Lions stuffed unbeaten Packers 49 years ago

Thursday's contest won't be the first time Detroit has taken on an unbeaten Packers team on Thanksgiving. Detroit Lions historian Doug Warren brings you on a visit with a ghost of Thanksgiving game past ...

The following is an excerpt from Lions' historian Doug Warren's article, "11-3 and Forever Second"


To this day, the 1962 Thanksgiving Day game remains one of the most anticipated matchups in Detroit football history. As the Thanksgiving Eve dusk fell upon Detroit, a line began to form outside of the bleacher entrance to Tiger Stadium. As the flasks flowed and the makeshift fires burned into the night, Lion rooters anxiously awaited the 7,000 unreserved bleacher seats, plus another 3,000 standing-room only tickets that would go on sale for the game at 10 a.m. the following morning. The smell of turkey and dressing accompanied the scent of anticipation as game time approached.

As a nationwide television audience assembled around their snowy black-and-white screens, a crowd of 57,598 Lion loyalists settled into cozy Tiger Stadium to see if their team could make amends for the terrible loss to the Packers several weeks earlier. Green Bay had been installed as 6-point favorites, and few observers outside the Lions’ sphere of influence believed Detroit had a chance against them.

George Wilson and his team were more than ready. "This is it," said the coach to the players as they prepared to exit the locker room, "You are a better all-around team than the teams that won championships here ten years ago."

From the opening kickoff, Detroit’s game plan was simple and obvious: attack!

Defensively, Joe Schmidt, the Lions’ defensive playcaller, ordered blitzes and/or stunts on nearly every play. The objective was to confuse Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr and his Packer lineman, forcing them into long-yardage situations and mistakes. Early in the first quarter, it was apparent that the plan was working; Starr was thrown for a 15-yard loss on his first pass attempt. He would find himself under assault for the rest of the afternoon as the Lions’ front seven would have their way with the Green Bay offensive line.

Offensively, Detroit attacked the Packer secondary with the deep ball. Midway through the first period, after a poor Packer punt by Boyd Dowler, the Lions were set up at the Packer 39. On third down at the Packer 33, Lion split-end Gail Gogdill broke loose on a "hitch-and-go" route. Gail split the seam in the Packer zone between cornerback Jesse Whittenton and safety Willie Wood. Milt Plum’s perfect throw hit Cogdill in stride for the touchdown. Wayne Walker’s PAT followed, giving Detroit the early 7-0 advantage.

With 2:35 remaining in the first stanza, Packer halfback Tom Moore, playing in place of the injured Paul Hornung, coughed up the ball at midfield. Lion linebacker Carl Brettschneider smothered it at the Lion 47. The Lions drove to the Packer 27 as the quarter ended. It was time again for Plum and Cogdill to hook up. With another textbook effort Cogdill beat Herb Adderley for a 27-yard TD-strike, the point after put Detroit up 14-0.

Lions Fans Roar

With the crowd now worked to a fever pitch, it was the defense’s turn to join the touchdown parade. On the Packers’ first offensive play after Cogdill’s second score, Lion tackle Roger Brown crushed Bart Starr, causing a fumble. Defensive end Sam Williams scooped up the loose pigskin and carried it to paydirt. With just under 17 minutes elapsed in the game, the Lions had a three touchdown lead. Two minutes later, Starr was sacked again by Brown, this time in the end zone. The safety gave the Lions a 23-0 lead. The score would remain that way as the first half came to a close.

The Packers left the field for the intermission in a daze. The Lion defense had allowed them only one scoring chance, which came late in the first half. Green Bay failed to capitalize as Jerry Kramer missed a 31-yard field goal. With a full half to play, and the partisan Detroit crowd in an absolute frenzy cheering for more Packer blood, the defending champions faced an uphill battle unlike anything they had seen all season.

Early in the second half, a Starr pass was intercepted by Dick 'Night Train' Lane at the Lion 42. Train’s pick set up Detroit’s next score, a 47-yard Milt Plum field goal. The score now stood at 26-0. The remainder of the game was controlled by the defenses. The two Packer touchdowns, both academic, came as a result of Lion turnovers. The first miscue occurred when Milt Plum lost the ball attempting to pass from Detroit’s 28 yard line. Packer linebacker Bill Quinlan grabbed the ball out of the air and carried it near the goal line before fumbling it himself; teammate Willie Davis recovered the ball in the endzone giving the visitors their first score of the day. The next Packer TD was set up when Lion fullback Ken Webb fumbled at the Lion 14. A few plays later Packer Jim Taylor rumbled over from 4 yards out, cutting the Lion lead to 26-14, ending the day’s scoring.

When all was said and done, the mighty Packer offensive machine had been reduced to rubble. Bart Starr had been sacked 11 times, for 110 yards in losses, with 5 of those sacks credited to Roger Brown. In addition, Detroit had forced three fumbles, an interception, and scored 9 points of their own. Milt Plum had also answered the call offensively. The maligned signal-caller finished his day by completing 8 of 16 passes, for 137 yards and two touchdowns. His two second half interceptions had come after the game was already decided. He also added a field goal while managing the Lion offense impressively all day.

Paybacks are hell

That was the message the Green Bay Packers received on Thanksgiving Day 1962. On that day the Lions finally unleashed their full force and fury on the Green Bay Packers, the team they had been chasing for nearly three years. Never before, and never again, would a Vince Lombardi coached team be so thoroughly dominated. It’s ironic that the 1962 Packers remain arguably the best team of Lombardi’s tenure. Green Bay’s ‘62 squad would win more games, score more points, and give up fewer points than any other Lombardi-coached team.

Nevertheless, on this day the Lions proved to themselves, and the rest of the football world, that the Green Bay Packers were human. The Lions had succeeded in making their point. 

However, Detroit’s hopes for a playoff rematch would never come to fruition. Green Bay wouldn’t lose again that season. With the pressure of an undefeated record behind them, Vince’s troops regrouped. They would finish the regular season at 13-1, ending the year with a 16-7 victory over the New York Giants for their second-straight NFL title. The Lions would have to settle for second-place once again. With another loss coming against the Chicago Bears, 3-0, in the season finale, the Lions finished the 1962 season at 11-3. It was the best regular season win total in franchise history up to that point, and would remain the standard until the 1991 Lions posted a 12-4 mark.

To this day, Joe Schmidt, Alex Karras and many of their fellow teammates remain convinced that they were the best team in pro football in 1962.

Doug Warren was a columnist for from 2003 to 2005. He then spent four-plus years as a writer for (2005-2009). He has also worked in radio in Lansing (WILS) and Grand Rapids (WBBL, WLAV). He is currently a husband and stay-at-home Dad and is still looking for a publisher for three different Detroit Lions' book projects and is in the planning stages of another book about the history of 1950s Detroit. He can be reached via e-mail at

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