With all of the controversy involved with Cleveland’s 51-yard game-tying field goal in the final seconds of regulation on Sunday, I wanted to turn back the clock to a game involving another Baltimore team that helped change the rules over 40 years ago and remembered well by Baltimoreans of a certain age.
On Dec. 26, 1965, the Baltimore Colts traveled to play the Green Bay Packers in the Western Conference Playoff at Lambeau Field. The Packers had the ball in the final minutes down 10-7 and kicker Don Chandler lined up for a 27-yard field goal.
The late John Steadman, in his book “From Colts To Ravens” described what happened next with 1:58 to play.
“He (Chandler) kicked the ball with a fluid leg motion but it traveled precariously close to the right upright and was slicing. The flying football was going to make for a close call — but the wrong one.
“The ball, amazingly, flew inches outside the ten-foot-high post, but official Jim Tunney raised his arms, signaling it was good. Chandler, unknown to Tunney, had turned his head away in despair, much the way a golfer often reacts when he misses what he thought was an easy putt.”
Chandler would kick a 25-yard field goal in overtime after 13-plus minutes of extra time to boot the Colts out of the NFL title game 13-10.
According to Steadman’s account, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was later apprised that the field goal from in-house TV replays looked wide. Steadman later received an anonymous package containing film of the kick from an unnamed source. When viewed on a projector frame-by-frame at a local TV station, most who viewed it were sure the kick was wide.
The furor from the controversy gave impetus to two important changes in the rules at the time. The uprights were made 10 feet higher to 20 feet above the crossbar — and were given the unofficial nickname of the “Baltimore extensions”. The other change involved the number of officials, which at that time numbered five — with one under the goal post to decide kick attempts. A sixth official was added and the NFL mandated that two officials — one under each upright — be stationed to make kick calls. That officiating mechanic is still in place today.
A couple of postscripts from that game: It was one of the games that Tom Matte wore his famous wristband with the offensive plays from Colts coach Don Shula. Matte was the Colts’ QB after injuries to Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo. The other came from Steadman, who said that Chandler admitted in 1996 that he thought he missed the kick and that the officials’ call was incorrect.
Green Bay went on to beat … you guessed it … Cleveland 23-12 for the NFL title — the last before the current Super Bowl came into play.
Tunney, one of the best officials the league has ever had (10 championship games, including three Super Bowls) was the lone man under the goalposts on that December day in Green Bay. He maintains to this day that his call was correct. For more on Tunney and the 1965 Western Conference Playoff, click here for an excellent article by the Baltimore Examiner’s Jim Henneman from September of this year.
Much like the 1965 controversy, the NFL will take a long look at Sunday’s kick and aftermath and probably include such situations under instant replay. It will be another rule change in the league’s history made in the wake of a Baltimore football team’s misery over a disputed field goal.
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