Ghosts of Thanksgiving past

One of the Packers most memorable Thanksgiving holidays was spent at a table set for 61,199. The hosts were rude at first, but then in the spirit of the day turned out to be downright generous.<P>

On Nov. 27, 1986 instead of over the river and through the woods, the Packers went over Lake Michigan and through not-so-scenic Pontiac, Mich. The weather that Thanksgiving Day was dismal -- an appropriate setting for following the 2-10 Packers into the Silverdome to meet the Lions who are traditionally tough in their annual holiday game.

No one told the gloomy news to wide receiver Walter Stanley. He was the day's surprising star, catching four Randy Wright passes for a career-high 124 yards including touchdown passes of 20 and 36 yards.

Stanley, a second-year pro from Mesa (Ariz.) Junior College, was playing in place of an injured Phil Epps.

The newcomer's scores pulled the Packers to within 37-30 by the end of three quarters. The Lions stretched the lead back to 10, but in this indoor fireworks show, both teams knew that wasn't going to be enough.

Wright went right back to Stanley with a 62 yard pass which set up an 11-yard Paul Ott Carruth TD catch a few plays later. Green Bay was within a field goal with three and a half minutes to play.

The Lions began to eat the clock, and the Packer offense that lit up the scoreboard looked like it would be let down by the defense which hadn't stopped Detroit all day. But with just 50 seconds to go, the Packer D produced a timely stop.

The ensuing punt by Detroit's Jim Arnold was a beauty. Stanley was back deep and kept backpedaling until he fielded the ball around the 17. Conventional wisdom - and the teammates on the sideline - called for Stanley to make a fair catch to conserve the clock and set up the suddenly free-wheeling Wright for quick game-winning drive.

"We were all yelling for Stanley to make a fair catch," Wright said aftewards. "That way we could save time, go down and get a field goal."

Maybe Stanley had a Thanksgiving dinner engagement somewhere beside the Silverdome. He wasn't about to stop, in spite of the wall of Lions that seemed likely to pin him even deeper in Packer territory. He ran left, and the wall ran with him.

Again eschewing conventional wisdom, Stanley did a 180 -- in order to reverse field he had to head backwards about half way to the goal line before heading back right. What seemed like a horrible idea at the time turned to gold. The Lions had bit to the left, leaving Stanley to fly up the right sidelines untouched.

" I knew I didn't have anybody with me," Stanley said. "I started left, saw them chasing me and figured I only had one chance – reverse myself and go for it."

He was right. The 83-yard touchdown gave the Packers a 44-40 win and a Thanksgiving feast to remember.

"I think this is a big thing for this football team," coach Forrest Gregg said afterward. "It's good for their mental health. We have a lot of kids with a lot of pride and character."

He may have been right about the character, but he was a little off about the win's impact on the football team. Green Bay lost to the Vikings the following week. After beating the Buccanneers the Pack lost its finale to the New York Giants, which gave them a franchise-record 12 losses.

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