Green Bay Packers fans and NFL fans in general over the age of 50 remember Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jethro Pugh for one defining moment. That moment came in the NFL championship game in 1967.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame site summarizes what happened on a frigid day and a frozen field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, December 31, 1967:
Pro football fans in Green Bay, Wisconsin have always been recognized as a loyal and hearty bunch. But one wouldn’t have faulted even the most loyal “Packer Backer” if he’d decided not to attend the 1967 NFL Championship game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys. Played at Lambeau Field on December 31, the temperature at game time registered a frigid 13 degrees below zero. Nonetheless, more than 50,000 parka-clad fans braved the elements that New Year’s Eve and watched in awe as the Packers claimed their third consecutive NFL title, with a 21-17 victory.
From the start, Green Bay fans felt their team had a distinct advantage over the warm-weather Cowboys, After all, the Packers lived and practiced in the cold Wisconsin climate. Green Bay’s early 14-0 lead probably convinced fans that they were right. However, the severe weather affected the Packers too. Dallas scored a touchdown and a field goal after two Packer fumbles and added a second touchdown in the fourth quarter. Suddenly, with 4:50 left in the game the Packers were behind, 17-14.
The Packers literally and figuratively “kept their cool.” Behind the leadership of future Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, they marched down field. With sixteen seconds remaining and the temperature down to eighteen below zero, the Packers found themselves about two feet away from victory. Starr called time out. The field was like a sheet of ice. The two previous running plays had gone nowhere. With no time outs left, a running play seemed totally out of the question. A completed pass surely would win it. Even an incomplete pass would at least stop the clock so the Packers could set up a field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime. After consulting with Packers coach Vince Lombardi, Starr returned to the huddle.
Starr took the snap from center Ken Bowman. Bowman and guard Jerry Kramer combined to take out Dallas tackle Jethro Pugh. With Pugh out of the way, Starr surprised everyone and dove over for the score. “We had run out of ideas,” Starr said of the play. However, Lombardi put it another way, “We gambled and we won.”
That one, unfortunate moment, playing football on ice skates, being manhandled by future Hall of Fame lineman Jerry Kramer has defined the legacy of Jethro Pugh. But Dallas Cowboys fans over 50 know that Pugh was so much more than that. In fact, ESPN Dallas has him ranked 38 in its all-time 50 greatest Dallas Cowboys and says this about him:
An original member of the “Doomsday Defense,” Pugh played 14 seasons in Dallas and helped anchor one of the best defensive fronts of all time. He led the Cowboys in sacks five straight seasons (1968-72) and won four NFC Championships and two Super Bowls.
Pugh played alongside Mr. Cowboy himself, the great Bob Lilly and legendary defensive end George Andrie. After Andrie and Lilly retired, Pugh found himself on the defensive line with Randy White, Harvey Martin, and Ed “Too Tall” Jones. In other words, he was a vital part of the two greatest defensive lines in team history. He was the bridge from DoomsDay I to DoomsDay II.
Despite that one unfortunate moment on ice, Pugh would go on to make his mark on the Dallas Cowboys. He was a defensive presence on four NFC championship teams and helped the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories. His 14 seasons with the Cowboys ranks him number four on the team’s longevity list. Only “Too Tall” Jones, Bill Bates, and Mark Tuinei played longer.
Jethro Pugh, a man whose most memorable moment was perhaps the worst moment of his entire career, is so much more than the Ice Bowl goat. He is one of the great all-but-forgotten faces of America’s Team and the DoomsDay Defense.