The preseason has long been a month of meaningless NFL football, a four-week annoyance before the games start for real. The goal isn’t to win. It’s to avoid injuries.
But that wasn’t always the case. Hall-of-Fame coach Vince Lombardi believed the winning started in August. That’s when you set a tone for your season. Green Bay went 42-8 under Lombardi in preseasons on the way to five NFL championships. The Chiefs went 6-0 in the preseason on the way to a Super Bowl championship-winning season in 1969.
The exhibition season was the subject of our Talk of Fame Network poll last week. We asked our listeners and readers to vote on the NFL’s most memorable exhibition game. Not surprisingly, it was a game involving Lombardi – and it was one of his eight losses.
The 1963 College All-Star Game, when the college kids handed the defending NFL champion Packers a stunning 20-17 defeat, finished first in the voting with 29 percent support. The 1967 game between the NFL Chicago Bears and the AFL Kansas City Chiefs finished second with 21 percent of the vote, followed by the 1961 game between the CFL Hamilton Tiger-Cats and AFL Buffalo Bills at 18 percent.
The Chiefs, playing an NFL team for the first time since their defeat by the Packers in the first Super Bowl, crushed the Bears 66-24 in that 1967 game. The Tiger-Cats beat the Bills, 38-31 – the only time a CFL team beat an AFL or NFL opponent in nine tries. That also was the last time a CFL team played an AFL or NFL team.
The three hosts of the Talk of Fame Network – Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge – all cast their ballots for the 1963 College All-Star game. The cast of collegians featured future Hall-of-Famers Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, John Mackey and Dave Robinson.
“You can't beat that 1963 College All-Star Game, which was the final time the kids beat the NFL champions,” Borges said. “In this case, it was Lombardi's Packers being upset by a team of kids barely ready to shave. Vince was not happy. Which made me happy.”
“I'm with Ron,” added Judge. “Nothing tops that 1963 game when a bunch of collegiate grads beat the Packers ... at a time when preseason games actually meant something. I can only imagine how Lombardi took it.”
The all-star game, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune Charities, was played annually between 1934 and 1976 between the defending NFL champions and a college all-star team from the previous season. Among the players selected as college MVPs of the game were Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, John Brodie, Charley Taylor, Bubba Smith, Lary Csonka and Ray Guy. Ron VanderKelen was selected the MVP of the 1963 game for throwing the game-winning, 73-yard touchdown pass to his former Wisconsin teammate, Pat Richter, in the fourth quarter.
The NFL champions posted a 31-9-2 record in the game. The 1963 game marked the only all-star victory in the final 17 years of the series.