The undefeated and seemingly unstoppable defending champions from Green Bay sweep down into Detroit, where a determined bunch of Lions awaits.
That describes today's game at Ford Field, where the 10-0 Packers will tangle with the 7-3 Lions. But that was also the situation 49 years ago, the last time an undefeated team played on Thanksgiving. That was when the Packers, 10-0 and the winners of 12 straight, including the 1961 NFL championship game, went to Detroit on Thanksgiving and fell in one of the most stunning losses of the Vince Lombardi era.
The Packers were a fearsome machine in 1962, featuring stars Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Ray Nitschke and Willie Wood. Through 10 games they had outscored opponents 309-74.
"They had it all," said Keith Dunnavant, author of America's Quarterback, a recent biography of Starr. "Just about everybody on the team was at their peak."
Yet the Lions were nearly their equal, especially on defense, where they had five future Hall of Famers, including middle linebacker Joe Schmidt and defensive backs Dick "Night Train" Lane and Dick LeBeau.
"We all felt we had a better football team," Schmidt said. But it would be the front four of Sam Williams, Alex Karras, Roger Brown and Darris McCord— the original Fearsome Foursome — that left an imprint that day, Brown in particular.
Detroit fans camped out overnight in the bitter cold to snap up the few bleacher tickets available. Tiger Stadium was filled with 57,598 fans on a blustery afternoon, and millions more tuned in to CBS for the noon start.
"Everyone watched that game," Brown said recently. "God and his 12 disciples were watching."
Green Bay had shown some vulnerability. The Packers needed a fourth-quarter touchdown and two goal-line stands to defeat Baltimore 17-13 the previous weekend. Hornung, the reigning MVP, injured a knee six weeks earlier and missed the game. And guard Fuzzy Thurston, the man responsible for blocking Brown, lost his mother earlier in the week.
Brown was a terror, 6 feet, 5 inches and 300 pounds of bad news, the first player to combine enormous size with the speed and agility to beat opposing linemen. He sacked Starr for a 15-yard loss on Green Bay's first series, an announcement that the Packers' line would be in trouble.
"We confused their blocking with twists and stunts, and they lost their poise," Schmidt said.
Brown said, "We did all kinds of nutty things to get to Starr." He said Thurston could have had a howitzer "and he wouldn't have stopped me; he was overwhelmed."
After the sack, Boyd Dowler shanked a punt that traveled 15 yards. It took three plays for Detroit to score, with Gail Cogdill beating Wood for a 33-yard touchdown. Things did not get better for Starr on his next possession: He was sacked for a 9-yard loss by "a whole host of Lions," according to the official play-by-play report.
The final score was 26-14. Detroit had 11 sacks, with Brown taking a part in seven. The Lions forced five turnovers and held Green Bay to 122 total yards.
"Most observers couldn't have been more surprised if Santa Claus himself had sparked the winning assault," Robert Teague wrote in the New York Times.