul Hornung was suspended for betting on football. Hornung returned in 1964, but the Packers fell short again in the Western Conference. 

In 1965, the Packers remembered their founding coach as City Stadium II was renamed in honor of Curly Lambeau.  The Packers appeared to be heading for another disappointing season as they trailed the Baltimore Colts by a game and a half after ending November with a 21-10 loss to the last-place Los Angeles Rams. The Packers, however, finished strong and ended the season at 10-3-1 and faced the Colts in the tiebreaker playoff. The Colts were without Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo as Tom Matte played with the plays under his wrist band. The Packers needed to rally in the Conference Playoffs beating the Colts 13-10 in overtime after tying the game on a controversial field goal by Don Chandler. 

The Cleveland Browns overcame Paul Brown's departure and won an NFL Championship for Banton Collier in 1964. Looking to repeat, the Browns rolled to a second consecutive Eastern Conference Championship with a record of 11-3 as Jim Brown won his third NFL MVP award. 

Snow had fallen in Green Bay before the game. A tarp covered the field, but the ground was muddy as rain/snow/sleet mix had fallen steadily as a hearty crowd of 50,852 fans were on hand at Lambeau Field. The Packers went into the game looking to contain Jim Brown, knowing that the Browns needed to get a big game from the MVP to retain their title. Lombardi assigned Ray Nitschke to shadow Brown; the strategy worked as Jim Brown was limited to 50 yards on 12 carries. 

The Packers got an early lead in the game, as Carroll Dale reeled in a 47-yard pass from Bart Starr. The Browns also scored on their first possession as Jim Brown made a big 30-yard reception out of the backfield to set up a 17-yard touchdown pass from Frank Ryan to Gary Collins. The Browns missed the PAT but took a 9-7 lead into the second quarter after a 24-yard field goal by Lou Groza. The second quarter would be a game of field goals as Don Chandler hit a pair, while Groza added a 28-yard boot, as Green Bay led at the half 13-12. 

The second half would see the Packers grind down the Browns, as they began to take control of the game on the ground as a fog rolled in. The Packers extended the lead to 20-12 on a time-consuming drive that ended with a 13-yard touchdown run by Paul Hornung. The Packers added a 29-yard field goal by Chandler in the fourth quarter. Hornung rushed for 105 yards while Jim Taylor added 96 yards, with Green Bay totaling 204 yards on the ground. 

The Packers would win the game 23-12. It was the last NFL Championship Game before the Super Bowl era. The Packers would win the first two Super Bowls, as they were the first team to win three straight NFL Championships, capping a stretch where they won five times in seven seasons.