The Road to the Ice Bowl Went Through Milwaukee: The 1967 Packers-Rams Western Conference Title Game at County Stadium
Most of Milwaukee will be glued to the nearest television screen this Sunday when the Packers take on the Falcons for the right to advance to Super Bowl LI. But the Cream City area has actually played host to postseason Packers football on two different occasions. In the run-up to this weekend’s duel in Atlanta, What Made Milwaukee Famous is taking a look back at these games. To read about the 1939 title game held at State Fair Park click here.
While Milwaukee wasn’t awarded the 1939 NFL title game until less than two weeks before it took place, the Cream City learned well in advance that it might host a round of the 1967 NFL playoffs. Training camp had just gotten underway for the two-time defending champion Packers when coach/general manager Vince Lombardi announced that, should the Packers win their division that year, the Western Conference championship game would be played at Milwaukee County Stadium. The conference championship game was new for the ’67 season. Previously, the top teams in each conference (East and West) met for the NFL title. Now, the conferences were split into two division – Capitol and Century in the East and Coastal and Central in the West. The division champs would then meet for the right to advance to the NFL title game and the winner there would advance what the papers were referring to as the “so-called ‘Super bowl,’” the second-annual meeting of the champions of the NFL and the upstart American Football League. For the first time ever, a team would need to win three times in the postseason to lay their claim as football champions of the world.
Playing the game in Milwaukee was far less controversial than the decision to move the ’39 title game to the Packers’ part-time hometown. It was a nod to the support of the Pack’s Milwaukee fans while still ensuring that a potential NFL title game would be played in Green Bay. By 1967, both County Stadium and Lambeau Field could hold about 50,000 fans, so there was no clear financial motive to play the game in Milwaukee. Yet, the Packers did have a interest in maintaining fan interest in the city. Foremost, it was vital to keeping up support state-wide, particularly in a part of the state so near to Chicago and George Halas’ Bears. But the Packers were also now the sole tenant of County Stadium, the baseball Braves having left town after the 1965 season. A number of improvements to the stadium, including plans to add about 10,000 seats, had been in the works before the Braves departure and were presently in limbo. The Packers had sold out 24 Milwaukee games in a row, dating all the way back to 1960. The value of the extra seating, especially seating paid for by Milwaukee County, was clear to Lombardi and the Packers.
When the Packers clinched the Central Division in late November, the team began a somewhat covert campaign to get Milwaukee County to move forward on the stadium improvements. When Milwaukee season ticket holders were mailed their order forms for playoff tickets, a note was included requesting that they write a letter to the Milwaukee County Board encouraging them to add new seating to the stadium. When one such ticketholder went to the Milwaukee Journal, claiming that the Packers actually requested a copy of a letter to the board before they would sell him tickets, a minor scandal erupted. The Packers apologized and said they would not require anyone to lobby on their behalf in order to buy tickets.
In Milwaukee, the Packers would face the Coastal Division champion Los Angeles Rams, who finished the season with a league-best 11-1-2 record (at the time, home field was granted on a rotational basis, not determined by seeding). The Packers had actually been saved by the new divisional format, as their 9-4-1 record would have only been good enough for third overall in the conference. Although it quickly sold out, fans had fairly low expectations for the game. The Pack had dropped their final two games of the year, against both the Rams and the lowly Pittsburgh Steelers. Although the Packers had were world champions five of the past seven years, they seemed to be a dynasty in decline.
Rare home movie footage of the game
To prepare for the cold weather, 30 tons of hay were kept on the County Stadium playing surface for three weeks to keep the ground from freezing. Unlike at Lambeau, County Stadium had no in-ground heating system. Despite the hay, the field was sloppy and played slow. This worked to the Packers’ advantage as it made it difficult for the Rams’ celebrated “Fearsome Foursome” defense pass rush to do much damage. Despite turning the ball over three times, the Packers were steadied by the 33-year-old Bart Starr and managed to keep defensive pressure on the Rams all afternoon. What was supposed to be the swan-song for the Lombardi dynasty turned into a rout as the Packers pounded the Rams 28-7.
The Rams-Packers tilt at County Stadium is a major part of Packers history in the Cream City, but is better remember in team annals as the game that sent the Pack to the legendary “Ice Bowl” against the Dallas Cowboys (during which the Lambeau Field turf heating system failed), which in turn led to their victory in Super Bowl II. It was the last Packers home playoff game ever played outside of Lambeau Field. And it wouldn’t be until the Brewers came to Milwaukee that the seating capacity at County Stadium was increased.