The Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers meet on the NFL schedule this week, and for our Thursday Throwback we will highlight a “sort of” playoff game between these 2 teams, played the day after Christmas in 1965, that wasn’t technically a playoff game. The Colts and Packers had finished tied for the Western Division title, and this game needed to be played to determine who would represent the West in the NFL Championship game the following week against the Eastern Division champion (and defending league champion) Cleveland Browns. The Colts were at a dramatic disadvantage going into the game as both of their quarterbacks, John Unitas and Gary Cuozzo, were injured, forcing coach Don Shula to play his starting halfback, Tom Matte, at quarterback. The Colts had ruled the Western Division the previous season and were vying for the chance to seek revenge for the being shut out by the underdog Browns in ’64, but the lack of a viable signal caller made them heavy underdogs in this game.
Armed with a wrist band that contained the team’s offensive plays, Matte proceeded to play a competitive game for the Colts, although he didn’t accomplish much through the air. The playing field was leveled somewhat for Baltimore when Packer QB Bart Starr was hurt early on, forcing coach Vince Lombardi to go with his backup, Zeke Bratkowski. With a backup and a converted running back running the team’s offenses, the game predictably became a defensive struggle between 2 of the NFL’s strongest units, and the Colts clung to a slim 10-7 lead until just after the two minute warning, when a play occurred that would alter NFL history. Green Bay placekicker Don Chandler booted a 22 yard field goal that appeared to sail wide right, but the official signaled it to be good. Chandler even lowered his head in disappointment at what he thought was a miss. At the time, the league had just one ref, positioned directly under the goalposts, to judge field goals. The Packers went on to win the game in overtime as Chandler made good on another three point attempt, this time from 25 yards out. When replays seemed to clearly show that Chandler’s game-tying kick had indeed gone wide, the league decided to raise the length of the uprights to the height that they are in today’s game for the following season. It was just another example of a controversial play in NFL history leading to an improvement to avoid future miscues by officials. The Packers then went on to defeat Cleveland in the title game, beginning a stretch of 3 consecutive championship seasons for Lombardi’s club.
Tom Matte, Baltimore’s “emergency QB”