NFC North: Forrest Gregg

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The temperature in Green Bay, Wis., could be in the 20s at kickoff on Sunday. The November winds could be swirling inside the stadium and playing with the minds of his special teams units. But Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will always relish a trip to Lambeau Field.

It was where Priefer's father, Chuck, got his first job in the NFL, as a special teams coach, working for two seasons on Forrest Gregg's coaching staff in 1984 and 1985. Mike Priefer was a senior in high school when his family moved there from North Carolina, where Chuck Priefer had been the Tar Heels' defensive backs and defensive line coach, and while his father coached the Green Bay Packers' special teams on game days, Mike worked as a ball boy at Lambeau Field.

"I love it," Mike Priefer said. "It's a great stadium. They have great fans. It's a lot like our fans -- they're very passionate about their team."

The two Packers teams Chuck Preifer coached both went 8-8, but did so in very different ways. Green Bay's 1984 team won its season opener by a point over the St. Louis Cardinals, lost its next seven games and finished by winning seven of its final eight games, beating the Vikings 38-14 on the road in the season finale.

"It was a nice way to finish the season," Mike Priefer said of the 1984 team's run.

Now, he'll head back to the stadium looking to reprise part of the Oct. 27 matchup between the two teams, which featured plenty of special teams fireworks. The game started with Cordarrelle Patterson's NFL-record 109-yard kickoff return -- "What happened on our side? We didn't kick it far enough," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week -- while Green Bay came back later with Micah Hyde's 93-yard punt return touchdown. The Packers also tackled Patterson twice in that game inside the 20 -- "which I'm still mad about," Priefer said.

Those were just two of the seven times this season the Vikings have failed to return a kick past the 20, Priefer said, despite the number of times they've given Patterson the green light from deep in his own end zone.

"We've been saying all year, we're going to be aggressive," Priefer said. "When you have a returner back there who's as talented as Cordarrelle is -- the guys believe in him, and he believes in his blockers -- we're going to take those opportunities when they arise. As long as we can keep getting positive yards and getting it past the 20 (yard line) in net ball possession, then we're going to keep being aggressive."

Patterson could get some opportunities on Sunday, if the Packers decide to kick to him and cold temperatures keep either Mason Crosby or Tim Masthay from booming the ball out of the end zone. The weather could toy with the Vikings' kickoffs and punts, too, but even in bad weather, Lambeau Field holds a special place in Mike Priefer's heart.

"It's a great division rival, and I'm excited about the opportunity to go up there and play," he said.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Forest Gregg has led a remarkable life of overcoming physical adversity, whether it was playing in 188 consecutive games (mostly for the Green Bay Packers) or twice beating cancer. Over the weekend, Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel chronicled Gregg's latest challenge: Parkinson's disease.

An excerpt:

"The man has been in total control his entire life. He played in 188 straight games. Through how many concussions? He has no clue. Gregg won five championships in Green Bay and one in Dallas. He coached three different teams with a Lombardi-like vise on discipline. He beat cancer … twice. Forrest Gregg calls the shots. Forrest Gregg is in control. Forrest Gregg has the final say. A football force field has always surrounded him. No hit ever sidelined him. No player dared to cross him. But now -- at 78 years old -- he's run into something completely out of his control: Parkinson's disease. The brain disease is unrelenting. There is no cure, no combination of X's and O's to fix this."

There is no cure, but even at his age, Gregg is working out six days a week to help stave off the symptoms. You'll need more than a minute or two to read this, but it'll be worth your time.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Journal Sentinel considers the connection between concussions and Parkinson's.
  • Jason Wilde's list of the Packers' 20 most important players at ESPNMilwaukee.com continues with receiver Randall Cobb at No. 17.
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com posted a video that shows portions of the arrest of Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson. There isn't much to see here, however.
  • The Vikings will begin design work on their new stadium at a time when stadiums are growing more sophisticated than ever, writes Richard Meryhew of the Star Tribune.
  • Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley on why he thinks he is a good influence on children, via Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press: "Because I'm a great guy. Simple as that."
  • Fairley "has been out in public rehabilitating his image," writes Terry Foster of the Detroit News. Foster: "The people around him promise that the public will see a new Fairley. He will be more outgoing and personable. A new man is being created. But Lion fans mostly care about wins and losses. They look for Fairley to become a dominant second-year player who rotates in and out of the defensive line. He showed promise his rookie season although a foot injury limited his production."
  • Lions defensive end Cliff Avril believes he can be the best defensive end in the NFL, according to Monarrez of the Free Press.
  • Here's a podcast of Chicago Bears cornerback D.J. Moore visiting with ESPN 1000.

Thanksgiving Feast: 1962 grudge match

November, 21, 2011
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The buildup to our NFC North Thanksgiving Feast is going to short, intense and full of distractions. This week would have been busy even without Thursday's matchup between the 10-0 Green Bay Packers and the 7-3 Detroit Lions, so as of this moment I'm declaring complete and total pandemonium in the ring.

[+] EnlargeBart Starr
AP File PhotoDetroit's Darris McCord, 78, and Roger Brown, 76, sack Green Bay's Bart Starr on Nov. 23, 1962. The Lions dealt Vince Lombardi's Packers their only loss of a championship season, sacking Starr 11 times.
As we monitor the Chicago Bears' quarterback transition and the health status of the Minnesota Vikings' star running back, we'll start our Packers-Lions coverage with the story of a rematch nearly 50 years in the making.

If you qualify for AARP membership, or if you watched Bob Costas' weekly essay Sunday night on NBC, you know the Packers and Lions played a Thanksgiving game under similar circumstances in 1962. The Packers entered the game undefeated at 10-0, but the Lions handed them their only loss of the season.

Many people consider the 1962 Packers the best team in franchise history and one of the best in the history of pro football. It had 10 future members of the Hall of Fame, including fullback Jim Taylor, right tackle Forrest Gregg, quarterback Bart Starr, linebacker Ray Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderley, defensive end Willie Davis, center Jim Ringo, halfback Paul Hornung, safety Willie Wood and defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

But on November 23, 1962, the Lions handed them a decisive 26-14 defeat. They sacked Starr 11 times and intercepted him twice.

Monday, the Lions made several members from that team available via conference call. On that day, recalled Hall of Fame linebacker Joe Schmidt: "We were all out to prove to the world that we were as good or better than Green Bay."

(Sound familiar?)

History tells us the Lions were hardly slouches in those days. They won the NFL title in 1957 and won the Runner-Up game in 1960 and 1961. But after opening the 1962 season 3-0, the Lions lost to the Packers in a game that has gone down in franchise lore.

Jerry Green of the Detroit News recalled that game in detail this season. The short version: Leading 7-6 with less than a minute to play, the Lions called a pass play. Receiver Terry Barr slipped, and Adderley intercepted Milt Plum's pass to set up Hornung's game-winning field goal.

Tempers flared in the post-game locker room, and defensive tackle Roger Brown said Monday that the Lions had a "vendetta" against the Packers in the Thanksgiving rematch. Added Schmidt: "We always felt down deep that we were a better football team."

The Lions were well-versed in Packers' coach Vince Lombardi's offense, and defensive coordinator Don Shula worked with Schmidt to recognize each play.

"They basically ran six or seven plays off a couple different formations," Schmidt said. "By the formation, I could call a slant to where they were going to run. Our defensive line penetrated them so severely that their offensive line lost their poise."

Said Brown: "We were determined to get to Bart Starr. I don't think the German Luftwaffe could have stopped us that day."

The parallels for this year's game are interesting, if not completely relevant. The Packers are again 10-0, of course, and the Lions are quite eager to demonstrate they are, as Schmidt said, just as good. Like the 1962 team, today's Lions are built around a nasty defensive line. I'm not sure if Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh and company will register 11 sacks Thursday of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but they'll be trying.

It's worth noting that the Packers rebounded from that 1962 loss to finish 13-1 and win the NFL title. The Lions finished 11-3 and made another trip to the Runner-Up game. If nothing else, it's nice to have a game this season that means something to everyone -- the teams, both sets of fans and the playoff race.

Best Packers Team Ever: 1962

July, 1, 2010
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Notable players: Fullback Jim Taylor, right tackle Forrest Gregg, quarterback Bart Starr, linebacker Ray Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderley, defensive end Willie Davis, center Jim Ringo, halfback Paul Hornung, safety Willie Wood, defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

[+] EnlargeJim Taylor
AP Photo/Bill IngrahamIn their 49-0 win over the Eagles, Jim Taylor and the Packers gained a total of 628 yards.
Analysis: There are notable players, and then there are the best of the very best. All 10 players listed above have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In other words, nearly half of the Green Bay Packers' 1962 regular lineup were among the best of their era. That type of talent collection could never be replicated in today's era of superstar contracts.

Under Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, this Packers team shut out two of its first three opponents and won its first four games by a combined score of 109-14. It went on to finish the season 13-1, leading the NFL in both points scored and fewest points allowed, and won the league championship with a 16-7 victory over the New York Giants. There hasn't been another one-loss season in Green Bay ever since.

The Packers have won 12 titles in their history, including five under Lombardi, but the 1962 team was a powerhouse unto itself. If you've read David Maraniss' biography of Lombardi, you understand why: This edition of the Packers recorded a pair of 49-0 victories and set an NFL record for highest average point differential in its games (19.1 points). Here are some other notable marks:

  • In the second 49-0 drubbing, this one at Philadelphia, the Packers gained -- yes -- 574 more yards than the Eagles (628-54).
  • The 49-0 victories are the two biggest shutouts in team history.
  • The 1962 Packers scored 53 touchdowns, the second-most in team history despite a 14-game season at the time. Its 36 rushing touchdowns remain an NFL record.
  • The defense led the NFL with interceptions (31) and fewest passing yards allowed (2,084).
The season's running performance was the grist for Lombardi's epic "Run To Daylight" with Bill Heinz. While Hornung is often remembered as the Packers' top back, in 1962, Taylor led the team with 1,474 yards and an amazing 19 touchdowns.

The Giants were hell-bent on revenge in the championship game, having lost to the Packers 37-0 the year before. The game was in New York, but the Packers controlled the game throughout in 17-degree weather at Yankee Stadium. The Giants' only score came on a blocked punt. (Check out this NFL Films video on that game. Cool stuff.)

Most impressive win: It's hard to overlook an NFL title game, but beating any team 49-0 and outgaining it by 574 yards is a stunning demonstration of dominance.

Did you know? Nitschke was the MVP of the championship game but might have had a bigger impact on the league a few hours after the game. As the story goes, Nitschke appeared on the television show "What's My Line?" wearing his trademark black rimmed glasses. A film producer named Ed Sabol bought the rights to that appearance for $3,000. Sabol's company eventually became known as NFL Films.

Honorable mention:

1966: Won Super Bowl I after finishing the regular season 12-2. Its two losses, to San Francisco and Minnesota, came by a total of four points.

1996: Led the NFL in points scored and fewest points allowed, the only team to do so in the past 36 years, and won Super Bowl XXXI.

1929: Clinched the Packers' first NFL Championship, this one based on final standings, with an undefeated record (12-0-1).
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

You'll find a bit of interesting news embedded in this story from Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune: Brett Favre is willing to undergo a relatively minor procedure on his partially torn right biceps tendon.

During the surgery, believed to be a tenotomy, surgeons would complete the partial tear Favre suffered last year. Once fully torn, the injury will no longer cause pain, irritation or inflammation. It also isn't likely to have much impact on his ability to throw and will allow him to recover long before training camp would begin in July.

Vikings coach Brad Childress reportedly was en route to a meeting Wednesday with Favre. With the question of a possible surgery already solved, the pair could make a quick agreement for Favre to join the Vikings, according to the Star Tribune.

We'll keep you updated. For now, let's take a spin around the division:

  • Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Wednesday that signing Favre would be "a wonderful little salt to rub in the eyes of some of our Green Bay Packer friends," according to the Associated Press. Must have been a slow day in government.
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette notes other instances in which a Packers legend has moved on to other teams. Among them: Herb Adderly and Forrest Gregg.
  • Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo addresses his reputation for being conservative in a Q&A with Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun Times. Angelo: "[W]hat you don't want to do is miss big. So we have a very pragmatic approach to making decisions. We don't do things knee-jerk; we don't do things based on perception. We do things based on how it's going to impact us now and going forward. Nothing great probably looked good early."
  • Free-agent tight end Michael Gaines, released this spring by Detroit, has a visit scheduled Thursday with the Bears. Dave Hutchinson of the Newark Star-Ledger has details.
  • Lions coach Jim Schwartz showed off his love of heavy-metal music during an in-studio radio appearance Wednesday. John Niyo of the Detroit News brings details, The Scorpions, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath were all part of the conversation. Nice.
  • Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press is uncharacteristically ga-ga over the Lions' decision to sign linebacker Larry Foote.

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