It would be pleasant to think that the Oakland Raiders, a team that made a shambles of the American Football League, are as good as the people in the AFL believe. Were they, then the Green Bay Packers would be in for a difficult time on January 14, in the warm confines of the Orange Bowl in Miami.
As it is, the Packers already have beaten the two toughest teams they will face on their way to the world championship. They destroyed the Los Angeles Rams in Milwaukee and beat the Dallas Cowboys with icy skill in Green Bay, and both are much better teams than Oakland has shown itself to be. The Packers, to put it bluntly, are capable of beating Oakland's Raiders by four touchdowns, if not by more.
Last year, facing an AFL team for the first time ever, Green Bay probed Kansas City cautiously for a quarter and a half, trying to determine the nature of the beast. Having made the diagnosis, they dominated the Chiefs with almost contemptuous ease for the rest of the day on the way to their comfortable 35-10 victory.
"We have nothing to compare them with," Coach Vince Lombardi said before that game. "In watching the movies of their games with other teams in the AFL, we are unable to judge what they are doing, since we have never faced an AFL team. It will take us a while to become acclimatized."
When the Packers finished testing the wind and the weather, they found it balmy. Against the Raiders, with the experience they gained against Kansas City, Green Bay will not spend so much time assaying the opposition. The tests may take two offensive and two defensive series, then the validity of the Green Bay judgments—or the necessity of adjustments in those judgments—will have been established and the game should turn decisively for the Packers.
It could first turn on, of all things, the Green Bay running attack. The Packers are no longer the power-oriented, ball-control club they were in the days of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung, but this Sunday, on a field more conducive to running than the frozen turf of Green Bay, they could become explosive. While Starr still likes to snap his backs into the line for the hard yards that earn first downs, he has at hand—in Donny Anderson and rookie Travis Williams—a pair of backs who can turn the short yards into long touchdowns. Williams, a 9.3 sprinter who weighs 215 pounds, may be the next great running back in pro football. Even now he is so dangerous on kickoff returns that most teams prefer squib kicks, a maneuver that often gives the Packers excellent field position and a good launching pad for a touchdown drive. And Lombardi has not one but three fullbacks: Chuck Mercein, who has performed nobly since joining the club from the New York and Washington cab squads; Ben Wilson, the former Ram who has speeded up since slimming down from 240 to 225 pounds; and second-year man Jim Grabowski, the best of the three, gifted with tremendous early acceleration, fine speed and elusive moves. Grabowski, unfortunately, probably will not play.
It is difficult to judge the match-ups involved in the Super Bowl game simply because the two teams have not played the same caliber of opposition. Even the most rabid AFL fan would be hard put to contend that the overall excellence of teams the Raiders beat in achieving their first AFL title matches that of the teams Green Bay met in winning a third straight NFL championship. Ben Davidson, the mustachioed bravo who plays defensive right end for the Raiders, is 6'7" and he weighs 265 pounds, but no one has ever put him in the same class with Los Angeles' Deacon Jones, who was second only to John Unitas in the balloting for the Most Valuable Player in the NFL in 1967. The Packers all but annihilated Jones in the division playoff. Davidson, incidentally, was with Green Bay in his rookie year, before he was cut. He was—and is—an impressive physical specimen. He became a friend of the Bart Starrs and once, coming to the Starr household to return a baby pen he had borrowed, he gave the Starr dog a fit of screaming meemies.
"He was a very nice man," says Cherry, Starr's wife. "We all liked him. But his wife had knit him a big shaggy sweater and he was wearing it when he came in. Our dog is a good watchdog and a brave dog, too, but she took one look at Ben and ran howling under the bed."
It is doubtful that Davidson will have this effect on Bob Skoronski, the Green Bay left tackle whose assignment it will be to block him.
Henry Jordan, the balding, humorous man who plays defensive right tackle for the Packers, will see a vaguely familiar face across the line when he faces Gene Upshaw, left guard for the Raiders. Upshaw is regarded as one of the keys to the good Raider offense. He met Jordan in Chicago in the College All-Star game that began this long season. He did not do well. Jordan, with 11 years of experience behind him, figures to have as good a day in Miami as he had in Chicago. Upshaw has a year of pro play behind him now, but a year to prepare for the likes of Jordan is hardly enough.
"He taught me a lot," Upshaw said after the All-Star game. "I'm a better guard for what I learned." The lesson should continue in the Orange Bowl.
If you want to pursue the matter of individual match-ups, how about these? Willie Davis (10 years in the NFL and all-pro) vs. Harry Schuh (three years in the AFL); Lionel Aldridge (five years a starter for Green Bay) vs. Bob Svihus (three years in the AFL). On defense for the Raiders, Dan Birdwell, in his sixth season and never an All-Pro, faces Jerry Kramer, who has been an All-Pro in most of his 10 NFL seasons. Ike Lassiter, one of the best of the Raider defensive linemen, meets Forrest Gregg, the man who dominated the Rams' Jones. Lassiter is as big as Jones, but not as fast. Tom Keating, the other star of the Raider defensive line, is the only player who will have an edge on his adversary in experience. He is matched with young Gale Gillingham, a second-year guard who beat out Fuzz Thurston for the position this season. Thurston still can play guard for almost any pro team.
So, in the lines, which nearly always decide a game, the Packers enjoy a clear and decisive margin. But if the line play should result in a standoff, what then?
No team in football can match the Packer linebackers. Ray Nitschke, a 6'3", 235-pound veteran of 10 years, was easily the best middle linebacker in football in 1967, although most All-Pro selections, amazingly, ignored him. He is a damaging tackier, quick enough to drop back and defend against a pass and a play diagnostician of the first order. Dave Robinson and Lee Roy Caffey are big, fast and All-Pro caliber as corner linebackers.
"Green Bay's defense is built on its linebackers," Tom Landry, the Dallas head coach, said before the championship game in Green Bay. "It should be. They may be the best set of linebackers ever to play football."
Behind them is perhaps the best secondary in football. Herb Adderley and Bob Jeter at the corners and Tom Brown and Willie Wood at safety have worked together for a long time and have superb individual skills, against both the run and the pass.
The Raiders probably will run for short yardage on this formidable defense. They have strong runners in Hewritt Dixon and Pete Banaszak and, for that matter, in Daryle Lamonica. The Green Bays do not concentrate on stopping the run; they consider it more important to take away the pass. "They bend with you on the run for a while," Landry says. "You get the short gains because they are trying to blow in there on the passer. They shut off the run when you get down close."
Dave Hanner, who coaches the Green Bay defensive line, has it figured out. "Jordan has to go in there all out," he says. "He's got to get off on the ball and roll. So does Willie Davis. If they stop and read and get cautious, it hurts. What if Henry gets trapped now and then? So they gain five, six yards. They aren't going all the way. We get more when Henry or Willie gets to the passer than we lose if they are trapped. It's a good gamble."
No team—certainly not Oakland—figures to whip the Packers with a running game. If a runner does penetrate the line, he faces those big, mobile linebackers and, if he should escape them, he still must evade the fast, sure tacklers in the secondary.
Lamonica, who came from Buffalo to lift the Raiders to their first championship, is certainly a good passer. He has thrown for 32 touchdowns and was selected as the Most Valuable Player in the AFL. But. with only one year's real experience, he is still far behind Bart Starr, who has been a super quarterback for eight seasons. Starr has been in nine championship or playoff games and nobody in pro football has ever had a better record in big games.
The comparisons become embarrassing, finally. Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler (17 years between them in the NFL) meet Kent McCloughan and Willie Brown, the Raider corner backs who together muster a meager eight years in the AFL. Adderley and Jeter, with a total of eight years covering the likes of Bob Hayes. Dave Parks, Charley Taylor. Bernie Casey, Raymond Berry and Jimmy Orr, must tend goal on Bill Miller (five undistinguished seasons in the AFL) and Fred Biletnikoff (in his third season). The Raider tight end, Billy Cannon, is a fine football player, but he spent most of his time as a running back before being converted into a tight end.
Well, accept all this. The Packers have the edge in size, experience and performance. The Raiders are still a fine young football team and they played strong games against the clubs they had to beat. However, the New York Jets, with Joe Namath (still a far, far cry from a Bart Starr) passed them silly and even beat them once, but maybe that game was an accident. Against the Packers, they conceivably might produce a super effort and, with smoke pouring from their damp ears, win the game on sheer and super desire.
Against the Packers?
Vincent Lombardi, as everybody knows, invented desire.
Latest addition to the Packers' varied arsenal is Travis Williams, the 9.3 sprinter who gives the team the only thing it lacked before—an explosive runner who can break up games.