NFL Nation: Vince Lombardi

Bart Starr AP Photo Bart Starr convinced Vince Lombardi that a keeper was the way to go on the Ice Bowl's winning play.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The game -- the play, really -- became synonymous with Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer and the rest of the Vince Lombardi-era Green Bay Packers.

For most of their post-playing lives, everywhere they went, the first thing people brought up was the Ice Bowl. Starr's 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown in the final seconds, Kramer's goal-line block and, of course, the bitter-cold weather.

Forty-seven years after 1967 NFL Championship victory over the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 at Lambeau Field, it remains an indelible moment in team and league history and in the participants' lives.

Some of those stories and pictures will be regurgitated this week given that the Packers and Cowboys will play their first playoff game in Green Bay since that New Year's Eve 1967 game.

But what about the families?

This is their story, and their connection to the Ice Bowl.

Bart Starr Jr. had just turned 10 years old. He was in the stands sitting with the two sons of backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski on that minus-13 degree day.

"Unfortunately we were sitting in the wrong part of the stadium to watch my dad's quarterback sneak,” Bart Jr. said in a phone interview this week. "That was in the South end zone, and we were way up in the North end.

"There was 16 seconds to go, and we knew it was doubtful that they could get off another play if that one wasn't successful. Today, would a team throw it, knowing they would get at least two shots at it? Back then teams ran the ball inside the 10-yard line. The way they lined up, it looked as though we would probably run the ball. Our visibility was terrible. We were watching the action, but we were also watching the fans' reaction down there because we figured that might give us a clue to whether we scored or not."

That Bart Jr. was still in the stands for the game's end was unusual.

"A lot of us took our children home at halftime," said Barbara Knippel, who was married to Jerry Kramer at the time. "Most of us had another one at home. That was Dan for me. He was only 3, so he was at home with a babysitter, and we all took the older ones home because of the cold. My oldest son, Tony, did have frostbite on the cheeks, and then all of us, the wives, went back."

At the time, none of them had any idea what this game would become in football lore.

"I think [the players] were just caught up in the moment," said Bart Jr., who after the game made his way to the locker room, where he recalled seeing little jubilation. "They were going for their third consecutive NFL championship, and that delivered it, and then their second consecutive Super Bowl. Playing for three NFL championships in a row would have carried enough significance that they wouldn't be thinking about how this game would be looked at years from now."

And after the game, it was like any other postgame evening.

"We didn't go home ever after games,” said Kramer's ex-wife, Barbara. "We always went out with each other, a group of us. It was Fuzzy Thurston, Jimmy Taylor, Henry Jordan, Bob Skoronski, Forrest Gregg and the wives. I don't remember where we went that night, but it was nothing different. All we were doing was celebrating that we had won."

For Daniel Kramer, that 3-year-old kid at the time, his indoctrination into the Ice Bowl came years later.

"I had no clue about this," he recalled. "In fourth grade, my teacher at Kennedy Elementary [in Green Bay], Mr. Gross, made me aware of it by singling me out and making me one of his favorite students, and I just rolled with it."

Alicia Kramer, Jerry's daughter from his second marriage, wouldn't be born until 5 years after the Ice Bowl. She never saw her father play in the NFL, yet the Ice Bowl is part of her life, too.

"I hear a lot of men tell me they wore No. 64 in college or high school or pee-wee football because, 'I wanted to be like Jerry Kramer in the Ice Bowl,'" she said. "That's really what I hear most about. And if I'm talking to Cowboys fans, it's about how dad started off early on his block."

Of this group, only Bart Jr. will attend Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game. He wishes his dad could make it, but he says the recovery has been slow from the multiple strokes and heart attack Bart Sr., who turns 81 on Friday, sustained last fall.

Barbara, 78, still lives in Green Bay and has remarried. She has six season tickets but usually gives them away. She's been to hundreds of games, but one, the Ice Bowl, always seems to come up in conversation.

"It's just shocking sometimes that it's still so popular around town," she said. "There's pictures of it everywhere. I go into a restaurant, and I see a picture of it on the wall. Somebody once said, it must be odd that everywhere you go, you see your ex-husband's picture."

Said Daniel Kramer: "The Ice Bowl, it's always there."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The best way to get to the street that will be named after Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is to travel west on Lombardi Avenue and take a left turn onto Holmgren Way.

Clearly, the new Mike McCarthy Way will be located in the right neighborhood.

McCarthy is finally getting what the two previous Packers coaches who won Super Bowls have – a road that bears his name.

Just like Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren, there will be a street near Lambeau Field named for the current Packers coach. More than three years after leading the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV, McCarthy will have a stretch of what is currently Potts Avenue in the village of Ashwaubenon named after him.

The Ashwaubenon Village Board approved the change on Tuesday night. However, the change could be at least a year away, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, because some businesses located along the street are concerned that the cost of changing their address will be detrimental to their operations.

It has been a three-year long process for Green Bay-area government officials, headed by Mayor Jim Schmitt, to find a street to name after McCarthy, who is set to begin his ninth season as the Packers' head coach. Throughout the process, McCarthy tried to deflect attention away from himself and did not want the process to distract from his team.

In fact, when it was first proposed in 2011 shortly after the Super Bowl victory, McCarthy asked that it not be done during the season.

"I'm flattered," McCarthy said at the time. "It's an unbelievable gesture. But in my opinion, it's something that I'd like to see done in the offseason."

Storied pasts loom over Cowboys, Packers

December, 13, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- As the Cowboys walk to the team meeting room every day, they are met with pictures of Dallas' five Super Bowl winners. Each collage has a team photo and pictures of smiling players, coaches and executives from winning NFL championships.

At Lambeau Field, the photos from the great moments in Packers history line the wall from the tunnel to the locker room. When the stadium was renovated years ago, they took a row of old bricks and moved it to the new tunnel so players can say they walk over the same ground as the greats who played at Lambeau Field.

With a loss Sunday, though, either team will need even more help to just make the postseason.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo and Aaron Rodgers
AP Photo/David StlukaCowboys QB Tony Romo, right, and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers know the burden that comes with playing for franchises trying to recapture past glory.
Like the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys are constantly chasing ghosts from past teams.

The Packers and Cowboys have combined for 18 NFL championships (Green Bay 13, Dallas five) and nine Super Bowls (Green Bay four, Dallas five). They produced one of the NFL’s iconic games -- the Ice Bowl -- in the 1967 NFC Championship. They were coached by legends in Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. They rekindled the rivalry in the 1990s, meeting in the playoffs from 1993 to 1995.

The current teams carry something of a burden with them because of the successful pasts.

“We always look at it as a sense of pride and energy to tap into,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “We think it’s very important to have that and recognize it and honor it, so I always refer to it as there’s pride in the bricks of Lambeau Field and it’s something we need to tap into. We talk to our current team about it and how important it is to win and represent the Green Bay Packers the right way.”

Jason Garrett does not talk about the expectations laid out from the likes of Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Mel Renfro, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. He talks about the standard those players and teams set.

“You want to be in a place where there’s a high standard for achievement,” Garrett said. “I think that’s a good thing. That brings the best out in people. What we try to do each and every day is be our best. Come to work as players and coaches and put our best foot forward and get ready for our challenges each week and again, embrace the past. That’s a good thing. ... That drives us. That’s part of what drives us to achieve, really, each and every day, and certainly each season.”

Tony Romo is constantly measured against Staubach and Aikman. Aaron Rodgers is measured against Bart Starr and Brett Favre, but he has the Super Bowl ring that Romo is still looking for, having beaten the Steelers at AT&T Stadium in Super Bowl XLV.

Rodgers has 23 teammates on the roster with a Super Bowl ring.

Romo hopes one day to have his own, so he and his teammates can have their pictures on the wall holding the Lombardi Trophy.

“You want to be a part of a storied franchise,” Romo said. “It just makes it important. You want a challenge. You want it to matter, and you want it to be important. That’s what’s great about this organization and great about our fans.”
I'm sure plenty of you noted that planned to announce the greatest coach in NFL history on the same day that marks the 100th anniversary of Green Bay Packers legend Vince Lombardi. No, that was not a coincidence.

Lombardi finished atop the ballot compiled by a cross-platform of 22 ESPN journalists. His quick turnaround of a moribund franchise, his five NFL championships -- including the first two Super Bowls -- and his motivational skills cemented this title.

An excerpt of what former Packers quarterback Bart Star told Greg Garber about Lombardi:
His charisma, his manner was very, very impressive. One of the first things he said was we're going to relentlessly pursue perfection -- even though we know full well that we won't catch it, because nothing is perfect. Put the relentlessly in capital letters, because that's how he said it. There was just a magnetism in that session that was overwhelming. He was a tough and demanding individual and, because I came from a military family, I was loving that. We were so well prepared in how we approached everything that when it came down to the game, it was going to work -- or you got down to time where it needed to work.

Earlier: Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant checked in at No. 15 on this list. Curly Lambeau of the Green Bay Packers checked in at No. 10. George Halas of the Chicago Bears ranked No. 4.
Bill Walsh checks in at No. 2 on ESPN's list of Greatest Coaches in NFL History, leaving the as-yet-unnamed Vince Lombardi as the obvious No. 1.

Walsh, of course, led the San Francisco 49ers to three of their five Super Bowl victories. He revived the franchise with a blueprint that became standard operating procedure across the league. He blazed trails in minority hiring and produced a coaching tree with branches still growing in the game today.

I highly recommend checking out Seth Wickersham's piece on Walsh from January. Wickersham focused on the coaching guide Walsh wrote.

"[Bill] Belichick once referred to it as football 'literature,' but it's more like a textbook -- 550 pages, 1.8 inches thick, 3.2 pounds, loaded with charts, graphs and bullet points," Wickersham explained. "For example, Walsh includes 57 keys to negotiating contracts ('The negotiator's need for food and sleep can affect his/her ability to function effectively'), 13 pages of sample practices and 108 in-game scenarios."

The video above features Walsh's own thoughts on characteristics great coaches possess. Unpredictability on and off the field is one of them.

The chart below shows won-lost-tied records and number of championships won for the top 20 coaches on ESPN's list, courtesy of Pro Football Reference. The winning percentages listed reflect victories plus one-half ties, divided by total games. For Walsh, that works out to 92.5 victories divided by 152 games, or .609.

Deacon JonesLong Photography/USA TODAY SportsDeacon Jones, a Hall of Fame defensive end, was the leader of the L.A. Rams' left side from 1961-71.
Quarterback Johnny Unitas and receiver Raymond Berry had been tormenting NFL Western Conference defenses with the deep ball when along came David "Deacon" Jones and a new wave of defensive linemen to spoil the fun.

"The main pattern we were using took three and a half seconds to throw it," Berry recalled during a 2008 interview. "I could run down 10 yards and break square in and three steps and I'd plant and take off back to the corner."

Unitas-to-Berry had set apart the Baltimore Colts for years. But life was changing for them in the early 1960s. Vince Lombardi began assembling the Green Bay Packers' championship defense. Jones, who died Monday at age 74, combined with Merlin Olsen to give the Los Angeles Rams arguably the most dominant left side in NFL history. In Detroit, meanwhile, the Lions had the great Alex Karras.

"What happened in our division is those three-and-a-half-second routes became history," Berry said. "In order to get the ball off when we played those people, and it represented six games, we would throw the ball in 1.8, 1.9 or 2.1 seconds at the most. Get it out of there. Because you couldn't keep people out of there."

At the time, rules governing holding prevented offensive linemen from slowing the rush by grabbing onto opponents' jerseys. Defensive linemen could slap offensive linemen on the side of the helmet to facilitate their rushes.

Jones, at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds, refined the head-slap to a martial art.

"The head-slap was not my invention, but Rembrandt, of course, did not invent painting," Jones once said.

The NFL would eventually legislate some of Jones' preferred tactics out of the game to promote passing and spare quarterbacks.

"Deacon Jones was a game changer."

-- Rams DE Chris Long
"The league has legalized what was considered holding when we played," Berry said. "I did a several-years study on how much time you had against a great pass-rush team. You had to get that ball out of there. Today, that has totally changed, giving quarterbacks one or two seconds of additional time."

Jack Patera played on the Baltimore Colts' defense with Hall of Fame defensive end Gino Marchetti before serving as a defensive line coach for the Rams beginning in 1963, Jones' second season. Patera coached the Rams' famed "Fearsome Foursome" line for five seasons. He later coached the "Purple People Eaters" line under Bud Grant in Minnesota.

Patera, now 79, knows defensive linemen, in other words. He's also honest and direct in his assessments. Carl Eller was as talented as they came, but didn't apply himself consistently. Jim Marshall was stronger, pound for pound, than just about anyone, and more consistent, too. Olsen was nearly perfect in everything he did -- an "A" student at his craft.

Then there was Deacon Jones.

"Gino Marchetti was the superb defensive end of my playing time and for David Jones, he was probably the best I had ever seen, consistently," Patera said Tuesday. "Jim Marshall was the most consistent player, but Deacon had him by a step or two in his overall performance."

Patera recalled Jones as a raw 14th-round draft choice and a player the Rams had initially considered at offensive tackle.

"He had all the speed and strength, but he had a stance like those 1920 pictures you see, guys squatting like a frog with their hand between their legs," Patera recalled with a laugh. "He didn't know anything about playing defense, but all he had to do was get his butt up in the air and let him take off. Once we got him in a stance where he could get off the ball, there wasn't a whole lot to teach him. Everything was very simple to him."

Jones played a great game and talked one, too. Former Dallas Cowboys tackle Rayfield Wright, a Hall of Famer, shared a classic story with Sports Illustrated about a 1969 matchup against Jones.

"As an offensive lineman, you're taught only to hear the quarterback's voice, nothing else," Wright told the magazine. "I'm listening in case there's an audible, and in the pause between 'Huts!' I hear a deep, heavy voice say, 'Does yo' mama know you're out here?' It was Deacon Jones."

Jones, an eight-time Pro Bowl choice, coined and popularized the term "sack" before the NFL tracked the stat officially. He laid the foundation for a rich tradition of Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams defensive ends and outside pass-rushers. Jack Youngblood, Kevin Greene, Kevin Carter, Leonard Little, Chris Long and all the others know the history and know Jones' founding role in it.

"Yes, there is a fairly strong brotherhood, especially Deacon and I and when Merlin was still with us -- a real strong bond," Youngblood said in an interview last year.

Youngblood and Jones were on the Rams together before the team traded Jones, clearing the way for Youngblood.

"Those were awfully big shoes to fill," Youngblood said. "Deacon had been All-Pro and the sack leader and the whole nine yards for so many years. I’m thinking, this is going to be a leap here."

Chuck Knox, the Rams' steely head coach, called Youngblood into his office.

"He looked me down and gave me that Chuck Knox look and said, 'All right, it's your job, don't let me down.' It's my second year in the business and he's going, 'Don't let me down.' That was significant for me. That said he thought enough of my ability that I was going to be able to do the job for him."

Jones went into the Hall of Fame with the 1980 class. Youngblood followed in 2001.

"All those guys are awesome," Long said last season. "I was lucky enough to play with Leonard Little, who was just a great player. And when I changed my number to 91, I told him I was just renting the number. Greene was a 100-plus sack guy, Kevin Carter a 100-plus sack guy. Jack Youngblood and his legacy is his toughness along with his skill. I mean, it’s just legendary. And Deacon Jones was a game changer.

"All those guys, just to be playing left end for the St. Louis Rams is a pretty cool history, especially when you put all the names together. It’s impressive."

We made the turn over the weekend, and now has entered the top half of ranking the top 20 coaches in NFL history. I don't think I'm giving anything away by promising that at least two more coaches with NFC North roots -- the Chicago Bears' George Halas and the Green Bay Packers' Vince Lombardi -- will soon take their places.

ESPNThe ESPN special will feature an NFL Films-produced segment with rare audio of Vince Lombardi in action.
As part of the project, ESPN will air a "Lombardi's Legacy" special Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. It will re-air on June 11, which happens to be the 100th anniversary of Lombardi's birth as well as the final day of the ranking project.

The special will be hosted by Chris Berman and include former Bears coach/ESPN analyst Mike Ditka and former Packers guard Jerry Kramer. An interview is also scheduled with Lombardi's quarterback, Hall of Famer Bart Starr. Finally, there will be a segment produced by NFL Films with rare audio of Lombardi in action.

I'll post another reminder Thursday.

Related: NFC North Hall of Famers Curly Lambeau (No. 10) and Bud Grant (No. 15) have already been recognized in these rankings.
I've taken the liberty of applying an NFC North-centric focus to ESPN's cross-platform ranking of the top 20 coaches in NFL history, positioning it as a battle between George Halas (Chicago Bears) and Vince Lombardi (Green Bay Packers). Three members of the 22-person voting committee have now revealed their ballots, and Halas is atop two of them with Lombardi leading the other.

NFC West colleague Mike Sando joined analyst Herm Edwards in giving top honors to Halas, while columnist Rick Reilly named Lombardi No. 1 and Halas No. 5. (I was not a member of the committee, but am debating a post on the merits of Halas vs. Lombardi. Thoughts?)
Sando: Halas was a straightforward choice at No. 1 for me. He coached the Chicago Bears for 40 seasons, won six championships and had only six losing seasons. The Hall of Fame credits him as the first coach to use game films for preparation. Along with Ralph Jones, his coach from 1930 through 1932, and consultant Clark Shaughnessy, Halas perfected the T-formation attack with the man in motion," Halas' Hall of Fame bio reads. "It was this destructive force that propelled the Bears to their stunning 73-0 NFL title win over Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship Game and sent every other league team scurrying to copy the Halas system.

We've already noted that former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant checked in at No. 15. I've neglected to mention that former Packers coach Curly Lambeau has appeared on all three known ballots, a reasonable hint that he will be showing up at some point in the countdown. will continue daily reveals Friday and conclude June 11.
Any ranking for the 20 greatest coaches in NFL history would leave off at least two of the 22 enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The ballot I submitted for our "Greatest Coaches" project left off eight of them: Guy Chamberlin, Jimmy Conzelman, Weeb Ewbank, Ray Flaherty, Sid Gillman, Bud Grant, Greasy Neale and Hank Stram.

That seems outrageous. However, there were only 20 spots available, and many coaches appeared interchangeable to me outside the top 10 or 12. Current or recently retired head coaches such as Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer deserved consideration, in my view, but including them meant leaving out others. I also thought Chuck Knox should be in the discussion even though he's long retired and not a Hall of Famer.

Putting together a ballot was difficult. There's really no way to fully analyze the jobs head coaches have done. We must consider won-lost records over time, of course, but little separates some of the coaches further down the list. I figured most panelists would go with Lombardi in the No. 1 spot, but I'm not sure whether that was the case.

Herm Edwards revealed his ballot Insider previously. We agreed on George Halas at No. 1. He put Lombardi second. I went with Paul Brown and Curly Lambeau after Halas, followed by Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, Belichick and Chuck Noll to round out the top 10. The choices got tougher from there.

Edwards had Bud Grant, Dick Vermeil and Marty Schottenheimer in his top 20. He did not have Steve Owen, Holmgren or Cowher. I easily could have justified swapping out some of the coaches toward the bottom of my ballot for others not listed. Edwards and I both had Coughlin at No. 15. Our rankings for Lombardi, Landry, Walsh, Shula, Gibbs, Belichick, Madden and George Allen were within three spots one way or the other. I had Brown and Lambeau quite a bit higher than Edwards had them.

I tried to balance factors such as winning percentage, longevity, championships, team-building and impact on the game. The coaches I listed near the top of my ballot were strong in all those areas. There was room lower on my ballot for coaches whose achievements in some areas offset deficiencies in others.

Halas was a straightforward choice at No. 1 for me. He coached the Chicago Bears for 40 seasons, won six championships and had only six losing seasons. The Hall of Fame credits him as the first coach to use game films for preparation.

"Along with Ralph Jones, his coach from 1930 through 1932, and consultant Clark Shaughnessy, Halas perfected the T-formation attack with the man in motion," Halas' Hall of Fame bio reads. "It was this destructive force that propelled the Bears to their stunning 73-0 NFL title win over Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship Game and sent every other league team scurrying to copy the Halas system."

Brown was my choice at No. 2 because he won seven titles, four of them before the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL in 1950, and he revolutionized strategy while planting a massive coaching tree. Lambeau edged Lombardi in the No. 3 spot on my ballot. He founded the franchise and won with a prolific passing game before it was popular. His teams won six titles during his 31 seasons as coach.

ESPN has revealed the coaches ranking 13th through 20th based on ballots submitted by Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo and me.

The eight coaches, beginning at No. 13: Jimmy Johnson, Coughlin, Grant, Stram, Levy, Gillman, Shanahan and Dungy.

Gillman was an interesting one. He spent 10 of his 18 seasons in the AFL and had a 1-5 record in postseason, but there is no denying his impact on the passing game. Like other coaches rounding out the top 20, his case for inclusion was strong, but open for debate.
As you might have noticed, ESPN and will begin counting down the top 20 coaches in NFL history later this week. Trey Wingo provides the basic parameters in the video, and from an NFC North perspective, this list is going to boil down to where a pair of historic figures show up: The Green Bay Packers' Vince Lombardi and the Chicago Bears' George Halas.

Two ballots have already been revealed. ESPN's Rick Reilly put Lombardi at No. 1 and Halas at No. 5. But in an Insider post , former NFL coach Herm Edwards puts Halas at No. 1 and Lombardi at No. 2.

Edwards noted that Halas coaches for 40 seasons and added: "All he did was win six NFL titles and compile a record of 324-151-31 (.682), while sustaining a competitive team over his entire coaching career. Perhaps his most impressive statistic is that his teams were under .500 in only six of his 40 seasons."

I'll bring your attention to any ranking that involves an NFC North-related coach over the next few weeks.
This week began with NBA player Jason Collins rocking the sports world by announcing he is gay and continued with the unlikely entrance of former Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler into the issue.

Now let me pass along Ian O'Connor's well-reported column on Packers Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, who was decades ahead of his time as "a champion of gay athletes." Lombardi's brother was gay, and during his time with the Washington Redskins in 1969, Lombardi worked with at least five gay men in either the front office or the playing field.

Said Lombardi's daughter, Susan: " "My father was way ahead of his time. He was discriminated against as a dark-skinned Italian American when he was younger, when he felt he was passed up for coaching jobs that he deserved. He felt the pain of discrimination, and so he raised his family to accept everybody, no matter what color they were or whatever their sexual orientation was. I think it's great what Jason Collins did, because it's going to open a lot of doors for people. Without a doubt my father would've embraced him, and would've been very proud of him for coming out."

You can read the entire column over on
CANTON, Ohio -- We're a few hours away from the 7 p.m. ET start to enshrinement ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I'll be heading over early to get a feel for what awaits.

Cortez Kennedy and his daughter, Courtney, were seen downstairs at the main hotel here a bit ago. Kennedy seemed relaxed for a man nearing the hour when he'll be giving a speech center stage.

The Hall itself opened early Saturday. A few thoughts after touring the Hall for the first time:
  • Cool Cardinals exhibit: One display case features a Pat Tillman jersey, the shiny black Nike shoes Patrick Peterson wore when returning a punt 99 yards for a touchdown to beat the St. Louis Rams in Week 9 last season and the gloves Larry Fitzgerald wore while collecting his 400th career reception against the New York Giants on Nov. 23, 2008. Fitzgerald became the youngest receiver to reach 400 catches.
  • Busts are accessible: The Hall features busts for the 267 Hall of Famers already enshrined, plus spaces for the busts honoring 2012 inductees. The busts are arranged by year of enshrinement. They rest on open-air perches, allowing visitors to touch them. The busts were low enough for our kids to pose with them, sometimes almost cheek to cheek. Seeing our boys' heads flanking Dick "Night Train" Lane's bust was a highlight of the visit.
  • Interactive video: Touch-screen menus allow visitors to cue up short highlight and documentary packages for various Hall of Famers. These were good, but a little short. We wanted more. Of course, with more than nine million visitors to this point and quite a few coming around the time of enshrinement each year, there isn't time for each person to watch a full-length movie.
  • "Madden 12" center: Kids packed this area and ours were initially eager to join in the gaming, but we drew the line on this one. Something seemed wrong about using time at the Hall to play games many kids have at home.
  • Homage to Lombardi: The Hall features a sideline player bench used at Lambeau Field for Vince Lomardi's final game as the Green Bay Packers' coach, in 1967. They've wisely got it stowed safely in a display, preventing people from sitting on it.
  • Harbaughs making history: Jim Harbaugh's autograph dresses up a game ball from the San Francisco 49ers' game against Harbaugh's brother, John, and the Baltimore Ravens last season. The game itself was forgettable from the 49ers' perspective.

All for now. Time to get ready for the festivities Saturday night.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Give Pete Carroll credit for the quote of the day Friday from the NFL scouting combine.

A reporter from New York noted that players pointed to Carroll and the Jets' Rex Ryan as the coaches they most enjoyed playing under. But with Ryan taking some heat for his colorful ways following a disappointing season, the reporter asked Carroll whether the former USC coach ever needed to "tamp down" the fun.

"Well, the NCAA thought we had to," Carroll replied, drawing immediate laughter from assembled reporters. "They didn't quite understand how you could have this much fun playing football. I'm serious about that. They could not figure it out and thought something must be wrong."

The NCAA imposed sanctions against USC for violations it alleged took place during Carroll's run as coach there. Carroll has hotly contested the charges. He has also bucked convention when it comes to coaching. His training camps stand out for the hip-hop and other contemporary music that plays over speakers during practices, to cite one obvious example.

"It's not very typical," Carroll said of the newer-school approaches. "Typical is Coach Lombardi. That is probably typical, and an authoritarian way of doing things is really the classic way to coach. I think times are shifting. The kids we coach aren't the same as they were years ago. We have to reach to them to find how we can motivate them and keep them engaged in any way possible."

As for Ryan?

"I think the way Rex goes about it, he's bold, but he has backed it up to a great extent," Carroll said. "He looks like he is having the time of his life doing it, and he makes it fun for his players. We play this game because we love it and love being around it. He demonstrates that to his players, and it carries over.

"I'd like to think that our guys can feel that, too," Carroll said. "I don't see us anywhere near the same, but he really loves it, and makes it fun for the people around him."
As you know by now, is unveiling its 20-member "Any Era" team this week. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was among the first four players named, as we noted earlier Monday.

A number of Hall of Famers made the trip to ESPN headquarters in Bristol to help assemble the team, and ESPN's Front Row blog spoke with former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman John Randle, as well as receiver James Lofton, about the project and their choices of their "Any Era" coach.

Randle chose Vince Lombardi, while Lofton cited Bud Grant to complete the NFC North circle.

In the video below, Randle said "if I could have, I would have played the same way [Suh] plays." He said Suh has sent a message to the rest of the NFL: "Don't come to my gap, don't come toward me, because this is what is going to happen to you."

Thanksgiving Feast: 1962 grudge match

November, 21, 2011
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.