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Grid-Iron Greats

We rank the top 10 NFL teams ever, with the 1962 Packers leading the way
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Steve Wynn, Jan/Feb 03

Jerry Kramer was once asked what it was like to play for legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. "Lombardi was a cruel, kind, tough, gentle, miserable, wonderful man who I often hate and often love and always respect," the former offensive guard said. Such was the effect of Lombardi's leadership on his players. In Lombardi's fourth year at Green Bay, his team dominated like no team had before or since. So strong were the 1962 Packers that 10 of its players, and their coach, ended up in the Football Hall of Fame.

Even before the Packers' storybook 1962 season, football enthusiasts had debated over the greatest teams ever assembled. The arguments continue each winter, when championships are up for grabs. Many clubs, led by great players, win championships. The Steelers in the 1970s, the 49ers in the '80s, and the Cowboys of the early '90s all made their mark. Those are just the dynasty teams. Miami ran the table in 1972, finishing a perfect 17-0 season with a Super Bowl victory over Washington, then won again in 1973. The 1985 Chicago Bears walloped the league with a 15-1 record and a combined score of 91 to 10 in three post-season victories.

But who can say which team is preeminent? To remove the debate from the realm of opinion and get a considered answer, a formula helps. If the formula includes elements such as winning percentage and offensive and defensive dominance, then one American professional football team rises above the rest: the 1962 Green Bay Packers. It's been 40 years now, but history can't bury that Lombardi bunch. "The Packers were different because they were the greatest team," said Hall of Famer Deacon Jones in 75 Seasons, a film about the history of the NFL from 1920 to 1994. "Underline 'team.'" Jones was talking about Packers teams in general. From 1961 to 1967 they won five titles, but the 1962 squad was the best.

It is easy to ascertain Green Bay's supremacy. Just as Albert Einstein eschewed absolute measures in favor of relativity, the formula for the best pro football team contains more than a little relativity. For one, National Football League championships have only been played since 1933. From 1920 through 1932, there was no divisional play; the team with the best record was declared champion without playoffs. Only those NFL champions since -- plus the American Football League champions from 1960 through 1965, before Super Bowls and the leagues' merger -- are candidates for the throne. But championships are not the only measure of a team's dominance. Winning percentage counts, too, as well as the margin a club wins by. Teams can dominate offensively and defensively and here's where relativity comes in: A team's offensive dominance can be measured by seeing how its scoring stacks up against the league average in a given season. Defensive dominance can be measured the same way -- by comparing how many points a team gives up with the league average.

The 1962 Packers scored 415 points (29.6 per game), allowed 148 points (10.6), and compiled a win-loss record of 13-1. Its winning percentage was .929; the 29.6 points scored were 1.33 times better than the league average; the 10.6 points were 2.11 times better than the league average. Multiply .929 by 1.33 by 2.11 and the product is 2.607, the highest ever.

So which teams are at the head of the pack?

1962 Green Bay Packers

So many teams in football history have had great offenses or great defenses but not both. That wasn't the case with the Packers. In 1961 Paul Hornung became a left halfback and Lombardi made the option sweep a Packers staple. Bart Starr became quarterback and Lombardi annihilated his old team, the New York Giants, 37-0, in the title game.

The Pack ran out to a 10-0 record in 1962, clobbering opponents by a combined score of 309 to 78. With just minutes remaining in the season's fourth game, they trailed the Detroit Lions, 7-6. Instead of running the clock out, Lions quarterback Milt Plum passed. His receiver fell and the Packers' Herb Adderley picked off the ball. After Hornung's field goal, the Packers stole the game, 9-7.

In Game 10, the Pack passed another tense test. Down 13-10 against Baltimore, Herb Adderley ran a kickoff back 103 yards for a 17-13 victory. Detroit had a chance for revenge on Thanksgiving Day and came at Starr with everything but tanks and planes. A hellacious rush led by Alex Karras and Roger Brown who teamed for 11 sacks, buried Starr. Green Bay endured its first and last loss, 26-14.

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