Narrative and Social Control

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Criminal Law & Process, Media & Journalism, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Narrative and Social Control

copslogoIn recent decades, awareness of narrative and of stories in general has increased in many fields and academic disciplines, law included.  However, it is nevertheless surprising to see that even law enforcement specialists in the Justice Department have developed an appreciation of the workings and importance of narrative.

This heightened sensitivity surfaced in the recent Justice Department report on police conduct in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown.  Issued by the Department’s “Community Oriented Policing Services” office, the report outlines no fewer than 113 lessons that police in Missouri and elsewhere might learn from developments during the seventeen days following Brown’s death and funeral.

Much of the report is predictable.  It criticizes such police tactics as the use of dogs, tear gas, and so-called “overwatching.”  With the latter, police use rifle sights to survey a crowd from positions on top of police vehicles.  Overall, the report warns that “militarization” of a volatile situation will probably make things worse.

Toward the end of the report, its authors turn to what they label “lost narrative.”  In their opinion, Missouri law enforcement was too slow to provide information about the shooting of Brown and thereby created an opening for alternative representations of the incident.  Supporters of Brown and his family seized the opportunity and offered an alternative narrative, one conveyed largely but not completely through the social media and one stressing that “Black Lives Matter.” Continue reading “Narrative and Social Control”

Diederich College Appointment of John Pauly as Colnik Chair

Posted on Categories Media & Journalism, PublicLeave a comment» on Diederich College Appointment of John Pauly as Colnik Chair

John PaulyJohn Pauly came to Marquette University in 2006 to lead the Diederich College of Communication, and we were deans for two years together — or at least next door to one another, as he was in Johnston Hall and I immediately east in the “old building,” as we in the Law School now call Sensenbrenner Hall. Then Dean Pauly became Provost Pauly in 2008, and so for five years I reported to him, although that phrasing does not convey all the support that Provost Pauly gave to the Law School and to me as dean. Throughout these years and his administrative positions, I admired the way John remained engaged in his discipline — journalism — in a way also integrated with the larger work of the Marquette University faculty. I remain particularly drawn to his substantial essay, “Is Journalism Interested in Resolution, or Only in Conflict?,” published in the Marquette Law Review in 2009 as part of a dispute resolution symposium at the Law School (introduced here by conference organizer, Prof. Andrea K. Schneider). There are other examples of his contributions, including a post last month on our blog concerning the study of political polarization conducted by Craig Gilbert, Washington Bureau Chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Law School’s Lubar Fellow for Public Policy Research last year.

In any event, for all these reasons (and for any additional engagement with the Law School that it might occasion), I am delighted that my colleague Lori Bergen, dean of the Diederich College of Communication, has appointed John Pauly as the college’s Gretchen and Cyril Colnik Chair in Communication. In making the announcement, Dean Bergen noted that Prof. Pauly’s research and teaching “in the history and sociology of the mass media, cultural approaches to communication, media ethics and criticism, communication theory and the theory and practice of literary journalism have brought him international distinction as a scholar.” This appointment as Colnik Chair is a signal and well-deserved honor for a much-respected colleague and reflects not just terrific judgment concerning John Pauly’s past contributions to Marquette University and the community of scholars but also a prediction of more such. Kudos and congratulations to all involved.

Conference Probes the Depth and Breadth of Political Polarization

Posted on Categories Media & Journalism, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on Conference Probes the Depth and Breadth of Political Polarization

“I believe in my heart that we have a lot more in common than we have differences,” said Tom Meaux, Ozaukee County Administrator.

But if you do the numbers, we have a dramatic amount not in common. And no one has done the numbers the way the Marquette Law School and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have.

The numbers – voting data, polling results, a wide range of demographic statistics – spell out the polarization that has become a dominant fact of politics in Wisconsin and especially in southeastern Wisconsin. A six-month fellowship at the Law School, funded by the Lubar Fund for Public Policy Research, allowed Craig Gilbert, Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, to collaborate with Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, in producing an analysis of the growing political divide that offers remarkable depth and breadth.

The result was a four-part series in the Journal Sentinel and a conference Thursday at Eckstein Hall, sponsored by the Law School and the Journal Sentinel, that brought together Gilbert, Franklin, political leaders, and academic experts to discuss what unites us, what divides us, and what lies ahead, given the intense current divisions. Continue reading “Conference Probes the Depth and Breadth of Political Polarization”

Why Partisanship Bothers Us

Posted on Categories Media & Journalism, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public1 Comment on Why Partisanship Bothers Us

Red_state_blue_stateWith the Marquette Law School conference “Dividing Lines” approaching on May 15, it is worth asking why hard and determined forms of partisanship so unnerve us.

The immediate occasion for this discussion is Craig Gilbert’s study of political polarization in the Milwaukee metropolitan area, and its economic and cultural origins. Gilbert is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Washington bureau chief and this past year served as the Law School’s Lubar Fellow for Public Policy Research. Working with Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy and director of the Marquette Law School Poll, Gilbert has documented in recent elections a strong and consistent correlation between voting preferences and race, ethnicity, education, and population density (the series to date appearing in the newspaper here, here, and here, with the final entry coming this Wednesday). Marquette Law School’s Professor David Papke has also commented on Gilbert’s research, noting how deliberately conceived public policies such as restricted covenants, exclusionary zoning, and easing of residency rules for municipal employees have contributed to the climate of divisiveness.

As a scholar of journalism and media, I want to probe more deeply the meanings Americans attribute to their experience of political division. Continue reading “Why Partisanship Bothers Us”

In (Partial) Defense of Liz Cheney

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Cheney sisters

Is it possible to support a loved one’s life choices if you believe those choices should not exist? Consider the following hypotheticals:

Scenario #1: Your teenage daughter tells you she is pregnant from her no-good former boyfriend, and that she wishes to terminate the pregnancy. You are pro-life. Yet you realize that your daughter is the only one who can decide what to do (assuming she is not subject to parental consent laws, and perhaps even if she is). So you drive your child to her doctors’ appointments. You also tell her that despite your fundamental objections to abortion, you will do your best to make peace with her decision.

Scenario #2: You strongly believe children are entitled to information about their genetic parents. For this reason, you think sperm and egg banks should be allowed to work only with donors who consent to the disclosure of their identity and some basic information, and who agree to a minimum number of visits with any genetic offspring. Your sister has a baby conceived with sperm from an anonymous donor. You were beyond thrilled when she told you about her pregnancy, and you love your new nephew to pieces. Your views on the need for regulation of sperm and egg donor banks have not changed.

If these scenarios sound plausible, it is because our moral convictions don’t always dictate our personal interactions. Nor should they. The ability to appreciate that others may embrace values that are different from our own, and to react to their decisions with understanding and even respect, is a sign of maturity. Continue reading “In (Partial) Defense of Liz Cheney”

Pulitzer Winner Calls for News Reporting Focused on Solutions

Posted on Categories Media & Journalism, Public, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on Pulitzer Winner Calls for News Reporting Focused on Solutions

Solutions journalism – what’s that? A leading advocate for this approach to news reporting told an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” audience in Eckstein Hall on Wednesday that it was, at the same time, a simple concept and an important change from the historic practices of most news organizations.

“The reigning myth of journalism is that we cover problems, and that’s all we do,” said Tina Rosenberg, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network. ”The solution to the problem is not our business, someone else will come and take care of that.”

But, she said, “That model has failed. It’s not a good model for helping society learn what it needs to improve itself, which is what the purpose of journalism should be. Our view is that it is a perfectly legitimate part of journalism to cover, in addition to problems, what is going on to respond to those problem.” Continue reading “Pulitzer Winner Calls for News Reporting Focused on Solutions”

Milwaukee Area Divide in Voting Is Unusually Deep, Gilbert and Franklin Say

Posted on Categories Marquette Law School, Media & Journalism, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette4 Comments on Milwaukee Area Divide in Voting Is Unusually Deep, Gilbert and Franklin Say

 

It isn’t just that we disagree whether we prefer pepperoni or anchovies on our pizza. We disagree about what pepperoni and anchovies are. And we disagree in increasingly strong ways.

That’s one way that Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy at Marquette University Law School, described the sharply partisan atmosphere of American politics. He spoke Thursday in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall in the first session of the 2013-14 season of “On the Issues with Mike Gousha.”

Franklin and Craig Gilbert, Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, presented some of the early findings of research the two are conducting on polarization in politics, especially in the Milwaukee area and Wisconsin. Gilbert is on a six-month leave from the newspaper to take part in the project, supported by the Law School’s Sheldon B. Lubar Fund for Public Policy research. Continue reading “Milwaukee Area Divide in Voting Is Unusually Deep, Gilbert and Franklin Say”

Manipulation by the Media: Lessons to be Learned from Zimmerman v. NBC

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Criminal Law & Process, Media & Journalism, Public, Race & Law2 Comments on Manipulation by the Media: Lessons to be Learned from Zimmerman v. NBC

George ZimmermanNow more than ever, journalism appears to be no longer about reporting facts or the search for truth, but instead about manipulating facts to maximize ratings. A case in point is the complaint George Zimmerman filed last December against NBC. The complaint alleges NBC’s use of edited 911 audio, as part of its coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death, was defamatory and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The transcript of the 911 call, released by the City of Sanford, begins as follows:

Dispatcher: Sanford Police Department. . . .

Zimmerman: Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He’s [unintelligible], he was just staring . . .

Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area . . .

Zimmerman: . . . looking at all the houses.

Dispatcher: OK . . .

Zimmerman: Now he’s just staring at me.

Dispatcher: OK – you said it’s 1111 Retreat View? Or 111?

Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse . . .

Dispatcher: That’s the clubhouse, do you know what the – he’s near the clubhouse right now?

Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming towards me.

Dispatcher: OK.

Zimmerman: He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.

Zimmerman’s complaint alleges “NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain,” reported a “reprehensible series of imaginary and exaggerated racist claims,” and created a “false and defamatory misimpression using the oldest form of yellow journalism: manipulating Zimmerman’s own words, splicing together disparate parts of the [911] recording to create the illusion of statements that Zimmerman never actually made.” Continue reading “Manipulation by the Media: Lessons to be Learned from Zimmerman v. NBC”

Celebrating Poetry

Posted on Categories Legal Practice, Legal Writing, Media & Journalism, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Popular Culture & Law, PublicLeave a comment» on Celebrating Poetry

wordsApril is National Poetry Month, which may be Marquette University President Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.’s favorite month.  And for good reason.  Poetry can sometimes say what we can’t; it can touch our hearts and our souls with its inspiration, its longing, its joy, and its sadness.

Last year, on this blog, several of us wrote about poetry, sharing our favorites, composing new poetry in both traditional and different ways, or exploring poetry in and about the law.  As student Gabe Houghton noted this post, there are some judges who compose opinions in verse.

As April closes, I just wanted to remind everyone that poetry should be celebrated all months and remember that there are many kinds of poetry.  Songs can be considered poetry set to music. There are also poetry slams.   My favorite in this last genre is Taylor Mali, teacher and poet.  You can see him perform his poem “Totally like whatever, you know?” here.  It’s a nice reminder for those of us who love language that what we say, as well as how we say it, matters.

Some Thoughts on Violence in Israel and the U.S.

Posted on Categories Media & Journalism, Public6 Comments on Some Thoughts on Violence in Israel and the U.S.

I was part of the group of students and faculty that recently visited Israel. It was truly an amazing trip, and it reshaped my perception of everything from the Syrian civil war, to Biblical history, to the contemporary political dynamics that complicate efforts to secure peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to life in the United States. I do not purport to be an expert on anything pertaining to Israel, and my thoughts on the trip are still a bit scattered, but I thought I would share at least one major impression: Israel felt more secure than I thought it would. Having read about the country’s various security problems for years, I started the trip with some anxiety about traveling in what was for me unprecedented proximity to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria. To borrow the title of an 1980s sitcom, I thought that anti-Western groups would be a little too close for comfort.

But I felt completely secure, and I think everyone else did, too. It appeared that Israel’s citizens manage to live normal lives in basic safety notwithstanding the various security challenges they face. Markets, tours, businesses, restaurants, and schools all operate without any apparent sense of danger. The external threats are serious, but none of them appeared to be terribly consequential on a day-to-day basis for the individuals who live there.  Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Violence in Israel and the U.S.”

The “Feisty” Secretary Clinton—An Object of Media Bias?

Posted on Categories Feminism, Media & Journalism, Public3 Comments on The “Feisty” Secretary Clinton—An Object of Media Bias?

Regarding the recent Senate committee hearings on the September 2012 attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, several major media outlets described Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as, among other things, “feisty.” Strictly from a definitional standpoint, the media’s characterization appears unobjectionable. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, for example, most relevantly defines “feisty” as “quarrelsome, aggressive, belligerent, etc.” and these words arguably capture at least some aspects of Secretary Clinton’s remarks.

A modest examination of American English usage suggests that “feisty” is commonly used to refer to the behavior or character of people in a group (e.g., “the candidates had a feisty debate” or “it sure is a feisty crowd”) or to an animal, particularly a small rambunctious animal (e.g., “that there is one feisty critter”). Indeed, the word’s proximate origins concern the temperamental nature of mixed-breed dogs, and its earliest origins concern the malodorous passing of gas—hence a “fisting hound” in late 17th-century England was an undesirably flatulent dog.

The term “feisty” can also be used, of course, to describe the demeanor or behavior of an individual person. When used in that way, however, it seems more frequently to describe the elderly (“feisty octogenarian” retrieved 17,200 Google hits), the relatively young, and—it appears—women, or at least certain women. Continue reading “The “Feisty” Secretary Clinton—An Object of Media Bias?”

Before the Sports Broadcasting Act: Professional Football Fifty Years Ago

Posted on Categories Labor & Employment Law, Media & Journalism, Public, Sports & LawLeave a comment» on Before the Sports Broadcasting Act: Professional Football Fifty Years Ago

Warning:  This essay contains pure, unadulterated nostalgia for the professional sports regime of the middle third of 20th century America.

I remember watching the 1960 World Series on television, but the first year that I really followed major league baseball was 1961, the year of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle’s historic assault on Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. When the baseball season was over, my new-found enthusiasm for sports led me to become a pro football fan as well.

The 1961 season was the second in which the National Football League faced competition from the upstart American Football League. Although everyone I knew and everything I read viewed the NFL as the superior league, no one seemed to deny that the AFL was a major league. As with baseball, my two primary sources of sports information were the sports page of our daily newspaper, the Roanoke Times, and sports cards that came packaged with bubble gum, the purchase of which consumed most of my meager resources.

The local drug store from which I purchased most of my football cards carried the 1961 Fleer Pro Football set, which contained 220 player cards representing all 8 AFL teams and 14 NFL teams, including the expansion Minnesota Vikings. (There were only seven Viking cards, and the player pictured on each was shown in the uniform of his previous NFL team.) Cards came five to a pack with a piece of bubble gum. AFL and NFL cards were never mixed together, so you knew immediately whether you had gotten an AFL or a generally-perceived-to-be-much-more-valuable NFL pack.

For me, picking a favorite football team in 1961 was a real challenge. My home town in southwest Virginia was more than 300 miles from any city with a team; neither of my parents was a professional football fan, and my family, having always lived in rural Virginia and West Virginia, had no connection to any large city. In baseball, I had rooted for the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves (the former because of Maris and Mantle and the latter because my youth league team was called the Braves).

However, these baseball connections did not automatically transfer into my becoming a New York Giants or a Green Bay Packer fan. (I now regret not picking up on the coolness of the Packers until I came to Marquette in 1995. I think the Green and Gold uniforms, which closely resembled those of the Narrows Green Wave, my town’s arch rival, eliminated them as a rooting interest.) I did root for the New York Titans (now Jets) in the AFL, but the AFL counted for very little among my circle—my friend Tommy Powell once offered to trade me his entire collection of AFL cards for my one Johnny Unitas card, but I refused the offer.

The ability to follow an NFL team in Pearisburg, Virginia, in 1961 was restricted in several ways. One was the limited number of television and radio options for following the NFL generally. The one local radio station did not carry any football games at all, and the options available on the one television station that we received were, needless to say, fairly restrictive.

Although the Sports Broadcasting Act was passed in the fall of 1961, the 1961 season was the last in which the previous broadcasting rules applied. Basically, because of judicial interpretations of the Sherman Act’s application to the NFL, the league was prohibited from negotiating a collective broadcasting contract with an individual television network (of which there were then three). As a result, individual teams negotiated with the networks or with independent stations for the rights to their home games. (Allowing the collective sale of broadcast rights was the major change brought about by the Sports Broadcasting Act.)

Throughout the 1950’s, most NFL teams sold their broadcast rights to CBS, but for the 1960 and 1961 seasons, the rights to the home games of the Colts and Steelers were acquired by NBC. In contrast, the AFL games had been sold as a block to ABC shortly after the league’s founding in 1960, apparently on the assumption that the Sherman Act did not apply to the AFL in the same way it applied to the NFL. (Presumably, this was rooted in the notion, given the nature of its founding where teams were started from scratch, that the AFL constituted a single economic entity whereas the NFL was a combination of teams, most of whose economic existence predated their membership in the NFL.

Unfortunately, because of the location of our house (and probably because of the technological limitations of our television antenna which had been purchased in 1955 or 1956), we could only pick up the signal of one television station, WSLS-TV in Roanoke, which was an NBC affiliate. Consequently, the only games I could watch featured either the Colts or the Steelers and whomever they might be playing. (The two teams, which were in different divisions, did not play each other in 1961.) Some people in the town with a better location (or a better antenna) could pick up a CBS station, but no one got ABC.

The other factor affecting the object of my fandom was the enormous popularity of the Baltimore Colts in southwestern Virginia. As far as I could tell, all of the pro football fans in my home town rooted either for the Colts or the Washington Redskins (which was the closest team.) Older adults could probably remember when the Redskins were a top team, but in the recent past they had been dreadful. (Just ask Professor Kossow, who even then was a season ticket holder.) In 1960, the Redskins were 1-9-2, and the year before that, which to me in 1961 seemed like ancient history, they were only 3-9-0. It was also clear to me that most Colts fans were of the view that only life’s losers rooted for the Redskins.

In contrast, the late 1950’s and early 1960’s were the Golden Age of the Baltimore Colts. The Colts had won NFL championships in 1958 and 1959, and the names of their star players—Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Kenosha’s Alan Ameche, Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, L. G. “Long Gone” Dupre, and Art “Fatso” Donovan—were as well known in the Mid-Atlantic region as the Lombardi Packers would be in 1960’s (and later) Wisconsin. The Colts appeared to be on their way to a third straight championship in 1960 until they mysteriously lost their last four games of the season, and were replaced as Western Division champions by Vince Lombardi’s upstart Green Bay Packers, which, before Lombardi’s arrival, had spent most of the 1950’s competing with the Redskins for the title of “sad sack” of the NFL.

So I began the season unsure of which team I liked best. My next door neighbor, Tom Givens, convinced me that I should be rooting for the Redskins, so I started off trying to be a Redskins fan, but after the still all-white team started the season 0-9-0 while being outscored 245-68, I sort of gave up on them. As it turned out, it didn’t get much better for the Skins, who finished the season 1-12-1 with a tie and a final game victory over the Dallas Cowboys, which were in their second year of existence.

Watching the Steelers on television on a regular basis made me sort of a Steelers fan, and they did have some very cool players: halfback Tom “the Bomb” Tracy (who specialized in the halfback option pass, although he only rarely completed his tosses), fullback John Henry Johnson (presumably named after the legendary railroad worker who was a local hero where I grew up), and quarterback Bobby Layne, whom the announcers treated like some revered elderly figure and who kicked extra points, but not field goals.

However, the Steelers didn’t do that well either. They lost their first four games—only one of which was televised–before finally getting their first win of the season, a shutout of the Redskins. (Who else?) Plus, Bobby Layne was injured and missed the middle half of the season, and even though the Steelers won four of their next five games after the 0-4 start, they dropped three of their last five to finish 6-8-0. By mid-season, I was basically a Colts fan.

But the Colts also had problems. The shortcomings that had plagued the team at the end of the 1960 season, which were probably personnel related, continued in the early part of the 1961 season. After opening with a narrow 27-24 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the Colts lost four of their next six games, including losses to the Packers and Lions, which along with the Colts had been the preseason favorites in the NFL West, and two defeats at the hands of the Chicago Bears in the space of 15 days.

At mid-season, the Packers were in first place in the West with a 6-1-1 record while the Colts were in fifth place, trailing not just the Packers, but also the surprising Bears, the 49ers, and the Lions.

The Colts appeared to be on the verge of rallying in the second half of the season when they pasted the Packers, 45-21, in a November 8 game in Baltimore. Unfortunately, the Colts dropped their next game to expansion Minnesota Vikings, by an embarrassing score of 28-20. This loss left them three games behind the Packers (who that same day bested the Bears 31-28 in Wrigley Field) with only five games to play.

Although the Colts won four of their last five games, the Packers continued to win and actually clinched the West Division championship at the end of Week 12, two weeks before the end of the regular season.

The race in the NFL East Division was much closer, and basically featured a three-way contest among the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants, and the Cleveland Browns that lasted until the final day of the regular season. The Eagles either held or shared first place for 10 of the first 12 weeks of the season, but at the end of Week 12, the Eagles and Giants were tied for first with records of 9-3-0, with Cleveland a game behind at 8-4-0.

On Sunday, December 10, the Division leaders squared off against each other in Philadelphia. The Eagles led 10-7 after the first quarter, but the Giants then replaced starting quarterback Y.A. Tittle with his aging back-up Charlie Conerly. Conerly rallied his teammates, throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions as the Giants held off their rivals to the south and came away with a 24-20 victory. This put the Giants one game up on the Eagles with one game to go, assuring them of at least a tie for first place. That same day, the Browns were eliminated by a close 17-14 loss to the Bears in Chicago in a game in which the Browns had led 14-0 in the 4th quarter before faltering.

To retain the East Division title, Philadelphia had to defeat the Lions in Detroit the next weekend and hope that Cleveland could travel to New York and win out over the Giants. In that case, the two teams would play a 15th game to determine the division champion.

The Eagles defeated the Lions, but it was for naught as the Giants and Browns battled to 7-7 in Yankee Stadium. With a record of 10-3-1, the Giants edged the 10-4-0 Eagles by a half game.

Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, the Packers and Giants met in Green Bay for the 1961 NFL Championship. Although the Packers had played in the 1960 championship game, their last NFL title had come in 1944, when they bested the Giants 14-7 in New York’s Polo Grounds. The Giants were not strangers to the title game either; in fact, although their last NFL title had come in 1956 when they trounced the Chicago Bears, 47-7, Gotham’s team was playing in the championship tilt for the fourth time in six years.

The 1961 championship was played in 17-degree weather with a 10-mph wind in the Packers still new stadium, which had opened in 1957. Known originally as “City Stadium” or “New City Stadium,” the structure would not be renamed Lambeau Field until 1965. The game was televised on NBC, which held the exclusive rights to broadcast the NFL championship game from 1955 through 1963.

The game itself was a complete anti-climax. After a scoreless 1st quarter, Packer halfback Paul Hornung, the NFL’s leading scorer, ran the ball over the goal line from six yards out. Quarterback Bart Starr then tossed TD passes to wide receiver Boyd Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer. When the next Packer drive stalled at the 10-yard line, Hornung finished off the 24 point quarter with a 17-yard field goal. (In 1961, NFL goal posts were positioned on the goal line, hence the 17 yard field goal.)

In the third quarter it was more of the same, with Horning kicking a 22 yard field goal, and Starr tossing another TD pass to Ron Kramer. The only scoring in the final quarter was a third field goal by Hornung, this one from 19 yards out, giving him a total of 19 points for the game (one touchdown, four extra points, and three field goals)

For the game, the Packers outrushed the Giants 181 yards to 31, with Hornung and Jim Taylor leading the way with 89 and 69 yards, respectively. Starr passed for 164 yards and three touchdowns, compared to a combined 119 yards for Tittle and Conerly. Ron Kramer led the Packers in receptions with four (two for TDs), and both Dowler and Hornung pulled in three catches. Popular wide receiver Max McGee was shut out in the receiving department, but no one really noticed.

The Packer defense was particularly effective that day, as the 37-0 score suggests. In addition to holding the Giant running backs to 31 yards on 14 carries, the defense sacked Tittle twice for losses of 20 yards and intercepted him four times. As in the earlier Giant-Philadelphia game Charlie Conerly was brought in off the bench when Tittle faltered, but in the championship game there would be no magical comeback, as Conerly was able to complete only four of eight passes for a paltry 54 yards.

The names of the starters for the Packers in the 1961 NFL championship game still resonate deeply for many Wisconsin sports fans. The offensive backfield that day included Bart Starr (QB), Paul Hornung (HB), Jim Taylor (FB), and Boyd Dowler (FL). The ends were Max McGee and Ron Kramer, and the offensive line included center Jim Ringo, guards Fuzzy Thurston and Forest Gregg, and tackles Norm Masters and Bob Skoronski. (Starting guard Jerry Kramer missed the game with an injury, forcing Forest Gregg to move to guard from his normal starting tackle position.)

The Packer defensive line was made up of defensive ends Willie Davis and Bob Quinlan and defensive tackles Henry Jordan and Dave Hanner. The starting linebackers were Bill Forester, Dan Currie, and middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, while the defensive backfield included cornerbacks Hank Gremminger and Jess Whittenton, strong safety John Symank, and free safety Willie Wood. Wide receiver Boyd Dowler handled the punting, and Hornung did the place-kicking.

The 1961 NFL season did not actually end, however, until January 14, 1962, the date of the post-season all-star game officially known as the East-West Pro Bowl game. It too was televised by NBC.

I can still remember listening to the game sitting on the floor in our den. I say listening because some time after Christmas 1961, a tube blew out in our television set, a fairly common occurrence in the pre-printed circuit era of electronics. Although the sound continued to work, the screen remained completely blank, effectively turning the television into a radio. When this happened, my parents invariably treated it as a kind of divine signal that my brother and I needed to take a break from TV, and they usually waited a few weeks before getting the tube replaced.

Consequently, I was forced to listen to the game and imagine in my mind what turned out to be the most exciting professional football all-star game of all time. The West led for most of the game, jumping out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter. However, the East regrouped and managed to narrow the gap to 17-10 at the half. At the end of the third quarter, the West still led, 24-16, as both teams scored touchdowns, but the East’s extra point attempt was blocked by Green Bay Packer (and University of Virginia graduate) Henry Jordan.

However, the East offense caught fire in the final quarter, and put a quick 14 points on the scoreboard when Title passed two yards to his team Alex Webster for one touchdown and fullback Jimmy Brown ran 70 yards for another.

With the East now in the lead, 30-24, the West offense continued to sputter, and with less than two minutes to go in the game, the East had the ball with the intention of running out the clock with a series of rushing plays. However, a crushing tackle by Chicago Bear linebacker Bill George caused an uncharacteristic fumble by Jim Brown, which was recovered by George on the East’s 42 yard line, providing the West with one final shot at winning the game.

West quarterback Johnny Unitas quickly completed a pass of 14 yards to tight end Mike Ditka of the Bears, and then on the next play, one of 15 yards to his Baltimore Colt teammate Lenny Moore. However, a second pass to Moore fell incomplete, and with only seconds remaining, the West had the ball on the twelve-yard line. On the game’s final play, Unitas hit Los Angeles Ram halfback Jon Arnett in the back of the end zone for a game tying six points, and with time expired the West converted the extra point for the victory.

In spite of his fumble, Jimmy Brown was named the player of the game while top lineman honors went to Henry Jordan.

It was a great way to end a great season. We talked about it the next day in my Fourth Grade class, and a half century later, I still remember the 1961 season.

 

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