The Packers' 12 championships are the most in NFL history, three ahead of the next closest team, the Chicago Bears, who could move one step closer with a win over the Colts on Sunday in Super Bowl XLI.
The fantasy football craze, the advent of ESPN Classic, and the 40th anniversary of the Super Bowl last February, has created a compelling trend among various media outlets to rank and compare championship teams of different generations. While a basis to judge such teams is difficult to establish, here are some thoughts to consider followed by a ranking of the 12 Packers' championship teams.
Winning NFL championships since the Packers last won a title has a much different, almost artificial feel. While the meaning of a championship is no less diminished, obtaining it does not seem to be as difficult. A watered-down talent pool brought on by an expansion to 32 teams in the league gives every team an opportunity to compete, but also makes a dynasty easier to build. Look no further than the New England Patriots as an example of what sound team management and coaching can do in a league of mediocrity.
The game has become increasingly athletic, built more on speed and less on ruggedness and grit, to accommodate human development. As a result, faster playing surfaces like artificial turf and even mixes of artificial turf and grass have become more common. Games are akin to track meets more than the rugby match they resembled during Curly Lambeau's time and even into Vince Lombardi's reign. Because of this new culture, a toughness component has been lost in the overall product. Players train year-round, yet injuries keep players out of games. Instead of running over someone to get a first down, more often a cut-back or sprint is the mode of choice to get the job done.
The NFL even plays its biggest game each season at a neutral stadium, in a controlled or predictably stable climate, taking an element out of the championship game that defined the will, determination, and heart of teams (see the Ice Bowl).
The Super Bowl has become more about the event than the game itself and because of that, its outcome is often less compelling to the general audience. Call it an appreciation for history or the growing legend of past players, but the Packers' titles of yesteryear were more of an accomplishment than their most recent conquest in 1996. Those teams were playing not for paychecks or glory, but for themselves, the pride of their team, and for the survival of their franchise. While the Packers easily could have folded or been pushed out of the NFL because of the size of Green Bay, their early successes were a main factor in allowing them to run with the big-city franchises.
With all of the above being said, here is how I would rate the Packers' championships (year with team record in parenthesis):
12. 1930 (10-3-1): The second of three straight championship teams won the NFL Championship without a playoff. They were recognized as champions because of their higher winning percentage (.769) over the Giants (.765) who played three more games (finishing 13-4).
11. 1931 (12-2): Still no playoff game to determine a champion, but a strong season nonetheless. Not playing second-place Portsmouth (11-3) during the season moves them down the rankings.
10. 1944 (8-2): This team notched the fewest wins of any Packers' championship team and was even shut-out twice during the season. Still, the Packers managed to win the Western Division, a five-team division in a ten-team league to advance to a championship playoff where they beat the Eastern Division Champions Giants.
9. 1967 (9-4-1): The second straight Super Bowl team and third straight championship team was not quite as good as previous years. Its accomplishment, beating the Raiders in Super Bowl II, was historic, but the team showed signs of a decline. It had just the third best record in the expanded 16-team, four-division league.
8. 1936 (10-1-1): Don Hutson's second year with the Packers served up history. They beat the Boston Redskins, 21-6, to win their first-ever playoff game and fourth NFL Championship. The Packers and Bears were clearly the class of the league, but the Redskins advanced to the title game by winning the Eastern Division with a 7-5 record.
7. 1965 (10-3-1): On a muddy day at Lambeau Field, Jim Brown was held in check and the Browns were beaten 23-12, marking the Packers' first of three straight championships. The team relied on experience to win, never really dominating a season that featured only three strong teams.
6. 1939 (9-2): This team just knew how to win. Behind Hutson, back Arnie Herber, and fullback Clarke Hinkle, it saved its best performance for last by beating the 9-1-1 Giants, 27-0, in the championship game.
5. 1961 (11-3): Lombardi's first title and the franchise's first in 17 years. The blue-collar nature and determination of players that would form a dynasty started to emerge. Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, and Max McGee, players who were not overly-talented or hyped, led a strong team effort. A 37-0 drubbing of the Giants in the championship game remains the franchise's largest post-season victory ever.
4. 1996 (13-3): A team expected to win the championship did just that, steam-rolling through the NFL. Team management and coaching were as much to credit as anything for ending a 30-year title drought. This season should have started a dynasty, but instead, those chances slipped away a year later at Super Bowl XXXII.
3. 1966 (12-2): Though the '96 team was more talented, the '66 team gets the nod for winning the first Super Bowl and starting a new era of the NFL. A 35-10 drubbing of the AFL's Chiefs capped off a great season and began talk of a league merger that four years later would come to fruition.
2. 1929 (12-0-1): Emerging from the shadows of early town teams, the Packers won their first NFL Championship. Their unbeaten record stands as the only in the 86-year history of the team. They beat two Chicago teams a total of six times in ‘29 and beat the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. They also allowed only 22 points in 13 games. The lack of a playoff game to determine a champion keeps them from being No. 1 on the list.
1. 1962 (13-1): Not only the best Packers' team ever, but maybe one of the NFL's best ever. Winning their second straight title, the Packers did it even more impressive than the year before out-scoring their opponents 415-168 and then beating the Giants, 16-7, in the championship at Yankee Stadium where the wind chill temperature was below zero. With just 14 teams in the league, the Packers dominated. They were led by Taylor's league-leading 1,474 yards and NFL-record 19 touchdowns.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.