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1936: A season to cherish

"This year's team is as fine a squad of men as ever represented any city. They have been marvelous, not only in their comeback after a crushing defeat by the Chicago Bears at the start of the season, but in their everyday relations toward their work, their coaches, and the city they represented."<p>

Those were the words former Packer coach Curly Lambeau uttered when he spoke of the season his 1936 team had in winning the NFL Championship. It was a landmark season for the Packers in that they not only won their fourth NFL Championship, but they also competed in their first ever postseason game on Dec. 13.

The Packers came away with a convincing 21-6 victory over the Boston Redskins of the Eastern Division before 29,545 fans at the Polo Grounds in New York. It was just the fourth postseason game ever played in the NFL pitting the champions of the Western Division against the champions of the Eastern Division.

The league decided to incorporate a "true" championship game in 1933 after a tie in the 1932 standings forced a playoff. Redskins owner George Marshall and George Halas proposed dividing the NFL into two divisions, with the winners of each meeting in a playoff for the NFL Championship. That season the Bears defeated the Giants, 23-21, at Wrigley Field in the first NFL Championship.

Three years later, the NFL had made other subtle changes including a set number of games (12) that all member teams had to play during the season. A rival league, the American Football League (AFL), was also formed in 1936.

Pack dominates their first postseason game

Journalists in the 1930's described the Packers as a "great football machine" that had one of the finest "forward passing" attacks in the NFL. The tandem of back Arnie Herber and end Don Hutson, in only his second season, led the Green Bay passing attack against the Redskins. The two players were described by the New York Times' Arthur Daley as "football's greatest battery".

The 1936 NFL Championship game was held at the Polo Grounds, but was not initially scheduled to be played there. Marshall moved the game from Boston to New York because he thought there would be a lack of fan support in Boston. The Packers were listed as seven to five favorites by the Broadway Betting Commission before the game.

One concern moving to New York for the game was the playing conditions. It had rained for three straight days prior to the championship game and was forecasted to rain on Sunday (Dec. 13), creating the possibility of an extremely sloppy field. Much like the Packers broke through the Redskins though, the sun did too, providing for a calm day and decent playing conditions.

The Packers had outscored the Redskins 38-5 in two games during the season, so a third victory was expected. To Boston's credit, they stayed within striking distance until the final quarter.

Boston's top back, Cliff Battles, was injured on the first offensive series for the Redskins leaving them with a large problem to overcome. The Packers took advantage and converted a Boston turnover into a 43-yard touchdown pass from Herber to Hutson just three minutes into the game.

Hutson was a force all day whether Herber threw him the ball or not. The Redskins realized his ability even as second-year player and double-teamed him for much of the game. On the first touchdown of the game, Hutson made one of his patented leaping catches on a long heave from Herber.

Boston fought back putting together a 78-yard scoring drive culminating with a one-yard touchdown run from Pug Rentner on the first play of the second quarter. The Packers still led 7-6, however, following a missed extra point by Boston's Riley Smith.

The Packers would take a one-point lead into the second half and dominate the rest of the game. Herber hit Johnny "Blood" McNally for 52 yards setting up an eight-yard scoring pass to Milt Gantenbein. The final score was aided by a blocked Boston punt in the fourth quarter, after Hinkle recovered the block on the three-yard line. Bobby Monnett scored two plays later from two yards out to seal the Packers 21-6 victory.

Penalties and heated exchanges were evident as well in the second half of the game. Boston center Frank Bausch and Packer center Frank Butler were ejected for fighting during a second half kickoff. The Redskins finished with just 39 yards on 34 carries and 116 total net yards. The forward passing attack of the Packers produced 153 yards on nine receptions.

Following the Packers win in the NFL Championship, a homecoming was planned for the team the next day when they arrived home on the Milwaukee Road train at 10:15 p.m. Newspapers urged fans to come to the celebration with large headlines supporting the Packers on the first page.

10-1-1 regular season challenged by Bears

As dominant as the Packers were in 1936, they did not clinch the Western Division title until the second to last week of the season. The 9-3 Bears provided a stiff challenge and were the only team to knock off the Packers, 30-3 on Sept. 20. By virtue of the Packers 26-17 victory over the Lions in the 11th game of the year, and the Bears 14-7 loss to the Chicago Cardinals that same week, Green Bay earned a spot in the championship game. The Packers finished the regular season on Dec. 6 with a 0-0 tie against the Cardinals.

The ‘36 squad was led by well-known Packer greats Clarke Hinkle, McNally, Herber, and Hutson. Hinkle was the leading rusher with 476 yards and five touchdowns and Hutson the leading receiver with 34 catches and eight touchdowns.

Herber, listed as a back, went to Green Bay West High School where he eventually went on to sign with the Packers in 1930. He was offered $75 a game by coach Lambeau to play for the Packers and was described by some as the "Babe Ruth of pro football". He could run, throw, kick, and tackle and was the Packers leading passer with 1,239 yards passing for the 1936 season.

McNally, or "Blood" as he is better known, was one of the more interesting characters on the team. He was set to leave Green Bay following the 1935 season because he wanted more money to play. He rejected the first offer management gave to him, and eventually agreed to an amount after missing the Packers' first two games. His "holdout" was thought to be the first in team history.

Players earned $250 for winning the championship

McNally's holdout was certainly an indication that players were about to earn more money in future. Each member of the ‘36 Packers was given $250 for winning the NFL Championship, while each member of the Redskins was given $180. By comparison, the 1944 championship Packers earned $1,449 per member, the 1967 championship earned each $7,950, and the 1996 NFC Championship last season earned each $29,000.

Gate receipts for the ‘36 game totaled $33,471 for the 29,545 fans that attended. The victory also earned the Packers a chance to play the College All-Stars at Chicago's Soldier Field on Sept. 1, 1937. They became the first professional team to lose to the collegians (6-0), however, since the game had been created in 1934.

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