Glance back: Don Chandler's controversial FG

Bill Curry made the center snap and an aching Bart Starr gingerly placed the ball. Don Chandler, his head down, rhythmically followed through with his right foot, sending the football on a 27-yard flight toward the end zone and into the descending darkness at Lambeau Field. Almost immediately, Chandler snapped his head back in disgust and then kicked the ground. Baltimore Colts defensive back Ordell Brasse clapped his hands as he watched the ball seem to sail to the left of the uprights.

It appeared as if Chandler had missed the field goal.

The clock showed 1 minute, 58 seconds to play.

The Green Bay Packers were going to lose to the Baltimore Colts 10-7 in a Western Conference playoff game played on Dec. 26, 1965. The same Colts who were forced to play a nervous 26-year-old running back, Tom Matte, at quarterback that day because of injuries to Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo.

Picture the lights of Las Vegas suddenly going dead on a Saturday night. That's what it was about to be like in Green Bay, the self-proclaimed "Titletown.''

"There were a lot of sighs from the crowd like it didn't go through,'' Matte said. "And then there were cheers when they looked at the official.''

Could it be? Field judge Jim Tunney's arms were raised, signaling the kick was good.

"When I looked up, it was outside the uprights, but Bart said it curved a little after it went through the uprights,'' Chandler said.

"It curved out a little before that,'' Matte said.

Chandler trotted to the sideline, where a livid Packers coach Vince Lombardi was awaiting him.

"Lombardi got all over me and said, ‘Don't you ever react that way!' Chandler recalled, referring to his negative body language immediately after the kick.

And the Packers, forced into this playoff with the Colts when both teams finished with 10-3-1 regular-season records, had new life.

Following a harrowing series of plays by the Colts, Lou Michaels missed a 47-yard field goal after a promising drive stalled midway through the overtime period. The Packers went to work behind Zeke Bratkowski, who was magnificent when pressed into service for the ailing Starr. And 13 minutes, 39 seconds into the overtime, Chandler finally settled the issue with a no-doubt-about-it 25-yard field goal, giving the Packers a 13-10 victory.

"It would have been a very big embarrassment if we would have lost,'' said Jerry Kramer, the Packers' right guard during the Lombardi Era. "We talked about how they had nothing to lose (with Matte at quarterback). We felt we should have won, but sometimes, those are the hardest games to win. There's always this attitude of, ‘Let's get this thing over with.' "

One week later, the Packers beat Jim Brown and the defending champion Cleveland Browns for the first of three straight championships in the climactic years of the Lombardi Era. The Colts, meanwhile, were relegated to the "Playoff Bowl,'' a bad idea at the time that Matte referred to as "The Toilet Bowl.''

Close to 35 years later, some of the Colts still question whether Chandler's kick, that would have a significant impact on the history of football, was good.

Take Don Shula, the Colts' coach at the time. Asked about that game during the 1993 season, when he was about to become the all-time winningest coach in NFL history, Shula said, "I remember distinctly the kicker shaking his head in disgust after he kicked it, only to turn around and see the referee call it good. It was a bad call. He clearly missed it. It was a game that propelled Lombardi to his great accomplishments and it's a game we should have won.''

You can just imagine the Colts' locker room after the game. A cold silence interrupted only by loud profanities. Shula antagonized with his own thoughts after struggling through his post-game news conference. Matte off in a corner, pulling the crib sheet of plays off of his wrist, his gallant effort wasted.

"In the locker room, there were a lot of guys who were upset,'' understated Raymond Berry, the Colts' Hall-of-Fame wide receiver, said. "The referee who made the mistake was one of the most respected guys in the league and he felt terrible about it. He knew he just missed it.''

A week after the Packers beat Cleveland for the championship at Lambeau Field, the Colts vented some big-time frustration. In the Playoff Bowl, a short-lived concept that served as the NFL's consolation game in those days, Matte passed for 177 yards and two touchdowns as the Colts dismantled the Dallas Cowboys.

"We played our hearts out against Green Bay and Shula was always proud of our team,'' Matte said. "But when we went to ‘The Toilet Bowl,' he said, ‘We're going to have fun' and we did. We practiced all week in our shorts and there was no curfew.

"Don Meredith (the Cowboys' quarterback) was telling me that we weren't taking it seriously. And I said, ‘Let me tell you, Don, when the bell rings, the Baltimore Colts will be there.' And we won 35-3.''

Matte went on to excel on the banquet circuit. Later that winter, when he accepted an award at a banquet in Minneapolis that featured Lombardi as the main speaker, Matte brought with him a replica of the goal posts through which Chandler kicked his game-tying field goal.

The left upright was bent outward to accommodate Chandler's field goal.

"When Lombardi got up to speak, he said, ‘Tom, I really don't know whether he made that field goal or not,'" Matte said. " ‘All I know is that when I went to the bank Monday morning, my check said we were the world champions.' "

But that wasn't the end of the controversy. Matte tells of later studies of Chandler's controversial field goal that proved it wasn't good.

"They had films, they drew lines and they looked at all kinds of sequential shots. It was almost like the Zapruder Film,'' Matte said, referring to the film that captured the assassination of President Kennedy. "It was definitely outside. When it's right over the bars, you can see it's about two feet outside the post.''

How did the game figure into history? Well, the following year, the NFL raised the uprights 10 feet to the 20-feet height they're now to help officials better judge the accuracy of field goals.

"If it was good, why would the league, one year later, raise the uprights from 10 feet to 20 feet?'' Matte asked.

As for the Packers, had that kick not been ruled good, they wouldn't have taken the first step toward a coveted three straight NFL championships. Would that have altered how long Lombardi ultimately stayed on as Packers coach?

As for Chandler, he's not about to ask questions.

"I didn't think I made it, but everyone assured me I did,'' Chandler said.

That's good enough for Chandler, and history.

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